The winter can have a significant negative impact on our mood and as the pandemic rages on, and lockdowns and isolation wear us down, understanding how to best support our mental health is of vital importance.
If you celebrate Christmas, or just enjoy the holidays, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of the festive season, only to come crashing down in the new year. That’s why it’s important to start little habits to support your mental health now so you’re feeling good once the holidays wind down.
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Start by treating your mental health as you would your physical health — check in with yourself daily and see where you could adjust your lifestyle to support your journey. Remember to always consult with your medical professional when necessary or call 911 in case of an emergency.
HuffPost Canada connected with B.C.-based counsellor Esha Shoker MA, RCC, for her expert advice on building your own mental health tool kit. Together, we’ve put together some techniques you can take or leave to empower yourself to take charge of your own health, especially once the holidays wind down.
In our hustle culture, working around the clock is often celebrated while the importance of slowing down is at times overlooked. While organized multi-tasking can be useful, prioritizing your daily rest is paramount to supporting your health.
We’ve found that a nightly wind-down routine before bed helps with logging enough quality zzzz’s, and whether you choose to add a warm bath, some journaling or another relaxing activity to your bedtime routine, switching off your screens needs to be at the top of your to-do list.
IPhone users can take advantage of a helpful Do Not Disturb setting that silences incoming calls and alerts while your device is locked, but when it comes to physically slowing your scroll, you need to prioritize and physically put your phone down.
“Powering down helps remove unhealthy feelings of jealousy, envy and loneliness [and] combats fear of missing out,” Shoker says on the importance of using technology responsibly.
With the constant onslaught of scary news and the pandemic moving into its 10th month, it’s no wonder many of us are feeling overwhelmed. Although it might seem difficult at first to see the sunshine through the clouds, we’ve found some success in celebrating life’s little joys to help us shift towards a more positive mindset.
Keeping a gratitude journal is a manageable way to take note of simple things that make you feel glad — a particularly glorious sunset, the smell of fresh baked cookies, hugs from your bubbled loved ones or a Zoom call with Grandma. Acknowledge and write down these moments of gratitude and start to see everything you have to be grateful for right in front of you.
Carve out a few extra minutes in the morning to make this ritual a significant part of your daily routine and begin each day in quiet acknowledgement of this joyful experience. Shoker explains, “Solitude grounds us. It provides the stillness and quiet required to evaluate our lives and reflect on the message in our hearts.”
Try a mindfulness ritual
Start each day with a few moments of mindful breathing or meditation — just five slow deep breaths before you start your day can help clear your mind, ease anxiety, and provide the perfect canvas to set an intention.
Practising mindfulness can give you the opportunity to release stressful, anxious thoughts — taking time away from your phone as the day begins is key here — put yourself in control of how information enters your awareness instead of being bombarded by the news cycle and your social feed.
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Adopt simple mindfulness practices throughout the day: take a moment as you eat lunch to taste and enjoy your food, noticing the flavours and textures. Block off time for a weekly walking meditation outside or simply observe your surroundings on your way to run errands — observe the cool breeze, the change in seasons as the leaves fall from the trees, or perhaps the pattern of snowflakes as they tumble around you. Ground yourself in nature.
Practice self-love, in all its forms
When it comes to your mental health, self-love runs so much deeper than bubble baths and turmeric lattes. While we love indulging in both of those rituals, the concept of self-love and self-kindness asks us to truly love ourselves as we are, and as challenging as this sounds at first, we’ve found success using positive affirmations and a practice of daily mantras.
Think about the energy you project when you look into your bathroom mirror and criticize yourself — now, what if you looked at yourself with loving kindness each morning and praised your body for its strength or your mind for its intelligence? Reflecting yourself in a positive light and consistently reaffirming that point of view can powerfully impact your sense of self and uplift your mood.
Self-love doesn’t end with a morning pep talk — we find it empowering to practice mantras throughout the day. Try repeating silently, “I am enough,” as you enjoy your afternoon smoothie break or, “I am worthy of love,” as you drive to pick up groceries.
We also strongly recommend a social media detox to cleanse your feed of accounts that make you feel less-than. Practice self-love and avoid comparison — follow accounts that are positive and make you feel inspired!
Establish support networks
We can all benefit greatly from a strong support network and a sense of community and while our current quarantine reality certainly makes it harder to stay in touch, it’s still important to reach out and stay connected.
Let your network know when you need help or lend an empathetic ear to a friend in need. Consider working with a professional to support your mental health just as you would work out with a trainer to support your physical health goals.
“Venting to a friend may make you feel better, but speaking with a counsellor will help you make long-term and real changes to keep you on a path of healing,” Shoker explains.
“Although talking and sharing your experiences is a big part of counselling, that’s not all there is to it. A counsellor is there to give you new perspective and to guide your journey. It is important to note that a trained professional is better equipped to provide tools necessary to get you to a place of healing and relief,” she says.
If you’re not sure how to choose the right therapist, check out these tips.
WATCH: How to find mental health help.