The purpose of this post is to give a more general picture of how I live and deal with my mental health on a day-to-day basis. The hope is that through following practices and exhibiting behaviors that are good for my overall mental health, I will need to rely on acute crisis response behaviors less frequently.
Much like my previous post on the matter, this is about what I do and works for me.
Make a physical or digital schedule. Don’t just keep it in your head, but actually write it down in a way you can look at it. This helps you hold yourself accountable to getting these things done, because they’re on a schedule.
Explicitly add things like breaks, exercise, and meals to your schedules.
Wake up at the same time each day, go to bed around the same time each day. Pick some times to have meals, or take breaks.
I work in two-hour chunks and then take 30-60 minutes off, depending on which break it is. I take these breaks away from my computer and read, exercise, stretch, nap, or have a beverage, snack, or meal. I’ve gotten back into taking care of my skin, as it gives me more ritual for the day.
Routines are not just on a daily basis. Come up with weekly routines as well: play games on Wednesday nights, have coffee wit a friend (via jitsi or whatever) on Tuesday afternoons. Call a family member Friday night. Watch a movie Sunday afternoon. I wash my hair twice a week – Sunday and Wednesday.
If you’re like me, it’s easy to have days and times blur together. Having things that happen on certain days help mark the passage of time, and having different times you do things also helps shape your day.
Have separate mental and physical spaces, and mark them however works for you
I do not wear leggings on a weekday, unless it’s under a dress or skirt. On the other hand, I don’t wear work clothes on weekends (unless there’s a particular reason to). I work from the kitchen, so I take breaks in other parts of the apartment (we are very lucky and have a large apartment). If possible, stay out of your bedroom (see more on that below) during the day. Work on associating different parts of your home with different activities.
Find things you can be in control of
Many, many people are struggling with the lack of control they have over the world around them right now. Find little, healthy things you can control. I make my bed every day, even if it’s just spreading the blanket and putting the pillows on top of it.
Keep your space clean, organize the fridge and cabinets, open the windows and get some fresh air in. Decorate. Rejoice in the fact that you have things you can control, no matter how small they are.
Exercising and being active is basically one of the best things you can do for your mental health. I exercise in 15-30 minute blocks, several times a day, so it doesn’t feel like a big commitment. I do body weight exercises, yoga, and go for runs. Sometimes I dance or do barre videos from YouTube.
When I take my work breaks, I walk around the apartment or stretch or both. Sometimes I just carry something up and down the stairs.
Maintaining good sleep hygiene is the second most important thing you can do. Here are somethings you can do:
- go to bed at the same time every night
- wake up at the same time every day
- no devices in bed, unless you’re using something to provide sound/white noise
- only use your bed/room for sleeping
- do the same things every night the 30 minutes before bed
- sleep without lights on, or get a nightlight designed to be gentle on your eyes, or automatically go off after some time
- don’t eat too close to bedtime
- wear socks if your feet get cold
- if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, leave your bed/room and read or whatever it is you do when you can’t sleep
Focus on your Second Thoughts
You’re going to have a lot of stressful, terrible, questionable, disturbing, and anxiety inducing thoughts. These will be your First Thoughts, that come in response to something. After you have your First Thought, intentionally create a Second Thought that challenges your First Thought.
For example: Your roommate finishes the eggs, so you cannot bake the cake you were planning on making. You think they’re mean and terrible and unreasonable and selfish. Then, you remind yourself that maybe they were just hungry, or forgot you were going to bake a cake, or were not feeling well themselves and really needed those eggs to feel better about their current situation.
Build a team
Find 3-6 people in your life you can reach out to when things get really bad. Ask them explicitly to be on your team, and lay out what the expectations are. In general, my expectations for my team are that, should I become overwhelmingly stressed or anxious, I will reach out to one of them to vent, distraction, or for help planning how to respond or overcome the situation that is causing me problems. Also, explicitly state to each of them that it’s okay if they don’t have time for you at a specific moment – that’s why you have a team. I’ve found that people on my team will frequently make time for me when I need it, even if I have other things going on.
If you have trouble reaching out for help when you need it, suggest a code phrase that will communicate that you need your team. Some I like are:
- What have you been reading lately?
- Did you see the new Werner Herzog documentary?
- Have you seen the new Homestuck?
As another reminder, these are things I do, and they work for me. Not all of them work all the time, and sometimes I don’t do them even when I should. Experiment and see what works in your life.