Taking care of your mental health doesn’t have to be intimidating. Here are 6 ways to get started

animated blue and purple landscape
by Sandhya Iyer

This was originally published on Medium by Daniel Fridliand on May 19th, 2020. Click the link to see the original post.

COVID-19 has turned the world on its head. The last couple months of social distancing and quarantining have been a particularly difficult time for almost everyone — so much of what’s going on is out of our control, and while that may be a difficult idea to grapple with, there are a few things we can do to individually quell any anxiety and frustration that arises.

The Awning team has put together a guide with a few easy, free ways to take care of your mental health, during and beyond the current pandemic. We all know that stress and uncertainty aren’t things that are going to disappear after the next couple months. It’s always going to be important to find ways to take a step back and regain a sense of calmness.

Every option on the list may not be for you, but we hope you find time to practice at least one or two everyday:

  1. Get Moving

Any form of physical exercise, but especially aerobic training, such as running, biking, walking or swimming, is extremely useful in mitigating anxiety and stress. It increases blood circulation to the brain, specifically to the limbic system, which regulates mood and motivation. The Mayo Clinic recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five times a week to fully feel the benefits on your mental health, but even starting off with 10 to 15 minutes a day — simply a walk around your neighborhood — will make an impact. Here are a few home-friendly workout options for different fitness levels:

Stretches: Yoga Stretch — Yoga with Adrienne (20 min)

Beginner: Full Body HIIT Workout — Group HIIT (20 min)

Intermediate: Tabata Session — POPSUGAR Fitness (30 min)

Advanced: HIIT Cardio Workout — Body Project (30 min)

2. Reach Out

Social interaction, which has always been crucial to coping with stress, has been severely restricted since the onset of COVID-19. But during both the good times and the bad, it’s important to set aside time to speak with friends or loved ones, whether that’s in-person, over the phone or through Zoom. And you don’t have to allocate an hour to chat — even 5–10 minutes while meal prepping, taking a walk or driving to the store makes all the difference. Next time you’re cooking dinner, try calling someone you haven’t talked to in a while!

cartoon man on a video call with a cartoon woman drinking coffee.

3. Play Some Tunes

Many people can’t make it through the day without listening to music, but turns out that jamming out to your favorite songs can also help reduce anxiety and pain. Music triggers sensory pathways in the brain that compete with pain pathways, so when you put your earbuds in and crank the volume up, you’re effectively drawing attention away from the pain. There’s music for every mood, but if you want to feel particularly relaxed or at peace, the Awning team has a few playlists that might help:

4. Document Your Thoughts

Journaling has gained a lot of traction recently. The simple act of writing down your thoughts helps you become more in touch with thoughts and emotions and can ultimately improve your mood and change your mindset. The Center for Journal Therapy has an easy acronym — W.R.I.T.E. — with some specifics on how to maximize the benefits from each journaling session:

W — What topic are you going to write about? Think about how you’re feeling, what you want or what’s going through your mind. Even creating lists of 10 positive things that happened in a day or 10 things you’re thankful for are great ways to start.

R — Reflect on your topic. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Some of the ways you can start your journal entry are “In this moment…” or “I feel…” or “Right now, I want…”

I — Investigate your thoughts. If you reach a point where you don’t know how to continue, close your eyes and try and recenter yourself, or reread what you’ve already written.

T — Time yourself. Write for at least 5–15 minutes and make sure it’s consistent — try to journal everyday or every other day.

E — Exit smart. As you end your entry, reread everything you’ve written and summarize it in 1–2 sentences. Record a plan of action or next steps if it’s applicable.

5. Create a New Bedtime Routine

Sleep is essential to regulating nearly all other bodily functions and keeping anxiety at bay. Unfortunately, the way most of us unwind before bed, by checking our phones or catching up on Netflix, actually makes it harder to fall asleep. The blue light from phones or laptops interferes with your internal circadian rhythm and represses melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.

To get a better night of sleep, put away all electronic devices 30 minutes to an hour before you tuck in. Instead, use that time to read a book, do some stretches or journal.

6. Meditate

In addition to lowering stress and anxiety, meditating and intentional breathing allow you to have more control over your thoughts and emotions. It’s been proven that meditation, even just for 10 minutes a day, has the power to reduce blood pressure, help deal with pain and fight memory loss. However, it is something that can be intimidating and hard to navigate for those just learning, so it can be helpful to start off with a guided meditation app like Awning.

The platform offers customized stress management tools and allows the user to experience the benefits of journaling, meditation and music therapy all in one spot.

graphic of a person doing yoga.

Each of these suggestions, when implemented consistently and with care, have the power to change your mental state and the way you view the world. If any of the above ideas stick out to you or if you’ve practiced some regularly and felt the benefits, please let us know in the comments!