Recently, social entrepreneur and writer Rachel Cargle posted the following on Instagram: "Today I laughed on the phone for nearly an hour, made myself a cup of hot tea, apologized to my lover for something I said last night, didn't make time for the full nutritious dinner I craved, and walked gracefully through a heated discussion with a service provider #andthatwasenough."
Cargle's hashtag gestures to the fact that it's an act of grace to end each day by telling ourselves, "Yes, today I was/did/achieved enough," and after several deeply challenging years, the sentiment seems like a fitting note to launch Well+Good's 2022 Mental Well-Being Challenge.
If you feel like you're well overdue for a month of mental wellness, data shows you're not alone; many folks have a lot on their proverbial plates. The number of people working multiple jobs has steadily risen over the last two years, PTO was left untouched during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many parents have opted to become their children's full-time teachers. And close to two-thirds of adults say that their lives have been forever changed by the pandemic, per the American Psychological Association (APA).
It's fair to say that we're all in various stages of tending to our wounds and our wounded, which is perhaps why Cargle's hashtag, #andthatwasenough, feels especially powerful.
That's why, this Mental Health Awareness Month, we're taking it back to the basics. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is defined as a "state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Let's break that down, shall we? The four categories of mental health are:
- Trusting in one’s own abilities
- Coping with stress
- Working productively and fruitfully
- Contributing to community
Over the next 31 days, you'll have the opportunity to try expert-backed mental health practices that fall in these four categories. Maybe you do all 31; maybe you'll just do one a week. Whatever! Pick what schedule feels right to you and try sticking with it. If all goes well, at the end of May, you'll have a few new tools in your mental health toolkit. Ready?
Day 1: Make a "small wins" list
Major life milestones (promotions! babies! escrow!) don't come along every day—and that's why celebrating the small stuff is worthwhile. As clinical psychologist Sophie Mort, PhD (who goes by "Dr. Soph"), previously told Well+Good, it's time we start celebrating when we make a really delicious lunch, take a midday walk break, or fold the laundry the same day we do it. "We're [always] going for bigger, bigger, bigger," she said. "The small win is the thing that can give us those small boosts throughout the day. They're the things that are often linked to our values, roles, and our goals."
Call to action: Celebrate three small wins today. (Reminder: No win is too small.)
Day 2: Move for 5 minutes
When it comes to hitting the reset button on your mood, exercise endorphins can't be beat. "Making time to regularly work out is an important long-term strategy for stress prevention and management," said Natalie Dattilo, PhD, director of psychology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry and a member of the American Psychological Association (APA).
Despite the proliferation of the "harder, better, faster, stronger" workout mentality, you don't need to move for an hour to incite a major mood boost. Turn on your favorite song and dance it out in your kitchen, jog around the block, move through a simple yoga flow, or do some push-ups to get your heart rate up.
Call to action: Set a five-minute timer and move intuitively until it goes off.
Not sure what to do? Try this full-body workout on for size:
Day 3: Look back at last month's spending
Reviewing last month's expenses may not scream mental health to you, but it can help you foster trust with yourself and mitigate (at least some of) the stress you feel about money. "One of the best ways to start to get a handle on your finances is to look back at how you’ve been spending money. That way, you can get a sense of things you might be able to cut back on and shift," says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet.
If you have no idea what you're spending on, you're probably not putting your money where your values lie. Auditing your transactions is the first step in coming into alignment with your income, which can be such an empowering experience.
One of the simplest ways to access your money rundown is by subscribing to a fintech app that suits your money style. Well+Good Trends Advisor Dani Pascarella, CFP, founder of the financial wellness platform OneEleven, said it best. "I see new fintech as handling the third point of the wellness trifecta: First, you have physical health, and that’s been in motion for a while with fitness apps; then, you have mental health, which has been having its app moment, too; and now, financial health is emerging in the tech space," she told Well+Good.
Call to action: Use a budgeting app or your bank or credit card statements to review last month's spending. What categories required the most money? (Rent? Eating out? Entertainment?) Don't take action yet, though; we'll circle back to this on day seven.
