If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or buried in existential dread, take it as a sign: your body is asking you to make a change. Especially as we adjust to a permanently altered reality, we can’t expect our old routines to suffice.
But where to begin?
Stop wasting your time wondering, and start making meaningful changes to improve your mental health. Below are some situations where you might want to make a change, and some ways to jump straight in.
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I Always Feel Worse After Seeing my Friends.
First of all, can you identify any behaviors that are causing you to feel bad? Maybe your friends always pick on things you can’t change, or maybe they ignore the boundaries you’ve clearly set.
Luckily, you don’t have to formally “end” a friendship in order to feel better. Instead, you can choose to invest less of your time in this friendship. Let’s say you have one good friend, whom you call every day after work. It’s good to be able to vent and connect, but you often feel worse about things after these calls. Your friend can sometimes be insensitive or insulting. Time to diversify your after-work chats!
To make a simple change, try to identify one person you know, whose company you have really enjoyed. Maybe you don’t talk to them often–that’s ok. There’s no reason you can’t start now.
Now that you’ve identified one or two pleasant acquaintances, set a doable goal: just one night this week, call one of these acquaintances, instead of your go-to friend. Next week, do it again, except maybe choose two “wild card” nights.
This change involves simply enriching your circle of friends–not abandoning anyone. Also, you can still make this change, even if you don’t have new people to try calling. There are websites designed specifically to solve this type of problem. Anonymous peer support, for instance, is available 24/7, and has been shown to have major impacts on multiple aspects of mental health: “Those who lean on peer support groups develop better self-management strategies, gain greater self-confidence…feel less isolated…have better health outcomes and are more successful with behavior modification.”
I’m Having Trouble Keeping up with Chores Around the House.
Many of us have experienced the bubbling dread of a messy house, on top of existing depression or anxiety. When it looks like a tornado has ripped through your living space, it can feel like a tornado has also ripped through your mind.
But how can you make a change, when you’ve already been trying so hard to keep things organized? To borrow a phrase from AA, don’t blame yourself–blame your plan!
Ask yourself why it’s been so hard to keep up with household tasks. Is it because you’ve been so tired after work everyday? That makes sense, but how can you get around that? Here are some ideas:
- Do a couple small chores every morning, before work and responsibilities drain you completely.
- Set aside time to do chores while doing something that recharges you. Blast your favorite music while sweeping. Do the dishes while watching trash TV. Ask a friend to sit on the couch with you while you fold all your laundry.
- Come up with a way to stay organized in the first place, so you spend less time cleaning. Maybe this means setting up a catch-all basket for things you’re too lazy to put away.
Or maybe, it’s because doing the dishes is your “impossible task.” How can you build a “motivation bridge”?
- Visualize the incredible feeling you’ll have when you finish the task.
- Determine the smallest possible step you can take to start the task (even if that’s just “get dressed” so you can head out to the grocery store).
- Tell someone else about what you have to do, and when you plan to do it. Ask them to check in with you about it–sometimes peer pressure is the best motivator!
- Like we mentioned above, ask yourself if your plan is to blame. Maybe you picked an unpleasant starting point. Is there another way you can get started on this impossible task?
I feel like the Pandemic is Going to Permanently Damage my Mental Health
Before the pandemic, many of us experienced the occasional wave of existential dread. These waves were often related to events in our lives, and thoughts about the pointlessness of it all would inevitably fade away with time–or at least let up for a few weeks.
Now, though, we can’t comfort ourselves by pointing to the end of our existential dread. It truly seems that there’s no end in sight, so how can any change that we make actually change things?
Here, it helps to admit that changes in our personal lives obviously won’t change COVID-19. But changes to our attitudes can help us survive these circumstances with less impact to our mental health.
Instead of expecting to experience big, happy emotions during these times, turn your focus to the small joys that haven’t been erased by the pandemic.
If you’re stuck inside and bored, anyway, the good news is that you no longer have to feel guilty about napping! If you can’t go to big in-person events due to the risk, use that newfound time to set up some awesome activity you’ve wanted to try at home. Think like a kid and find fun in the freedoms that come with the pandemic’s downsides.
Take Your Feelings Seriously, and Take Action.
Even if you know that you need to make a change in order to feel better, deciding where to start can feel intimidating. However, when you feel uneasy, sad, or upset, ignoring the situation only makes things worse.
If your situation isn’t on the above list, you can still take inspiration from the above approaches: ask yourself questions about why you feel the way you do, and don’t be afraid to seek creative solutions to the problems you identify. When it comes to improving your mental health, making a change is always worth a shot.