I hope everyone had a phenomenal Fourth of July! The celebration of our country’s independence had a special vibe for me this year...seeing people gathering, enjoying food and fellowship, with Americana in every visible sightline was in stark contrast to remembering last summer, when much of the country was in some form of lockdown.
As our country has reopened, there’s been a sense of joy and relief, but it’s also natural to feel a little hesitant or fearful. A survey conducted by the UCLA Nationscape Project found as many as 71% of Americans are concerned that social distancing restrictions are being lifted too quickly. Meanwhile, nearly half of Americans say COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health. After such a challenging year full of change, it’s important to focus on our mental and emotional health as well as our physical well-being. So for this blog, I am sharing some proactive strategies for resetting the mind and creating a healthy headspace as we ease back into a soon-to-be post-pandemic world...
1) Don’t Rush
Did anyone find a new sense of peace and tranquility during the lockdown, as they were forced to take life slower and had the chance to enjoy ‘the little things’? I have to admit finding it charming to see my neighbors out on their front porches, chatting up the people walking by (from a safe social distance of course). I felt like I was watching a rerun of my childhood in the 80’s, when life seemed to move a little bit slower and people had more headspace to take an interest in each other. Though much of the world has reopened, we don’t have to rush around like we used to. There’s no need to overcrowd your schedule - prioritize the things that are important to you, and be present with the things you choose to do.
2) Be Present
Being present requires mental discipline. I know I’m NOT being present if I’m mentally picking at my to-do list, engaging in negative mental fantasies about various fears, being angry at someone I’m not presently talking to, rushing because I’m late to my next appointment, and the list goes on. Being present is a choice to focus on the gratitude of what I have. It requires me to be planned - my to do list is important but it shouldn’t rule my headspace. Intentionally carving out the time you need to complete your priorities is part of being present - when you don’t it’s hard to enjoy all the moments that come along the way.
3) Keep Calm
Do you find your mind clouded with worry? Well, I have good news for you. Research conducted at Penn State University found that a whopping 91% of things people worry about never come true. And the remaining 9% often ended up turning out better than the original imagined outcome. I once heard ‘fear’ defined this way: False Evidence Appearing Real. Fears have a way of deceiving us - and the big lie is that it’s almost always a false alarm. The beautiful truth is we have the power of choice to determine what we focus on. So rather than letting your mind be consumed by anxiety, take a deep breath, listen to encouraging messages (whether an uplifting song, an inspirational podcast, the message at your church, etc.) and choose to visualize a positive future for yourself and those you love.
4) Change Your Mind
Did you know that neuroscientists have confirmed that our mental machinations actually alter the physical structure of our brain matter? This is called neuroplasticity - the mind’s ability to change the brain. The mind also has the ability to change our mood, our mental health, and our futures. Since what our mind dwells on is so powerful, it’s important that we be proactive with our thoughts. This is a new habit for many, so here are a few tips to get you started:
Create visual representations of your goals: this could be a cutout from a magazine, an item that symbolizes your desires, or a photoshopped picture of yourself in the healthy state you are trying to achieve. Put it somewhere you’ll see it daily, like your bathroom mirror or on your fridge.
Create a positive affirmation: the mind can’t entertain one thought while speaking a different thought. If your mind tends to dwell on the negative, write down some positive affirmations and read/speak them whenever your mind starts to spiral. Put this messaging in the present tense, even if what you want hasn’t come true yet (i.e. I weigh X number of healthy pounds) - this keeps your brain tuned into creating the reality you’re speaking.
Listen to positive, affirming messages: the brain is like a computer - it will store the information you expose it to. And if 90% of the data we give it is negative or fear-based, our minds will be wired to be fearful. Make sure you give your mind a chance by feeding it a healthy diet of positive messaging, such as the ones we discussed in ‘Keep Calm’.
5) Create Good Chemistry
The physiological components of our body chemistry go a long way towards affecting how we feel. This is why the vitamin D deficiency that comes from lack of sun exposure can lead to depression and other mental illnesses. Likewise, the role of exercise is just as crucial to maintaining a healthy outlook as it is to creating a healthy body. And what we eat can drastically impact our mental clarity, our energy levels, and even our mood. Make wise choices about the sensory and nutritional experiences you give your body - it affects far more than that number on the scale!