Now that we’ve had our first few official summer storms, I think we can safely say we’re into the most hot and humid time of the year here in Baltimore. And while I’m never particularly stoked about the constant code orange air quality days, I very much look forward to the borderline-problematic watermelon consumption and sunshine streaks for weeks that accompany the season! Of course, I also enjoy the extended vacation time I set aside during the summer to rest, restore, and recharge my mental battery. I intentionally plan for and take this time not because it’s “a nice thing to do” but because it’s a necessary thing to do.
But taking a couple weeks off in a year is not a magical cure for stress or exhaustion or anything really, at least, it isn’t for me and it isn’t for many of the folks I’ve worked with over the years.
Along with intentional time to slow and quiet down, we, as the caregivers of our bodies, minds, and spirits, are charged with tending to our wellness on a daily basis. And needless to say, this can be a tricky thing to get to when we add it to the ever-expanding to do list:
But when we are able to fit in these daily doses of tending to our well-being, we may find that we are not arriving at the homestretch to vacation feeling completely burnt out and beyond repair.
So here are a few ideas (with some super
lame clever names!) for these mini-mental breaks that I’m lobbing your way in hopes that you will find something that works for you. While these are more manageable than say using up all your vacation time and life savings to do an all inclusive mountain springs spa retreat, they will still need your intention and may mean that you change a small part of your day or way of doing things while you give them a go.
The Grateful Bed: Between the time when you wake up- or are dragged out of REM by your alarm- and you actually start to get out of bed, resist the urge to grab your phone and think through five things you are really, truly grateful for. Do not BS this. Do not just run through the usuals: “familyhomeajobhealthfriendsyay.” No. Be specific. What about your family or your work or your crazy friends are you thankful for? What about today are you grateful for that you were not even aware of yesterday? Or what happened yesterday that gave you something to be grateful for today?
Calm Your Commute: How do you commute through your day? If you drive or take the bus, think about what you’re doing with your mind during these times. If what comes up is that you are filling it, pulling it all over the place, or running it into the ground, consider giving it some rest. Listen to music you enjoy or practice being in the present and noticing what you see along your ride.
Walk the Walk: By now we know that there is no quick fix for mental distress; there isn’t one pill that remedies everything or one approach to therapy that erases all the yuck. But the simple act of going for a walk comes awesomely close to taking this title. Looked over and passed on for more intense exercise, the short and sweet walk doesn’t get a lot of press and this is a crying shame. Try it for a couple weeks and you’ll see why (hint: fresh air, vitamin D, movement, removal from stressors…)
Work That Body (Scan): No MRI machine required! Doing a mental body scans serve us on two levels. The first is that it helps us check in with what’s happening with our physical selves. Part two, these scans bring us to the here and now (aka- the present.) Try one of Dr. Goldstein’s scans or one of UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Center’s meditations. Ultra-important note: if you have experienced physical (including sexual) trauma, do not try the scans on your own. Work with a professional counselor or therapist to safely ease in to these exercises.
Sense It: One of the quickest ways to interrupt stress and anxiety cycles is to stimulate our senses. So take some time during to identify a favorite smell, feel, sight and then find a way to carry these with you during the week. Purchase an oil or small candle that has a calming scent. Make or buy a stress relief balloon or a small square of soft fabric. Find a pattern or picture that elevates your mood. Have these on hand in your work bag, your glove compartment, your desk…wherever you can easily access them.
There’s an App for That…: Because of course there is! From Greatist.com’s list of mental health resources, two of my favorites are Mindshift and Stop Breathe & Think. Both are free, portable ways to help you refocus your mind in the midst of stress!
Dear Diary: Such a therapist-y thing to suggest but there’s a reason we continue to encourage folks to put their stuff out on paper. Whether you are taking ten minutes before starting your day or carrying what I call a “Me, Unedited” mini notebook with you, getting your thoughts out and onto something will free up your mental space. And if you want to take it one step further, write down your worries and throw them away. Research suggests this small act actually lessens the grip our our anxiousness or stress. Want to work it the other way? Good news! There’s some science for that too! Write down your positive experiences and notice what happens to your mood over the course of a month.
And of course, as a weekly bonus try some therapy! Having an intentional time each week to process what’s going on within us frees up some of our mental space, allowing us to decompress and feel more grounded.