Welcome to Week 1 of Mind Your Mood

As we now all adjust to new work dynamics; trying to cohabitate peacefully or be alone for the first time; juggling children, pets, and Zoom calls; I’ve noticed that all of us, mental illness or not, are figuring out how to be mentally healthy.

I’ve been working remotely for 3 weeks now, and while I feel phenomenally privileged to be safe at home during this time, I have to admit I’m struggling. Managing my anxiety and depression has become a full time job. I share this because I know I’m not alone, and I want you to know that you’re not alone either. And I want to help.

While there are tons of great resources for managing your mental health online, the sheer number has itself become overwhelming to sift through, and turning a piece of advice into an action can require energy I don’t always have. 

So to cut through some of the internet noise, and make taking care of your mental health easier, I want to share what’s been working for me. Please keep in mind that I’m not a clinical expert, just someone with lived experience, and each person is different in what they ultimately need to feel good. 

If these tips are helpful for you, consider sharing with a friend. If you’re finding something personally helpful, I’d love it if you shared it with me for future newsletters. Let’s work together to manage our moods. 

I hope this helps. Until next week,

Sam Fitzner (Communications Lead, Mental Health Foundation)

#1 Let go of the idea that you need to be productive, or as productive as usual.

This is purely a thought exercise, one that I have found myself needing to revisit every day. It is normal to feel guilty or anxious about not getting enough done, even when life is normal. For many, the pandemic has intensified this feeling. 

For me, my anxiety shows up in negative thoughts like: “My coworkers will think I’m lazy if I don’t do enough work,” or “I’m afraid I’ll lose my job if I can’t show tangible results,” or, more personally, “If I don’t do [this or that project] while I have all this time at home, then I obviously will never do it, and that says something bad about me.” This is my mind catastrophizing. 

What we’re all experiencing is not normal, or easy. It leads to heightened stress and worry, which over time becomes exhausting. Many experts have named the discomfort we’re all feeling as grief, and for me being able to give it that name has also allowed me to give myself permission to slow down and challenge my catastrophizing thoughts. 

I’m not the only one allowing myself some slow down time, in answer to a question about how he intends to “fill his time” during the pandemic, Nick Cave reflected via one of his regular dispatches from his Red Hand Files project that; “Why is this the time to get creative?” For those who feel pressured to be “productive” during this time, he continues.

Together we have stepped into history and are now living inside an event unprecedented in our lifetime. Every day the news provides us with dizzying information that a few weeks before would have been unthinkable. What deranged and divided us a month ago seems, at best, an embarrassment from an idle and privileged time. We have become eyewitnesses to a catastrophe that we are seeing unfold from the inside out. We are forced to isolate — to be vigilant, to be quiet, to watch and contemplate the possible implosion of our civilisation in real time. When we eventually step clear of this moment we will have discovered things about our leaders, our societal systems, our friends, our enemies and most of all, ourselves. We will know something of our resilience, our capacity for forgiveness, and our mutual vulnerability. Perhaps, it is a time to pay attention, to be mindful, to be observant.

For me, this is not a time to be buried in the business of creating. It is a time to take a backseat and use this opportunity to reflect on exactly what our function is...

...There are other forms of engagement, open to us all. An email to a distant friend, a phone call to a parent or sibling, a kind word to a neighbour, a prayer for those working on the front lines. These simple gestures can bind the world together — throwing threads of love here and there, ultimately connecting us all — so that when we do emerge from this moment we are unified by compassion, humility and a greater dignity. Perhaps, we will also see the world through different eyes, with an awakened reverence for the wondrous thing that it is.

This week, when you feel the pressure of productivity raising your stress levels, read Nick’s words. They are your mantra. Take a moment to remind yourself what a uniquely challenging time we’re experiencing. Give yourself permission to slow down. Celebrate the simple gestures. You’re doing great.

#2 Breathe 

We all breathe! Focusing on your breath is simple, and you can do it anywhere. And the wonderful thing is that when you breathe intentionally, it elicits a relaxation response. I’ve been tuning in daily to an Instagram account called SecularSabbath (they also have a Youtube channel)  for relaxing live streams including cooking tutorials, ambient soundbaths, and breathwork. The latter has been extremely helpful as a midday brain break and recharge.

For me, having a guide to listen to makes it easier to focus. If you have an hour, or even half an hour, I highly recommend practicing your breathing alongside this video:

 

 

If you want a way to quickly tune in and practice your breathing, download the FREE Breathwrk app on your phone. 

After intentional breathing, I feel calmer, more focused, and often less fatigued. It’s such a simple way to step back from feelings of anxiety and panic.  

#3 Move

I don’t know about you, but the idea of getting on a yoga mat or doing squats has become akin to the idea of climbing up Mount Everest lately. Between people online talking about achieving their “quarantine bod” (like beach bods, that’s not a thing!), and feeling like it’s another thing to add to my to-do list (see tip #1), getting up and moving my body has been hard to prioritize. 

But research suggests exercise benefits your mental health, and I know from experience that moving my body helps feelings of restlessness from my anxiety AND lifts my mood when I’m experiencing depression. 

The easiest way I have found to move my body is not an exercise class or a weightlifting routine. And isolation has even made me more likely to do it, with less people around to see. What is it?

Dancing (stay with me here)! 

There are no rules. No time limit. Just put on a song you love, and move your body to it, for however long it feels good. Move a little, or alot, fast or slow. If you don’t feel like getting out of bed, just wave your arms or legs in the air while lying on your back. You’re doing it! 

This week, I danced to this while I cleaned my apartment:

 

One positive thing to come out of social isolation is all the musicians and DJs taking their music online live. You might be alone, but you’re not dancing alone if you tune into a live stream. Imagine yourself moving in tandem with people all over the world. Here are a couple of suggestions for getting your groove on this weekend. 

Local DJ Harman B is hosting a Instagram Live House Party Tonight at 7PM.

 

DJ D-Nice has been hosting a weekly livestream dance party called “Club Quarantine”. Tune in on Saturday starting at 5PM MST (it usually goes for several hours) and get dancing!

 

 

For something slower, Nashville singer and fiddle player Amanda Shires has been hosting daily get-togethers at 4PM MST with a rotating cast of musicians called “I So Lounging.” Head to her YouTube channel to tune in.

For other live concerts, check this listing.

That’s it for this week! Let me know if you have any suggestions, whether it’s things that are helping your mood, or ways I can share this with you that are most helpful. Until then, make sure to subscribe through the link below to receive future Mind your Mood dispatches in your inbox, and stay safe.