Health

How to improve your mental health in 2022

1. GIVE YOUR FEELING A NAME

Back in April, Adam Grant had already called it; he said,
“Languishing might be the dominant emotion of 2021.” People certainly knew they
were feeling some kind of way, but it wasn’t burnout or depression or even
boredom. “Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health,” Dr Grant
wrote. “It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of
well-being.” He provided some tips to cure languishing, but the powerful first
step Dr Grant proposed was simply naming the feeling. Doing so gave us “a
clearer window into what had been a blurry experience,” he wrote, and a
socially acceptable response to the question: “How are you?”

2. GIVE YOUR MENTAL ILLNESS A NAME, TOO

While Lily Burana had always been candid about her
depression and anxiety, getting a third diagnosis this spring — for ADHD — made
it harder to discuss her mental health clearly, she wrote. So Ms. Burana gave
“the whole bundle” a nickname: Bruce. As in Springsteen, a public figure who
has been open about his own struggles with mental health. “The nickname allows
me to efficiently keep people apprised of my status, as in: ‘Bruce has really
been bringing me down this week,’” she wrote. “The nickname helps me lighten up
about my own darkness.”

3. FIND MEANING IN EVERYDAY ACTIVITIES

A growing body of research shows that there are simple steps
you can take to recharge your emotional batteries and spark a sense of
fulfilment, purpose and happiness. The psychology community calls this lofty
combination of physical, mental and emotional fitness “flourishing.” One easy
way to get there is by doing your everyday activities with more purpose.
Something as simple as cleaning the kitchen or doing yard work, or even washing
your pillowcases, can build toward a sense of accomplishment. Set a 10-minute
timer and go for a short jog, or try a one-minute meditation.

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4. TRY MEDITATING ANYWHERE

Your brain is like a computer, and it has only a certain
amount of working memory, said Dr. Judson Brewer, the director of research and
innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Centre. That’s why negative
emotions like anxiety and stress can make it harder to think or solve problems.
“The first thing we have to do is ground ourselves in the present moment so we
can calm down,” said Dr. Brewer, who suggested keeping this meditation
technique in your back pocket:

Hold one hand in front of you, fingers spread. Now, slowly
trace the outside of your hand with the index finger on your other hand,
breathing in when you trace up a finger, and out when you trace down. Move up
and down all five fingers. When you’ve traced your whole hand, reverse
direction and do it again.

5. ALLOW YOURSELF TO GRIEVE ‘SMALL’ LOSSES

In the hierarchy of human suffering during the pandemic, a
cancelled prom or vacation or lost time with grandchildren may not sound like
much, but mental health experts say that all loss needs to be acknowledged and
grieved. We need to give ourselves permission to mourn, Tara Parker-Pope wrote
in an article about disenfranchised grief. “Once you accept that your grief is
real, there are steps you can take to help you cope,” she said. “Consider
planting a tree, for example, or finding an item that represents your loss,
like cancelled airline tickets or a wedding invitation, and burying it.”

6. IF YOU NEED ONE, TAKE A ‘SAD DAY’

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When your brain and body need a break, taking a mental
health day off from work or school can help you rest and recharge. As one
clinical psychologist told Christina Caron: “You wouldn’t feel bad about taking
time off when sick. You shouldn’t feel bad about taking some time off when
you’re sad.” You don’t need to tell anyone why you’re taking the time off. In
most situations, just say that you need to take a sick day, and leave it at
that, the experts told Ms. Caron. But try not to spend the day checking your
messages or feeling guilty. Make a plan to do something that will help you
recharge. Our readers offered their suggestions here.

7. WRITE DOWN WHAT’S BOTHERING YOU BEFORE BED

Chronically bad sleep is more than just a nuisance. It
weakens the immune system, reduces memory and attention span, and increases the
likelihood of depression. Anahad O’Connor, who reported on the rise of sleep
disturbances during the pandemic, said that one of the most effective
treatments for “coronasomnia” was cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT,
because this approach helps you address the underlying thoughts, feelings and
behaviours that are ruining your sleep. One CBT-inspired strategy is to write
down all of your thoughts, especially anything that is bothering you, two hours
before bed, then crumple up the paper and throw it away. This symbolic gesture
empowers you and calms your mind, a sleep medicine doctor told Mr O’Connor.

8. COUNT SHEEP … OR WHATEVER

If you can fall asleep at night, but have trouble staying
asleep, you may need other tactics to beat insomnia. Waking up at 3 am? Anahad
O’Connor had advice for that predicament too, like limiting your alcohol intake
and reducing caffeine. Our readers had other tips: Maria De Angelo, a teacher
in Los Angeles who also renovates houses, said she closes her eyes and thinks
of a complicated electrical wiring scheme in a kitchen she once renovated. The
mental exercise induces boredom, much like counting sheep, which helps her
drift back to sleep. On other nights, to mix things up, Ms. De Angelo shuts her
eyes and recites the names of every state in America in alphabetical order. “I
haven’t yet made it past ‘N,’” she said. “Either method — or both — will work
95 percent of the time.”

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9. IF YOU CAN, GIVE BACK

Well before a pandemic tore people away from their loved
ones, experts were warning of “an epidemic of loneliness” in the United States.
A potential cure? Kindness toward others, Christina Caron wrote in an article
about the benefits of volunteering. Research shows that giving back can improve
our health, ease feelings of loneliness and broaden our social networks. Start
by setting a small goal, like volunteering once a week, or even once a month,
and building from there.

10. FINALLY, GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK

During our two-week Fresh Start Challenge, Tara Parker-Pope
heard from a lot of readers who were berating themselves for gaining weight or
exercising less during the pandemic lockdowns. Her response? “Shaming yourself
is counterproductive.” Instead, practise self-compassion. One of the simplest
ways to do so is to ask yourself one question: “What do I need right now?”

 

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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