It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and we are focused on ways to support your path to being emotionally and mentally fit. Our prescription for the perfect fitness routine is to look after your heart and mind just as you would your body.
When it comes to fitness, we tend to focus on our weaknesses or the things we need to improve. It’s as if we have an inner-critic, picking ourselves apart for where we fall short. But this kind of negative self-talk just creates more stress and anxiety. The good news is that you can actually change the conversation in your head so that you become your own inner ally. When you treat yourself like you would a good friend, with more kindness and understanding, it can increase your physical and mental health, improve your sleep, and even improve your relationships. (1,2,3,4)
You can also personalize your own wellness routine. Use the letters of your name (or the name of your pet!) from the list below to pick themes to focus on throughout the month.
Fitness for Mind & Body Name Game
- Appreciate Yourself: Write down 20 things you appreciate, love and respect about yourself.
- Breathe: Periodically throughout the day, pay attention to how you are breathing. Shift into taking deep breaths into your belly.
- Build a daily habit of connection: pat a dog, meet a neighbor, forgive a friend, garden, cook, schedule a tennis game, walk down memory lane with someone. Whatever helps you feel connected
- Develop patience and understanding: Think of 5 things you have in common with the next person you see.
- Eat mindfully by following these 5 steps:
- Take a few deep breaths.
- Notice everything about the food you are about to eat. What does it look like; how does it smell? Describe it silently to yourself.
- Take a bite, but don’t chew. Just let the food rest on your tongue. Notice any thoughts, feelings or sensations as you let the food sit in your mouth for a moment.
- Begin to chew, and notice any tastes or sensations in your mouth.
- When you feel ready to swallow the food, notice how it feels as it travels through your body and into your stomach.
- Forgive: Write down a situation involving yourself or another person that you feel you need to let go of. Detail what happened, and what you think might have caused you/them to act that way. What pain might have caused the action? From a place of understanding, write a letter of forgiveness. Read it to yourself, send it to the person or burn it.
- Gratitude: At the end of the day, write down 10 things you are grateful for.
- How are you? Set a reminder to stop and note how you’re feeling. Try to name the emotion. It might sound something like “Oh, that’s frustration,” “This is caring,” or simply “grateful.”
- Intent: Set your intention today to treat yourself like you would a good friend, with kindness and understanding.
- Joy: Celebrate the positive sparks in your life by thinking of 5 things you’re grateful for.
- Kindness: Take a mental note of the acts of kindness that are occurring all around you, big and small. Let them inspire you to engage in a random act of kindness of your own.
- Listen: Take a mindful minute to listen to the sounds in your environment with openness and curiosity. What is the quietest sound you hear?
- Notice micro moments throughout your day. For example, while drinking coffee or tea, pause and take a moment to:
- Feel the warmth of the cup.
- Breathe in the aroma.
- Think about where it came from.
- Savor the first sip.
- Notice how the liquid feels in your mouth and then moves down your throat.
- Practice noting: Set aside a few minutes to sit comfortably, with your back straight. Follow the sensation of your inhale and exhale. When you notice that your mind has wandered, just note it as “thinking,” and go back to the breath.
- Observe with openness: Go outside and take a mindful walk, and simply notice and experience things as they are without reacting to or judging them.
- With openness and curiosity, notice what you see. Just observe the variety of colors, shapes and textures of what you see.
- Then focus your awareness on sound. As you listen, just notice what you hear. Try listening to the quietest sound you hear, or the loudest sound you hear.
- Next, focus your awareness on your sense of smell. What do you smell?
- Finally, bring your awareness to your sense of touch. Reach down and touch the floor or ground beneath you with your fingertips. Notice how many different sensations you feel.
- Practice self compassion: Place your hand on your heart. Notice the sensations there. Maybe there is a sense of warmth, or maybe you feel your heartbeat. Whatever you feel, regard it with a sense of kindness and understanding. Stay with these feelings as long as you’d like.
- Quiet: Find 5 minutes to just be still and breathe.
- Recharge. Leave your phone at home and take a walk in nature, or lay in the grass and stare at the sky.
- Stretch: Make a point to stretch, especially if you’ve been sitting for a while.
- Release tension: Notice any tension in your body. As you breathe in, imagine the the air is moving through those places. As you breathe out, imagine they totally relax and soften.
- Develop understanding: Think of 5 things you have in common with the next person you see.
- Restore your vitality: Place a blanket or cushion about 5 inches from a wall. Lay down on your back and bring your legs up the wall. Let your arms lay open flat, palms facing up. Let your mind be quiet and just breathe. Stay there as long as you like.
- Wish others well. When you walk from one place to another, make a kind wish for someone with every step you take.
- Exhale: Take 5 minutes to breathe, making your exhale 2x longer than your inhale.
- Practice a little yoga. Move your body and quiet your mind with the Stop, Breathe & Think Yoga for Stress video.
- Catch more zzzzs. Let go of the day’s stresses and bring a sense of open, calm awareness into sleep. Listen to Falling Asleep mediation in the Stop, Breathe & Think app.
(1) David R. Hamilton, PHD, Functional Neural Pasticity and Associated Changes in Positive Affect After Compassion Training 2013 & Practicing Compassion Increases Happiness and Self-Esteem 2011)
(2) David R. Hamilton, PHD, Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress 2008)
(3)David R. Hamilton, PHD & Oxytocin Attenuates NADPH-Dependent Superoxide Activity and IL-6 Secretion in Macrophages and Vascular Cells 2008 & Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress 2008)
(4) David R. Hamilton, PHD) (Davis & Oathout, 1987)(McCullough, 1997, 2001).