The spring season symbolizes renewal, which is defined as resuming an activity or state after an interruption. And wow, are we so due for that. The pandemic has devastatingly interrupted our entire lives, including our state of mind.
According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people who experienced recent symptoms of anxiety and depression increased from 36 percent to 41 percent between August 2020 and February 2021. Additionally, people who reportedly needed but did not receive mental health counseling increased from 9 percent to 11 percent. This goes to show that the rise in depression and anxiety so many felt in 2020 has continued into 2021.
This May’s Mental Health Awareness Month coincides with the continued U.S. rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. But as we take tentative steps back towards resuming our “normal” lives, or at least some version of them, it’s clear that the grief and loss we have all experienced this past year—in different ways and to varying degrees—will leave a long-lasting imprint. So this month, we invite you to make time for your mental well-being, and we’ve put together a 31-day plan to help you do so.
“As a collective coming out of the year that was 2020 and into 2021, the landscape is energetically, spiritually, and politically different,” says Lauren Ash, founder of Black Girl in Om. “We need to allow ourselves the space to ask, ‘How have I changed? How do I want to show up in this new landscape?’” Hopefully, at the end of this month, you’ll not only know how to answer these questions, you’ll be energized enough to show up the way you’ve intentionally chosen to.
With this recharge program, each day offers a small, actionable tip from some of the wisest and most inspiring mental health and wellness experts we know, including Happy Not Perfect founder Poppy Jamie, Mama Glow founder Latham Thomas, psychotherapist Meghan Watson, and Influential Point founder Tamsin Lee, DAOM, LAc.
Ready to recharge your mind, body, and spirit? Bookmark this page and come back daily to discover your next step.
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Day 1: Confront your grief
The pandemic has hit us all with different forms of grief—from loss of loved ones (or the inability to properly mourn them) to a loss of time to a loss of “normal” life. Therapist Meghan Watson and Anatomy of Grief author Dorothy Holinger, PhD, both say that acknowledging this grief is the first step to truly moving forward. “As individuals, it’s important to name our griefs, to allow ourselves to feel them, and to realize that grief in the present is like a magnet that pulls up grief from the past,” Dr. Holinger says.
If you’re not sure how to confront your grief, try a body-scan meditation to see where in your body you’re holding it. Grief isn’t just emotional; it’s physical, too. “Grief can embody a lot of different emotions—anger, shame, sadness, disappointment, fear—and all these emotions have a physiological response in the body,” Watson says. “For example, when you’re angry, you may feel your heart beat faster.” Watson says grief can also manifest as pain, digestive issues, or fatigue. Sometimes, she says, someone is even unaware that they’re grieving until these physical symptoms surface, and even then, it can be difficult to connect the root cause to grief. That’s why she says a body scan can be helpful.
Here’s how to do it: Lie down on your back and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and start scanning your body as if you’re shining a flashlight on it, from head to toe. Pay attention to the places you feel tension and massage or breathe into these areas to relieve it; whatever feels good to you. Once you feel the tension ease through your body, sit up. Scan your body one more time and notice the difference in how you’re feeling.
Call to action: Support a grief charity, such as Good Grief, a nonprofit that helps children become resilient after experiencing loss and adversity.
Day 2: Evaluate your boundaries
“Boundaries are limits that we put in place to help us access what is our responsibility and what is not, and it also defines what our limits are,” therapist and mental health educator Minaa B previously shared with Well+Good, adding that establishing and setting boundaries is crucial for mental health.
Licensed psychotherapist and Boundary Boss author Terri Cole says that having bad boundaries causes anxiety and stress. What are “bad boundaries” exactly? “This can include saying yes when you want to say no, overcommitting, over-giving, not speaking up when upset or angry, being emotionally reactive, and taking things personally, to name a few,” Cole says.
Spend 15 minutes today thinking about areas in your life where you’re overcommitting and over-giving. Where do new boundaries need to be created in your life? Once you establish your new boundaries, be ready to enforce them. “Establishing and enforcing healthy boundaries in relationships means routinely communicating your preferences, desires, limits, and deal-breakers, which leads to being accurately seen, known, and understood,” Cole says. “This minimizes internal and relational conflict and fosters better self-esteem, more satisfaction, and mental well-being.”
