Stress less? I know, that sounds crazy, what with peak season peaking amid Omicron cases hidden among the regular colds of the season. Oh, and kids in and out of schools, masks on then off, and destination policies changing … it’s enough to turn your hair gray.
But the thing is, you can’t help others if you’re not helping yourself. To bring down your stress levels to somewhere near manageable, you have to check in with your own mental health from time to time. So how about now?
Therapist Callie McGovern (MHC-LP) of Empower Your Mind Therapy was generous enough to share some of her simplest, broad tips on how to keep anxiety a little more at bay and calm feel just a little bit closer.
- Make room for fun. “If you feel like you’ve been overly focused on work and responsibilities, move some of your attention to the enjoyment in your everyday and make plans that you can look forward to,” she advises. These can be as small as the simplest of pleasures, such as scheduling a standing coffee date with a friend. Can’t commit to a regular appearance? “Plan a vacation,” she calls out specifically, or buy tickets to some kind of event. Having something to look forward to, no matter how far in the future, can help you keep pressing on.
- Get outside every day. As we’d mentioned in our story on how to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the lack of light and vitamin D during these cold-weather months can take its toll on your mental health. Even if you go out just around the block for a short walk with your dog, child, or friend, you need that fresh air. McGovern advises, “If you live in a city, make sure to take advantage of the parks in your area and think about scheduling a day or weekend trip out of the city. Nature is restorative, so make a plan to spend more time outside.”
- Unplug every so often. Social media is such a prevalent part of our lives, and many of us start and end our days on those platforms. But the content you view can have a downhill effect on your mood and stress levels; we all know how easy it is to spiral into anxiety these days! McGovern recommends analyzing your content consumption and setting boundaries for your time spent surfing it. “Create moments of silence for yourself throughout your day or week,” she suggests. And when you come back from it, dive into something enriching, like the all-new Travel Beat podcast with ALG Vacations®.
- Separate work and life with intention. As McGovern says, “Being intentional with our time is about awareness which then allows us to really decide, ‘how do I want to spend my evening?’ When we start to bring more awareness to how we are spending our time it often changes what we do with it.” And as many of us remain working from home, setting boundaries between work and life is a must. “Have a ritual that signals the end of your workday and the beginning of your rest time,” she recommends. “This could be going on a walk, shutting down your computer and lighting a candle, or changing into comfy clothes. Whatever you do let it be a signal that it’s time to relax and enjoy. Not all screen time is lacking intention, however I think many of us can get into the habit of scrolling and then being shocked by how much time has gone by.”
- Get into positive little habits. Again, it’s about the peace and centering rituals can bring. McGovern urges her patients to “think of a couple of habits that you believe will make your quality of life better” … small wins that bring immediate peace, like making the bed every morning. “Making your bed doesn’t take very long and coming home at the end of the day to a made bed is a wonderful feeling. It’s an act of self-care from your morning self for your evening self,” taking less than five minutes bur providing a big emotional pay-off as soon as you see this impression of orderliness and tidiness. Other suggestions include packing a nice lunch or setting out your clothes for the next day. “Whatever habit you choose to work on, think of it as a little love letter from your now self to your future self, and they will thank you,” she says.
So as life continues to pick up speed with no breaks in sight, take a minute to think about these five simple, tiny, and incremental ways to reduce your stress. You may think you don’t have time or space for big changes, but if you give yourself five minutes, you may find that its effects last multitudes longer.