5 Useful Strategies to Improve Your Mental Health in Tough Times
I get it. You’re tired. I’m tired. We’re all tired.
Whatever you feel the need to do to get by right now, do it.
I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m here to make some suggestions for things you could to not just improve your mental health during current times, but all times.
My goal for myself and for you is to come out of this period in time even stronger than before. Not in some corny cheesy way, but seriously.
If you can come out of these times even slightly ahead, you’re on a trajectory to do even more throughout your lifetime.
Let’s take a look at some habits, strategies, and concepts that can help you improve your mental health.
Stay Informed, To a Point
Recently, I’ve been breaking my cardinal rule of avoiding the news at all costs. These days, it’s pretty much impossible. You have no choice to be at least somewhat informed, but it’s important to know when it’s time to pump the breaks.
When it comes to making decisions, I use a simple rule of thumb. Is this decision useful or is it counterproductive?
From a mental health standpoint, keeping your eyes glued to negativity, true tragedies, and outrage on the news can be useful in that certain problems can’t be solved without awareness of those problems, but this process leads to diminishing returns pretty fast.
That’s my beef with the news.
I want to be informed and I know the value of information, but so much of the news is designed to do the opposite — create confusion, division, and outage. It’s literally not profitable to focus on creating positive emotions and the media has every incentive to gaslight you and take advantage of tragedy.
Every time I take the bait, I never come out the other end feeling like I’ve gained anything. Ask yourself, do you gain anything? Do you actually help anyone? Or are you just left spinning your wheels?
You see something happen in the news that makes you sad, upset, or angry. Maybe you post on social media about it, talk with friends to process it, or even hit the streets to protest — all things that are fine in and of themselves.
But if you continue to do this over and over again each time something tragic happens and nothing changes, you’re only left with those negative feelings. Stay informed, but when you see yourself veering into obsession, just pause and think about what you’re doing.
Don’t even overly judge yourself, just sit back and observe the emotions your actions are causing. I came to the conclusion to get back to something that does help, which is trying to help people navigate life, even during not-so-great times.
In some senses, times aren’t amazing right now, but is it better to focus on the downside constantly or see where the opportunities are?
Harness the Power of Creative, Even “Boring” Outlets
In many ways, writing saved my life. Prior to finding it, I put my energy in counterproductive, bad, places. The combination of finding self-improvement and writing at the same time gave me a refuge I can go to where the noise of the world fades away.
When you create something, you focus on that creation and nothing else. You don’t have to create for the sake of a side hustle. You can create just for fun. Hobbies, especially now, can be your saving grace.
As I’ve talked about in previous articles, hobbies can help you turn your life around:
The lack of purpose and flow is the true ailment of our society. You can tie almost all societal problems back to it. Find flow for yourself so you can escape the cycles of negativity most people go through.
I remember coloring with my four-year-old daughter the other day. I’m sitting there trying to finish my drawing of Elsa from Frozen, keeping everything in the lines and trying to create cool patterns on her dress, and I just felt at ease. I can see why adult coloring books are popular.
Doesn’t matter what you choose, make something, it can put you at ease. No wonder baking bread has become so popular during the pandemic. There’s beauty in taking focused steps to complete banal tasks. But they’re not even banal.
We just forget how simplicity can create happiness. We don’t need fancy distractions and toys. In fact, some of those toys, some of that tech, might do us more harm than good. We’re developing these fragmented dopamine chasing brains and these “smart devices” don’t always make us smarter.
Maybe the one benefit of these times is the return to simplicity, having to entertain ourselves, and getting us back to being more creative.
Whether it’s writing, taking pictures, doing crafts, making playdough with your kids, make things not just as a distraction, but for actual fun because making things perhaps is the purest form of fun you can have.
Don’t Just “Exercise” Do This Instead
The best part about working out until you’re totally gassed? It’s impossible to worry, feel anxious, be upset, or escape the present moment at all when you’re just trying to breathe.
Everyone recommends exercises for physical reasons — aesthetics, general health, prevention of diseases, etc, but we overlook the mental aspect of it.
This could easily be just-another-point-in-a-listicle telling you to work out, and maybe you think it is, but I’m recommending a particular type of work out — the type of work out that forces you to be in the present moment.
Often, we use vices to stay present. Sex feels so damn good you’re forced to stay present. Nothing is inherently wrong with it, but who doesn’t have a story about the pitfalls of chasing that dragon? Mouthwatering food does the job. Drugs and alcohol kill the ego, remove inhibitions, and keeps your mind at bay.
Sometimes, people forget the true motivation behind vices — returning the source to create a semblance of sanity.
You know what else keeps you present? Trying to keep yourself from throwing up or gasping as hard as you can for air.