Day 4: Step out of your comfort zone
Psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, is a big fan of leaving your comfort zone in the dust and engaging in some "type two fun." This is the outdoor lover's term for something that's not necessarily fun in the moment, but brings you great joy and satisfaction later on.
"We have this natural desire to create a narrative arc of our lives and the meaning that we bring to the world, and overcoming challenges helps us do that," said behavioral scientist Brooke Struck, PhD, research director at The Decision Lab. "Challenge is the site of growth, and growth helps define who we are as people."
Sure, this could looking like running a marathon or taking on a hike with several thousand feet of elevation. Or, it could be as simple as running a whole mile without stopping or weathering a new workout class that makes you use your body in a different way. Take a walk on the wild side (but stay safe, please).
Call to action: Locate your comfort zone. Take a detour.
Day 5: Reach out to a friend
This tip is simple, but powerful (particularly in the wake of a pandemic). Grab your phone and text or call a pal. "Social isolation often creates a feedback loop leading to depression and loneliness, making it even harder to get the motivation to connect with others," said co-founder and chief clinical officer at Frame, Sage Grazer, LCSW. "It’s important to disrupt the cycle and reach out to a friend, even when you don’t feel like doing it."
Call to action: Humans are social creatures, so go ahead: Drop a line.
Day 6: Enjoy dessert with all 5 of your senses
"Some people never stop to think about what they enjoy. Your five senses can help you to re-activate your pleasure centers," says Dr. Datillo. "Taking time to really taste your food has been shown to have great benefits in stress reduction. It’s another form of meditation." This present approach to eating is one of the major principles of intuitive eating, and it can apply to any dessert you love.
Call to action: Really think about what dessert sounds good to you in this moment. Peanut butter brownies? Gummy worms? Ice cream? Pick something that sounds amazing and pay close attention to each bite.
How about a lemon bar?
Day 7: Set some money goals
Remember that spending deep dive we did earlier this week? Well, it's time to translate all that data into goals. "Setting money goals for yourself can give you inspiration and help keep your everyday spending on track," says Palmer.
Today, pick two goals, max. That way, you won't feel overwhelmed or strapped when it comes time to follow through.
For example, if you want to start saving up to, let's say, take a three-month sabbatical, maybe you pledge to put away $500 each month or some percentage of your income that feels safe to set aside. Alternatively, maybe you just want to spend less money eating out (same). In that case, you could limit yourself to shelling out $X restaurant money per month.
If you're not sure where to start with this, those fintech apps we mentioned earlier offer expert advice for putting your money to work.
Call to action: Set one to two concrete, actionable money goals.
Day 8: Make a to-do list for your day or week
Grab your colored pens and list out everything you want to check off this week. "The human brain can only manage holding a certain number of pieces of information at once," said Dr. Soph. "The moment we write it down, we give our brain a break. We're not holding everything in mind." Basically, a to-do list is like a giant exhale for your mind.
If your list starts to feel overwhelming, try ordering it from most urgent to least urgent, breaking it into categories, and marking what can wait until next week. Since this is the first day of this week, you have a ton of time to get it all done and, hey, now it's not taking up space in your brain.
Call to action: Turn on your favorite playlist and make a list, fam.
Day 9: Pledge to stop using stigmatizing language
It's a well-researched fact that language and mental health are intertwined. So if you find yourself using stigmatizing language, like "crazy" and "insane," consider self-editing so your words become kinder and more inclusive. "I think the words we choose reflect more on us. If the goal is to feel better about ourselves, how we communicate and what we say matters," said Dr. Dattilo.
According to the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, you can start using kinder language by simply asking people what mental health terms they prefer, or setting an example by being upfront about how you expect other folks to talk about your mental well-being.
Call to action: Start to filter stigmatizing language out of your vocabulary.
Day 10: Break out the crayons and color
Art supplies gathering dust? It's time to break out the colored pencils, crayons, pastels, and markers so you can make a masterpiece. "When you concentrate on one thing, whether it’s coloring, breathing, music, exercise, lighting a candle, or guided imagery, it’s a form of meditation," says Dr. Datillo.
