4 Strategies That Improve Your Mental Health With a Minimal Time Investment

Why using self care strategies to look after your mental health will give you a big return on your investment.

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Time. There never seems to be enough to go around. Just living day to day is using it all up. There’s everything that our work and home lives ask of us. We really do want to keep our stress manageable, but we just don’t seem have time. The American Psychological Association defines stress as, “any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological, and behavioral changes.” Sometimes, stress works in our favor such as, last month’s presentation to the board that we hit out of the park. Then there’s the downside. When stress has our minds is a constant state without a rest, we pay the price. Prolonged stress disrupts every system in our bodies; immune, digestive, reproductive, cardiovascular, and nervous system. It might turn up as aches and pains in our body, or our heart beating fast. It might turn up as being irritable with loved ones or missing deadlines at work.  It might turn up as forgetting your dentist appointment. So we ask ourselves, “What can we do to manage our stress when we don’t have time?” 

Below are four self care strategies that can help us reduce our stress when we integrate them in our day when we find snippets of time.

1. Breathe

If you’re reading this you’re breathing. It’s one of those things that happens even if we don’t think about it. What if I told you that if you “deep breathe” it helps your body and mind relax. A deep breath is one you take that makes your abdomen rise and then you let it out slowly. This is something you can slip into your day when you’re riding the subway, waiting to pick your child up from soccer, or laying in your bed before to go to sleep. I use this strategy on my morning commute – every red light is a chance to take a few deep breaths. By the time I reach work I feel ready to take on the day. Research tells us that even one deep breath can be enough to reset your stress level.

Deep breathing works by increasing oxygen flow to our bodies and brain. It also activates ournervous system that sends the message to our brain, that we are indeed relaxed.

2. Be Mindful

In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zin at the University of Massachusetts Hospital started a program for patients called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Forty years later it is the gold standard for applying mindfulness to the stresses of everyday life.

Mindfulness is defined as; paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. It is the basic human ability to be fully present in the existing moment, aware of where we are, what we are doing and not overwhelmed by what other things are happening around us. If you have a formal meditation practice – that’s great. If not, there are things we can do in the day to bring us to the moment we are in.  Try to ask yourself sporadically over the day; “Where am I? What was I thinking?” If your thoughts are not in the present moment try to bring yourself back. Even in your morning shower, instead of worrying about all the things you have to accomplish during the day you can think; what part of my body is the water touching now? What part of my head am I touching to shampoo my hair?

The reason mindfulness helps reduce our stress is most of our stressful thoughts are from worrying about the future and ruminating about the past. When we are in the present moment our mind and body are more relaxed.

3. Exercise

Exercise is moving our bodies so that our heart rate is raised. Research shows that raising our heart rates helps our metabolism, sleep, cardiovascular system and mood. If you have a formalized workout schedule – that’s great. If not, try to sneak in physical activity at every opportunity in your day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get off the subway one stop early and walk the remainder to your destination. Walk on your lunch hour. Walking meetings are the new “breakfast meeting.”

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explain the reason that exercise helps reduce stress, is it reduces the production of the stress hormone cortisol and increases the production of feel good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.

4. Have Gratitude

Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has. It’s being thankful.  It’s showing gratefulness towards loved ones, friends, colleagues, animals, mother nature, and life in general. Make a practice of naming 3 three you are grateful for every day. Maybe you can write them down, or say them out loud on your morning commute. Try to do it at the same time every day so that it becomes a habit.

In a review of research on positive gratitude was found to help our overall stress management, well being, relationships, physical health and sleep. Research also suggests that it doesn’t matter if it is something big or something small it has the same benefit. So expressing gratitude that your teenager put their late night snack dishes in the dishwasher has the same benefit as gratitude for a financial windfall. Who Knew.

These four self care strategies can be easily integrated into your life, to keep your stress manageable – even when you’re feeling strapped for time. Isn’t that a great return on investment!

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