Anxiety can present itself in many different forms and frequencies in our lives. I call the low frequency feelings the “Hold On” zone where we may feel anxiety at its most intense. When we have done the work to put anxiety in its place, we may enter what I call the “Feel Better” zone, where we may still be plagued with anxiety, but we are managing it well.
None of us may be able to anxiety-proof our lives, but we can take steps each day to position ourselves for our best mental health. I have worked with hundreds of clients in my wellness counseling practice. I have found those that are able to move from the Hold On zone to the Feel Better zone simply commit to and sustain simple steps such as the following:
Set the alarm to a little earlier
We often say that we want to carve out time for ourselves to be still and to reflect. But then our days become a tangle of to-dos and responding to the needs of others. If we get up early, though, and dedicate time to just setting an intention for our day, we can become the director of our lives, the designer of our days, versus a person who goes along putting out fires and bending to the demands and requests of others. Even taking just an extra five minutes in the morning to clear our minds and to focus on what *we*want, what our priorities are, who we want to interact with, and whom we want to become, can change the trajectory of our life’s course. Rising earlier may also mean selecting an activity that feels right, whether a walk outdoors, a yoga pose or meditation. What matters most is that the activity or intention speaks to you and your life and the way you want to live it, then aligning with that new routine each and every morning.
Research shows that when we start and end the day with gratitude, we feel less anxious and depressed. I recommend that my clients strive to begin each day by writing down 3 things for which they are grateful. By doing so, many find that they are able to rise above the negative chatter that often tries to take our minds captive. Gratitude is powerful and can cancel out the often berating and derogatory thoughts that bombard us from the moment we open our eyes. By embracing the habit of immediately focusing on what feels good and great about our lives, we direct our thoughts on the road we’d like them to go. And where thought goes, energy follows.
Take an afternoon break
It’s at the times in our day when we may tell ourselves that we cannot afford to take a break that we often need that break the most! Taking an afternoon break can cut our days in half, helping to stem the tide of emotions that washed ashore in the morning, and not allowing them to dominate the rest of the day. Reflecting on the first part of our day and what went well, as well as what we’d like to do better, can position us for success in the next 24 hours rather than being imprisoned by the negatives of the prior 24 hours. When we observe this practice, others may begin to notice that we value self-care. They will know that we often take an afternoon stretch, walk, or workout and will know better than interrupt this sacred time. The renewed energy we receive from an afternoon break can cause us to project more positive vibrations, strengthening our relationships—even and especially the one with ourselves.
Schedule regular mental health days
We are used to scheduling vacation days when we plan to leave town. Sick days arise unexpectedly. But mental health days do not require a vacation nor a crisis to merit their place on our calendars. Proactively planning to take days off for our mental health helps avoid the sometimes reactive mode we have to go in when we hit the wall and suffer the consequences of not taking good self care. Days off are nourishing if we allow them to be. Even staying home one morning, going in later to work, or taking the afternoon off to read, to go to the beach, to take a hot bath and nurture our soul, can do wonders for our physical and mental health, though an entire day is strongly recommended. To make sure this time happens on a regular basis, and to avoid hitting the previously mentioned wall, schedule monthly mental health days in your routine—a day to look forward to, in order to rest and refuel. Then, enjoy, every single moment.
Incorporating simple strategies that require only an investment of time and will can yield strong results. We must decide that we are worth the effort, worth the time, and worth the intention of raising the bar for our mental health and our life.
Jill Sylvester is a licensed mental health counselor who has worked with adults and children in private practice for nearly ten years. She has been quoted in Oprah Magazine and She Knows. Her first book, the novel The Land of Blue, is the recipient of a Mom’s Choice Award.