Now is a crucial time for holistic health solutions and mental health awareness, although it is an extremely difficult time to engage in such self-care. Many are finding themselves in uncharted territory of stressors. Your mental and physical wellbeing is important in how you cope with stress and depressive episodes, as it is a form of coping in itself. This is not a how-to (I'm not here to generalize your life experience), but more-so a toolbox to help you engage in healthy coping habits and self-awareness.
An intuitive way to engage in self-awareness is by listening to your body and being mindful of your responses. It can help you identify emotional triggers and in result, be able to replace those habits or thinking patterns. For instance, you find yourself peaking towards a panic attack or something has agitated your mood. Take a moment to identify the event that triggered that feeling. How may you deal with that event or stop engaging in such an activity, if possible? Another technique to self-awareness and self-care is to evaluate your usual environments, those that you have control over (i.e., home, work, activities, other family settings). How conducive are these places to your wellbeing? What particulars can you change within these settings? It is rare that an individual can quit a stressful job, or uproot their families from their homes, especially during a crushing pandemic. Certainly, our workplace environments have changed in response to the pandemic, perhaps for the best; or for some, creating a more stressful circumstance. Small habits make a huge impact one way or another. So, what can you do? Create peace. Find a single moment in the day at minimal, to incorporate a quiet break alone. Have a mindful moment with yourself even if this is your lunch break. Be still. Practice breathwork. Engage in positive self-talk. Do not dwell on what needs to be done, or what is not working as you expected. Your entire day cannot be consumed with worry or fear, as anxiety builds up and stress weakens the immune. If you are a meditator, take 7 minutes for it daily. If you are not, I personally recommend it as a technique in holistic wellness. Or it may be as simple as eating lunch in your vehicle, away from noise or distractions. Mindful moments, breathwork and meditation have the power (through you) to positively impact your body, mind, and spirit (holism).
Somatic techniques for self-soothing can aid in grounding. Self-soothing is a term often used to reference coping in babies but is very much a form of self-regulation in adults. If you have suffered trauma as most have, or currently in a trauma stage, consider these applications:
Use 5 senses to identify with your current environment (“I smell…. I hear… I feel” … temperature, taste, patterns, textures, and so on.)
Breathwork while counting. Slow, deep breaths. Inhale 4 seconds through your nose. Exhale 6 seconds through your mouth (find the count that works best for you). Repeat 6 or 7 times. Best applied while sitting comfortably.
Ground yourself by standing barefoot on soil or earth. Plant your heels, raise your arms, and close your eyes. From there, you may employ a number of thoughts or phrases. Encourage yourself, salute the sun, pray, empty your mind, acknowledge your senses…
Place a cold towel on the back of your neck for a calming experience. Repeat as needed. Lightly add an essential oil that you find pleasant or grounding.
Take a short, cold shower. It is great for circulation and waking up and can also be an immune booster.
Rest one hand on your belly and one on your chest (or simply one hand on your belly). Feel your breaths as you breathe deeply. Thank your body for serving you.
Cry if you feel the need. Have an emotional release that does not involve lashing out at others. Bottling emotions can be harmful.
-Put these techniques into your coping toolbox for moments of overwhelm.
More tools for conscious/mindful coping:
Therapy comes in many forms and I enjoy emphasizing that. With lockdown measures, this is a time in which we can explore in-home and outdoor activities. Such is considered as distraction activities, but they are crucial in finding balance. Gardening and plant-parenting have flourished as a go-to activity. Plants serve many purposes and are beneficial to health, quite literally. They can cleanse your air and ease your mind. If you are unfamiliar with caring for plants, there are many low maintenance indoor plants. I personally love plants in the ivy family, aloe, or tropical indoor plants that are low-light. Here is a helpful list of indoor happy plants. If you have pets, keep in mind that they may be drawn to chew on your plant babes. My cats are relentless with this. So, make sure whatever you choose is pet friendly or that you have a safe space for them. Reading has also found its way back into the day-to-day. There were already lots of loyal readers out there, but I think it is safe to say that social media and other technological distractions have kept many of us from reading regularly. Just as you can escape into a movie, you can indulge in another world through a book. I recommend the Book Shop, which allows you to shop local and small bookstores. If you are like me then you love both paperback and audiobooks. Nothing like the smell of a book to change your mood, but sometimes an audiobook is just what you need while cooking or cleaning.
