Mental health hacks are your best friend over the silly season.
The holidays can be a joyful time when we get to reunite with family and friends, especially if you’ve been separated for some time due to the pandemic. And because emotions are dialled up to eleven, holidays can also take a toll on mental health.
Party season may not be the ideal time to get serious about doing your inner work. Perhaps you have plans to find a new therapist that are on hold until all the crazy dies down a little. Maybe you are dreading seeing that one person in your family who manages to push your buttons every time you see them.
Quick-fix mental health hacks to the rescue!
What Are Mental Health Hacks?
Mental health hacks are the little tools in your psychological health toolkit that can help you get through difficult moments.
These go-to mental health remedies might just save the moment in situations like:
- Being triggered by someone’s comments or behaviour
- Feeling anger arise, and knowing that now is not the time to address it or confront someone
- Experiencing panic or anxiety
- Being treated unfairly or disrespected
- Finding yourself in a heated discussion
- Feeling overwhelmed and un-grounded
- Experiencing distress or violence.
5 Mental Health Hacks for Challenging Moments
Try these ideas these holidays, or anytime the situation calls for a quick diffusion. Jot down your favourites and keep them on your phone or somewhere you can easily access in a situation where emotions are running high.
Yes, it sounds simple and obvious, and maybe a bit cliche`. But taking three deep, mindful breaths in a moment when you are feeling overwhelmed and reactive does have a calming effect on your system.
- Take a deep inhale through your nose, then exhale through your nose for twice as long as your inhale.
- Keep your eyes open, and focus your gaze on one nearby object.
- Repeat at least 3 times. If you have the space to do so, continue for longer until your head feels clearer. (Four minutes is ideal and has a similar effect to meditation.)
In times of distress, we can become stuck in a thought spiral. These thoughts can seem important and true, but they may not be important and they may not even be true. Reacting mindlessly to thoughts can have long-lasting repercussions.
Grounding is a way of getting out of your thoughts and into your body, into the present moment. Sometimes what we need is a little distance from all the brain activity. Little mindful moments can make all the difference.
- In the moment of distress, notice that you are starting to react. Say to yourself, “I am feeling angry/hurt/upset”, or whatever the feeling is. Give it an intensity rating – a score out of 5.
- Bring your awareness into your body. Notice where you are in contact with the world or other objects. If you are sitting, where are you in contact with the seat? If you are standing, notice that your feet are on the earth. Just notice, no need to do anything more.
- After a minute, notice the objects around you. Name them. Use simple labels, nothing with any stories or emotional content. Examples: “Coffee table. Book. Plate of food. My shoes.”
- After another few minutes, start to label the colours you can see. “Red. Green. Gold.”
- Now notice your feelings. Give them a new rating of intensity. Has the intensity decreased? If not, start over or try another mental health hack.
Walking and Fresh Air.
Leaving an escalating situation to take a short walk outside is a fantastic, simple wellbeing hack, for several reasons:
- The physical distance allows some space for things to settle, for you and for anyone else involved.
- If it’s a nice day, the sunlight assists your body to produce melatonin and serotonin, which in turn help regulate your stress response.
- The extra oxygen nourishes your brain, as opposed to being indoors and/or in close proximity to others, taking in carbon dioxide.
- The movement of walking is known to boost mood, reduce stress and help relieve fatigue, all of which will help you address the tension or challenge in a healthy way.
Any inverted posture (where your head is below your heart) has a calming, rejuvenating effect on your body. These postures allow fresh blood to rush to your brain, they guide energy to your heart, and they help you feel grounded. In this state you’ll be able to handle difficult circumstances with much more ease and grace than when you are inflamed and reactive.
If you have a little space when you find yourself in a challenging moment, try these simple inversions or forward folds (hold for a minute or two, breathing slowly and focusing on your breath):
- Standing forward bend: Start with your feet hip distance apart, feet parallel. Bend forward and reach your head toward the earth. Let your arms dangle, or take hold of your elbows with opposite hands. Allow your knees to bend a little, or a lot if that feels better. Let your upper body, head and neck be heavy while your legs stay active.
- Wide legged forward fold: Start with your feet wide apart, feet parallel. Fold forward and let your hands reach the ground, or grab hold of your ankles or toes. Allow your upper body to be heavy while your legs stay active. Keep a microbend in your knees. If you like, you can interlace your hands behind your back and bring your arms up overhead to also open up your chest and shoulders.
- Legs up the wall: If forward folds from a standing position are not available to you, or if you’re feeling tired, you can still do an inversion the other way! Start by lying on your back on the ground with your bum near a wall. Raise your legs and let your feet rest on the wall. Shimmy your bottom close to the wall so you don’t need to engage your core so much to keep your legs raised. This is such a restorative posture that will send fresh blood to your heart and brain, and drain the stagnation from your legs and feet.
Focus on Gratitude.
Gratitude really is a mental health hack! If you have heard the “have an attitude of gratitude” adage one too many times and you’ve begun to tune it out, let’s revisit the science of gratitude:
- It’s said to be impossible, or at least very difficult, to experience negative thoughts and emotions while the brain is occupied with thoughts of thankfulness and appreciation.
- Focusing on the things you are grateful for triggers the production of the feel-good brain chemicals: dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
- Over time, with persistent practice, focusing on gratitude can physically alter your brain, making you primed for even more positivity, leading to more gratitude, and so on.
In a difficult moment, switch your focus to something you are grateful for, or something that is going right in your life. Really appreciate it. Ruminate on all the things you love about it and all the ways it lights up your life.
Then repeat with two more things in your life you are grateful for.
This doesn’t remove or “fix” the issue that confronts you. It just changes your mood a little so that you can approach your challenge with a new perspective.
Beyond Mental Health Hacks
Outside of this toolkit of quick fixes to help get you through some tricky moments, there is the long game.
If you notice that the holiday season brings up the same challenges every year, therapy can help you move into a new space. One where you feel more resilient and empowered to handle conflict, emotional distress and overwhelm.
Book an appointment with The Bondi Psychologist today. We offer in-person and virtual therapy. We look forward to meeting you.