My Top Strategies for Improving My Mental Health (January, February, March)

After burning out at work last year I opted to take a brief hiatus from my career to build myself back up again. I spent the last three months focussing on my mental health, specifically developing strategies to get and keep myself well. I wasn’t working so these strategies couldn’t involve spending a lot of money. At the same time, I was intending to start work again so they needed to be things that I could do before and after work (i.e. not too time intensive). While my ultimate focus was my mental wellbeing, physical and mental health are inseparable, so a lot of my strategies revolved around what would be traditionally considered body and not mind.

I just started my new job this week and so it seemed like the perfect time to reflect on the things that have helped me to heal over the past three months, and to identify what is essential to build into my working schedule to maintain my wellbeing.

Walking – Is there anything more healing than gentle exercise and getting outside? Walking is probably the single most important thing I do for my mental health. It is my time for sorting out my thoughts and playing out ideas in my head. Also, when you live in as beautiful a place as I do, it seems obscene not to exploit the privilege and get out amongst it every day.  I have always used this strategy and have seen very distressing changes in my mental health when I neglect it. When we were finally able to adopt a dog last year my daily walk became non-negotiable.

Limiting alcohol – Drinking is probably the most health destructive habit I have left in my life. Along with all of the physical health consequences, drinking any more than a glass or two of wine saps my motivation and puts my anxiety into hyperdrive for several days. I have been working very hard on limiting the amount of days I drink and the amount of drinks I have when I do go out. I’ve stopped buying a bottle of wine to serve with dinner and drunk my body weight in soda and lime at different social occasions. In the past, drinking has been my strategy for coping with work stress. I am very keen to change my relationship with alcohol, although I still haven’t committed to giving it up completely.

Daily yoga – I have committed to a daily practice over the past two months, missing only a few days. I only do 30 minutes a session (sometimes only 15 if I am pressed for time) but I have noticed remarkable changes. My hip and back pain has virtually resolved itself and my concentration has improved drastically. I can also see the changes happening in my body which has improved my confidence. My anxiety levels are so different from three months ago I feel like a totally new person.

Exploring meditation and practicing mindfulness – At the moment I am meditating for ten minutes a day, although I’d like to increase this. Combined with my yoga practice I credit meditation, and the resulting ability to bring mindfulness into my day, with curbing my anxiety to record low levels.

Focussing on nutrition not dieting – I am trying to stop falling into the same obsessive patterns that have kept me hostage for the past twenty some-odd years of my life. I’ve spent so many hours negatively focussed on my body that it has had terrible implications for my mental wellbeing. So I’ve been trying very hard to just focus on eating real food. Cooking from scratch from ingredients.  That’s it, no other rules. Well one…

Cutting out sugar – This was something I thought I’d try and to be honest the results have been fabulous. I’m not sure if I’ve lost weight as I have given up on weighing myself, but I feel fantastic in my own skin. I think the main thing is that without sugar I feel a whole lot more emotionally and physically regulated throughout the day. I don’t have major blood sugar crashes in the afternoon like I used to, I don’t have overwhelming cravings, and where my hunger used to be insatiable I now feel satisfied easily.

Scheduling creativity – In the past, my creative outlets have been the first thing to fall by the wayside when I get stressed or tired or overworked. It’s taken me almost forty years to realise how integral creativity is to my sense of self and wellbeing. I get it now. I’ve been adamant with myself that I get at least half an hour to devote to creative writing every single day. No exceptions and no excuses. I’ve built it into my commute schedule to make sure it doesn’t get abandoned when I’m busy.

Habit tracking (without judgement) – I keep track of all of the habits I am working on, ticking them off on a daily basis. In the past this process has been detrimental because I get into an all or nothing mindset, but I’m really trying to break that cycle. Now I track what I’ve achieved throughout the day and when something didn’t happen instead of getting all judge with myself, I simply try to reflect on why I didn’t manage it and to see if there is anything I can do differently in the future to ensure that I can fit it in. After all, building good habits is not about never missing a day but rather not letting a missed day derail all progress because of judgement and shame. Persistence and reliance are the key to wellness.

What strategies do you use to keep yourself well?

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