Day 3: Create rest goals
So often the goals we set are tied to productivity and “hustle,” but what about rest? Rest is important for everyone, but Lauren Ash says it’s especially important for Black people, and Black women in particular, who have been conditioned to take on so much of the world’s burdens. “We [Black women] need to give ourselves time to rest,” she says. “Sometimes this means literally taking a nap, sometimes this means getting eight hours of sleep. It means prioritizing yourself even when there is so much work to be done.”
Psychotherapist Akeera Peterkin, LCSW, adds that for Black activists, rest isn’t just necessary, it’s an act of resistance against white supremacy. “For many communities of color who have historically faced oppression and violence, rest can help heal from and fight against the intergenerational traumas experienced on an ongoing basis,” she says.
Pull up your Google calendar or agenda and think about the times of the day or week you feel most drained and the ways you can integrate more rest into your life on those days. This is what putting on your oxygen mask before helping others with theirs looks like—taking the time to rest and regroup before you can give to others.
Call to action: Support The National Domestic Workers Alliance, a nonprofit that provides emergency assistance to home care workers, nannies, and house cleaners who are facing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19. We all deserve to rest, but we need to help each other for it to happen.
Day 4: Make time for play
Our culture glorifies being “busy” and productive. But we can’t—and shouldn’t—be productive all the time, and honestly, the pandemic has stretched us all way too thin. We can’t be any more productive. Latham Thomas says play is vital to our well-being; we need it to recharge. “When we allow ourselves time for recreation, it offers us mental and spiritual consolation, allowing us to create again and make something new,” she says. “Play helps us to take risks, stumble upon new strengths, and become aware of the areas where we need to grow. Play helps us to expand and be in the present moment of doing something that we love.”
Thomas urges everyone to give themselves permission to play every day. This means doing something for the sheer joy of it. “It could be as simple as a game of fetch with your dog, hide-and-seek with your child, doodling on a napkin while waiting for your entrée at a restaurant, or a game of ping-pong,” she says.
Oh, and not that play should be productive, but Thomas says one happy benefit of play is that it likely will help you in your professional life. “As an entrepreneur, I often get caught up in the hustle of running a business and only make time for meetings and client appointments, conference calls, and strategy sessions. The truth is, when I take time for myself to do something that takes my mind out of hustle mode, my most fruitful ideas are born,” she says. “I have ‘aha moments’ that in some cases contribute to problem-solving or shaping my work in some meaningful way. Rather than creating a punitive model of work only and no play, integrate recreation into your daily routine.”
Call to action: Want to have a role in helping others recharge through play? Support The Foundation for Art & Healing, a nonprofit that promotes creative expression as a way to improve public health.
Day 5: Say no to something
Remember a few days ago when you did some boundary-creating? Now you’re ready for level two: practicing the art of saying no. “Saying no is important for your health. It is impossible to show up for everything and everyone. Saying no is a sign of knowing healthy limits,” says Minaa B.
Of course, wanting to say no and actually doing it are totally different. But Cole says saying no is what putting your boundaries into place looks like in action. Did you decide that too much time with a certain friend drains your soul? Respectfully decline their invitation to an outdoor brunch. Are Thursdays your most meeting-heavy day of the week so you’ve promised yourself you’ll say no to working past 5 p.m. so you can take a walk outside before it gets dark out? Time to actually do it.
Helene Brenner, PhD, licensed psychologist and creator of the My Inner Voice app, gives three things to consider when it comes to saying no: “One, check in with yourself. When you first heard the request, what was your gut telling you? Two, remove emotion from the situation. Do you really have to say yes? What would happen if you said no? Three, if you’re still torn, imagine saying yes. Then, imagine saying no. Which one made you feel more at ease?” After going through each of the three steps, you’ll know what to do.
Day 6: Make a routine a ritual
Humans crave routine, so it’s likely that there are many components of your day that you do without even thinking about it. But there’s a difference between routine and ritual. You can be on autopilot moving through something routine, but licensed mental health therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC, explains that rituals have a deeper meaning. “When we establish daily rituals to manage our mental health, it helps us prioritize ourselves in a way that we usually find difficult to do,” she says. In essence, routines are something to get done, while rituals are done with more intent.
Anwar encourages us to think of small rituals that can be integrated into our daily lives, but something we can actively enjoy while it’s happening. For one person, this may be mindfully whisking matcha in the morning. For someone else, it could be journaling or a meditative afternoon walk with the dog. “Rituals help us establish a daily routine that enables us to improve our mental health,” Anwar says. “We can do this by prioritizing specific self-care activities to engage in every day.”