In this case, that "one thing" may be a self-portrait, a stunning rendition of your dog, or some free-form doodles. No matter how it turns out, you'll be reaping the mental health benefits of creating art, which include relieving stress, loosening the grip of depression, and coping with difficult life events like divorce or death.
Call to action: Paint. Sketch. Collage. Do you.
Day 11: Identify your coping style
The APA defines coping as "the use of cognitive and behavioral strategies to manage the demands of a situation when these are appraised as taxing or exceeding one’s resources or to reduce the negative emotions and conflict caused by stress." Our coping mechanisms start from a very young age, according to Dr. Soph, and it's good to be aware of them so we can identify when we're leaning on unhelpful forms, and when we've found more helpful alternatives.
There are three major coping styles: problem-solving coping, emotional coping, and avoidance coping. Here's the deal with each:
- Problem-solving-focused coping: This coping style is solutions-driven. When a problem crops up (like a high credit card bill), they strategize about how to keep the same problem from reoccurring in the future (like creating a budget).
- Emotional coping: Emotional copers take stock of what they can't control and seek positive emotions in the things they can. This may look like calling up a friend, signing up for a yoga class, or taking a relaxing bath.
- Avoidance coping: This type of coping should be avoided, when possible, and involves creating harmful habits that are ultimately different forms of self blame.
Call to action: Identify your coping style and practice being aware when you're using it.
Day 12: Create process-based goals instead of outcome-based goals
Gala Jackson, director of coaching and lead executive career coach at Ellevest, wants you to shift your mindset when it comes to setting goals at work. "For example, a common outcome-based goal when you’re searching for a job is, 'I want to be in a new role within three months.' While that’s a reasonable goal, it’s ultimately outside of your control. A better goal, a process-based goal, would be, 'I will dedicate 45 minutes to my job search every day for the next 90 days,'" she says.
That way, you're focusing on a goal that's 100 percent in your control, and making a habit along the way. Bam.
Call to action: Make one process-based goal.
Day 13: Create a shared digital photo album with your friends
Revisit your memories with a digital photo album featuring your besties, pets, and family. "This gives you an opportunity to say, 'Do you remember that thing?!' It creates these really normal moments where you're connecting to important parts of your identity, and getting those lovely oxytocin boosts that you do when you make a connection with a friend," said Dr. Soph.
Plus, it's a really good way to remind yourself that you have a community of people who love you. Every time you look down at your phone or tablet or Google Home, you'll experience a little burst of "those are my people!"
Day 14: Pick one small space of your home to clean
Wrap up week two by cleaning one (small) space. Cluttered spaces have been shown to increase the stress hormone cortisol and trigger negative coping strategies, so it's worthwhile to take a moment and clean your space.
You don't need to tackle an entire room; instead, pick a small area like your desk or your underwear drawer and organize it to your heart's desire. "We should always break tasks down into smaller parts," said Dr. Soph. "When I think about cleaning the whole house I feel overwhelmed and immediately put it off for next week, or to a time when I can do it in one go. When I think about cleaning one area, the tension in my brain decreases. It feels manageable, and I can be realistic about getting it done today."
Call to action: Take satisfaction in cleaning one small space.
Day 15: Find your "anchors of normality"
Even though things are starting to feel a little bit more "normal" after two years of uncertainty, it's possible that you still feel out of place. Maybe you're returning to in-office work and it doesn't feel natural, or the government's decision to roll back mask mandates on public transportation is making you feel nervous.
In times like these, Dr. Soph is a huge advocate of finding four ordinary actions you can latch onto, and letting them be your "anchors of normality." "Our lives has been tipped upside down. Everything that's happening around us is creating a sense of uncertainty, which is activating our survival response," she says. "When the brain is in survival mode, and it's panicking about what's happening, it's looking for anything it knows so that it can go: 'Okay, maybe it's not as bad as I thought.'"
