6 Healthy Habits to Maximize Your Mental Health and Get You Through Your Worst Days
From cold showers to practicing forgiveness, here's how to move forward in crisis and regain control of your life.
"There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full." — Henry Kissinger.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit our shores, we've been forced to adapt in many ways, and consequently, social unrest exploded onto the world stage. Living life during these trying times is challenging without dropping a personal crisis into the mix.
So how does someone adapt to their problems when the world is navigating through a transformation?
Here's my experience.
About a year ago, I resigned from my day job to address mental health issues and their increasing impact on my life. For as long as I can recall, I've struggled with self-worth, image and the desire to be liked by all others. Later in life, I would be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cluster B Personality Disorder.
As an outcome of my disabilities, I created a character of who I wanted to be, convincing myself the persona would conceal my insecurities and encourage my confidence. Instead, it spiraled out of control as reality and fiction blurred, convening in a complete mental breakdown a week before news outlets began to report on me.
I was condemned as a fraud and portrayed as a con. To add insult to injury, nobody was interested in hearing my side of the story.
I had already honed the skills needed to succeed in my career and utilized those abilities to accomplish a great deal. But, as the facade of my character fell, the news and the public also questioned those abilities and accomplishments.
Compounded with my deteriorating mental health were a myriad of personal tragedies, which included being forced out of my home due to increasing public harassment, my mother's death followed by my father's choice to cast aside his family in search of a new partner and a total theft of my lifetime's worth of belongings.
I was convinced I was worthless and battled daily against suicidal ideation. I worried about my wife's wellbeing as I bounced around inpatient and outpatient while she fielded a media storm. I feared the imminent bullying of my newborn first child due to the unflattering and incomplete narrative scribed about me. I suffered from deep depression alone, having spent so much time creating business connections instead of developing and maintaining personal relationships. And I lacked a solid support network.
Choosing to live was hard. I'm still in crisis. And while I may not be thriving, I'm surviving and rebuilding. That's more than I could've foreseen a year ago.
Through trial and error, I've adopted six habits to fortify resilience. When enacted each day, they will help you move forward with a life in crisis.
Embrace the moment
You are where you are. Seems a bit trite, right? Maybe even a little condescending. It doesn't change the fact that it's true. In our daily trials, we get so wrapped up in the past and future that being present is almost like a luxury. But it's not a luxury; it's a responsibility.
If you can't be accountable for your current situation, you will find resistance moving forward. Regardless of good or bad, little or large, the choices you made have all brought you to the present. You cannot go backward and have little control over what tomorrow holds. What you can control are your immediate actions.
Radical acceptance is a concept formed around the idea of one's suffering being directly associated with the subject's attachment to pain. The healing process begins when you stop dwelling on the past and projecting fears toward the future. If you can't take care of yourself in real-time, you're good to nobody, least of all yourself.
Each morning I wake up in a panic as I start to relive past traumas and impose what that'll mean for my future. I waste no time nipping this in the bud. The thoughts aren't going away. Our minds are wired to sabotage us.
If you believe your past will dictate your future, it will. If you instead accept where you are, you disarm the mechanism.
Reset your system
Every morning I take a cold shower. Why? It shocks the nervous system and wakes me up, training the brain to turn on without resistance.
Everything can seem like a challenge when you're in a personal crisis. Facing a situation can be so daunting that even small tasks not associated with the problem can become overwhelming. You can quickly end up wasting time.
Purposefully exposing your body to an extreme drowns unproductive feelings. The focus shifts to what you are experiencing at the moment, providing a new window of clarity for irrational thoughts. This allows you to discover the motivation desired to move forward.
Resetting your system is essential to ensuring procrastination is disbanded. Pulling my mind and body out of their comfort zone has proven wonders.
Elevate your heart rate
Getting your heart moving faster circulates oxygenated blood throughout your body more efficiently. Over time it builds stamina, which is essentially the totality of your energy levels. With increased life, your body can metabolize its fuel better, which maximizes your physicality and augments your mental output. In other words, elevating heart rate increases cognitive functionality.
One of the quickest ways to do this is through brisk cardio, such as performing a series of burpees, going for a run or taking a swim. The level of intensity is not correlated to the result. For our purpose, there is little difference between getting your heart rate up within 5 minutes or gradually over an hour.
While appreciating anything in crisis might seem unreasonable, you'll gain perspective if you remain open to gratitude. That perspective will allow you to reflect more acutely on your current state.
I may need to draw upon a visual cue during a challenging day. Sometimes this takes a while to acknowledge one act of appreciation after another until I can finally modify my biting point of view to benign. The more I give, the more I get, and my reasoning becomes more evident.
Create a routine
When in crisis mode, norms can quickly go out the window while you attend to any immediate triaging. Instead of abandoning your grounding, consider new ways of creating some consistency. By establishing a daily routine, you can counterbalance the crisis.
I'm not talking about simple routines like brushing your teeth or taking medicine. The routine I'm writing about involves setting activities wherein you can positively express yourself. Taking moments to nourish the soul during a crisis is critical to your healing. My routines give me a sense of comfort and boost morale. I set aside time for each of them daily.
It's easy to villainize yourself and others. Don't. You will fill yourself with resentment, and resentment will drain you empty.
Instead, focus on what you can attain without distraction. Everyone deserves better. You may need to forgive yourself and others multiple times a day. I have found the more you do it, the less you have to do it, and the more natural it becomes.
Life was designed to be chaotic. So, hang in. You may not see it yet, but you'll get through this. And once you're out of it, you'll be a little stronger and wiser.
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