Day 7: Take a 15-minute walk
Taking a short walk in nature may be one of the simplest, most science-backed actions you can take for your mental health. One scientific article published in the Journal of Sports Medicine—called “Walking On Sunshine”—highlights eight key mental health benefits simply from walking. Among them: lowering anxiety, less psychological stress, and lower feelings of loneliness.
“Just like flowers and plants need sunlight to grow, so do we,” says Well+Good Changemaker and Hike Clerb founder Evelynn Escobar-Thomas. “Getting out to get some fresh air and sun is a great way to help reset yourself throughout the day and be present.” While on your walk, really soak up your surroundings. Listen to the different varieties of birds singing, appreciate the colors and backdrops of the land, or take (literal) time to smell the roses.
Carving out time in your day to go for a walk is quite literally taking a step for your mental health.
Call to action: Donate to Hike Clerb, an intersectional women’s hike club equipping Black, Indigenous, and women of color with the tools, resources, and experiences they need to collectively heal in nature. Another awesome organization to support: GirlTrek, the largest public health nonprofit for Black women and girls in the U.S.
Check out this episode of The Well+Good Podcast for more intel about why we move and how it’s connected to well-being:
Day 8: Reach out to a friend
For many, the last year and a half has been a devastatingly lonely time; for some people, crushingly so. Co-founder and chief clinical officer at Frame, Sage Grazer, LCSW, says living with the type of social isolation the pandemic has caused can be hard to pull out of. “Social isolation often creates a feedback loop leading to depression and loneliness, making it even harder to get the motivation to connect with others,” she says. “It’s important to disrupt the cycle and reach out to a friend, even when you don’t feel like doing it.”
Today, reach out to a friend or a loved one. It could be someone you’ve lost touch with during the pandemic and just really miss. Or it could be someone who is regularly in your life and brings you joy every time you connect. Either way, reaching out is the antithesis to loneliness. If you feel you’re struggling and aren’t sure how to be there for someone else right now, there are mentally healthy ways to commiserate and be there for each other.
“Loneliness can have profound impacts on your overall health and well-being,” Grazer says. “As social creatures, having moments of authentic connection can be revitalizing and help bring us out of our inner world, which might be in a state of distress or despair, and allow us to reconnect with the external world.”
Call to action: Become a pen pal with a senior person through Ready To Care.
Day 9: Donate to a community fridge
The pandemic has exacerbated financial hardship for millions across the country. More than 54 million Americans are experiencing food insecurity as a result of COVID-19, 40 percent of which are doing so for the first time. In many cities across the country, community fridges have been created as a way to get more food into the hands of people most in need.
“Community fridges are grassroots, collaborative initiatives centered on helping people meet their basic needs and bringing more awareness to food insecurity through creativity, team building, neighborhood participation, art, and placemaking,” Emma Hoffman, a long-standing member of Freedge, an international network of community fridges established in 2014, previously told Well+Good. “Community fridges feed body and soul,” says Change Food founder and activist Diane Hatz. “By donating to a fridge, you help your neighbors put food on their table. You also help strengthen community bonds and bring your neighborhood closer together.”
Donating to a community fridge not only helps those in need, but this act of kindness will bolster your own mental health in the process. “Practicing kindness is an emotional regulation tool that helps us get out of our own heads and focus on someone else,” Watson says. She says doing so actually helps ease anxiety in the process because it takes the focus off you and reallocates it to someone else—and you’re helping someone in the process.
If there’s not a community fridge in your neighborhood, Hatz encourages you to start one for your community. (Don’t know where to start? This is a good place.)
Take action: You can also make a monetary donation to an existing community fridge, such as The Friendly Fridge BX, located in the Bronx, New York City.
Day 10: Write a letter or thank-you note
Being thanked—as long as it’s genuine—always feels good. Whether it’s in the form of a Slack message punctuated by prayer hands or a big bouquet of blooms, it’s nice to be acknowledged. Here’s the cool thing about gratitude, according to therapist and AdveKit founder Alison LaSov, LMFT: It actually feels good thanking someone else, too. “The practice of feeling grateful has led to lower stress levels, stronger relationships, better sleep, and a better overall quality of life,” she says. “It’s important that, even if for a few short moments, we can remind ourselves of things we are grateful for. This practice is scientifically proven to improve overall mental wellness.”
