If you’re anything like me, your mental health has probably taken a beating throughout the pandemic and beyond.
At first, the collective attitude was to just “wait it out” until things somehow “got better.” Then, 6 months to a year into it, we realized we needed to learn to adjust to the “new normal” of uncertainty – in our work and our personal lives. Now, two years later, we’re learning to live with a kind of shift – we’ll never go back to the way things were, but we’re ready to assume some level of risk to resume our lives and do more of what brings us joy.
The big question has always been, ‘how do I do that?’
How do we move out of that headspace from two years ago – disruption, isolation, trauma, illness, and in many cases, death?
There’s no easy answer, but the best advice I’ve received is to try different things out and see what fits for me, for my family. I can remember where I was two years ago – in my parenting journey and with my pandemic-stalled business – and find ways to enjoy where I’m at right now.
Below are three unique ways to support your mental health that you maybe haven’t thought of. Or, if you’ve already experienced them, maybe you can back up these claims. The point is, don’t be afraid to mix it up.
Clean your house
Oh, it’s not what you were expecting?
Various studies show that a cluttered house or work space may contribute to depression or fatigue, as well as an inability to focus. Clutter can also promote feelings of “confusion, tension, and irritability,” as well as a general feeling of unfinished business.
So cleaning your house? It can promote a sense of calm and control over your life that maybe you didn’t feel before. Plus, you’re moving your body, getting some exercise, and ridding your space of the stuff that promotes illness or allergies, like dust, mold, and dirt.
Rediscover your inner child
Everyone has an inner child. How deeply is yours buried under the responsibilities of adulting?
Why do most young kids have such a great attitude? Because life experiences are new to them! They often have an open mind about most things (excluding toddlers, which, ahem, as a mom of a toddler, I can attest to). When I was a kid, I did things I would never even consider doing today as an adult – running through grass barefoot, inner tubing off the back of my friends’ parents’ boat, and riding the Steel Phantom rollercoaster at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh.
But what if I did decide to do any of those things today? I might rediscover a new interest or, at the very least, say I tried something new or revisited a great memory.
Talking to or writing to your inner child is also a great therapeutic tool for exploring past experiences and sorting through the associated emotions. You’ll strengthen the bond between your current and past self and, in the process, hopefully be able to resolve some lingering issues.
Get a pet
This is just my opinion, but I think many dog lovers will back me up on this – the world is just a better, happier place because of dogs! Our furry friends keep us active, engaged, and loving. Ever come home at the end of a long day, only to see your dog staring at you with ‘walkies’ eyes? Next thing you know, you’re outside with your furry pal, stopping to let them sniff along the way, suddenly feeling just a bit better about life.
“New research shows that when our canine pals stare into our eyes, they activate the same hormonal response that bonds us to human infants.” It’s an oxytocin loop similar to maternal infant bonding.
Studies also show that dogs “reduce stress, anxiety and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. For example, people with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease.”
One other aspect I’ve enjoyed as a dog owner is the socialization aspect. Our Goldendoodle Gracie is a very social dog – she loves to play with other dogs, and she love love loves to get attention and scritches from people (she’ll roll over for them in the middle of the sidewalk). Since having a dog, we’ve met and befriended people we might not have gotten to know otherwise. During the pandemic lockdown, when we were isolated, we still got to see our friends and neighbors out walking their dogs (and sometimes even hanging out with their outdoor cats), and say hi and chitchat in the street. This was a big boost to my mental health during an otherwise incredibly stressful time.
What works for you?
Maybe these ideas don’t hit the spot for you. Don’t be afraid to try something a little different and see what works. Recently, I discovered a lovely little nature spot in our neighborhood that is peaceful and calming for me. I can drive there in 3 minutes and just sit, read, relax, and take a short break before getting back to life.
Be kind and patient with yourself and with others. Your body and brain will thank you for it!