There is a lot of pseudoscience out there on social media about mental health (and honestly, just health in general). It can be overwhelming, and difficult to discern what’s effective, from what’s just a sales pitch. Personally, I like to get back to basics when it comes to my own emotional well-being. My reasoning is that kids are overall a lot happier than adults, so I incorporate things that I remember doing often as a kid. This may sound strange, but let me explain.
Every night, I name five good things that happened to me.
I think that when we’re children, we are a lot more eager to talk about the good things. I’m not talking about the big things, like getting a raise as an adult. I’m talking about the little things that are good parts of our day. Kids gush about how pretty the sky looked and how yummy their fruit snacks were (often to the point of annoying the adults). As we get older, a lot of that stuff either goes unnoticed, or it doesn’t feel like people will care if we vocalize how much we enjoyed those things.
For me though, voicing things out loud helps to ground me in what I’m saying. So, every night, I think about five good things that happened to me. That can be hard on bad days, but forcing myself to think of five things ends up making me think about the smaller things that might have gotten lost in the rest of the day. So on good days, I name things like “I finished this creative project” or “Our date night made me happy.” On bad days, I name things like “My sandwich for lunch was so delicious” or “That sunset was my favorite shade of orange” or even “I liked how windy it was today—it was refreshing.” It doesn’t matter how big or small they are, I make sure to say five good things that happened to me, out loud (usually to my partner, but when he isn’t home, I say it to myself).
Gratitude has been proven to improve well-being, and I think it really centers you in the fact that there are parts of every day that make life worth living.
I spend time outside every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
I don’t always have time to go on a hike, or even a walk. I think as adults, we view outdoor time as organized activities that we make room in our schedule for. If there isn’t time for a hike or a run, we don’t get outside. As kids though, outdoor time isn’t a box to check off. We never overthought it. We just went outside. Sometimes that meant playing tag or going for bike rides, but often, it meant just eating our snack outside. Moving what we would have done inside, outside.
I’ve noticed that I’m a lot happier and at peace when I’m outside, so I have gotten back to that. Even if it’s just for the five minutes that it takes me to finish a bottle of water, I step outside. I don’t tell myself that it has to be a certain amount of time. Just at some point during the day, I intentionally step outside. It’s helped me so much, and I always can tell when I skip this. I’m not as relaxed or happy, so I really try my best to do this daily.
At some point during the day, I eat something that I’m excited about.
I can’t often afford to eat out, or buy fancy ingredients. That doesn’t mean that I can’t have delicious food, though. Food is such an integral part of any living being’s life, and considering that I do it at least three times a day, I make sure to include at least one thing that I’m super excited about. This gives me something to look forward to, something to feel joy about as I eat it, and something to be grateful for after. Whether it’s a slice of cake after dinner, plump blueberries in my oatmeal for breakfast, or a snack of homemade raspberry jam on toast, it makes my day better.
I pause several times to check all of my senses.
In a world of tech-driven days, it’s easy to check-out and disassociate. Our sense make life so vibrant, and losing that can make me feel numb. To fight this, I make sure to check my senses a few times a day. I ask myself what are two things I’m hearing. What are two smells I’m smelling, and four colors that I see? What is something I physically feel? What do I taste? This keeps me present, and slows down my day in a good way.
I breathe deeply, and properly.
This may sound intuitive, but I breathe. Deep breaths slows down our heart rate, and decreases stress. As an emotional thinker as well, it helps me to make better decisions when I can focus after breathing deeply. My therapist taught me how to do it properly— four counts in through the nose, hold for four, and blow it out like a straw. I relax my shoulders, close my eyes, and just sit with it as I do so. Even if I’m in public, I do this at least three times a day (on hard days, even more). It’s really helped me when I’m stressed, and even when I’m not, it’s nice to relax my body so effectively.
There are so many things that we either did as kids, or are so intuitive that we forget to do them, and it’s detrimental to our wellbeing when we skip them. I notice a big difference when I skip these things, so I always make time for them. I’d love to have a lengthy morning routine, and be really on top of fancy mental health exercises, but I don’t have the time or energy for that- especially when I need it most. These exercises are low maintenance, and I’ve realized that they work for my lifestyle no matter what’s happening. I don’t need another routine to stress me out further, so keeping them simple and true to my childhood self has really helped me.
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Photo: Emily Iris Degn