I went out to a football field the other day and did 100-yard sprints. I probably haven’t run full speed, on purpose, in a decade. After a few back and forths, my body paralyzed my mind in the present. Anger and frustrations faded away. No thoughts about the pandemic. No thinking about the past or future. Total pure presence.
Try working out to your true edge. And do it purely for mental health reasons. What you look like in the mirror doesn’t matter, nor does your weight on the scale. Do this solely for your mental health and spiritual growth.
Use This Underrated Benefit of Isolation
Often, what we think are emotions are the suppression of emotions. You think you’re upset, but you’re trying to not be upset. You think you’re angry, but you’re trying to forcefully get rid of the feeling of anger through blunt force.
We hardly ever sit with our emotions and fully feel them, which is why they’re always there. This is tough, unsettling, and something I’m not all that good at myself, but I practice it. I learned this process from the book Letting Go by Dr. David Hawkins.
This quote sheds light on the process itself:
“Letting go involves being aware of a feeling, letting it come up, staying with it, and letting it run its course without wanting to make it different or do anything about it.”
I don’t know about you, but during these times in isolation, I’ve had random thoughts, memories, and emotions pop up. Old ones. Ones I thought were either gone or totally repressed. I’ve tried to use this time to process those things fully and let them go.
Maybe it’s because we have a culture that shuns vulnerability, but we don’t often talk about trauma.
How many of us are affected by things that happened decades ago? Traumatic experiences. Things we never let go of. Entire personalities and lives are shaped by trauma. And it doesn’t help that we don’t honor it and name it properly.
You don’t improve your life by becoming a robot who can’t feel emotions. You can barely control your thoughts, so why make it a goal? Over time I’m learning to quit trying to control anything, per se, but instead, let those thoughts and emotions bubble up and process them while I try to live a good life.
Don’t live in the limbo where you either shove your emotions down or magnify them through impression. Practice processing and letting go.
The Number One Mental Health Tool I’ve Ever Found
Beyond meeting your needs and creating flexibility over your time, money doesn’t matter. Neither does status. Neither does leaving your legacy. You’ll be dead. Essentially nothing matters in the long-long-long run, but you have to take care of yourself here and now.
This is why having a mission for your life, a purpose, is critical. I used to look at self-improvement as a means to an end. I figure if I read enough books, built a cool career or business, and made a bunch of money, I’d feel better. But that wasn’t what happened.
I came to understand that the real value is playing the game just to play the game, ultimately for the sake of your own mental health. An idle mind is the devil’s playground, right? And I love mindfulness, but what are you going to do, meditate ten hours a day until you achieve enlightenment?
Having a mission you care about, even if it’s not the cool money-making online business that everyone in self-help talks about, keeps you sane.
What happens when you have nowhere to focus? You let everything in, mostly noise. There’s an inverse correlation between the noise you allow into your life and the level of focus you put on your mission.
I noticed the more and more I dove into news coverage and wallowed in my own feelings instead of processing them, I started going through the motions with my writing a bit. It felt fake because it kind of was.
My goal is never to be some infallible guru, so I reverse my own right to have up and downs, but my life and my creative output are both better when I’m aligned to what’s important and what makes me happy.
This makes me happy. Trying to help you stay sane in this chaotic mess makes me happy. A woman reached out to me and told me because of my book, she went on to write a novel — a freakin’ novel. That kind of feedback makes me feel like I’m doing what I was put here to do, you know? And even if that’s not objectively true, it’s true enough for me.
And it’ll be true enough for you, too.
When you’re on a mission, you’re usually helping other people who need you, which helps reduce your ego because you realize it’s not all about you. Taking that focus off yourself and putting it on others is a mental health gift you can give yourself and a gift to others you can give at the same time.
What Mental Health Means To Me
If I had to categorize my writing, it would fall under ‘self-improvement’ but I’m glad readers have been reaching out to me and telling me how they consider my writing to be mental-health-focused because it is.
The focus on mental health isn’t always just reactive. You can focus on your mental health proactively by focusing on your personal development, physical health, and spiritual growth. For the peanut gallery, I’m not calling these replacements for medicine.
They are net positive benefits, always.
If we all knew how hard life is for everyone we’d be a lot kinder to each other. Navigating life is insane, period, for any human being. You’re just kind of this mess of a person who’s trying to figure it out but never quite does, who wants to improve but doesn’t always follow through, who tries to stay hopeful even when it’s hard.
It ain’t all sunshine and roses. And I’m not a fan of the form of self-improvement that tries to say it is.
I take that fact, the fact that life is inherently difficult, as a source of inspiration to try to play the game as best as you possibly can so you can suffer the least damage in the long-run.
Not the sexiest ending to an article, but definitely meaningful.
Ayodeji is the Author of Real-Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement. Grab your free checklist here — The Ultimate Guide to Discovering Your Natural Talents and Strengths. Wanna keep in touch? Follow me on Instagram and Twitter.