Writing a thank-you note to someone you appreciate is a mindful way to put this into action and it will bolster your mental health as well as the person you’re thanking. LaSov says practicing gratitude doesn’t cancel out all the other emotions you may be experiencing because of the pandemic or state of the world; feelings that can include sadness, grief, and anger. “Two things can be true simultaneously during these hard times: You can have valid feelings of sadness and resentment at the hardships that have occurred and at the same time you can practice gratitude,” she says. Expressing gratitude in the form of a letter is an actionable way to work toward healing, line by line.
Day 11: Sign out of social media for 24 hours
Some of you may have just read the action tip for today and automatically thought, “Oh heck no! A day without TikTok or Instagram?” But neuropsychologist Marsha Lucas, PhD, assures that doing so is a way to recharge your own mental battery. “Social media can take a real toll on mood and brain health, for a bunch of reasons, beyond FOMO and comparing yourself to others,” she says. “When we’re scrolling through tweets and Instagrams, we’re [typically] sitting sedentary, indoors, and focused on what other people are saying and doing instead of being tuned into ourselves.”
Dr. Lucas says that signing out of social media for a day allows us to spend more time doing something we need (like sleep) or that will actively give us joy, such as doing something creative, going for a walk, or talking to a friend.
Therapist Sima Kulshreshtha, LICSW, says that another reason this pause can help us recharge is because it can stop a downward spiral of thoughts in its tracks. “One thing that has increased over the pandemic is doomscrolling, where people are stuck on their devices scrolling through social media,” she says. “Social media doesn’t give an accurate view of life, and often makes people feel inadequate in their own life and level of coping.”
If you’re so glued to your social platforms that you don’t even know how to actually put this tip into action, Dr. Lucas has some helpful ways to get started. First, she says to write out why you want this break and what you hope to gain from it. That way, you can go back and read it whenever you feel your finger hovering over that black-and-white music note icon. Then, she says to make a list of what you’ll do instead, planning ahead. If needed, she says you can enlist a friend for accountability. Last, she says to tell your friends and family you’ll be taking a break—that way they know not to tag you in notifications. (While you’re at it, turn off your notifications.) That’s it. Enjoy life outside of the algorithms.
Day 12: Take a relaxing bath (or shower)
Scientific studies prove a hot bath can help combat the effects of depression and can lower tension, stress, and even internalized anger. If you are someone who is stuck in a perpetual state of busyness or routinely puts others’ needs before your own, however, spending time soaking in the tub can feel like a radical act. But you don’t need to spend a long time in the bath to reap the benefits—20 minutes or so is all you really need. “A luxurious bath is helpful when you feel overstimulated,” Kulshreshtha says, adding that bath salts and candles can take it to the next level. “Candles allow for a lower level of light, which can be helpful when trying to calm your mind and Epsom salts are helpful to ease aches and pains.”
Susanne Kaufmann, the founder of the natural skin-care line with her name, says a good soak in the tub is her way of washing the stress of the day off. “Turning bath time into an experience can not only give your body what it needs but also your mind,” she says. (Oh hey, remember back when we were creating rituals last week?) She recommends people experiment with different bath products to create a custom experience based on their needs in that moment. “For example, lavender essential oil is known to have relaxing and anxiety-reducing effects while orange essential oils and other citrus oils can energize your senses,” she says.
Only have a shower? Kaufmann says you can still make it a meditative experience. “Try a deep breathing exercise and allow the warm water and steam to calm you down,” she says. “Using shower products like a body scrub and exfoliating brush encourage you to take the time to care for your body, which is a significant part of one’s mental health.” If you want your shower to energize instead of relax, Kaufmann says to try a cold leg shower, letting cold water hit each leg, one at a time. “It’s a quick way to boost blood circulation and help you feel re-energized, ready to take on the day,” she says.
Day 13: Make a to-be list instead of a to-do list
To-do lists are certainly effective for productivity and can feel damn satisfying to work through, but clarity and mindset coach Hana Jung says a “to-be” list is a better way to go when it comes to mentally recharging, taking us out of the mindset of always needing to produce. “When we obsess over productivity or measure our worth by our output, it can lead to increased anxiety, burnout, and throw our mental well-being off-balance,” Jung says.
