3 Ways to Improve Mental Health in Ten Minutes or Less
It’s likely that you, or someone you know, has experienced a jump in stress since the onset of COVID-19. Our lives have changed drastically this year and the transitions have caused a significant increase in depression, anxiety, stress, and trauma. The decline in mental health has impacted, and will continue to impact, workplaces all over the world. Thankfully, there are some simple & easy ways to improve mental health.
Whether you’re working remotely, in an office, or teaching your kids and working remotely, there are some simple steps you can take to improve your mental health, and the mental health of your employees.
As a former marine, a mother (of a toddler + newborn), a business-owner and wife, I’ve seen my fair share of chaos. And the things I used to look at as inconsequential when it came to healing, are now at the root of my daily practices. One of the main drivers of my shift in routine was educating myself on how the trauma of our mind directly affects the amount of tension we hold in our bodies.
The following things typically happen in your body when you become stressed or anxious:1,2
- Blood flow decreases
- You experience stiffness
- Your breath becomes shallow
- You experience aches and pains
When you’re able to release that tension in your mind using these three easy steps, your body will then respond in kind. Give 10 minutes a day to the following 3 steps, and see how they make you feel.
Step 1: The Breath Wave (2 minutes)
In this first step, we’re actually going to tap into the physical sensation of the breath, versus just telling yourself to breathe more deeply. Begin by sitting comfortably (or lying down) and placing your hand on your belly. Follow along in the video above, starting 11 minutes and 30 seconds in.
Close your eyes, roll your shoulders down and back, and breathe in through your nose, pushing your hands with your belly, then let that breath go out through your lips. When you breathe out you should almost make a “shush” sound, like you’re quieting a newborn.
Repeat that breath in and out with a four second inhale, four second exhale. Do that for two minutes.
When you breathe deeper and more slowly, you’re activating your parasympathetic nervous system and the rest/digest state.3
Step 2: Grounding Techniques (6 minutes)
Using tactile sensation to relieve bodily tension is one of my favorite ways to decrease tension. We do this by utilizing tools such as a lacrosse or tennis ball, a foam roller, a PVC pipe, a broomstick — the list goes on. Follow along in the video above, starting 15 minutes and 30 seconds in.
For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to use a lacrosse ball. Most of us spend a lot of our days typing or texting, so take the ball and place it on your “thumb pad” or thenar eminence, at the base of your thumb. Twist the ball and give yourself a hand massage. Do that at the base of your thumb and pinky. You want to focus on that area until you can feel the tension release, 90 seconds to two minutes, both sides.
Another one of my favorites is to take the lacrosse ball and roll it under the arch of my foot. Most people don’t take care of their feet at all, so a little lacrosse ball TLC can go a long way to relieve tension.
When all is said and done, you want to spend 4-6 minutes on your hands and feet.
Step 3: Taking Pause (2 minutes)
There is no better thing you can do when your mind starts spiraling but to PAUSE. Just like we give our body rest periods when working out, we need to give our minds a rest from always thinking. Follow along in the video above, starting at 21 minutes and 30 seconds in.
Untrained minds are like monkey minds, and one of the first things you can do to start training your wild, monkey mind, is learn to pause during your day. This is the basic premise of mindfulness. It starts with a pause, and relates to building an awareness of how you’re feeling in the moment.
Pause before you send an email, pause before you hit send on a text, pause before you fight back with your partner, pause before you get angry at your kid, colleague or someone on social media.
This mindfulness can save you embarrassment, but can also provide a neuroplastic response (or pattern interrupt) for your mind, which overtime will change how your body reacts.4
Recap of 3 Ways to Improve Mental Health in 10 Minutes or Less
There’s a saying I really like: “10% of life is what happens to you and 90% is how you react to it.”
With that in mind, here’s a recap for your convenience:
- Perform the Breath Wave for 2 Minutes
- Slowly ground yourself through targeted tissue work for 6 minutes
- Pause for 2 minutes before you start on whatever’s next
If it makes sense to have a deeper dialogue about your health or your employees’ health, schedule a HOPE session here: Schedule a HOPE Session.
- Mayo Clinic. 2020. How Stress Affects Your Body And Behavior. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987> [Accessed 16 September 2020].
- Mayo Clinic. 2020. Anxiety Disorders – Symptoms And Causes. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961> [Accessed 16 September 2020].
- Gerritsen RJS, Band GPH. Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018;12:397. Published 2018 Oct 9. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397
- Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, et al. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res. 2011;191(1):36-43. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006