We all need to handle stress in our daily lives. The trick is to take care of our mental health before the day-to-day pressures build up and cause “burnout” or worse.
Symptoms of burnout include a loss of motivation—finding it difficult to complete tasks. You may feel overwhelmed, tired, or simply incapable of handling responsibilities. You might feel left out or become cynical about your work or social groups—or life in general. Mental distress can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as headaches or intestinal discomfort.
There are many coping strategies we can use to prevent or alleviate undue stress before you burn out or become physical ill. Here some common ones you probably use to take time away from responsibilities and reset your mental capacity:
- Relaxing over a meal.
- Spending time friends and family.
- Reading or watching TV.
- Enjoying exercise or hobbies.
- Weekend getaways.
There are also many other small ways to soothe yourself throughout the day. The following list of self-care tips can act like pressure relief valves. These little mental health breaks can help reduce the buildup of stress and keep you on an even keel ready to take on all of life’s challenges.
Mental health self-care tips
Try any of these quick mental health breaks throughout your day. Use them to maintain your verve and alleviate the build-up of stress.
Note that several of these mental health exercises are quite suitable for children, including: stretching, music, meditation, naps, and daydreams. You can teach children as young as five to do simple meditation routines. And, they can likely teach you a thing or two about nap taking!
Gratitude. One to three times a week, write down what you are grateful for that day. Focus more on people than things. Drill down and make your sentences as specific as possible. For example, instead of “I’m grateful for my family”, write something more specific, such as “I’m grateful for the family dinner hour when I get to hear about each child’s day, share in their triumphs, and soothe their tragedies.” Many people like to write gratitude’s in a journal and refer to them from time to time during stressful times.
Cards and Thank You Notes. Send thank you notes, birthday cards, or other special occasion cards to friends and family routinely throughout the year. If you have a lot of cards to write, purchase a box of pretty, but inexpensive blank notes that you can personalize for any occasion–choose cards with an adaptable theme, such as flowers, local landscapes, or abstract designs.
Phone calls. Keep a running list of friends and family to touch base with by voice or video phone. During the call, catch up on what they’re doing and enjoy the physical contact that two-way communication adds to your relationship.
Pomodoros. The Pomodoro Technique breaks down tasks into effective units of time. It’s called a pomodoro—which is Italian for “tomato” because the Italian inventor used a timer shaped like a tomato. Isn’t that cute? The classic method is to set a timer and work on a task for 25 minutes (i.e. a “pomodoro”), then take a 5 minute break. After four pomodoros (two hours), take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. That’s the basic method, though there are numerous variations and tools. Google “pomodoro technique” to search for more ideas.
Stretch. Do a few simple exercises to stretch yourself head-to-toe. My 5-minute routine typically includes reaching for the sky with outstretched arms, forward neck rolls, twisting side to side at the waste, stretching side to side at the waste, holding knee to chest while balancing on one foot, and deep knee bends. I set a timer for 5 minutes do each stretch 10-15 times, or until the timer goes off.
Soothing music. While working or on a break, listen to music that you find calming, rather than some energetic composition that invigorates or inspires. You don’t want anything depressing, just something that will quiet your mind and soul. It can be any genre you enjoy, from folk to techno or opera.
Breathe. If you’ve ever practiced breathing techniques, you already know that this simple process can be amazingly effective. Most of the time, we take short, shallow breaths. Deep breathing is the practice of taking a long, slow breaths in and then releasing them. Sitting comfortably, count as you draw the breathe in, until your lungs and belly are distended. Then release it using the same amount of time or count until it is fully expelled. Close your mouth when you breath in, drawing air through your nose only. When you breathe out, you can either breathe through your nose or through pursed lips. You get a different result with each method. Repeat the in/out breathing 5 or more times, or until you find yourself relaxed. If it makes you dizzy, slow down.
Nap. Set a timer, no more than 20-30 minutes. To rouse yourself at the end of the nap, use a simple ding or soothing music rather than a buzzing or clanging alarm. Setting a timer prevents you from napping too long, which can make you groggy after waking. I find it also allows me to relax and invite sleep, knowing the nap will be short and refreshing. Lie down comfortably in a quiet place, with low or diffused light.
Meditation or Prayer. Simple meditation techniques include focusing on one thing, such as a thought, your breath, or repeating a mantra (short word or phrase). A meditation can be as short as a few minutes; it doesn’t have to be a long, formal practice. Examples of mantras include: “om” or “Every day is a gift” or some personal affirmation. Closing your eyes is helpful to avoid distractions, as well as “white noise” or soothing music. If you follow a spiritual practice, you may prefer reciting prayers, which is another form of meditation.
Daydream. Take some time to sit quietly and let your mind wander to pleasant thoughts. This technique works best when you are alone, can relax, and have an open mind. Music isn’t required but can facilitate a pleasant mood. It also helps if you are not hungry, thirsty, or need to use the restroom. To daydream, you can keep your eyes open—gazing into the distance—or closed. Think about things that make you happy. Let your mind wander to any topic that invites pleasant feelings of accomplishment, power, or freedom. Avoid problem solving, but don’t sweat it if that’s where your mind goes. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Happy vacation memories—real or imagined!
- Think about your favorite color and how it makes you feel.
- If you were granted a superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?
- Dine with a famous person and imagine your conversation.
- How would you spend 5 million dollars?
- If you were an actor, what roles would you most like to play?
By sprinkling these mental health self-care routines throughout your week, you can maintain a sense of control and satisfaction in daily tasks and responsibilities. Switch them up, too. Small changes in your routine can help you maintain good mental balance.
Here are more cheap and relaxing ways to spend some time.