Spend some time today making a list of how you want to feel and what you want to embody; not what you need to get done. “A to-be list is centered around the primary energy or feeling you’d like to invite into your life as a cornerstone of your most authentic self,” Jung explains. “It’s not about trying to be someone you’re not, it’s about finding a way back to yourself by following the energy that feels good for you.” For example, do you want to feel well-rested? At peace? Connected to loved ones? Focus on one or two feelings and think of at least one action you can take to help embody that. This is an action that is completely unrelated to productivity. Instead, it’s crafted to help you connect to who you want to be.
When you’re done, pin your to-be list somewhere you’ll see it throughout the day. This, Jung says, will lead to being more intentional about how we spend our time and energy in order to support—rather than sabotage—our mental health.
Day 14: Get your hands dirty
We’ve been intensely cleaning and sanitizing for so long, which has been important, but you know what will feel really good? Sinking your hands into some dirt. Gardening isn’t just a way to beautify your yard (or fire escape or balcony), but science has shown it’s good for mental health, too—it’s directly linked to feeling happier and meaningful. Another scientific paper states that gardening reduces feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness.
Clinical psychologist Carla Manly, PhD, says gardening can be a way of meditating. “We often think that to meditate we must be still and in complete quiet, learning to let go of our thoughts out of that basic type of meditation. We’ve had other things evolve such as guided meditation, and what I call moving meditation,” she previously shared with Well+Good. “When we are involved in something like gardening, we are very much able to, in the meditative sense, let go of our thoughts and be focused in the moment on what we are doing.”
Not only will gardening help you mentally recharge in the moment, but the joy will continue as you watch your plants grow and bloom. One small study showed that even just looking at flowers can lead to feeling more relaxed. So if you don’t exactly have a green thumb, rest assured that there are other ways to reap the mental health benefits of nature’s bounty, aka picking up some flowers from your local flower shop or grocery store.
Day 15: Wake up without your phone
According to research from IDC and Facebook, 80 percent of people check their phone within the first 15 minutes of waking up. This means that we’re letting work stress, the negative news cycle, and more hit us a heck of a lot sooner than we have to. Take a page out of Arianna Huffington’s book and have a phone-free morning. (She does it every day, but starting with just one is a good step.) The woman literally wrote a best-selling book about the importance of sleep, so if she says a phone-free morning is part of her success, it’s definitely worth a shot.
“How you start your day sets the pace for how you will live your day,” Dr. Manly previously told Well+Good. “While we can’t control the world, we do have a great deal of control over our own thoughts and behaviors; starting your day off with a joyful attitude can change the tone of your entire day.” So instead of looking at your phone first thing, get up and do something else away from that tech box.
Have no idea what to do instead? Try going for a run (or walk), reading a book, journaling, watering your plants, or creating a gratitude list—whatever it is you want to set the tone for how you want to conquer the rest of the day.
Day 16: Create a soothing playlist
“We all know—and research has proven—music impacts our mood,” says Happy Not Perfect founder Poppy Jamie. “Just as our favorite tune can pull us onto the dance floor, music can also help to soothe our mind and body with ease, too.” To recharge, she recommends creating a soothing playlist that will instantly help you feel more relaxed, whenever you need it.
“When you begin to associate a certain playlist with relaxation or meditation, your brain will quickly learn to use this music as a signal to drop into a calmer state,” she says. That means, whenever you hear the songs on your soothing playlist out in “the wild,” it will have a calming effect then, too.
Jamie says her personal soothing playlist includes Myndstream, a non-vocal music library specifically created to help you relax and sleep (available on the Happy Not Perfect app), as well as Coldplay, Enya, London Grammar, Agnes Obel, and Alexis Ffrench. “I actually listened to Alexis Ffrench’s piano music while writing my entire book, Happy Not Perfect, as it helped me to be in the most meditative state,” she says. How’s that for motivation for creating some soothing vibes?
Day 17: Tap in
One particularly effective way to feel recharged and less stressed is through the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice of acupressure, focusing on tapping pressure points for stress relief in five key points on your body. “Tapping is one of my favorite Qi Gong practices [a system of coordinated body-posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for the purposes of health] that takes minutes to reinvigorate and reconnect our mind and body,” says Well+Good Changemaker and Influential Point founder Tamsin Lee, DA[o]M, AEMP. “This simple practice engages the acupuncture meridians along the body that can relieve stress, relax muscle tension, improve concentration, and increase blood circulation.”
