mental health

Small Ways We Can Maintain Mental Health This Season

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Many of us are taking care of ourselves less this year, which is the last thing we need for our health and happiness. Whether we’re making changes to our routine or taking more time for self-care, the best thing we can all do for ourselves right now is to preserve a positive mindset.

No matter how well you may feel in the moment, there are many ways, however small they may be, you can help maintain your mental health and feel better this season and beyond.

Be Kind to Yourself

First and foremost, treat yourself kindly. Making an effort to value yourself and avoid self-criticism does more than you think. The way you perceive yourself ultimately affects how you feel and has a substantial impact on your self-worth (Harteneck).

Take Care of Your Body

Your body has just as important of a role regarding mental health. It’s been proven that proper diet and exercise significantly improve mental health. When exercising, stress-reducing and mood-boosting endorphins are released, lowering stress, anxiety, and depression (Harteneck). The same can be said for getting good sleep, which contributes to lowered irritability and increased concentration.

Surround Yourself with Love

Remind yourself what you’re grateful for and take time to do what you love. Taking care of yourself doesn’t always have to be a chore. A vital part of maintaining mental wellness is surrounding yourself with people and things you like. Spend time with supportive friends, family members, and groups that make you happy. Self-care comes in many forms and tends to be a gradual process that comes with adopting beneficial, healthy habits. Your happiness is a priority — treat yourself!


References

Harteneck, Patricia. “9 Ways You Can Improve Your Mental Health Today.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 27 Oct. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-s-mental-health-matters/201510/9-ways-you-can-improve-your-mental-health-today

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Keeping a Daily Routine in the “New Normal”

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists and our days working from home push into the latter half of the year, the “new normal” constantly referenced still doesn’t feel so normal. While for some, quarantine seems almost like a vacation due to the varying amounts of convenience offered from working in the comforts of one’s own home. Even so, it’s important to consider what we want to have accomplished after these many months. Staying on top of things by maintaining a daily routine offers a shot at a sense of normalcy and certainty.

Many have been anxious and stressed due to quarantine, and establishing daily routines brings about a sense of order and focus. Simple activities such as making your bed, applying perfume, and working out remind us that life goes on despite all circumstances (Rivers). The pandemic is not here to stay forever; all things pass in a matter of time. Being prepared to operate as normal, whether social distancing or not, is a crucial aspect of maintaining one’s wellness. Continuing to clean, dress for work, and call people regularly helps fight the lonely and dreadful nature of our extended time indoors (Krans). Most days are the same. Time has grown increasingly difficult to keep track of. Keeping up with daily activities and adhering to a healthy, regular sleep schedule allows us to keep track of each day’s progression.

The more quarantine interrupts our regular daily routines, the more aware we are of what we used to do every day. Simply because everyone is stuck at home for so long, our typical daily practices do not need to be stalled. The order that comes with daily tasks works well in fighting the anxiety of living in the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are new limitations on our lives as a result of quarantine, life in no way has to stop moving. The new normal is only as abnormal as one lets it be.


References

Krans, Brian. “Steps to Help You Keep a Daily Routine During the COVID-19 Outbreak.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 13 Apr. 2020, www.healthline.com/health-news/how-to-keep-daily-routine-during-covid19-shelter-in-place.


Rivers, Megan. “Maintaining Routines Important While Social Distancing during COVID-19 Pandemic, Expert Says.” wusa9.Com, 23 Mar. 2020, www.wusa9.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/maintaining-routines-is-important-while-social-distancing-during-covid-19-pandemic/65-a734f052-ae17-45eb-b141-acab06fa906b.

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Social Distancing and Mental Health

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Social distancing, the practice of avoiding large groups and close contact with others to protect the spread of disease to vulnerable groups, has become a commonly used phrase during the COVID-19 pandemic. With so much extra time spent at home, some may find themselves anxious and/or restless. While we may miss a lot from being out and about or adhering to our typical daily routines, being at home does not need to be so painfully dull.

