You know when your body needs a break. You’re tired, weak, and exhausted. But have you ever had the feeling that it’s really not your body that needs a rest, it’s actually your brain?
Even if you take prescription medications for anxiety or depression, you still have to take care of your mind. Just like with diseases like diabetes or hypertension, medications will not make you well by themselves. Even if you have a therapist, you still have to put into practice the suggestions and strategies offered to you in those sessions. Just like your body needs rest, good nutrition, and adequate hydration, your mind needs a break from thinking, problem-solving and worrying.
There are simple things you can do every day to help you feel mentally strong, calm, and in control.
I don’t think meditation is for everyone. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, you should consult your healthcare provider before starting a meditation practice. There are some good studies on the benefits of meditation, and I’ve included some articles at the end of this post to get you started.
I’ve done several kinds of meditation (Silva Method, Transcendental Meditation, and Gurdjieff)- over the past three decades. I’ve distilled my personal practice down this: every morning, while the water comes to a boil in the tea kettle on the stove, I meditate for 10-15 minutes. I sit on the sofa, close my eyes, and simply pay attention to my breath going in and out of my nose. If my mind wanders, I return to shift my attention back to breathing. Because I’ve done this for so long, I’ve trained my body and mind to quickly relax. If you’ve never practiced meditation, don’t be discouraged. It takes practice to relax your body, stay still, and bring your mind back to your breath or mantra if you use one.
At the end of every meditation, I say some affirmations that focus on the day ahead. My current favorite affirmation I practice before work is, “Today I will stay calm and focused. I help every person I come in contact with. People are nice to me. Time goes quickly because I am enjoying my day.” If my diet has gone off the rails, then I go with, “Today my blood sugar stays steady. I have all the energy I need to do my work without eating candy. I eat healthy food so I feel good today.”
It’s true that the right kind of exercise is good for the body. It can help you maintain your weight, which aids in the healing of many chronic illnesses. One of the forgotten benefits of exercise is that it’s really good for your brain. I’ve included a few articles at the bottom of this post. In addition, exercise helps you sleep better, and improves mood. When I have a really hard workout in the morning, one that left me sweating and surprised I made it through the workout, I often find it sets the tone for the day. I know no matter what challenges come my way at work, I made it through a difficult workout. I can make it through work too.
Also, when I work out in the morning it keeps my blood sugar stable and my energy levels steady. This helps my body resist sugar cravings which lead to sugar eatings, which then lead to energy crashes and brain fog. I truly am sharper mentally the days I work out.
If you’re not able to exercise before work, a workout at the end of the day may work for you. I have friends that swear by the end of the workday yoga class to decompress, relax, and leave the worries of the day behind. They love the stretching and physical challenge and mental focus that yoga brings. Some people go on a run or a bike ride at the end of the day to blow off some steam. Afterward, they are able to settle down and enjoy the rest of their evening.
Limit Exposure to Drama
Listening to or engaging in too much complaining and catastrophizing feeds the worry. It’s fine to plan for things not going well. For example, setting money aside for an emergency is not the same thing as talking about and constantly thinking about the emergency. You buy homeowner’s insurance but don’t spend every minute worrying that something bad will happen to your house. Plan ahead and move on. It’s quite another thing to fixate on these things at the expense of any hopeful thoughts getting in your head.
If you have a friend or family member that constantly says negative things or fixates and ruminates on what can go wrong, maybe you can strike a deal with that person. They can talk about what they are worried about for 5 minutes only. Then the topic has to change to one of positivity and hope or whatever good happened that day.
At the end of every school day, my husband would ask the kids, “What was the best thing that happened today?” They all had to answer, and we would share what happened in those moments. He was training their young minds to look for the good. You can still train your somewhat older mind to look for the good. It’s not that you’re ignoring the bad or pretending the bad didn’t happen. You’re just giving your brain a break.
If you’re the worrier or trouble seeker, you can do the same to yourself. At the end of each day, take out a piece of paper and write down everything you’re afraid will happen. Once you put your thoughts on paper, set them aside so you can get to sleep. You don’t have to throw away the paper. If you need it there to remind yourself to worry then it’s there, but just for one night, put it aside. Get some worry-free rest. Try it again the next night.
Make your mental health a priority. Give your brain a break by meditating if that appeals to you. It doesn’t have to be a formal practice or take up a lot of time. Exercise so that you get good sleep. Limit exposure to negative thoughts and words so that you can focus on the positive and decrease anxiousness. Each of these things is simple to do but takes practice to make them a habit. Start today. You can do it.