Today’s fast-paced schedules can seem at odds with mental health. But being busy doesn’t mean you need to write off good mental health. Whether you’re focused on managing stress, anxiety or migraine, knowing how to improve mental health in small ways can make a big difference in a jam-packed schedule.
September is National Self-Care Awareness Month, so we wanted to offer some advice on how to be mentally healthy and happy, even with a busy life.
Get Good Sleep and Reclaim Your Morning
Busy people tend to underestimate how much sleep they need. A good night’s sleep is nothing short of critical for good mental health. Everyone’s needs are different, but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) suggests at least 7-8 hours of sleep. Make sure you’re following proper sleep hygiene with habits like having a consistent sleep schedule and avoiding electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. These habits can help you address health issues, like sleep apnea or migraine.
Good sleep habits extend into the morning, too. If you start your day by immediately checking your phone, you might not be doing yourself any favors. When you check emails and social media, you’re bombarding your brain with stressful things right away. You’re jumping straight into “busy” mode without giving yourself time to wake up.
Instead, ease into it. Try to create a routine for yourself that doesn’t involve screen time or stress-inducing news first thing in the morning. You might spend some time preparing a nice, nutritious breakfast or writing in a journal. Consider keeping your phone away from your bedside and relying on an old-fashioned alarm clock instead. Whatever you do, be mindful of your mornings. Create a routine that’s soothing and eases you into being awake.
Just because you’re in a rush doesn’t mean you need to eat junk food. Our brains need specific nutrients to run on all cylinders, but the modern diet doesn’t always deliver. Like sleep, nutrition is different for everyone, with plenty of diets to address specific concerns. Generally, aim for fresh produce, whole wheat, healthy fats and lean proteins.
But you’re busy — you don’t have time to cook fresh meals every night. Even small swaps can help. Try replacing your processed muffin from the coffee shop with a banana and Greek yogurt. Meal prepping is also a great way to have healthy foods ready at a moment’s notice.
One way to improve your mental and emotional health and connect with nature is to get outside. It’s especially important if you spend all day at a screen. It can break up the monotony, give you fresh air and provide a healthy dose of sunlight. Sunlight helps your body release serotonin and produce vitamin D, both of which can help stave off depression and anxiety.
Just 5-15 minutes of sun three times a week is generally enough to help you experience the advantages of vitamin D. Try having your morning coffee outside or taking a short walk outdoors. You can even take up hiking or exploring your city by foot.
It’s no surprise that exercise is essential for mental health. It helps with just about everything, from energy and sleep to memory and mood. It’s associated with improvements in anxiety, depression, stress, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of course, spending all day in the gym might not work with your schedule. You can still reap the benefits with small amounts of exercise.
Here are some ways to sneak movement into your day:
- Park further away when you drive somewhere
- Take a few minutes to stretch at your desk
- Try to stand while working
- Go for a short walk every day — bonus points for getting outside
- Spend five minutes on a yoga routine
Try Breathing Exercises and Meditation
If you’re a busy person, being told to slow down and breathe sounds like a tall order but trust us, it’s worth it. Breathing exercises and meditation often rely on it. Diaphragmatic breathing — a special deep breathing technique — can help with anxiety and depression symptoms and improve stress management, sleep and focus.
You can see benefits from as little as 5-10 minutes of deep breathing. Many people like to use guided sessions, and there are many online resources such as apps and videos that can walk you through the process. The most important part of deep breathing and meditation is to be purposeful. Turn your thoughts inward and focus on the present.
Multitasking might feel like you’re getting a lot done, but usually it just brings down your productivity. It can mentally overwhelm you and bring anxiety and stress to your day. Instead of multitasking, be purposeful with your time. Prioritize your tasks and focus on what you’re doing in the present moment. Don’t overload your day, either. Be realistic about what you take on.
It can be surprisingly easy to forget to take time for yourself. Scheduled breaks can help you remember to accomplish self-care tasks on your list, like meditating or taking a walk. Set a reminder if you need to. Then, use this break time to focus only on you — not errands or work, but yourself and your need for self-care.
Track Your Triggers
It’s not always easy to see where your stress is coming from. Try keeping a log. Write down anything throughout the day that frustrates or upsets you or makes you anxious. Some examples might include a high workload or an argument with a friend. Track these stressors for a week and jot down your reactions. Explore your feelings and how you responded to the situation.
These notes can help you understand how you respond to stress and make plans to minimize triggers or react in a healthier way.
Set Clear Work-Life Boundaries
A poor distinction between work and home life is a common cause of stress, especially in the work-from-home era. It’s important to fully separate these environments, even if your workplace might not feel stressful.
Some tips to maintain your mental health through work-life balance include:
- Unplugging after work: If possible, separate your work and home technology. Silence your work email or log out of your work account on your computer.
- Not overloading yourself: Consider how taking on extra work might affect your ability to do the job well. This is important to avoid burnout and stay engaged in your work.
- Assessing your workplace: Think about whether your workplace is supportive of your need for mental health boundaries. If your boss is constantly calling you after hours or refusing vacation time, you may need to have a conversation with them or their superiors.
- Spending time with loved ones: Making time for friends and family can be tough if you’re exhausted after work every day. Be intentional with your time and carve out space to be with people you care about.
Find Your Happy Place
Having a “happy place” allows you to create a mental escape where you can destress and relax. Even in the midst of a hectic day, you can pause and retreat to this place to calm yourself. Create a vivid picture of your happy place in your mind. Consider places you like, such as an old vacation spot, or somewhere you want to go, like a relaxing spa. You could also create your own happy place that might not even exist.
Wherever it is, try to incorporate sensations. Envision the sights, smells and textures of the space. Use it whenever things get stressful. You can even go to your happy place when you do other exercises, such as deep breathing.
Do You Live With Stress-Induced Migraine?
Hopefully these self-care tips for mental health can help you improve your response to stress. If uncontrolled, it could be contributing to stress-induced migraine. Migraine attacks can be painful and debilitating — they can also get in the way of your efforts to relax. CEFALY can help treat migraine without pharmaceuticals and with fewer side effects than many medications. It can both treat migraine attacks when they occur and prevent future episodes.