If you’ve felt increased stress, anxiety, nervousness, lethargy, brain fog, apathy, memory issues, or the like over the past 12 months, you are most definitely not alone. The global pandemic has wreaked havoc on the mental health of people around the world. Still, that's not to say we can't do anything about it.
Let’s take a look at some ways to refresh and recalibrate in 2021...
Connect with others
While there might be some constraints regarding who you can meet with in person right now, chances are you do have the ability to connect with your friends and family virtually. Set up a biweekly Zoom happy hour with old school friends or go traveling via Google Earth with your usual adventure buddies. Get outdoors and take a socially distanced hike! Watch movies and laugh together over a video call. Trade memes about the latest viral sensation. You’ll surprise yourself with how creative you can get with this.
Breathe in, breathe out
More specifically, try box breathing. This is a technique in which you breathe in to the count of four, hold that breath for a count of four, breathe out to the count of four, and then hold the exhale for a count of four, and then repeat the cycle for two, three, or four minutes. Focusing on your breathing in this way is an intentional way to slow down, recognize your presence, and acknowledge your thoughts. #mindfulness
Rethink your diet
With stressors seemingly coming from all sides over the past year, it was not uncommon for people to resort to bingeing or eating unhealthy foods they wouldn’t normally eat. Perhaps the takeout orders far exceeded the supermarket runs to limit your potential exposure to Covid-19. Whatever the case, make sure to reduce your saturated fat and sugar intake and trend towards healthy foods that help you refocus, reframe, rebuild, and reorganize your life. Avoid processed foods and keep in mind “the Neuro 9”: leafy green vegetables, whole grains, seeds, beans, berries, nuts, crucifers, tea, and herbs and spices.
Most doctors recommend 20-30 minutes of exercise each day. What are you doing to make that happen? If you cannot get to a gym or get outside, check out YouTube for workout videos you can do at home. Zumba workouts and high-energy options abound. Walks around the neighborhood or around the local school’s track also do the trick. If it’s difficult to get motivated, try adding this as a task on your to-do-list to later scratch off or do it right before or after your usual working time.
Identify, categorize, and address your stressors
Sit down and name what is stressing you out. Are these stressors mostly related to work, family, or other aspects of your personal life? Group the relevant ones together. Are any of them caused by the same thing? Look for patterns. In this way, you can work to brainstorm ways to mitigate or eliminate these stressors altogether. You should also differentiate good stressors, like taking an online course, from bad stressors, like those you have no control over. Draft steps to tackle the stressors with the most negative impact. Lastly, in outlining these action steps and goals, be sure to make them SMART - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Keep a journal
This does not have to be complicated. Even jotting down a few notes, sentences, or reflections in the Notes app on your phone will work. A running Google Doc also serves as a handy place to drop lines of thoughts every day. Or you can go for an old fashioned paper notebook to record things you did each day or ideas that came to you. What difficult things did you accomplish? What people did you get to know? What challenged you? What did you find rewarding? Being mindful of these things empowers us to find meaning in our lives.
Plenty of less than great things happened in 2020. It's time to focus on the now while reflecting on the past. For example, you might not have seen many friends over the last few months but you *did* get to reconnect with certain family members over Google Meet every month. There was less time to compartmentalize home life and work life while still at home but you *did* get to cut out that traffic-filled commute to your downtown office. Without the commute time, you finally had time to focus on professional development opportunities. You *did* come to reflect on and understand what and who were most important to you. Pose the question like this: What do you not want to take back about 2020? Why? Explore this mindset and see how you can employ it to be more fully present and positive in 2021.
We hope you’ve found a handful of these useful - or maybe even all of these! Each day is a step in the right direction as we begin to transition into the more long-term post-Covid-19 world.