How To Stay Sane: A General Guide
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
My dudes, 2020 has been rough so far. While moving through life keeping your cool has always been pretty important, we're finding it ever more challenging at the present. This year started off with Australia still on fire, World War 3 fears, a volcano eruption, and other world events. Now we're in the midst of a global pandemic, and quarantine is getting to everyone's heads. It's no wonder that stress, depression, and anxiety are on the rise. So much so that the CDC has a page on coping through these times.
What can we do in these hard times to be okay? We are, in no doubt, going through collective trauma right now and every little bit of help counts. Here is a list of simple and basic things to keep you feeling as well as you can through these times.
1. Get Proper Nutrition
While willing yourself into sound mental health is technically a thing you can do, your body is fundamentally a biochemical machine that needs to be fueled right to work right. If you've ever seen a Snickers commercial, you know that plain simple hunger can affect the way you feel and act. But it's more than that. Many vitamins and minerals are important to mood and brain function, and these can be missed out on if you only eat a limited diet.
B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids in particular are very important mood stabilizing micronutrients. While you can get vitamin C, magnesium, and some B vitamins in a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, other B vitamins (such as B12), vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids you can better absorb by having high quality meats and fish as part of your diet.
Try to eat a varied diet with fresh fruits, veggies, and high quality meat and fish. However, during these times, poor mental health and tight resources may make it hard to buy and prepare high quality foods. If this is the case, you can still go a long way in terms of your self-care by taking a multivitamin to make up for your body's needs.
2. Move (at least a little)
From a Chinese Medicine standpoint, most pain is caused by stagnation of energies - this includes emotional distress such as depression or stress (that's why the diagnosis of Liver Qi Stagnation is so common). One of the best remedies for stagnation is simply, movement.
Exercise releases endorphins and decreases inflammation in the body. Not only does this help your mood, it also contributes to your health in a general way. Keep in mind that exercise doesn't have to be an all-out endeavor. The American Heart Association recommends just 150 min of moderate-intensity exercise a week. This translates to a brisk 30 minute walk just 5 days of the week. If getting out of your house for a walk isn't an option, doing some stretches at home can also help. Yoga is a pretty space-saving form of movement that is great at combating stress and anxiety.
And if that's not doable for your situation (or motivation, mental health is hard, we get it), keep in mind that movement isn't all or nothing. If getting out of bed to go to the kitchen is all you feel up to, don't sweat it. Put on some of your favorite music and jam a little in the kitchen. Some light dancing at home will still make you feel better.
3. Get Some Sun
While we know that sunlight gets you vitamin D and vitamin D gets you a better mood, there is plenty more about how light benefits the human body that we just aren't clear about. Many reports show that exposure to sunlight or dawn stimulation can improve your mood similarly to taking pharmaceuticals, but they can work much faster than taking a pill - often you'll feel better within a week of getting a good amount of light everyday.
If you live in a climate that doesn't get much sunlight, or it's just hard to get out of the house, consider investing in some full spectrum light bulbs or a light therapy box. They are an easy and cost-effective way of getting more sun-like light in your life without being too intrusive to your everyday routine (just make sure to turn them off when it gets dark out so you don't affect your sleep). If you'd like to try dawn stimulation to further help your mood and create a better routine for yourself, you might also consider an alarm clock that gradually brightens the room as you wake up and gradually dims as you go to sleep.
4. Keep a Routine
The human body is full of rhythms. Under a healthy state, we tend to thrive when our circadian rhythm matches up with the light/dark cycle of the day. Having this cycle disrupted is a major reason why night shift workers can develop all sorts of health problems ranging from mood disorders to metabolism problems.
Ideally, try to keep your sleep schedule reasonable by getting up when it is light out, and going to sleep when it gets dark. If you do night shift work, you might try dawn stimulation by using a light alarm clock and full spectrum lights to artificially set light in your environment to your schedule.
If going to bed and getting up at reasonable times is difficult due to mood reasons, remember, the human body thrives on rhythms. If you wake up at 2pm and can't sleep until 4am, don't beat yourself up about it. Get up, change your clothes, eat, and set goals for yourself during the time you are awake. Completing small tasks that you set for yourself will give your brain a good mood-boost from the accomplishment and give you more motivation to do similar tasks later on. Once you've got a big enough wave of motivation to ride on, you can move on to tasks that seemed much more challenging before. Remember, baby steps are still progress.
5. Practice Gratitude
Notice how I didn't say "be grateful because other people have it worse." No. Remember that your experiences, including your suffering, are always valid. So what do I mean by "practicing gratitude?" Turns out, that gratitude is a very easy positive emotion to simulate, and practicing gratitude is a form of meditation that helps your brain get better and more efficient at positive emotions. Gratitude is very good at improving your sense of well-being and it is easy to apply to everyday life.
It might take some practice at first, but you can apply gratitude to small things in life such as the comfort of your bed, the food you eat, or the body you inhabit. During this practice you may also just start out listing what you could be grateful for. The actual feeling can come later. It's important in this type of meditation that you don't judge yourself or feel you should be grateful for something. If you don't feel gratitude for a specific thing, you can move to something smaller. This is a practice after all.
If the gratefulness practice isn't working for you, you may benefit from a more everyday type of meditation. See if you can find a repetitive task that you don't mind as much, such as knitting, putting together a puzzle, or washing dishes. While doing this task, try to focus your entire attention on the task, while allowing your mind to be clear. If your mind wanders, that's okay, just continually bring it back to the task at hand. This type of meditation is a variation on Counting Meditation (counting to 10 without letting your mind wander), and it helps develop more mastery over your thoughts and the effect they may have on your mood. As you master this type of meditation, you may be able to move more towards a gratefulness practice.