Here’s how Dr. Lee says to do it yourself—even if you have no idea what acupuncture meridians are: “First, take a moment to reconnect with your breath and begin by rubbing the palms of your hands together until they feel slightly warm. Then with your fingertips, tap the crown of your head with a comfortable yet vigorous pressure. Move your fingertips outwards to the side, front and back of your head for two to three minutes. Be sure to take deep belly breaths while you’re tapping. We can do this practice throughout the day as a quick yet simple way to recharge.”
Tapping is something you can do in the morning, afternoon between Zoom meetings, in the evening… whenever it is you want to tune inward and reconnect your mind and body.
Day 18: Declutter your workspace
You don’t have to go full-on Monica Geller and clean your entire house to reap the mental benefits of tidying up—just decluttering your workspace can lead to feeling recharged. “When so much feels uncontrollable in the world, anxiety and stress tend to dissipate when something as easy and rewarding as cleaning is within our control,” Dr. Manly previously told Well+Good.
She explains that tidying up increases feel-good neurochemicals while decreasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. So spend five minutes putting your collection of coffee mugs and water glasses in the dishwasher, throw out any non-important papers taking up space, and stash away chargers, wires, or equipment you don’t need. And hey, if you want to treat yourself to buying a pretty new notebook while you’re at it, go for it.
Day 19: Do a 5-Breath Reset
As someone who has devoted much of her time to creating space for Black women to breathe easy, Ash is intimately familiar with the power of breath. So often, we’re stuck in an unconscious rhythm of taking short, shallow breaths—the very breaths that mimic what happens in fight-or-flight mode. Ash says that the practice of simply taking five big, deep inhales and exhales can help take us out of that sense of panic.
“What’s powerful about breathwork is that it’s an opportunity to disrupt the body,” Ash says. “The pattern of breath provides a change of pace, energetically.” Ash adds that changing your breath also can work to change your mindset, too. “Whatever [unhelpful] narratives or limiting beliefs are running through your mind, you can release through breathing,” she says.
Deep breathing is a tool that can be done anytime, anywhere—even in the middle of a meeting when you’re starting to feel your anxiety rise. But taking time away from everyone and everything to reset mentally can help shift your energy and focus before getting back to the task at hand. Next time your stress levels start to rise, step away from the situation, go get some water, do this short exercise of breathing in and out deeply five times, and then return to the situation.
Call to action: Support Black Girl In Om’s efforts in creating an intentional space for Black women to heal in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Day 20: Shake yourself up—literally
Yesterday you experienced firsthand the power of being still and breathing deep, but today we’re shaking things up. Ash says that jumping up and down and shaking the body can be an effective way of releasing pent-up trauma. “There’s a Kundalini yoga ritual of shaking your entire body for three minutes, 11 minutes, or however long you desire,” she says. “This is a way of moving through the root chakra, which is responsible for our sense of safety, belonging, and ultimately, survival.”
Ash points out that most people spend the majority of their day stagnant. This can create nervous energy and cause us to feel jittery. But when you jump up and down, it releases this nervous energy. “This is very powerful and allows our conscious mind to relax,” she says.
So throw on some of your favorite jams and literally shake it out. (Cue Florence and the Machine.) Release that trauma, anxiety, or anything else that isn’t serving you. There’s no need to sit with it any longer.
Day 21: Plan your next vacation
Even if you don’t feel comfortable traveling yet, Watson says planning your next vacation can be a major mood boost. “When you have something to look forward to, it’s a reminder that what you’re experiencing right now won’t last forever,” she says. “Planning a future vacation is a way to hope, dream, and engage with the part of your brain that desires something beyond the current moment.”
Whether it’s a weekend getaway with just your dog or an international trip with people you haven’t gotten to see all pandemic, now’s your day to dream big. Search bungalows on Airbnb or text your friend to get the name of that winery they went to last year. Whatever type of vacation excites you, now’s the time to plan it. Then, you have it to look forward to up until the day you pack your bags.
Day 22: Take a nap
The pandemic has rendered us collectively burnt out and mentally fatigued. Sometimes, the best way to deal with that is by taking a nap. “Naps are a powerful sleep tool,” sleep doctor Carleara Weiss, PhD, says.
Dr. Weiss says if you want your nap to help you recharge—and not get in the way of good sleep later—keep it to less than 30 minutes and before 3 p.m. “Naps are like a snack before dinner,” she says. “Snacking too much will cut your appetite for a full meal, same as long naps will reduce the sleep quality.”