You can give your brain some much-needed reassurance with simple actions like going for a morning walk or using a face cream that smells and feels amazing. Choose four easy rituals and stick to them.
Call to action: Choose four "anchors of normality." Write them down and put them somewhere visible, like in your planner or on your fridge.
Day 16: Set realistic expectations for yourself at work
It's easy to set high expectations of yourself at work. Maybe you want to earn a promotion, lead a high-profile project, or take on expanding responsibilities. (Maybe, you want to do it all at once.) The problem? There's only so much you have to give to your work, and that's why Jackson is a strong proponent of choosing realistic—not ambitious—work goals.
"Be very honest with yourself about what you can accomplish in a day. And know that ‘no’ isn't a bad word, and it's not a bad thing. I think it's worse when we say yes and then we don’t show up and deliver. Remember that saying no can honor your time, of course, but someone else’s time, too," she says. Apart from saying no, setting a realistic expectation may mean giving yourself a few extra days for a deadline, or turning down an opportunity that might be "huge" for your career, but just isn't right for you in this moment.
Take heart that you're also setting a great example of boundary-setting for those around you. And maybe, just maybe, they'll starting feeling empowered to do the same.
Call to action: Today, be aware of how much you're asking of yourself while you're on the clock. Can you turn an unrealistic expectation into a realistic one so you feel fulfilled at the end of the day?
Day 17: Fix something that’s been bugging you
You know that crooked painting in your office you've "been meaning to" straighten or that doctor's appointment you've "been meaning to" book for months? Today's the day! You're finally going to check this off your list. By taking care of this one, teensy-tiny thing, you're clearing out a little bit of space in your brain. If you do one mini-project and feel empowered to take care of a few more lingering to-dos, opt for choosing no more than three for today. Then let the satisfaction pour over you.
Call to action: Do the thing you've been meaning to do forever.
Day 18: Make an "eco-map" of your social resources
Summon your inner-cartographer and create a visual "map" of your most important relationships. Nurses are often use this technique, called eco-mapping," to track their patient's care networks—and you can use it to visualize your own inner-circle.
To start, draw a little stick figure of yourself, then add anyone you live with—your dog, your close friends, your family, and anyone else you're glad to have in your orbit. (Bonus points if you also reach out to a couple of these people and tell them how grateful you are that they're part of your eco-map.)
Call to action: Make your eco-map.
Day 19: Build a personal board of directors
You don't have to be a CEO to have a board of directors, friends. When you're on the brink of a major life change, it helps to have a few people in your corner who can listen and provide advice.
These pivotal moments are great times to tap your personal board of directors, or people you trust with your capital "b" Big decisions, says Jackson. "Think of it as a team of mentors and sponsors who would be there for you if you wanted to chat through a potential job change, or a career risk, or another big decision. They can cheer you on and tell you how awesome you are, but also help you see things from an outside perspective. And maybe advocate for you if they get the chance," she says.
Relocate your eco-map from yesterday and decide if any of those folks would make a good addition to your board. Maybe you worked with someone a couple years back who has been your cheerleader in the professional world, or you're still in touch with a childhood friend who has a 360-degree, lifelong view of your hopes and dreams.
And don't forget to pay it forward: Think of who might put you on their board, and how you can help them out.
Call to action: Identify three to five people who you want to sit on your very own personal board of directors.
Day 20: Get your hands dirty
Like many activities we do with our hands, gardening has a meditative quality that stills the mind. "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," said Carla Manly, PhD. "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."
Making plant friends offers short-term and long-term satisfaction because you get to watch your little plant babies sprout, outgrow their pots, and maybe even bear fruit. But if you're really just not up for the responsibility of taking care of an indoor jungle, just buy yourself a little bouquet of flowers. One small study showed that even just looking at blooms can make you feel more relaxed.
Call to action: Buy one, easy-to-care-for plant or a bouquet of flowers today.
Day 21: Expand your recreational horizons
You know what brings you joy, but when was the last time you tried a new hobby? "We know that hobbies promote good mental health. And, in part, it's because hobbies are often creative. They get you out of your head—where your to-do list and other stressful thoughts might dominate—and into something new that doesn't often have any pressure," said Dr. Soph.