First and foremost, electrical lighting has been shown to disrupt one’s natural rhythms, as opposed to natural light (Heid). Stepping out into the sunlight, even in the backyard, helps regulate one’s mood, energy, appetite, and sleep schedule by alerting the body it is no longer time to be groggy and asleep. In addition to meditation, spending time in greenery relaxes one’s mind and restores a sense of focus (Heid).

Additionally, distracting oneself with artistic activities or calling friends, as well as sticking to a temporary at-home routine reduces anxiety and establishes some degree of normalcy during these times (Ao). Personal connections do not need to suffer due to social distancing; checking up on friends is not a bad idea when considering they are likely just as restless as you!

Keeping up with one’s wellness and mindfulness aids immensely in making this situation at least a little bit more bearable. Taking extra measures to ensure you are getting proper amounts of sunlight, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, keeping busy, and keeping track of basic needs is crucial even when stuck at home for extended periods of time. Social distancing does not have to take away from social needs as well. Contacting friends and family members from home regularly is a healthy habit to pick up right now. And, of course, stay safe, and wash your hands!


References

Ao, Bethany. “Social Distancing Can Strain Mental Health. Here’s How You Can Protect Yourself.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC, 23 Mar. 2020, www.inquirer.com/health/
coronavirus/coronavirus-
mental-health-social-distancing-20200319.html
.

Heid, Markham. “You Asked: Is It Bad to Be Inside All Day?” Time, 27 Apr. 2016, time.com/4306455/stress-relief-nature

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How to Overcome Social Isolation

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

The winter months can be difficult to get through for many people. It’s typically cold, and there are not many hours of daylight. We may not want to go outside and are more likely to isolate ourselves, which can negatively affect our mood.

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety and depression that I have seen is social isolation. There are many reasons we may isolate ourselves. We might feel like it will take too much effort and that we don’t have enough energy to be around others. We might not want to burden other people with our emotions, or maybe we have developed some social anxiety and don’t feel comfortable interacting with others. Whatever the reason, social isolation is not a helpful strategy to combat a depressed mood or anxiety.

Healthy isolation, also known as solitude, is not the same as purposeful social isolation. Sometimes we need time alone to help reset and clear our minds, or we seek solitude as part of a spiritual experience. We may also need time alone to collect our thoughts and gain clarity about our feelings and what is happening in our lives.

Social isolation, on the other hand, is defined as being alone without any social interactions and can come from feelings of shame and depression. Social anxiety or fears of abandonment can also lead someone to isolate themselves from others. If I person has not developed deep, personal relationships with other people, they are more likely to experience social isolation.

Sometimes isolation is out of our hands, but it can also be something we create for ourselves, whether consciously or unconsciously. To have more health and happiness, it is important to find a good balance of solitude and time socializing.

If social isolation is affecting your mood and your life negatively, here are some guidelines for climbing out of it.

  1. When you are invited to do something with family or friends, make your best effort to accept the invitation and follow through with your plans. Try not to cancel the plans once you have agreed to go out with them. 
  2. Figure out how many times a week is feasible for you to make plans with a friend or family member, and make it a weekly goal to see them. Once a week is a fairly reasonable goal for most people.
  3. Try joining a weekly activity where you will meet other people with similar interests. This could include a sports league, a class, such as a fitness class or art class, or a Meetup group.
  4. Get out of the house once a day to take a walk or do errands, and try to interact with at least one person while out. Dogs are also great companions and can help you interact with others.
  5. Join a support group and attend meetings once a week. This could include a social skills group or a social anxiety group.
  6. Work with your therapist on what feelings come up for you when you feel like isolating yourself. They can also help you replace your need for isolation with a healthy coping strategy, which could also combat your anxiety and depression.

References

Good Therapy (n.d.). (20 August 2018). Isolation. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/isolation.

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Strategies for Healing Perfectionism

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(Photo Credit: Cartoon Resource)

By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Perfectionism is a concept that plagues a wide array of people. When in full effect, it can provide both positive and negative benefits. In the long run, however, it is important to ensure it does not become an overwhelming force. Perfectionism can come from numerous sources, however, it can be dealt with by using several strategies.

