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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Protect Your Mental Health in Tough Times

How to Protect Your Mental Health in Tough Times

If you’re not protecting your mental health right now, you’re either struggling or a superhero. Even before the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in things, there was plenty to stress about.

Concerns about everything from dirty dishes to climate change can affect your mental health. Just remember: You control your mental state. You may not be able to solve all of life’s challenges, but you can keep them from getting to you.

Safeguarding your mental health isn’t just about keeping your stress levels in check, either. For yourself and others, it’s critical for a healthy, productive life.

Why Protect Your Mental Health?

You protect your mental health in tough times for the same reason you wear a life preserver when you get in the water: Not only does it keep you afloat, but it ensures you’re able to help others who rely on you.

What should you do when the waters get choppy? Strap in. Maintaining your mental health in tough times helps you:

Cultivate Resilience

Resilience is the ability to get back up after you get knocked down. If you let the small things get you down, you’ll struggle to rise to life’s actual challenges. Protecting your mental health ensures you’ll be able to face whatever comes your way.

Stay Productive

When you can’t get something off your mind, it’s practically impossible to do your best work. You know what it’s like: You fidget and stress, but you still can’t seem to focus on the task at hand.

A key step in protecting your mental health is being able to let go. You can’t change everything from your desk, so stop worrying about it for the time being.

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Create Stability For Others

Who relies on you? Your spouse? Your parents or siblings? Your loved ones worry about you, just like you worry about them.

Even if you aren’t financially supporting someone, your stability affects their stability. If your mental health is a mess all the time, it’s going to be tough for them to live their best life.

Of course, knowing your mental health matters and actually protecting it are two different things. You need ways to stay strong, no matter what’s happening in your life.

How to Protect Your Mental Health

Protecting your mental health starts with a simple commitment: to separate your internal state from what’s going on around you. Here’s how to do it:

1. Talk it Out

The first and most important step to protecting your mental health? Speaking up.

Opening up to friends and family about your mental health challenges isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it proves you’re strong enough to show others the not-so-perfect parts of your life.

Need an easy way to start the conversation? You could say:

  • “I want to share something with you.”
  • “I’ve been thinking about…”
  • “Can we talk about…?”
  • “I’ve been struggling with…”

Any one of these will allow an easy in to a conversation you need to have.

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2. Shrink Your Screen Time

Tempting as it is right now, spending hours each day on social media isn’t good for your mental health. At best, you’ll distract yourself from what matters; at worst, you’ll internalize all the bad news and anger online.

Young people are particularly prone to this, but they’re not alone. A friend of mine got her daughter a Gabb phone, which is a safe phone for kids[1] that helps limit screen time. After I got my niece one, it made me think about how much I need to limit my own screen time.

I haven’t swapped out my smartphone, but I have put boundaries on how I use it. I limit myself to two hours of surfing per day, with a hard stop at 9 p.m. I don’t touch it again until I leave for work in the morning. Consider doing something similar to get yourself away from your screen.

3. Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

Another lesson I’ve learned about maintaining my mental health? Avoiding drugs and alcohol is key.

A few years ago, I got in the habit of pouring myself a glass of wine after a long day. It sure helped me unwind from the stresses of work, so I figured it was worth the health risks.

What nobody told me, though, is that alcohol makes anxiety worse. A few hours after having a drink, I noticed I’d get stressed out. Cutting back helped me get back to my normal self.

4. Don’t Neglect Your Diet

Have you ever heard medical experts call your gut “your second brain”? The reason is that the gastrointestinal tract has more nerve endings than anywhere in the body apart from the brain.

Every bite you take affects those gut nerves. Nutritious foods — the fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats your mother likes to talk about — nurture it, while unhealthy ones upset it.

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Cook meals at home whenever you can, and keep an eye on your snack intake. Even if you’re eating salmon and broccoli for dinner, binging on processed snacks at night could be messing with your mental health.

5. Stay Active

Your physical and mental health are more connected than you might realize. Regular exercise can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety as effectively, in some cases, as medication[2].

What type of exercise is best for mental health? Opt for cardio, but realize that anything is better than nothing. Whether you like to swim, run, row, or lift, get some fresh blood to your brain.

Don’t let your current fitness level be a barrier. When I was looking at new ways to exercise, I was looking at what a lot of busy entrepreneurs do to work out. I randomly came upon a site where Mark Cuban got a new e-bike and figured I would try one out. Within a few weeks, I was cruising for miles while listening to my favorite podcasts. It’s become one of my favorite times to learn while staying active.

6. Give Yourself a Break

Although perseverance is admirable, you have to cut yourself some slack when times get tough. Taking breaks is critical if you want to keep going for the long term.

Because I struggle to take breaks, I use the Pomodoro Method: I buckle down for 25 minutes, after which I give myself a five-minute break. There’s no right or wrong approach, but you do need a system.

How should you spend your breaks? Do something that rejuvenates you, such as:

  • Reading a book
  • Calling up a friend
  • Taking a bath or shower
  • Taking a nap
  • Going for a walk

7. Get Outdoors

Speaking of going for a walk, there’s no better way to get some headspace than to get outside. There’s just something about the smell of fresh air and the feeling of sun on your skin that melts stress.

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Pair this tactic with others in this list. For outdoor exercise, you could go for a run around the neighborhood. Leave your phone inside, or stow it in your pocket while you’re enjoying time outside.

Although the outdoors can be a great break from work, it’s also a great place to work remotely. Most managers won’t mind you knocking out proposals from a picnic table.

8. Lose Yourself in a Hobby

Sometimes, an hour in the sun isn’t enough to take your mind off what’s bothering you. In that case, try diving into your favorite hobby.

Practicing a hobby helps you get into a “flow” state, which is when you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you lose track of the world around you. That mental break can be just what you need to get some perspective.

