While there are always reasons to count our blessings, and certainly causes for joy and happiness in this life…
We can’t escape the fact that there are seasons and circumstances of great stress and sorrow as well.
2020 was a year that multiplied stress, grief, sorrow, and even trauma on levels that many of us hadn’t experienced in some time, if ever. For many, the outlook for 2021 seems uncertain — as to whether life will begin to resemble the pre-pandemic norm.
Our mental health determines how we are able to handle these situations, and for many, it has certainly been affected by these trying times.
In fact, health experts across the globe agree on one thing: we are in the midst of a full blown mental health crisis!
So then, let’s look at…
- what constitutes mental health and well-being,
- some common effects we may all be finding familiar in these uncertain times, and
- some ways to improve our mental health amidst such stress and trauma.
Mental Health And Well-Being
Mental health refers to your social well-being, emotional health, and psychological health.
It determines how you deal with day to day or lifetime stresses. And, it governs the choices you make and how you relate to those around you.
Your mood, behavior, and ability to think about situations properly are all determined by the state of your mental well-being.
While genetics and brain chemistry affect our mental well-being, what we experience throughout our lives can greatly contribute to mental health problems.
Let’s face it, sometimes life throws things at us, and we don’t walk away unscathed.
From financial stresses to marital problems, from abuse to other trauma, the things we walk through in this life do affect our mental health.
Some signs that your mental health or well-being is declining:
- Sleep (too much or too little)
- An increase in the use of alcohol or cigarettes (even drug use)
- Feeling detached from friends and family
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Excessive feelings of confusion, fear, anger, worry, or forgetfulness
- An unusually short fuse (lack of patience)
- Mood swings
- Unable to perform normal daily tasks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or others
The Mental Health Crisis
If you felt like you could put a checkmark next to most of what has been mentioned thus far, life probably feels extra heavy the past several months…
And you are NOT alone.
Even prior to this year, as a nation, we were already fighting so many battles on the mental health front.
Here in America in 2018, there were 1.4 million suicide attempts.
As of March 1 (note this is pre-pandemic as far as statistics are concerned), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Major depression is considered to be one of the most common mental disorders in America.
And, as of 2017, approximately 1 in 10 people globally were living with a mental health disorder.
So, what about now, in the midst of a global pandemic?
I mean, it’s no secret that this year has been severely stressful. This pandemic and its subsequent fallout has caused:
- Death and illness (this sad reality has caused trauma to those experiencing it within their circle of friends and family)
- Lack of job security, job losses, financial strain, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and homelessness have been an all too common reality
- Isolation for the elderly as they’ve been kept away from their loved ones over fears of the spread of the virus
- Quarantining the healthy has led to loneliness and isolation for people of all ages and walks of life
- A similar point: lack of social gatherings, lack of school classes (many are still not doing in-person classes even now), sports, and other extra-curriculars
- Limited family visits (other than the elderly) due to virus fears
- Postponed weddings and limited to no attendance for funerals (denying closure for grieving families)
- Routines have been completely uprooted, and some are still constantly changing (proving challenging and stressful for adults and children alike)
- Opinions abound on mask usage, vaccines, school or no school, businesses closing and opening, states closing and opening leading to increased tension and stress
I feel like I could go on for days, each item getting more specific, each item hitting closer to home for so many.
No one has been immune.
When you find yourself breaking down in the middle of Kohl’s because it’s the first time you’ve been in an actual store seeing other human beings in months. Yep…this has been weighing on your mental health.
When it’s 9 am and you already need a glass of wine. Yep…the stress of these last months has been weighing on your mental health.
When you look at the emptying fridge, the funds dwindling in the checkbook, and you’re eagerly awaiting an interview for a “hail Mary” job…this is affecting your mental health.
What about your children? How are they fairing?
The twins, who loved school and each other (most days), are fighting non-freaking-stop! Weary momma, they’re affected too…just as much as you are.
So, what’s the real crisis here? Is it even covid?
I’m not negating its potential for severity, even death, but less than 2% (1.75 actually) of our fellow Americans have contracted the virus according to numbers given by the CDC right now.
But, how many of us have been affected in our mental health and well-being?
According to the CDC on June 2020:
- Trauma or stress-related disorder symptoms have increased by 26% amidst the pandemic
- 11% of Americans have seriously considered suicide in these last months
- 13% of adults in America started or have increased substance abuse since the onset of the coronavirus
- Anxiety and depression symptoms have risen by 31% in the United States
- 40% of adults in the US reported struggling with mental health as of late June in light of the pandemic
And, we haven’t even mentioned the other stressors we are facing as a nation (riots, politics).