Call to action: Donate to and support The Nap Ministry, which installs nap experiences as a a form of resistance and reparations.
Day 23: Get out in nature
“Being in nature is one of the most grounding and centering experiences,” says Kulshreshtha. For this reason, spending time outside is something she recommends to everyone as a way to recharge. For those who are anxious or overwhelmed, she says being outside allows the brain to be stimulated from something external rather than inside the body, such as the wind on your skin or the fragrant air. “It’s also invigorating, so it’s helpful if you are depressed, especially if you add movement, such as a walk, run, or bike ride,” she says. “It can give you that extra boost to help shake off a slight depression.”
To experience the full benefits of being in nature, Kulshreshtha recommends unplugging from all devices, including music, to really bask in the experience. “If you are unable to exercise due to illness or injury, it is still helpful to get outside,” she says. “You could go on a drive through beautiful landscapes, or sit in a peaceful park, or plan a socially distant picnic with friends.”
If you live in an urban area with no access to parks, go to the next best thing: a plant shop. That way, you can bring some of that beautiful nature into your home.
Call to action: Donate and support nonprofit organizations that make outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking, accessible and healing to Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, such as the American Hiking Society and Bikepacking Roots.
Day 24: Focus on controllable joys
One of the biggest aspects of what’s made the pandemic so difficult to manage is that it has created situations (or highlighted situations) that exist outside of our control—and Peterkin says that’s certainly taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. “Uncertainty can trigger fears, insecurities, and anxieties,” she says, adding that this happens even when that uncertainty doesn’t lead to a negative consequence. Here’s what she says can help: focusing on controllable joys, aka things we can do that make ourselves happy.
“While embracing uncertainty can be beneficial, there is also the importance of acknowledging that a sense of control can help individuals feel safer,” she says. “For those of us who struggle with the feelings of surprise and the reality of not knowing, focusing on joys we have control over can help.”
Do one thing today that you know will make you happy. Peterkin says this will look different for different people. For one person, it may be doing something creative. For someone else, something active. It can be done socially or alone, but ultimately, it should be something you know will give you joy.
Day 25: Go ahead, doodle
Journaling is often talked about as a mental health practice, but Watson says there are more ways to do it than writing out how you’re feeling: drawing, for one! “Creative journaling is a way to engage more actively in the therapeutic process,” she says. “It can be really healing to doodle or create collages, which are artistic representations of your emotions.” She adds that it can be especially helpful if you’re having trouble even finding the words to describe how you’re feeling.
Particularly for people who work with words a lot during the day, Watson says doodle journaling may be the creative outlet they need to make journaling a more consistent practice, as sometimes all writing can begin to feel like work.
Watson says she’s a big fan of Flow magazine, which is full of ways to get creative and doodle tied to prompts rooted in positive psychology and mindfulness. But having just a blank piece of paper works, too. Go ahead, see where your mind leads you.
Day 26: Write down something you’re grateful for
Sometimes, like on days when the sun is shining and you snag the best parking spot at Target, it’s easy to practice gratitude. Other times, when everything really seems to suck, it can feel not only impossible, but disingenuous. “Practicing gratitude is not erasing negative things going on,” Watson says. “You can be grateful while also acknowledging that there are some pretty awful things happening right now.”
Today, write down one thing you’re thankful for. Stick it somewhere you’ll see it a few times throughout the day. Peterkin says this one simple act has countless positive impacts on mental health. “Our brains are more susceptible to remembering negative experiences. When we develop a habit of practicing gratitude, we are helping to rewire our brain to activate our pleasure hormones and positive memories more easily,” she says. “This then helps to strengthen our connection to others, improves our relationship with ourselves, and increases our overall resiliency.”
It all starts with acknowledging one good thing.
Day 27: Try a (virtual) sound bath
You already know the positive mental health effects sound can have from your soothing playlist, but a sound bath is a next-level way to experience it. Never heard of a sound bath? It’s a healing session where you (typically) lie down on the floor or a yoga mat (you can get cozy with a blanket if you’d like) and simply listen as a practitioner plays a variety of instruments and you “bathe” in the soothing sounds and vibrations. Doesn’t that sound luxurious?
Gongs, singing bowls, tuning forks, and drums are all often used during sound baths. Roxie Sarhangi, a certified sound healing practitioner based in Los Angeles, previously told Well+Good that the sound frequencies then slow down brain waves to a deeply restorative state, which activates the body’s system of self-healing.
