13 easy mental health practices to help you stay positive in 2021
Saying no is an act of self-care — as is turning off Instagram notifications
It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle. As onions became the new avocadoes and we struggle to stay afloat amidst the lockdown, economic and political volatility, social media one-upmanship and endless bills, we’re hoping 2021 will be the year to slow down and revamp. Introduce positive mental health practices into your daily life because stress and self-love blend together as imperfectly as the layer of oil floating above a bowl of kadai chicken.
“Good mental health needs practice — it’s not a static state of being,” says Urvashi Bhatia, Delhi-based psychologist and mental health counsellor.
From dealing with separation anxiety from your phone, learning to cope with work burnout and making alone time a priority, here are the expert-approved daily mental health practices to help ease us into the new year.
1. Cutting down on screen time
“People find this the most challenging. You really have to commit to it,” laughs Bhatia. Screens— computer, TV and mobile phones have become our virtual soulmates.
Ban phone charging in the bedroom
Bhatia suggests that you identify the space in the house you spend the most time in and remove access to your electronics from there.
Charge your phone at a distance— i.e where it’s inconvenient. It’ll be annoying at first but you get used it. Remind yourself that you’re doing this for a reason.
“This is the easiest thing to start with. And, invest in a real clock for your morning alarm.”
Screen-less mealtime and sleep time
We all spend a couple of minutes (read: hours) finding the perfect show to stream while we dig into our dinners. With bellies full, we doze off to the ambient sounds of Netflix.
Bhatia suggests you sit outside in the living room and eat your meal — take that time to mentally plan your day, or introspect on the day that’s gone by.
“Like with the phone charger, keep your laptops outside too. Designate a workstation or work corner in your house where you keep your laptop, watch your daily shows and then leave them there.” When it’s bedtime, leave your phone outside.
If you’d prefer to keep it with you at all times, Bhatia says to turn off the notifications of social media apps and flip the phone over for the rest of the night.
Set a deadline, or even get a literal timer
As much as we enjoy hate-stalking celebrities to unwind after a long day, the trick is to set a deadline for yourself. OK, OK, easier said than done. If you hate deadlines and struggle to stick to time, you can try setting a timer.
2. Dealing with anxiety
Twenty-first century living has turned us all into anxiety-riddled cats, jumping at the slightest rustle of leaves. It can be crippling. Full-blown panic attacks need medical attention but daily anxiety can be soothed with coping mechanisms.
“Carry a little notebook with you. When you start feeling anxious, start writing down whatever is going through your mind. It can serve as a distraction. Seeing your words on paper can help you think clearly too and analyse the situation better,” she says.
Distractions and breathing exercises
Shift your attention to something else. Recite a song in your head, count from 50 to 1 or read number plates.
The 4-7-10 breathing technique works well too. Try doing a mental count to 4, breathing in through your nose. From 4 to 7 hold your breath. The 7-10 count is your time to exhale.
3. Making alone time a priority
Indulging in the things that we enjoy is a priority as well, especially when you’re just about making it to work, keeping up with friends and you know — living.
Take a break from your screen and pick up that book you’ve been trying to finish for the last 3 months.
Cook a meal for yourself (instant noodles don’t count). Stroll around your apartment, go downstairs and get some fresh air with your dog and really take in your surroundings, be in the moment, says Bhatia.
Alone time really means thinking about yourself. “It can be a time for introspection too,” she says. You’re being mindful of your own needs, make yourself a priority in your life. Organise an at-home spa day, treat yourself to a head massage and mani-pedi also count as simple mental health practices.
4. Addressing burnout
In broad terms, burnout is job-related stress on a debilitating scale, which takes a toll on your physical and mental health. There’s a spectrum of symptoms when it comes to signs of burnout.
You feel emotionally drained all the time. Fatigued, like you’ve just completed a 5K and run straight into work. No matter how many hours you sleep, there’s still an ache in your bones.
Disdain and a growing detachment from colleagues alienates you at the workplace. Bring all the components together and you get an uninterested, frustrated employee with a deep sense of incompetence.
Bhatia blames an evolving work culture in which hyper-digitisation and intense competition collide. Work stays with you, it’s on your mind before you clock in and long after you’re out.
While there’s no cure-all for burnout and the recovery process is unique to every individual, there are a few mental health practices to keep in mind.
Break the monotony
Sitting at your desk all day makes it easy to flip to YouTube when you feel like you need a break. Psychologist Jaini Savla, founder of MindSight Clinic suggests a change of scenery for a few minutes.
Take a stroll around your workspace or even just a chai break in another room, to come back to your desk refreshed.
Polish your time management skills
“Set yourself manageable deadlines for each task,” says Bhatia, “Spend the first 10 minutes of your day at the office making a task list, this makes it easier to track your progress through the day, and there’s also a kind of satisfaction and fulfilment that you get slashing these off your list.”
Prioritise sleep and a healthy diet
“Of course you can sleep for 3 hours and power through your day, but that’s harmful. At least 6 hours of good sleep is essential for brain health,” stresses Bhatia.
Maintain your boundaries for work-personal life balance
Define the relationship and set your boundaries to keep things professional. “Of course, you’ll want to have a good relationship with your boss and peers, but you need to maintain a distinction between professional and personal life,” Bhatia advises.
A good response to being given direction on a project after-hours: ‘Noted, will get to it first thing once I’m at the office’. This allows you to politely acknowledge their communication but also keep work at the workplace.
5. Learning how to say ‘no’ without feeling like a bad person
How to say no is one of the most important mental health practices that nobody ever teaches you. Acquiescing to everything that’s asked of us is ingrained in us from childhood, nodding in agreement to everything our school teachers and parents demand. Say no once and you’re forever known as the sadiyal in the family.
Psychotherapist Anusha Manjani shares her tips on how to say no without feeling like a bad person that has let down your ancestors.
Don’t say yes or no instantly. Say that you need time to consider the offer/question and will get back to it in a while. “I need time to think and reflect on what I want to do, can I get back to you?”
Whether it’s work or interpersonal relationships, it’s important to assert yourself, and that involves not offering up unnecessary justifications.
Offer an alternative
When it comes to workplace situations, saying no often isn’t an option. Instead, try “I cannot work this weekend, but I could come in next week.”
In friendships, work up to your strengths. If you don’t want to be a bridesmaid, offer up your photography, flower arranging, drama-diffusing, relative-ferrying skills instead. Even your best friend will find it hard to get mad at you.
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