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Published on June 24, 2020

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

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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 July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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