We’ve heard of the quick-fix breathing techniques that are helpful for calming down in moments of elevated stress, which are all lifesavers. But what about maintaining that serenity long-term? How can we stay balanced so that we don’t drift into that high anxiety space as often?
Exercise in a way that you actually enjoy.
We’ve heard time and time again that exercise is key for maintaining mental health along with physical health. It has the power to boost mood, improve energy, and enhance quality of life overall. However, exercise can add stress to your life if you’re exercising in ways that you don’t enjoy at all. We’re not saying you have to burst with excitement every time you head to the gym, but make sure exercise doesn’t become another stressor rather than a stress reliever. Make sure that you actually look forward to at least some of your workouts during the week. If you typically run but don’t like to do it every day, throw in a yoga class here and there to keep things fresh.
Practice paying attention to the present.
Meditating for a few minutes each morning will help improve your mental health and well-being, but if you aren’t into it or you feel you can’t squeeze it into your schedule, just practice living in the present. Notice how often you’re caught up in thoughts and emotions. Acknowledge these distractions, but then focus on the breath, your surroundings, or the sensations in your body. Try doing this repeatedly throughout the day, and you’ll feel much more grounded.
Find gratitude in each day.
For some people, keeping a gratitude journal is a wonderful way to wind down at night and a solid reminder that there is good in every day, no matter how challenging. If you’re not a big writer, get into the habit of at least thinking of a few things each morning or night that make you feel grateful. Include the seemingly smallest parts of your day, like the happiness you felt when your dog got excited to see you walk through the door after work. An extra challenge is to include parts of your day that you might otherwise label as negative. For example, if you’re missing a long-distance friend or family member one day, you can think to yourself, “I am grateful for feeling sad about missing this person because it reminds me of how much I love and care about them.”
Take care of your physical health.
We already covered exercise, but paying attention to all aspects of your physical health will positively impact your mental health. Make sure you’re eating fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, and other foods that nourish your body. Also, allow yourself to indulge in your cravings from time to time. If you’re dying for a piece of chocolate, let yourself eat it. Drink water all day because getting dehydrated can take its toll on your mood.
Also, try your best to get your eight hours of sleep. Expose yourself to sunlight each day if possible. If you live in an area with a dreary climate, consider taking vitamin D supplements or buying a natural light box.
Write about your life.
If you want to pick up a journal every day and write a little bit about your day, that’s great. Sometimes, we don’t even realize what we’re stressed or anxious about until we write down everything that’s going on in our lives. Maybe you’re feeling a little off and aren’t sure why until you look at your journal and realize that your friend has been on your nerves or your job has been especially hectic this week. Noticing this can help you pinpoint areas that you need to address in your life or at least can give you the peace of mind of knowing what’s bothering you. Recognizing little stressors in your life and taking care of them can help prevent them from blowing up into bigger stressors.
Make time for both fun and relaxation.
Spend your free time doing things outside of your obligations, like working out and running errands. Meet up with friends and family who bring positive energy into your life. Engage in activities that excite you. Make plans for your weekends instead of just letting them pass by. On the other side, don’t just assume that relaxation automatically happens when you sit down in your house with nothing to do. Create the conditions for relaxation. Get in comfortable clothes and choose activities that will help you wind down, like a warm bath or an episode of a mindless comedy TV show.
Build in habits that promote long-term well-being so that you can have a calmer baseline state, and aren’t seeking out those emergency calm strategies as often.