How I Improve my Mental Health
A process to reduce anxiety, stress and a lack of motivation
Have you ever been in a slump? These are those times when you’re apathetic to life, tired, unmotivated at work or anxious about anything and everything. This leads to a lot of time on your phone, a distracted mind and maybe that extra pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
I’ve been in a slump for the last few weeks. It feels like I have no motivation, I’ve been ducking calls from friends who want to catch up, and I’m tired all day (until I’m trying to get to bed and my mind is swirling).
I tend to spiral during these times. This is because I always try to understand why I'm feeling the way that I am. This leads to "stories" that tie my feelings to narratives that often aren’t true:
I feel stressed because I can't manage everything at work.
I feel lethargic because I have no passions in life that keep me energized.
I feel lost because I don't know what I'm doing in life.
Small molehills turn into mountains because we tie our feelings to logical narratives.
Fortunately, I have a method that helps me get my mojo back when I feel anxiety, stress or lethargy creeping in: I check my boxes. This means assessing where I stand on the five tenants of a healthy, happy life:
Checking your boxes can save you time and heartache when you’re in a slump. Most importantly, it gives you a path out of your rut.
Checking my Boxes
Start by answering each question for yourself. Next, identify the ones that you’re falling short on. Here’s why each is important + one tip to improve each of these tenants.
Am I sleeping well? 💤
According to Harvard Health, sleep deprivation is overly represented amongst psychiatric patients compared to the general population. This link is well-known and treating your sleep challenges can help alleviate symptoms of bad mental health.
Tip to improve: Find the ideal amount of sleep you need by experimenting. Set a regular bedtime and wake up consistently throughout the week
Am I eating healthy? 🍽
Healthy is relative, but you'll know how your body feels. Improving your mental state can be as easy as adding some “premium fuel” to your system.
Tip to improve: Drink more water. This is a low-effort action that has numerous benefits.
Am I exercising enough? 🏃♀️
Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function (source).
If you have a favourite exercise, try to get back into the rhythm and build that habit. If not, try something new!
Tip to improve: Go for a walk every day. This is especially true if you’re working from home. Being outside will refresh your mind while getting some steps in.
Am I practicing mindfulness? 🧘♂️
Practicing mindfulness (often done through meditation) can help you be more present. This is especially important in slumps when it is hard to focus, and distractions vie for your attention.
Tip to improve: 10-minutes of Headspace can change your day. For me, I try to carve some time out of my schedule in the morning to meditate.
Am I spending time with people? 👭
Whether you're an introvert or extrovert, social connection is a key driver in life satisfaction. Spending time with a friend can boost your mood and help you feel a less lonely.
Tip to improve: Schedule a phone call with a close friend or go for a walk with a loved one.
Why does checking your bases work?
Mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked. People living with a serious mental illness are at higher risk of experiencing a wide range of chronic physical conditions. Conversely, people living with chronic physical health conditions experience depression and anxiety at twice the rate of the general population.
Canadian Mental Health Assocaition (2008)
Rather than obsessing over negative emotions, focus instead on improving your physical health. This will give you more energy, help you become happier and build positive momentum for harder challenges.
Anxiety thrives on our desire to think about the problem a lot. If you're able to shift your focus to a more productive outcome, like practicing mindfulness, you'll spend less time giving into your anxiety.
Once all your boxes are checked, smaller mental health challenges will dissipate. What's better is that you'll now have a much stronger foundation to tackle the real, long-term challenges that make life worthwhile.
Next time you’re in a slump, check your bases to build a path out of it.
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Until next time,