Now more than ever it’s important for us to take care of our health, not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well. So much is talked about our physical health and immune systems, but what’s left out in the conversation is the importance of mental health to our physicality and immune system. While the normal things such as good rest, hydration, and nutrition can help improve our mental health, here are 6 additional tools you can use to promote mental well-being this holiday season.
6 Mental Health Tools to Get Through the Holiday Season
Time alone in silence. I had a teacher named Randy Fujishin who always touted the benefits of spending time alone in silence. He would do silent weekend retreats up at a monastery and when he would return, there was a notable difference in his energy and demeanor. Inevitably, upon returning from those silent retreats he would talk to us about the value of spending time alone in silence. He said “spending time alone isn’t enough, you have to turn off your radio, your TV, your phone and be quiet because it’s in silence that answers are revealed and you truly get to know yourself”. The holiday season can be hectic with lots of communications going on with loved ones. Not only is it okay, it’s important to take time to shut off the phone and close the world out to invest in quality time with yourself, even if only for five minutes. Alone time is for reflection and a way to recognize what’s going on with us from a different perspective, or to create the space to gain a more accurate perspective. It’s when we don’t take this time that we find ourselves getting frustrated, irritated, and annoyed with the people we love. By taking time alone in silence for at least 5-10 minutes a day, we are doing ourselves and our loved ones a favor, thus helping to promote healthy relationships.
Breathwork. Taking time for dedicated breathwork either in the morning before beginning the day or at night before going to sleep gives an opportunity to either forecast the day or recount it. 10-20 focused breaths can help oxygenate the body and get you prepared for the day or ready for a restful night of sleep. The nasal breathing that is taught in KPP Solo is a fantastic way to relax the nervous system, which can reduce stress and anxiety and promotes relaxation.
Exercise. We all know the benefits of exercise and in the colder months of the holiday season it’s a great way to blow off some steam and keep you feeling physically healthy and strong. When you use the appropriate dose, exercise is an effective way to improve your immune system and stave off sickness. Suggestions for appropriately dosing your exercise include a brisk walk, a bike ride, pushups, KPP Solo, or any other activity that gets your blood pumping and your heart rate up. If you feel the need to be productive, try splitting and stacking firewood. 15-20 minutes of exercise is adequate; you’re not trying to win the Olympics. Remember to enjoy your exercise and movement!
Time in nature. We have become so disconnected with all the technological tools we use on a daily basis to make our lives easier that we often forget we are a part of nature. Spending time in nature for 10-20 minutes daily is a helpful reminder that we are all part of this planet; we are not just living here, we are intimately connected with it. Not to mention the value of fresh air, sunshine (if you can get it), and beauty. If you can do a workout or spend time with friends in nature that’s an added bonus. Either way, a change of scenery -- even if it’s a local park or a golf course -- can shift your energy and improve your attitude immensely.
Take a mental health day. Every now and again I like to check out from the world and do something unrelated to what I have planned in my life. If I’m working on an ebook, setting up a workshop, or I have family obligations that I am tending to, I take a day to do things that feed my soul. For instance, going into the mountains and taking a hike, riding a bicycle with friends, playing pinball, spending the day with a friend on an adventure, etc. and just simply enjoying the moment. Whimsical focus challenges are fun too, like playing video games or doing crossword puzzles or learning how to do a Rubik’s cube. Even though there is a mental challenge in those things, the challenge is different enough from what we regularly focus on, and this allows us to come back to what we were working on with renewed vigor and zeal. One of the most important lessons I learned in Motor Learning class with Roger Simmons at SDSU was that when two groups of people are learning the exact same brand new skill, the group that takes a break returns at a higher level of performance than the group that continues on a steady path. In the years since I have come to realize that taking a break from life in the form of a mental health day does wonders for the spirit in a similar fashion!
Be of service. Being of service can take many forms, from volunteering at your local food pantry to helping your elderly neighbor with groceries to mowing your father’s lawn. Regardless of what form it takes, the mental health value of providing a service to others is tremendous because when we are focused on other people, we take a break from focusing on ourselves. Helping someone else can shift our perspective on what may be troubling us and create the space to bring us back to a place of love and gratitude, which in turn can improve our mental health.
As we move into the holidays, I hope these tools serve you well and allow you to more fully enjoy the time with your loved ones this season. Happy holidays to you and yours!