If you normally get your kicks by going to bookstores, heading to the beach, or going on a bike ride, try something new like bullet journaling or skateboarding. This recreational activity doesn't necessarily have to stick around forever; just give it a shot and see if it cracks open something new inside of you.
Call to action: Try a new hobby and see if it's worthy of becoming a habit.
Day 22: Face your stressors with the "Emotional Freedom Technique" (EFT)
Sometimes you don't have time (or the budget) to book an acupuncture session or a full-body massage, and that's why learning EFT can be so transformative. EFT involves tapping on specific acupressure points along your face, torso, and hands to reduce stress and reconnect with your body. It's a great practice to return to in times when you're feeling worried, anxious, angry, or disconnected from your physical self. Try it out for yourself today with this 30-second technique from Reiki master Kelsey Patel.
Call to action: Identify a moment when you're feeling stress or worried and try EFT.
Day 23: Say an affirmation
"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," said Columbia University faculty member Sanam Hafeez, PsyD.
Apart from simply being soothing, affirmations can help you interrupt self-sabotaging thoughts, bring down your stress levels, and help you feel more optimistic towards your life in this moment. If you're feeling creatively-stunted, self-affirmation can also help you get unstuck so you can start following your passions again.
Day 24: Sign up for an online class with your friends
Flex your brain muscle by hitting the books with a couple friends. Sites like Masterclass offer 101s on everything from creative writing to acting to cooking so you can start sharpening your skill set. "The beauty of doing any class is that we're engaged, we're learning, and we're given a sense that we're doing something," Dr. Soph told Well+Good. "When we do that with people, the benefits are two-fold. Afterward, you have something to talk about."
At the end, you'll walk away with a brand-new skill and a closer connection with the people you love. Win, win.
Call to action: Grab your pals and sign up for an online class
Day 25: Ask for help
Take a moment and think about the last time you uttered the phrase "I need help." When you're constantly asking your boss for feedback and input, it can feel like you're bugging them, but in most instances, this just isn't the case. Fledgling research shows that those who ask for advice and backup are perceived as hard-working team players, so being willing to admit what you don't know is actually an advantage.
"Coming to terms with your own limits can be an emotional experience, but it does come with a bonus perk: the relief that comes from admitting that you, your team, and your boss are not robots," says Jackson, who has a game plan for deciding what tasks to bring to your next one-one-one with your manager. "Spend a few minutes identifying your work tasks and getting a sense of how much time you spend on them. Next, think about what time of day you work best and how much time you have free in your schedule. If your workload is too big for your schedule, it’s time to communicate that and ask for help prioritizing or delegating," she says.
Then, you'll be able to huddle up with your team and make a plan for working well together.
Call to action: Tap a coworker for help today.
Day 26: Schedule in worry and dream time
Pull up your Google Calendar and block out two, 10-minute increments—okay? Rather than slotting in a doctor's appointment or a quick coffee break, we're going to schedule time to worry and time to dream. "Worry time is amazing," said Dr. Soph. "Most of us have this kind of free-floating anxiety. Our brains are negatively skewed, so worries arise all the time." Labeling this little pocket of time as "worry time" will let you pour all your worries out at once so your brain has a little more square footage for better things. Use this time to work through anything that's contributing to your anxiety or catastrophic thinking.
You can even seal the deal by imagining those worries in a container. "I envision a container, any container—a coffin, a box, a bag—and I actually envision where I want to place those worries," said psychotherapist Lia Avellino at a Well+Good TALKS event from yesteryear. "[This really orients me] to the fact that it is my choice to revisit those worries." Bury those worries.
Meanwhile, you can schedule that dream time for late in the afternoon when you're losing interest in your to-do list and itching for "closing time." Write down or draw your wildest dreams, envision what you want for the future, and walk far away from that worry coffin.
Call to action: Schedule and complete worry time and dream time.