Day 28: Say an affirmation
The messages we tell ourselves are powerful—so powerful, in fact, that neuropsychologist and Columbia University faculty member Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, says reciting an affirmation—a positive statement used to overcome negative thoughts—can literally change your brain. “Affirmations activate the areas in your brain that make you feel positive and happy. Specifically, it activates the reward centers in the brain—the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum,” she says.
Dr. Hafeez explains that these are the parts of the brain that respond to pleasurable experiences as well as control our emotional reactions. “Affirmations can positively impact mental well-being because affirmations help us stop bad habits, eliminate self-sabotaging thoughts, develop an optimistic outlook on ourselves and our experiences, and decrease stress, among other benefits.”
Convinced to give it a shot? Today, come up with an affirmation that feels restorative to you. Some examples: “I am healthy. I am safe.” “Things are uncertain, but I can handle it.” “I create my own happiness. I will not worry about things I cannot control.”
Day 29: Don’t set an alarm
Even if your morning alarm is set to be Harry Styles’s sweet voice and not chiming electronic bells, being jolted awake still isn’t great. Guess what: Dr. Weiss says it’s possible to do away with alarms altogether and train your body to wake up naturally—and no, you won’t be late for work.
The key, she says, is letting your body recalibrate. This is where sticking to a schedule can be helpful. “Routine keeps the biological clock working in its best potential, impacting metabolism, sleep, and mental health,” she says. “Timing for wake-up, meals, exercise, and bedtime should be consistent, even on weekends.”
The one caveat is that schedules are often thrown out the window for parents with babies. Dr. Weiss’s advice is to do the best you can to try to stick to a routine. But realistically, you have to get sleep when you can, so if sticking to a schedule is impossible, don’t sweat it.
Try it out this weekend by keeping your Saturday schedule the same as what it looks like during the week: Eat your meals at roughly the same time and go to bed when you would normally. Then, go to bed without setting an alarm. Whatever happens—whether you wake up roughly around the same time as you normally do or you (gasp) get to sleep in, know that it was what your body needed.
Day 30: Take 5 minutes to be present
Even with the vaccine rollout, we’re still living in uncertain times—and that’s exhausting. Mentally trying to navigate who’s safe to see and who isn’t, if you’ll realistically be able to go to that rescheduled wedding, wondering what going back to the office will look like… it’s a lot. “The greatest tool we all have is the pause button and taking five minutes to be present,” Jamie says.
It’s something she says is effective no matter what you’re feeling. “Have a difficult decision to make? Pause. Feeling frazzled? Pause. Unsure about something? Pause. Feeling annoyed with someone? Pause. Worried? Pause. The skill of pausing and being present is the difference between us living life on autopilot, reacting with our emotions and being disconnected from our wisdom, to responding using our intuition, executive functions—the computer side of the brain—and living life deliberately,” she says.
During this five-minute pause, Jamie says to breathe deep (this will calm the nervous system), focus on your breath, and mentally take note of your surroundings. “A nice way to be extra present is to complete the top five: What are five things you can see? What are four things you can hear? What are three things you can touch? What are two things you can smell? What is one thing you can taste?” she says. “This will help you return to the present moment, step out of reactionary mode, and step into your centered self to tackle any problem or situation in front of you.”
Day 31: Give yourself grace
Hopefully you’ve reached the end of the month feeling recharged, but if anxiety, grief, uncertainty, and sadness are still consuming you, know that it’s 100 percent okay and whatever you feel is valid. Nothing has been normal for the past year and a half—and it still isn’t normal. Kulshreshtha says giving ourselves grace is really important right now. “During the pandemic, a lot of our inner critics are strong,” she says. “The combination of lack of outside support with increased in-home demands makes even the strongest person feel like a failure. On top of that, lots of people are struggling with mild to moderate depression, which lowers motivation and energy. The best thing that you can do is lean into it and accept that you are doing the best you can.”
Kulshreshtha says accepting the emotional strain we’re all feeling helps remove personal blame. Not everything you want to get done will happen—and that’s okay. We’re all doing the best we can. Now, take a deep breath. Reflect, move, and take time to rest.
Call to action: Donate and support the COVID-19 Mental Health Research Fund, which provides funding to mental health research scientists as well as providing educational resources to mental health providers.
To dive deeper into the topics outlined above, explore more Mental Well-Being Recharge stories here.
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