We are indeed in the midst of a crisis, a mental health crisis!
And, while there are definitely times and reasons to reach out to mental health professionals, there are also things you can do on your own to relieve some of these stresses that are continually mounding (pandemic or not).
Incorporating Meditation To Facilitate Mental Health
Meditation, when done properly, can greatly improve your mental health and well-being.
But, meditation can mean different things for different people, too. So, here are a few methods to choose from:
One prominently noted method of meditation incorporates the practice of deep breathing. Some refer to this as mindfulness or mindful meditation.
Trauma, continual stress, and anxiety can all affect our brain function in regards to how we think and react to real life situations.
And, deep breathing, or mindful meditation practices can help here.
But, don’t just start huffing and puffing, hoping to inhale and exhale your troubles away.
Quickly breathing in and out can have the same result on your body as stress and anxiety does!
When you’re stressed or anxious, whether you realize it or not, you tend to hold your breath which causes a tightening in your chest.
And, when you breath in and out rapidly, your body senses the same chest tightness, making your brain think you’re stressed out again.
But, done properly, some say that as few as 3 breaths can reset the fear centers in our brain.
So, how can you properly meditate through deep breathing?
- Find a quiet place.
- Sit comfortably.
- Breathe in gently for 5 counts (seconds), and focus on filling your whole belly with air. People often think they are to fill their chest with air, and while your lungs will indeed fill, focus on your belly here while you inhale. (like filling a balloon)
- Hold this for 5 seconds. (Pro tip: Use your diaphragm and core muscles, not your throat, to hold in your breath)
- Then, breathe out slowly for another 5 counts (seconds), emptying your belly of the air.
When you do this, your mind is focused solely on breathing air in and breathing air out, thus freeing your mind of the burdensome thoughts that may be surrounding you.
Don’t underestimate the power of this technique. It is taught to first responders for use in some of the most stressful situations humans ever encounter because it works.
And the physiological effects are well documented by top institutions, so… use it when you notice that you are feeling stressed.
It takes 45 seconds.
Walking or Moving Meditation
Another form of meditation is referred to as moving or walking meditation.
For some people, the benefits of meditation are much needed, but the practice of stillness is something very elusive and even uncomfortable.
So, perhaps you already include exercises like walking or running in your daily routine. That’s great and can already be beneficial to your mental health!
But, you can take it a step further (no pun intended) and focus your mind and your attention while you are walking.
- Count your steps as your walk.
- Try counting forward to 10 and then backwards back down to 1.
- Focus on the raising and lowering of your feet with each step.
- Essentially what you are doing here is super focusing your mind on this activity which will clear your thoughts of the effects of the stresses you are facing.
Consider for example those who can attest to going for a walk and coming back with a renewed sense of strength to face their day.
Or, perhaps you have heard of those who went for a walk and were able to realize a solution to a problem soon after returning.
Some attribute this to the mind-clearing and stress-relieving benefits of these movements.
From personal experience, I will say that you can do this while running as well.
As you focus on your pattern of breathing, zero in on your footwork. Diverting your focus from any pain (not injuries, just pushing past muscle pains for growth), you can achieve this same stress relief and freeing of your mind.
And, in case this was muddied in the description, I want to make perfectly clear that while moving (running, walking, or other exercises like yoga or tai chi), you aren’t “zoning out” during these meditation practices. And you aren’t listening to something.
You are focused on your breathing and the steps you are taking. And you are fully aware of your surroundings, all five senses engaged in just being in the moment.
It’s all about being present and mentally letting go of everything in the past or the future.
Try it today.
And as a final “bonus” tip… if you haven’t heard of CBC, recent research reported that it is 10 TIMES as effective as CBD at improving depressed moods.
It has many therapeutic properties that were recently discovered.
- Mood: A recent study showed CBC has 10x the effect of CBD on relieving depressed moods
- Calm: Several studies have shown CBC to be an effective relaxant, making users feel at ease quickly
- Pain: CBC has also been shown to have powerful pain-relieving effects
- Brain Growth: CBC appeared to increase the viability of developing brain cells – a process known as neurogenesis.
- Anti-virus and anti-microbial: It has been shown to be an effective anti-viral
Even more encouraging is the fact that CBC makes CBD are most powerful when they are ingested together in a full-spectrum CBD oil.
One study showed that CBD was up to 3x more powerful when taken with CBC, CBG, and other natural cannabinoids. This is called the ‘entourage effect’ and dozens of studies show it is now the most effective way to get the most out of a CBD supplement.
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