Now more than ever, taking care of your mental health is important. With the COVID-19 pandemic, and large numbers of us working in isolation and practising social distancing, the strain of this additional stress and anxiety can quickly take its toll. 

There is a lot of advice that speaks to techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and exercise as ways to combat these feelings and find balance. These are great starting places, but there is more you can do to promote and nurture your own wellbeing when you’re feeling stressed.

To add to your self-help toolkit, we’re offering you five different strategies that are “off the beaten path” that you can use when you’re looking for a way to find balance and calm your system. These curated suggestions all have an evidence-based backing to support their use in day-to-day life, and can provide you with immediate relief from feelings of anxiety and stress.

Nature or Forest Bathing

Nature or forest bathing might sound a little strange at first, however there is considerable scientific evidence to support this practice of simply getting outside into nature. Though talking a walk in the woods is not something new or innovative, the Japanese pioneered forest bathing in the 1980s, and it is simply understood as immersing oneself in nature or the forest for a period of one to two hours, several times a week.

Research has demonstrated that forest bathing can reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory. Even more interesting is that a chemical released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, was found to boost the immune system.

Forest bathing has so many benefits that the Japanese government incorporated it into the country’s health program, and it continues to be adopted by other countries as an effective “social prescription” for stress management.

To practice, find a safe, quiet area away from an urban environment where you can dedicate at least an hour to walk, sit and simply immerse yourself in natural surroundings. It can be especially helpful to schedule this time in your calendar, as studies have shown that by writing down an activity and committing to it, you’re more likely to follow through.

24/6 Tech Free Lifestyle 

There is a growing movement of individuals and organizations who promote the idea of setting aside one day per week to be completely tech and screen free. This is more than a detox from social media or checking email. Instead it is a total elimination of all screens and tech devices for an entire 24 hours.

When practiced on a regular basis, individuals report increased feelings of happiness, and satisfaction with their weekly routines. Going tech free for an entire day promotes stress reduction because the intention is to give yourself time to slow down and step away from the constant disruption that tech brings with it. 

Not only that, but it’s a great way to dedicate the time to get outside, read a book, or start a new hobby. These practices can all contribute to improved mood, and reduced feelings of anxiety, and depression, while fostering more healthy use of screens and technology in our daily lives.

Affirmations for Anxiety and Stress Reduction

Affirmations are more than positive self-talk or wishful thinking as to how your world should look. Instead there is ample research that supports the use of positive affirmations to help address a host of daily challenges including stress and anxiety.

In the same way that negative self-talk can significantly increase feelings of depression, low self-esteem and self-critical behaviors, flipping the narrative to one of positive thoughts and repeating these consistently for a period of time throughout the day can have the opposite effect. For example, one study showed that by focusing on and repeating your best qualities you can calm your nerves, increase your self-esteem and have a more likely chance of a positive outcome in a high-performance situation.

To incorporate affirmations into your routine, try the following:

  • Choose an affirmation that is in line with your intention for the day. It could be something like “I am confident and composed under pressure.”
  • Find a quiet place to sit and relax.
  • Speak the affirmation out loud or repeat it in your mind for five minutes, preferably three times per day.
  • Focus on the meaning of each word when it is spoken or repeated.

The key to success with affirmations is that you must truly believe that what you are repeating is real and accurate. If you don’t fully commit to your affirmation, it will not have the same effect in helping to manage your feelings of stress or anxiety.

Nutritional Psychiatry

You’ve heard it said that you are what you eat, and the practice of nutritional psychiatry would fully support this assertion. The food that you eat ultimately is the fuel that your brain uses for both conscious and subconscious activity. As the control centre for your entire body, you want to ensure that you’re giving it the right mix of nutrients, because what you put into your body will affect the function of your brain and your mood.

When you’re feeling stressed it can be easy to turn to a diet of foods that are processed or full of chemical additives, take out and prepackaged meals that tout convenience over nutritional value. There’s also a lot of comfort in indulging in favorite foods like pasta, baked goods and greasy burgers and fries, and right now this is something we all need a little bit of.

With that said, there are consequences to these kinds of food choices like reduced energy, lethargy, and blood sugar issues that can increase feelings of depression and anxiety.

To help make healthy eating easier, consider adopting the 80/20 rule here. The approach suggests eating nutrient dense foods 80% of the time, while allowing room for favorite comfort foods the other 20%.

Meal planning and advanced prep can also make this easier, as you’ve eliminated the dreaded “what’s for dinner?” question by already having options ready to go. By taking the guesswork out of what to eat, and focusing on foods that adequately support your brain and body, you will go a long way towards better mental health.

Grounding Techniques

Commonly used in psychology, grounding techniques are part of a practice where you learn to pull away from distressing images, thoughts, flashbacks or difficult emotions. These actions can include physical and mental techniques as well as self-soothing actions you can use when you’re feeling triggered. 

Grounding acts as a distraction from the triggering thought, and gets you to focus on the present moment and the specific activity at hand. Examples of physical and mental grounding include:

  • Putting your hands in water and focusing on the temperature, and how it feels on different parts of your hand.
  • Savoring a small amount of a favorite food or drink and focusing on the taste and texture.
  • Tuning into your surroundings and listening for things like birds singing, dogs barking, or children playing outside, with a focus on what’s actually going on around you.
  • Playing a memory game where you look intensely at a photograph or image for 5-10 seconds, and then remove it from view. Recreate the photo in your mind with as much detail as possible.
  • Reciting a song, poem, phrase or book that you know off by heart with a focus on the words and how they feel when you say them.
  • Picturing yourself leaving behind difficult emotions by mentally balling them up and putting them in a box, or seeing yourself running or walking away from them.

Using these and other grounding strategies can help you reduce your stress levels and improve your mood. Most importantly, they’re easy to learn and can be used anywhere and at any time.

 

Next Steps

While it’s important to maintain proper sleep habits and get regular physical activity to help manage stress, there are other things you can do to personalize your own wellness routine. Consider the benefits of forest bathing as you plan for a tech and screen free day for yourself. 

You may want to take the time to write out a simple meal plan for the coming week that is inclusive of whole grains, fresh produce, and healthy fats while leaving space for the occasional bite of chocolate or slice of cake from the bakery. Achieving mental wellness when you’re stressed is a balancing act, but with these suggestions you can be well on your way to finding the relief you’re looking for.

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