We’ve all heard the line, “Life has never been more demanding!” And we all proceed to scroll through our mental to-do list like, “Yeah, I’m well aware.” Between school, work, relationships, student loans, internships, dating, and currently this pandemic… our mental health usually lands at the bottom of the list. When everything calls for your immediate attention, it’s so easy to forget about YOU. When you’re not taking care of yourself, life then becomes impossible to juggle all the things we need to manage.
There are a million different strategies or tools for living a balanced life (just walk through the self-help aisle at a bookstore…), but we’ve put together 5 tools to begin your journey on a more balanced life.
When it all starts to feel like too much to manage, the first step is to take some deep breaths. Anxiety is the body’s physical response to stress. Breathing exercises help take your body back to a relaxed place by relieving stress and reducing tension. A good place to start is with 4-7-8 breathing. The University of Michigan provides a good step-by-step description of how to do it:
- To start, put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as in the belly breathing exercise.
- Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, and silently count to 4 as you breathe in.
- Hold your breath, and silently count from 1 to 7.
- Breathe out completely as you silently count from 1 to 8. Try to get all the air out of your lungs by the time you count to 8.
- Repeat 3 to 7 times or until you feel calm.
- Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.
If you’re interested in more breathing exercises, check out this article from Healthline. The apps Calm and Headspace are also great resources for relaxation and mediation targeted at reducing stress. If you own an Apple Watch, make sure your Breathe app is on and that you take the minute to breathe when it prompts you.
If you try to make everything and everyone number one, nothing will ever get accomplished. A balanced life requires balanced priorities. These will be different for everyone, but a good place to start is by asking yourself, “What can I do today to make tomorrow better?” A few general ideas could be: eat 3 meals a day, exercise for 30 minutes a day, meditate, take time to read or journal, etc.
Once you’ve established 2 or 3 things to prioritize on a daily basis, start thinking more long-term. What can you do this week or month to put you closer to your goals? When you get the important things done on a consistent basis, you can eliminate the guilt and stress you feel when you put things off.
Establish Boundaries (Or “Say No”)
Maybe you've seen this tweet...
and the parodies that followed…
but when it comes down to it, it’s important to set boundaries and know when to say “No.” Healthy boundaries allow you to protect your time, energy, mental health and physical needs. Unhealthy boundaries cause you to fall behind on your own goals, be taken advantage of, and create extra stress.
There are four steps to setting boundaries:
- Define your boundary.
- Communicate your needs.
- Keep it simple (you don’t have to over explain).
- Set consequences.
It can seem a bit overwhelming to suddenly have rigid rules, but you can start simple. Some easy ones to start with are, “I won’t go out after 9 PM on weeknights” or “I will only eat out once a day.” They’ll look different for everyone, but the important thing is that they create improvement in your personal life.
Self-care isn’t just an excuse to spoil yourself; it’s vital time you spend on your emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing. It can also involve meeting your sensory needs by taking time in nature or meditating. Your self-care doesn’t have to be elaborate or include expensive massages. There are lots of simple ways to show yourself some TLC.
Simple ways to practice self-care:
- Get some fresh air
- Give yourself a small treat
- Watch an episode of your favorite show
- Make your bed
- Watch an inspiring YouTube video
- Create a daily schedule
When you set aside “me-time”, it’s easier to maintain a positive relationship with yourself. And this positive relationship results in higher self-esteem and confidence. It also gives you a break from stress and triggers your body’s relaxation response.
Be Patient and Stay Positive
Most important? Be patient with yourself and stay positive! Making positive changes in your life take consistency and time. As you practice these techniques you might find that some boundaries are too strict or a priority you set isn’t as important as you thought. Don’t become discouraged! It’s ok to reevaluate and make changes as needed. You got this!
We hope these 5 tools help you along your way to improving your mental health in your life. Share with a friend if these tips helped you so that others have tools to help improve their mental health!