June is Men’s Mental Health Month, which is a good opportunity to take a look at patterns and habits to see where we can better optimize our health and relationships. This is especially useful as we consider how to manage the multitude of stressors present in our lives and the difficulties posed by current events. In order to best meet the various challenges of the day, it is crucial to have an effective and balanced set of strategies to cope with and manage stress. This will ensure our minds, emotions, and bodies can be as clear and grounded as possible. The following is a compiled list of four unique options you might consider in order to bolster your mental health and overall performance. These can serve as a starting point as you define your best approach to optimize and enhance your lifestyle.
- Integrate activities into your daily life that promote bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation basically means stimulating your brain in a particular way that will promote stress reduction, clearer thinking, and increased feelings of calmness. Some common activities that have a bilateral component are walking, drumming, or tapping on your knees in a repeated back and forth motion. To use the example of walking: as each of your feet touch the ground, the right and left lobes of your brain receive the rhythmic back and forth stimulation which has a natural calming effect on your brain and body. Any type of activity that creates this style of bilateral stimulation has the potential to induce the calmness you might need during stressful times. If you like to be athletic, choose sports that allow for bilateral stimulation like running, biking, swimming, etc. If you prefer to be musical, play an instrument that uses two hands like drums, guitar, or piano. Consider things that you already like to do and see if a bilateral component exists or can be added.
- Allow for mindfulness during daily tasks. Becoming more mindful of your mental health doesn’t require you to add more tasks to your already taxed schedule. Instead, draw your awareness to sensory experiences that are already present in your day. Allow yourself an extra second to enjoy the food you are eating rather than shoveling it down during a brief work break. You don’t need to eat at a leisurely pace if that’s not what your day allows, but do try to focus on the details of the food and note the taste, texture, and nuances. Try the same type of awareness while you shower, walk across your lawn, or wash dishes. Every activity has an opportunity for mindfulness. Making a habit of this is a way to allow simple experiences to have greater impacts on us.
- Stay connected, even in socially distant times. I encourage you to make an effort to connect with others you care about. It is easy to become isolated in general, let alone during a pandemic. To combat the negative effects isolation can have, consider creative methods to have social distant hangout time with people who help fuel you. Consider seeing one another virtually for a game night, or perhaps you can meet outdoors in a way that feels safe and enjoyable to you. Others might be happier to have you reach out than you might think, so take the initiative and set up that meet up.
- Take advantage of the outdoors (and be mindful about it). Fortunately, we live in a beautiful state with many opportunities to enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities. Many of these could be done in socially distant ways, which helps enhance their appeal. Being outside in whatever capacity (mountain biking, camping, golf, fishing, gardening, etc.) can have significant benefits for your mental health and wellbeing. Use the time outside as a chance to integrate the mindfulness I previously mentioned. There are tremendous aspects of nature that can help ground you if you give yourself both access and attention to these things.
Of course anyone of any gender could benefit from paying more attention to their mental health. Although I am writing in response to Mens’ Mental Health Month, I invite anyone and everyone to allow yourself extra space, time, attention, and grace to your mental health. Don’t feel that you have to reinvent the wheel, but instead allow yourself to consider the small but effective ways you can attend to your mental wellness. Implementing these practices can have a tremendous impact on your overall health, performance, and quality of life.