As with exercise, what the hobby is isn’t as important as your ability to stick with it. If you don’t have much time or money to spend, good options include:

  • Drawing
  • Hiking
  • Reading
  • Dancing
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Knitting
  • Writing

9. Ask for Help

In rare cases, you might not be able to protect your mental health alone. If you’re feeling outgunned, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. Although they mean well, your family and friends simply can’t provide the level of support a mental health expert can.

Remember, there are resources out there to help you get through tough times. Talk to your doctor, or reach out to one of the following helplines:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline: 800-662-4357
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline: 800-950-6264

The Bottom Line

Whatever you’re going through, remember: Your mental health matters. Whether you’re weathering a pandemic or just trying to organize your day, protecting your mental health is imperative in order to stay productive and happy. Make time for yourself and do what you have to in order to conquer stress.

More Tips for Mental Strength

Featured photo credit: Eye for Ebony via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Gabb Wireless: 5 Ways to Regain Control Over Screen Time
[2] National Institutes of Health: Exercise for Mental Health

More by this author

Kimberly Zhang

Kimberly Zhang is the Chief Editor of Under30CEO and has a passion for educating the next generation of leaders to be successful.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

How to Cope With the Stages of Grief and Heal After Loss

How to Cope With the Stages of Grief and Heal After Loss

The death of a loved one is, unfortunately, something most of us have experienced or will experience at some point in our lives, but grief and loss are not felt only when someone passes away. You may move through the stages of grief quickly or slowly, and you may even find yourself moving back to a stage you thought you had passed. People grieve differently, and there is no correct way to grieve in any situation.

A close friend or family member moving away, a divorce or breakup, loss of a job, as well as a number of other life experiences can cause feelings of grief or loss. Coping with loss is one of the most stressful and difficult things we have to deal with in life, but it is an experience everyone can relate to.

The Stages of Grief

The five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—are related to the common emotions we go through when we experience loss. This grief model was identified by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969[1].

However, because everyone is different, there is no “standard” way to react to grief and loss.[2]

Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeves and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally, and may not cry. You should try not to judge how a person experiences grief, as each person will experience it differently.

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Stages of grief

    Stage 1: Denial

    The feeling of shock when you first find out about a loss can lead to thinking, “This isn’t real.” This is a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion and a defense mechanism for your mind.[3]

    Stage 2: Anger

    Feelings of frustration and helplessness take hold during this stage. Thoughts like “It’s not fair” can be common. Even being angry at your loved one who died for “leaving you behind” is natural. This anger can spill over into your close relationships, and you can find yourself getting angry at those around you for no apparent reason.

    Stage 3: Bargaining

    During this stage, you are constantly thinking about what you could have done to prevent the loss. Thoughts of “What if…” and “If only…” replay in the mind. You might also try to bargain with a higher power in hopes of reversing the loss.

    Stage 4: Depression

    This stage brings the deep sadness you feel as you realize the loss is irreversible. You think about how your life will be affected by the loss. Crying, loss of appetite, feelings of loneliness, and unusual sleeping patterns are all signs of depression.

    Stage 5: Acceptance

    You accept the loss, and although you’re still sad, you slowly start to move on with your life and settle in to your new reality.

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    The stages of grief don’t have to be in this order, and you might not experience all stages. There is also no set time period for grieving, and some people take longer to heal than others.

    How to Heal From Grief and Loss

    When you’re experiencing those heartbreaking feelings and the stages of grief, it’s hard to believe that you’ll eventually heal, but you really will. Here are some ways to help the healing process:

    1. Confront the Painful Emotions

    Try not to bottle up your emotions. Allow yourself to express how you feel. It’s a healthy part of the grieving process.[4]

    If you’re not ready to get together with friends and family to talk about how you’re feeling, you can work with your emotions through mindful meditation, which can help create space for you to take a look at what you’re feeling and why.

    2. Talk About It

    When you’re ready and have entered the final stages of grief, talking to someone about the way you are feeling can be very helpful in starting the healing process. Often, people want to isolate themselves while grieving, but being around friends and family can help. Talking can also help you to confront your emotions if you have been unable to.

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    3. Keep up With Your Routine

    Loss can make you feel like your world has been turned upside down. As you move through the stages of grief, getting through your daily routine may feel more difficult, which can cause you to put self-care to the side. Keeping up with your routine can help bring back some normality and ensure you are showing yourself love and consideration.

    4. Take Care of Yourself

    When you are grieving and depressed, simple things like eating become an afterthought, and sleeping may become difficult. Taking care of yourself and your health will help with the healing process.

    While you may not do everything you were doing before your loss, try to do one act of self-care each day. It can be taking a long bath, going for a walk, making a nice meal, or even practicing a hobby once you feel ready. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated; it just needs to be something that makes you feel good.

    5. Don’t Make Any Major Decisions

    Grief clouds the ability to make sound decisions.[5] Try to postpone making any big decisions for a while or get guidance from close friends or family if you can’t put it off.

    Grief may also make you feel like making major changes to your life, such as quitting a job or ending a relationship. Try to remember that now is not the best time to make these changes, and hold off further consideration until you have moved through all of the stages of grief.

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    The Bottom Line

    It is important to heal after a loss so that you can get on with life. There is no set time period for grieving, but if you feel that your grief isn’t getting better, and you are unable to accept the loss, it might be time to seek advice from a mental health professional.

    In the meantime, accept that now is a difficult time, but that it will get better. Time will inevitably help and make the pain less powerful. One day, you will wake up and realize the pain is simply a small echo in the back of your mind and that you have successfully moved through each of the stages of grief. It’s time to get back to your life.

    More on Dealing With the Stages of Grief

    Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com

    Reference

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