Day 27: Work smarter, not harder
For far too long, we've measured our work like we measure baking ingredients. As in, eight cups of flour—er, hours of work—equals a day well spent. Really, says Jackson, we should be measuring our days by the quality of work we whipped up. (How does that cake taste?)
"Get clear on how your work is being measured," says Jackson. You can practice this motto on a small scale or a large scale. For example, you may decide that instead of finishing an entire project today, you're going to make sure that one small piece of it goes above and beyond expectations.
Or, try something a little more macro. "One of the best things that you can do is connect with your manager and team around key performance indicators, or KPIs. What does success look like? That way, you’ll know what’s most deserving of your time. And when it comes time to ask for a promotion, you’ll be able to pull out examples of how you’ve added value to the organization in each of those areas," says Jackson.
Call to action: Choose a different definition for "work success" today, one that relies on quality not quantity.
Day 28: Donate to a community fridge
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 38 million people (including 12 million children) are food insecure in the United States. Community fridges are one way to make an impact on changing that statistic.
"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 member of Freedge, an international network of community fridges established in 2014, previously told Well+Good.
Not only will this give you the connection that comes from helping a fellow human (which is really enough on its own), the kindness you can offer in the forms of canned goods and grains will also benefit your mental well-being. "Practicing kindness is an emotional regulation tool that helps us get out of our own heads and focus on someone else," says Change Food founder and activist Diane Hatz.
You can even start a community fridge in your zip code if there isn't one nearby.
Call to action: Pick a grocery spending budget that makes sense for you, go shopping, and donate to a community fridge. (One extra tip: Make sure to read up on your local fridge's guidelines so you can ensure you're buying things that can actually be donated.)
Day 29: Do a “brain dump”
You know that moment when you come home from a day full of errands and dump literally everything—groceries, prescriptions, phone, wallet, keys, jacket—on the ground? Today's the day to do that same thing with your brain. Collect all your worries and dump them onto a scrap piece of paper.
"When we ruminate or worry, our brains are inefficient. We spend a lot of time focusing on solving a problem that may not be solvable," said Dr Datillo. Rather than penning these in a journal, she recommends recycling your brain dump at the end of the process, or if you're in the mood for some drama, you could even burn it. That way, you're symbolically letting go of the clutter in your mind.
Okay, okay—so it's not that easy to clean house in your head. But over time, maybe it will start to feel like your troubles have a more ephemeral life in your brain. And hey, that's something.
Call to action: Brain dump your worries onto a scrap piece of paper and let them go.
Day 30: Create rest goals
So often, our goals are active. We want to increase our fitness or step it up at work or get better at cooking. But what if rest goals are the new stretch goals? (Someone put that on a t-shirt.) In a world that's constantly telling you to go, go, go, what if you stopped and cared for yourself first?
According to Black Girl in Om founder Lauren Ash, this type of goal is particularly important for Black people (and Black women, in particular), who often bear the brunt of the world's burdens. "We [Black women] need to give ourselves time to rest," she said. "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."
Take a moment to consider when you feel the most drained. Is it after work? On Sunday morning? Once you've dropped the kids off at school? Pull your calendar out and carve out time directly after the tiring event to fully rest in whatever way feels good to you. Maybe you go to yoga and lie savasana the whole time, or take the world's longest bubble bath.
Don't forget that we're setting goals here, so maybe decide how many hours a week you want to dedicate to rest or go ahead and book future restful activities like massages so those goals are basically carved in stone (or, okay, at least carved into your calendar).
Call to action: Write down what activities are restful and rejuvenating for you. Carve out space in your calendar to do them.
Day 31: Pick the practices you want to keep up all year
You made it to the end of our mental well-being challenge! You have arrived, and even if you only check off one of the challenges on this list, you've taken a giant leap forward in caring for your brain and body. Now is the time to take stock of the last 30 days. What tips helped you the most, and what tips just aren't a fit for you? Cogitate on that for a bit and decide what rituals are worth keeping for the other 11 months of the year.
Call to action: Choose what activities are going to fit into your future mental health approach. (And remember to say Cargle's words to yourself at the end of each day: "And that was enough.")
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