Consider where you are putting your energy. Is it serving your life positively or bringing you down? Your time and energy are precious. Treat it as such to eliminate unnecessary stressors. If there is one thing that we do not have much of, it is time. Be selective.
Values are very much a driving force in our decisions and desires. Does your lifestyle honor your personal values? If not, you may feel an imbalance or a pull to make change. If you feel stuck, may a list of your values then consider how you live by each one of those, and how you may be neglecting other areas. Where can change be made (currently)?
Sobriety. If you are not living a sober lifestyle or have not struggled with addiction, the idea of sobriety may not be a consideration. I am here to tell you as a licensed substance abuse counselor, that sobriety can be for anyone. It has many positive aspects physiologically and being sober allows for healthier coping skills. However, if you are in recovery or would like to be, here are a few helpful tools for everyday living. But please, reach out if you find yourself slipping. Support is key (side note: while we no longer offer substance abuse counseling, we will be happy to help you with related resources).
For those spiritual beings out there: Ceremonial practices can be healing and encouraging, even when symbolic. At the end of every year, and sometimes as a new moon practice, I write down what no longer serves me or what I would like to rid myself of (letting go). I take that piece of paper and destroy it, while expressing my intentions to the universe (use whatever applies to your faith). You may simply rip the paper to shreds and throw it out. I personally burn it, in a safe place and away from hazards (please be careful). From there, you work on moving forward and make necessary changes in your life, while avoiding negativity.
Gratitude may feel murky when you are discouraged, especially under dire circumstances. Expressing gratitude does not have to be directed at anything specific, although it can. Gratitude is a mindset and is unique to you. You may acknowledge that you do not know what your next step is but that you are grateful for the strength that resides within you. And that resonates with many of us. We are resilient and ever-changing. The gratitude mindset is important to your mental and physical health, including gut health, because you are not harboring negative thinking patterns or anxiety. I briefly touch on the gut-brain connection in this previously posted blog. I will likely provide a more in-depth look at gut health in the near future. Lack of gratitude could mean and increase in anxiety and general stress, weakening your body’s ability to keep you healthy.
You may be experiencing depression or depressive episodes. If you have experienced loss in any capacity, depressive episodes are likely (not the same as major depressive disorder). Pay attention to your moods and how long they last. Are you over isolating, losing interest in what you normally enjoy, easily agitated, consistently heavy or sad, loss of appetite, or having major sleep disturbances? This is not a complete list and these symptoms of depression can be a sign of many other issues, but are all unhealthy signs, nonetheless. Do not engage in negative thinking patterns but do process your emotions as well as you can. Also do your best to ensure that you have a healthy, supportive environment. Your environment is just as important and your internal health. If you experience suicidal ideation or if your symptoms persist, please reach out for help. Support networks can be friends, family, medical practitioners, or peers. Keep in mind, not all your loved ones will or can be supportive. They may also be struggling or may not know how to show up. Here is a supportive call line for suicidal and depressive thoughts: 1-800-273-TALK (SAMSHA organization). Additionally, if you are struggling with the circumstances you are experiencing due to the pandemic, you may also reach out to SAMSHA’s Disaster Helpline at 1-800-985-5990. Visit their website HERE for more information on counseling and support services. Otherwise, please make a therapeutic or medical appointment if you are struggling. You are not alone.
Wishing everyone a safe and healthy new year. Please be mindful and stay well!
MSc, LCDC, Holistic Nutritionist