Approaching a Healthy State of Mind
Resources for supporting mental well-being as we close out Mental Health Awareness Month.
As we enter the final week of May, we also reach the end of Mental Health Awareness Month. Creating a healthy mental state, however, is an ongoing challenge for many of us. And that’s particularly true today, as we face changes in our daily routine, restrictions from seeing our loved ones and an overall uncertainty around the “new” normal. Especially in the beginning of this pandemic, I really struggled with my mental state and fear around the health and well-being of my family, friends and self. Hot tip: watching the news did not help!
While it’s still a roller coaster and I have both up and down days, I’ve discovered many resources and techniques to help me cope with my anxiety. I want to share them with you in this post. As we close out this month of May, I hope these resources will help you continue to take care of your mind as we forge ahead.
Meditation and mindfulness
For years, people have talked to me about the benefits of meditation, but I never had the time or patience to commit to making it a regular practice. And to be frank, I didn’t truly understand the value of calming my mind for a few minutes a day. It wasn’t until this pandemic that my pace of life slowed enough for me to want to try regular meditation. I used the Headspace app to help me through this journey. Headspace has a free “basics” course of ten sessions of guided meditations that are each just ten, five or even three minutes long. In doing this, I learned that meditation is not just about calming your mind, but also about learning to recognize your mental state, accept your feelings and stay in control of your reactions. Another platform I have not tried, but has been recommended to me, is the Calm app.
Mindfulness, in a similar fashion, is something I view as a way to stay present. It’s easy to be distracted by technology, cell phones, kids, chores and tasks, and it actually takes a fair amount of effort to stay completely engaged in an activity. But being mindful and staying present can help reduce stress, support good sleep, and improve overall health, according to this article from Harvard Health.
I’ve chosen a couple activities that I do completely mindfully, with no music on in the background and my phone on “Do Not Disturb.” One of them is origami. The simple folding techniques are very soothing, and it’s always fun to have a little paper ornament as a finished product. Coloring books and puzzles are great options as well.
Another activity to practice mindfulness is hiking. When I’m on a hike, I use the time to connect with nature, view the world around me and clear my head. I always carry a phone and a whistle with me when hiking for safety, but I put my phone on silent and leave it in my backpack (except for the occasional photo op). In addition to the endorphins I get from the physical exercise of hiking, I find my mental state to be much clearer and happier when I allow myself to be completely present in nature.
Seeking external help
I want to talk a little about my journey with therapy. I started to see a therapist after a bad horseback riding accident that left me with a shattered ankle and residual fear of the sport. Because riding is one of my greatest passions, I knew I wanted to begin again after I had healed, but my fear and anxiety held me back. It got to the point where I was even having panic attacks while driving because I was so afraid of re-injury.
I eventually sought the support of a sports psychologist to work through this issue. We completed a series of cognitive behavior exercises and therapy sessions to help me reframe my fear. Within months, I was back to riding and stopped having panic attacks.
Initially, I intended to stop therapy once I treated the issue at hand, but after seeing how much it helped me, I decided to continue working with a therapist to support my mental health in all aspects of my life. It’s been about ten years now, and I can say that working with a counselor has dramatically changed my life for the better. I was always a future planner, thinker and “what if” scenario person, and that mental state caused a lot of stress for me. While I tried to map out and predict every aspect of my life, every day would throw new and unpredictable challenges at me. I couldn’t cope with those curve balls or handle the lack of control. Through therapy, I’ve learned so much about what I value, how to be in the present moment and how to live without anxiety. I won’t say that it’s easy! Therapy is hard and sometimes painful work. But the tangible changes have been invaluable to me.
While we are all at home and not able to have one-on-one appointments, I’ve been able to continue my therapy sessions over the phone. In addition, there are great resources like Talkspace and BetterHelp that allow a person to connect with a counselor over text, through an app or on video/phone sessions. In addition, the American Psychological Association offers a database of licensed counselors that you can use to search and find an appropriate counselor for your needs. The database even offers filters to help find counselors within your insurance network. Finding someone that you connect with and is helpful to you is key in this search process. As a rule of thumb, I find that you can usually discover if a therapist is the right match for you if you see some positive results within three sessions of working with them.
On the path to a positive mental state
These tools and resources have really helped me over the past few months, when dramatic changes in my daily routine really put me into a tailspin. If anyone out there feels similarly, I want you to know that you’re not alone—a great many of us are feeling anxious and upended by the state of the world. And it’s natural! But it doesn’t mean we have to live in anguish or a harmful mental state. I hope that my story and some of the resources here are helpful to you in finding positivity, lightness and zen. Mental Health Awareness Month may be coming to a close, but we can always continue on the journey to a healthy mind. Be kind to yourselves out there!