Life stressors -- including pregnancy, birth & parenthood -- can wear on our mental health. Here are the top ten techniques I use to support my own psychological wellbeing, and what I also regularly recommend to those I serve. Discover what works for you!
1. Cuddle & Caress - Common sense, life experience and scientific research all agree: touch is an essential component of good health. If you don’t have someone to cuddle with, going for regular massage therapy can meet some of your body’s touch quota. I have committed to a monthly massage (would love to do weekly if I could!) for the past several years and it’s an excellent investment of time and money, that’s for sure. I also aim to share at least 5 hugs each day, and my cats and I know why they’re called pets.
2. Nature Nurture - Given that being stuck indoors too much can wear on the nerves, having more contact with nature is an obvious remedy. If the weather is keeping you from the outdoors, you can still reap plenty of benefits by tending to houseplants, enjoying playtime with your pet or even simply looking at images of nature in a book or on-line! For an easy, cost-effective return to more balmy temperatures, visit local greenhouses like those at the RBG or Gage Park. After you’ve done the walkthrough, collect bonus points by settling in on a bench to spend time with your kids or have a chat with a friend.
3. Create Joy - Wherever your talents may lay, doing something novel or whipping up a familiar favourite can boost your energy and bring a sense of satisfaction. Whether it be baking some muffins, painting a canvas or building a shelf, getting creative is a great way to pull oneself out of a low mood. Gift your creation to someone and glean even more feel-good benefits: heartfelt generosity is always a win-win.
4. Just Work It Out - Countless studies have confirmed the benefits of exercising in terms of improving mood. Regular exercise can be just as or more effect than medications to ameliorate mild to moderate depression. And conveniently enough, almost any type of exercise will do the trick so you can choose activities you like. Getting outdoors earns us extra points, but if you’re like me and also like kickstarting the day with in-home exercise, check out what's on YouTube. If going to the gym or a class is more your style, enjoy the benefits of a simple change of scenery and social interaction!
5. Hum & Drum - Listening to or making music both have comprehensive benefits for us. Gift yourself a soundtrack to your life that has you feeling a-ok, and hopefully singing some of the time. And if you feel tempted to rock out, go for it! A 2013 study found that people who actively tried to feel happier while listening to upbeat music experienced a bigger lift in mood than those who listened passively.
6. Pay Attention - Multitasking or having several things on your mind at once are sure-fire mechanisms for stress. A regular, stand-alone meditation practice is great, but many of us find that tricky to fit in. Great alternatives that can be seamlessly woven into everyday life include focusing on your breath (even if you can just do a few before your attention needs to be elsewhere), tuning in to your senses (really feel what you’re touching, hear the sounds in your environment, notice what you see, etc.) or use a guided relaxation to assist you in maintaining focus.
7. Feed the Needs - A built-in opportunity to feel better is at mealtimes. Mood-supportive nutrition is a basic building block that be comprised of both foods and supplements. I take my vitamins and essential fatty acids every day and do my best to eat healthy foods. When cooking I also integrate some of my other strategies: I put music on in the background, use whole foods to have contact with Nature and I mostly focus on what I’m doing, making meal prep a practice of being present. I also like a new recipe now and then to give me a boost due to the novelty angle.
8. Do Unto Oneself - Would you be comfortable speaking to another the way you speak to yourself, or vice versa? If not, knock it off and instead talk to yourself in a kind, helpful, caring way. What you think about yourself, your life and the world certainly shapes your life experience, so be sure to use the power of your thoughts to improve your perception of things. In a similar vein, negative internal chatter about distressing events outside of your control (such as what’s making the news) can obviously erode one’s peace of mind. Consider not exposing yourself to information that you wouldn’t subject your child to, at least when you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable.
9. Power Through the Pen - Research shows that people who keep a journal report higher moods, fewer moments of distress, experience greater physical health and have a stronger immune system. Going through the process of journalling helps one be more self-aware and therefore better able to care for oneself and engage in healthy relationships and experiences. Perhaps daily journalling is your style, or maybe life is too busy for that. Even sporadic writing is a great way to work something through, and you could do it alongside your child when they're colouring.
10. Enough Already - Focusing on what we can be grateful for is a highly reliable way to shift perspective. When I’m feeling low or overwhelmed, I ask myself, “What can I be grateful for in this moment?”. There’s always something. Many somethings. I also strive to make a list of 20 or so things I’m grateful for each night before bed, and it proves true the adage that counting my blessings turns what I have into more than enough. Very importantly, be real about this process. Research shows optimistic personalities experience a lift in mood when they get really into the silver lining of tough times, but pessimistic personalities usually feel worse for doing so; people with a pessimistic bent feel best if they focus on things objectively, aiming more for a neutral view of things. While some of us will best see the glass half-full, others may be healthiest by noting it’s both half-full and half-empty.
IMPROVE YOUR MOOD