will expand on the items on this list in coming days, but here are a number of steps you can take to decrease your stress and take care of your own mental health. If you are a parent, remember the flight attendants’ admonition to “put on your own oxygen mask first.” You must take care of yourself first to make sure you are “in shape” to take care of your children.
1.Reduce your exposure to daily news. These days, it can seem that it is impossible to escape hearing the news. Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, have become “re-sellers,” in a way, of both news and “fake news,” along with commentary that can often become heated. This step will be the hardest for many of you, but if you are feeling stressed, hopeless, depressed, angry, or any other kind of emotion that drains your energy and well-being, try moderating your intake of social media. Most of our newsfeeds now days are less family and friends posting personal updates and more (often highly charged) political posts. Schedule a time in your day to check in on social media, then leave it alone for the rest of the day. If you are seeking a less biased (and inflammatory) outlet to read the news of the day, try Reuters.com, but only sit down to catch up on the news at the time you have set aside for this.
2.Get outside in nature. Spending time in nature is proven to reduce stress and clear our thinking. It can be more difficult this time of the year in places like where I live, Northern Illinois, but looking for opportunities to be outdoors will definitely help you reduce your stress. If you have access to a wooded area, all the better.
3.Get some rest. For parents, especially, this is a tough one. And many people who are not parents have told me that, especially during this past year, they are having more trouble sleeping and getting enough rest. I will offer some suggestions to help with this later, but for now, just know that this is a crucial step for your self-care and stress reduction.
4.Create and maintain a daily and weekly rhythm. This is one of the areas of simplifying that I work on with parents, but it can also be very helpful to those who are not parents. Chronic stress is exacerbated by the uncertainty of living without a regular rhythm. Spending some time each week planning how your days will unfold and how the week lays out, pinpointing times of activity and times of rest or renewal, is an investment in your family’s health and happiness that you will be grateful for. Think of it as breathing rhythm—in-breaths and out-breaths, in a regular cycle that you can rest in. More on this later.
5.Seek out hope and optimism. Without hope, we have little motivation to move forward. Too much exposure to the news of the day can sap our hope and optimism, since the ratio of bad to good news is 17:1—or 95% bad! Focus on spending time with people and activities that bring you joy. Even in the current polarized political environment, there are opportunities to experience togetherness and optimism. Many of the protests that have arisen in recent weeks have been permeated with an energy of love and kindness and optimism. I have experienced this myself, and I have heard this from many other people who have attended these events. If there is an event near you that speaks to you, try to be a part of it and see if it helps you feel more optimistic.
6.Take some small action. It is easy to feel we have no voice, no power to change these big things that are happening. (If you are a parent, know that this is the way your children can feel much of the time, as so much is out of their control! But that is a topic for another time.) Try setting a goal to do one thing every day---whether it is posting something inspiring on social media, adding your name to a petition that is important to you, making a call, etc. Then, feel good about your contribution and let it be enough. You can’t ever do it all, but if we all do one small thing most days, big things will happen. Really. You will be part of the change you want to see in the world.
7.Breathe. Just that, really. When we are stressed, our breathing becomes more shallow, and this adversely affects our overall mental and physical health. If you are able and willing to carve out even 5 or 10 minutes a day to sit and breathe intentionally, or better yet to meditate for even that short time, the benefits will be great. If you can’t make that work right away, then try being conscious as you go through your day of when you might be holding your breath or not breathing deeply. Take three deep breaths whenever you think of it and sigh them out. This is a very restorative practice that you can do any time.