We are one year into a global pandemic in which our lives have been significantly changed. Isolation, uncertainty, lack of routine and structure, fears about health, and the barrage of sometimes conflicting information has impacted most of us. Perhaps you have noticed a shift in your mood. Or sleep difficulties, change in energy, lack of concentration. All of these are signs that something is not quite right.
Psychiatrist Dr. Sue Varma has suggested 4 M’s of Mental Health as a thoughtful, easy way to address when we notice that something is ‘off.’ These helps are also great to develop as daily practices for good mental health.
- Movement. Anxiety raises the stress hormone levels in our body which can inhibit the release of neurotransmitters and hormones that help boost mood and improve sleep cycles. Movement allows the production and release of endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, giving an instant change in body chemistry. Walk, cycle, garden, run, hike, play with kids, swim, exercise, workout, sports, skating, and many other options. Simply move to see an improvement in your mental health.
- Mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn has defined mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” We are often worried about the past (“I should have…”) or concerned about the future (“What if…”) and missing the present moment. Being mindful involves noticing. Noticing the present moment through our five senses: seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and tasting. Practice mindfulness in everyday activities. Notice senses when brushing your teeth, eating, driving, and doing the dishes. Notice thoughts and allow them to pass without condemning yourself. Deep breathing is helpful to ease anxiety and focus mindfully.
- Meaningful Engagement. Human beings are created for connection. We need it. Take time to talk with those you can trust. Be vulnerable and open. Quarantine and restrictions have altered our connections. Online options may not be as satisfying as in person but can meet that desire we have to connect. Consider friends, family, and a wider community. Acts of kindness to others can also serve this deep need to connect.
- Mastery. Engaging the brain in creating and concentrating helps to move out of the depressive rumination cycle. Try something new or get better at something that interests you. Woodworking, cooking, painting, music, learning a language, karate, crossword, sudoku, dance, photography, horticulture, crochet, knitting, pottery. The list is endless.
We are getting through this global pandemic. Make movement, mindfulness, meaningful engagement, and mastery a part of your life, a way to live fully despite the challenges we face.
Watch this video entitled ‘A Grateful Day’ to begin a practice of living in the present. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSt7k_q_qRU
Here are some other resources on movement and breathing:
If you find that you cannot shake mood changes, anxious or depressive feelings, please seek professional help.