Firstly, perfectionism can come from disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder (Star). It is typically brought out by an internal need to be better or in an ideal state created by one’s mind. It can also come from nagging fears about others’ perceptions of oneself. Living with a perfectionist mindset can become both mentally and emotionally exhausting. Additionally, perfectionism can hinder one’s ability to properly manage anxiety and the other symptoms that come with it (Star). Perpetuating the negative emotions of perfectionism by feeding into it will only bring more distress. When the desire to be perfect comes into mind frequently, it becomes a problem.

Let’s try being more mindful by addressing perfectionist thoughts head-on and recognizing when feelings of doubt and/or embarrassment are irrational. Furthermore, perfectionism can be challenged by an array of mindful methods. Professionals in mental health, as well as simple self-help practices, work well in combating anxiety (Star). Thinking about the “need” or “want” to be perfect, what it entails, and why one wants to reach perfection is another method that challenges oneself to delve into the root of perfectionist anxieties. Through deeply considering the nature of one’s anxieties, it becomes easier to dismantle them and deal with the thoughts that push us so hard to be perfect (Jacobs & Antony). If one is feeling courageous, seek out small things that can trigger feelings of anxiety due to perfectionism (Jacobs & Antony). These things can be as simple as missing a spot while cleaning the floor or “forgetting” to put a book away. In doing this, it becomes easier to get comfortable with imperfection and come to terms with it.

Perfectionism is a tricky feeling to deal with. It provides motivation, yet also leaves stressful and negative emotions in the back of one’s head. Managing it can be made trivial by trying to be more mindful and reducing stress. Perfection does not exist; in chasing after it, anxiety and stress will only follow. Remind yourself to relax sometimes and remember that mistakes aren’t inherently bad. Without them, no one would learn a thing.


References

Jacobs, Andrew M., and Martin M. Antony. “Strategies for Coping with the Need to Be Perfect.” Beyond OCD, BeyondOCD.org, beyondocd.org/expert-perspectives/articles/the-search-for-imperfection-strategies-for-coping-with-the-need-to-be-perfe#.

Star, Katharina. “How Perfectionism Can Contribute to Anxiety.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 20 May 2019, www.verywellmind.com/perfectionism-and-panic-disorder-2584391.

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Decluttering for Better Mental Health

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Cleaning can be a dreadful but necessary chore. We tend to put things like cleaning off. However, taking the time to declutter has proved to be a way to create harmony not only in your physical space but also your mental space.

Clutter can cause stress and is distracting, as additional objects within one’s line of sight can easily avert attention away from the task at hand (Swedish Medical Center). Additionally, stress from putting off cleaning can lead to different stress reactions, like stress eating (Swedish Medical Center). In turn, decluttering is capable of reducing triggered responses to high stress and leaves time for other, more engaging activities. The additional amount of time gained from having an organized home will aid in other healthy and productive habits, as well as reduce anxiety.

One well-known guru of home tidying is Marie Kondo, creator of the “KonMari Method™” and host of the Netflix original series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” “The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it,’” she writes in her #1 New York Times bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Goodreads). Kondo developed this method to help her clients and readers rid themselves of their needless possessions. It is important to ask oneself if everything one owns is essential for keeping.

Decluttering is an activity that creates a multitude of desirable benefits. Positive effects will become apparent as one goes. Having a clear mind and a clear space are two traits of a mindful individual. One will find that a cleaner environment may lessen stress and its symptoms. Take a moment to look around your things and clear out anything taking up too much space. It will feel good to know that action has been taken not only to make one’s space look nicer, but also to grow closer to gaining a more positive and stress-free mindset.


References

“How Decluttering Can Improve Physical and Mental Health.” Swedish, Swedish Medical Center, 16 May 2017, www.swedish.org/blog/2017/05/how-decluttering-can-improve-physical-and-mental-health.

“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Quotes by Marie Kondō.” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/41711738.

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