It has been a heck of a past two pandemic years, and many of us are feeling the strain. If we are not intentional about checking in with and attending to our mental health, this strain can start to manifest in many distressing ways, such as burn out at work, conflict in relationships, trouble sleeping, anxiety, depressed mood, overuse of substances, and more. We often set goals and intentions for the New Year that relate to our physical health, and I want to create an invitation here to think too about small actions we can take this year in service of our mental health. Below I offer a few ideas for how this can look.
- Check in with yourself. We often get so caught up in our day to day to dos and obligations that we do not pause to ask ourselves how we are doing. When we don’t make a habit of checking in with ourselves, our emotions often grow and compound in the dark and feel overwhelming by the time we finally acknowledge them. Try to make a daily practice of asking yourself how you are doing and challenge yourself to respond with some real feeling words (good, bad, fine, and okay do not count). Research shows that simply naming our emotions helps us to feel calmer and more in control of them.
- Allow yourself to say no. No is one of the most powerful words available to us, and one that so many women underuse. Overcommitment of our time, energy, and resources is a huge driver of stress, exhaustion, resentment, and burn out. See here for my complete guide on how to harness your no to take back control of your time. The short of it though is that if you can’t or don’t want to do something, let yourself say no without pressuring yourself to give an explanation. Take the time that you have reclaimed with your no to do something kind or nurturing for yourself. (add link to my blog)
- Validate yourself. Many of us have an internal dialogue that skews toward critical and dismissive rather than validating. We experience thoughts like “what’s wrong with you,” “you’re being stupid,” “this isn’t that big of a deal,” and “you have no reason to feel this way.” The problem with this? Just telling ourselves that we shouldn’t feel a certain way pretty much never works to make us actually not feel that way. In fact, it typically just makes us feel worse because now on top of whatever the original emotion is we also feel guilt, shame, or stress about having that emotion in the first place. Validating ourselves, in contrast, tends to be soothing and help us move through emotions more quickly. Next time you find yourself feeling something uncomfortable, try simply telling yourself instead “it’s okay to feel this way” or “it makes sense that I feel this way.”
- Ask for what you need. All of us have needs, and the more proactive we are in speaking up for our needs the more mentally healthy we tend to be. Do you need a day off? Some alone time? Help around the house? A hug? Just ask! Verbalizing our needs does not mean that we will always get them met, but you might be surprised at how receptive and willing to work with us people often are. You are worth speaking up for, so let yourself be your own advocate.
- Really, just breathe. We tend to shorten or even hold our breath when stressed, so breathing deeply and slowly is an easy way to tap back into our body’s natural relaxation response. Breathe in through your nose feeling your belly rise as you do, pause at the top of your inhale for a brief moment, breathe out through your nose, pause at the bottom of your exhale for a moment, and repeat. That’s it. Take a few deep breaths like this as often as you can remember to do so.
If something here resonates, I invite you try it out and to do so with a hefty dose of self-compassion. There is no such thing as being perfect, and implementing the practices on this list can be easier said than done. Give yourself time and space to try things and to figure out what works for you. Most importantly, just try to approach yourself with love and kindness and operate from the belief that your mental health needs are valid and worth taking care of this new year.