Taking care of your mental health

One positive outcome from the pandemic has been a heightened emphasis on mental health. I’m lucky enough to have an expert literally next door, and she generously let me interview her about mental health during quarantine, specifically with regards to productivity and work.

I met Ms. Aileen Axtmayer when she, her husband, and her dog moved into the house next to mine. She is always a friendly face and now has a very cute toddler, who always seems to be up for playing. Ms. Axtmayer is the Career Coach and Corporate Wellness Speaker of “Aspire with Aileen, LLC.”

She mentioned that, “when our brains are in autopilot …, we’re spending a lot less energy.” But throughout the pandemic, people tend to spend more energy making even basic decisions. Ms. Axtmayer recommends that, to boost mental health, it’s important to separate “I should…” vs “I want to…”

According to Ms. Axtmayer, the first thing you should do when trying to boost your mental health is experiment. Go through the process of trial and error to see what works best for you, because it is different for everyone. Meditation might work to help your friend relax, but you might try it and find that it isn’t relaxing for you to stay so still. However, there are many different forms of meditation, and if still forms of meditation do not work for you, you can try yoga, which allows your body to be moving.

Then, try to incorporate those activities that helped you into a more sturdy routine. This eliminates time spent debating over how to spend your breaks between Zooms. A popular form of a routine is what Ms. Axtmayer calls “bookend[ing] your days.” Many find it helpful to have a task they do regularly when they wake up and when they are about to go to bed, such as a five-minute meditation, or taking a few seconds to turn inward and see how you are feeling.

However, also let yourself be flexible with your routine. Let how you feel on different days take some sort of control over your choices. It is important to find a balance, and with a balance comes more of a routine.  Remember that our days are looking different now, and we need different things. Whether it be finding more time to be outside, or closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths, add tasks that you need to accomplish and healthy tasks, in order to have more breaks and feel better overall. Put your homework on your list, but also throw in time to play with a pet, or FaceTime a friend.

Also, make sure that you are checking in with yourself on a regular basis. When talking about lack of self awareness of how we are feeling, Ms. Axtmayer says, “that’s where a lot of our issues or challenges come from, if we don’t ever ask ourselves and honestly answer.” For how to ask ourselves how we are doing, Ms. Axtmayer says, “the way I always recommend doing it is sitting in stillness and silence,” and how “meditation is a form of that, but it doesn’t have to be anything intense.” So, Ms. Atmayer says, “just pausing, closing your eyes [because] then we’re actually more likely to turn inward, and sometimes it’s helpful to do a physical scan…that can help us tune in mentally.”

Lastly, move! Move around, don’t just sit on Zoom or at a desk all day. This is what so many adults have been saying, but it’s true that it improves your overall wellness throughout the day. Even if you just stand up and stretch for a few seconds, you will feel much better throughout the day. If you are interested in trying other kinds of movements and stretching, Ms. Axtmayer has some suggestions. She said, “the key to yoga/any movement is tuning inward and seeing what you need. Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is pretty good…. Peloton has” some good quick yoga stretches.

Quarantine is tiring, so remember to take care of yourself. It is essential to feel happier, but you don’t need to feel happy all the time. It is normal to feel exhausted and sad because of this pandemic. It’s normal to feel that way even not in a pandemic. But it’s making the most of it that’s really important. Through incorporating these different pieces into your routine, you really can help yourself so that you can help others.

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