May was Mental Health Awareness Month. I want to take a quick minute to talk about the significance of our mental stress and offer fifteen strategies that can help you and others stress less.
First - let's be honest. Each of us deals with some level of mental stress. A quick search on Google will reveal some common symptoms of mental stress.
If you're like me, you've likely experienced one of these at some point in time -- likely many times. These are real conditions - real struggles for millions of people. You are not alone. It's why we have a Mental Awareness Month each year. Even Jesus experienced Mental Stress. (Think 40 days in the wilderness, the night in the Garden, the moments before his Crucifixion). God knows our stress.
My Mental Stress Back Story
Some of you know I was diagnosed with MS a few years ago. Fortunately, I presently don't have any severe struggles with MS at the moment, but it is something I have to be mindful of, and I do often deal with mental stress from the normal wear and tear of life. When I am feeling overwhelmed, or anxious, my mind starts racing, and then I can feel a little gloomy and down, and then I put undue stress on myself, which threatens my health.
I am trying to learn new tricks to manage my mental health because if I can do that, I can better manage the other areas of my life. I want to be at my best for my family, my friends, and my colleagues. I am here for a reason -- and you are too.
I want to share fifteen tricks that have helped diffuse the mental stress that can happen. I think many of these can help you.
1. Find Something that makes you Laugh
I am starting with something that isn't my strongest skill. I can easily get wrapped up in work, and other projects. But when I find time to laugh at something, it releases some pressure. It takes some of the stress weight off, and there's some simple science behind this.
The Neuro-Leadership Institute shares that "Laughing swaps the cortisol in our bloodstream with highly sought after chemicals in the brain: dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. Dopamine can enhance learning, motivation, and attention." (1)
I find I can get a laugh by turning to YouTube and looking for a Tonight Show clip with Jimmy Fallon. Sometimes it's watching an old comedy show like Everybody Loves Raymond, or even Dick Van Dyke, or a classic Saturday Night Live sit. My wife tends to gravitate to animal videos on TikTok. The best laugh though is with the presence of others. That leads me to my next tip.
2. Connect with Others
We are social beings. We are not meant to walk this planet alone. Spend some time with other people. Find others that can share their struggles and challenges. Encourage one another. Support one another. By encouraging others, you encourage yourself.
3. Pray it Out
Prayer is the soul's sincere desire. If you don't share that desire of what's on your heart, it will eat your mind. It will create stress. I think the best prayers are out-loud prayers just by yourself. Sure you can pray quietly in your head, but I find the best prayers that give me some relief are the ones where it's just me and I'm driving in the car. I'm talking to God just letting Him know what I am feeling, thinking, and needing. I feel heard. It's a way for me to release my pent-up emotion. For an example of that type of prayer - just read a few Psalms in the Bible. You'll find David giving God the what for, and ending with the realization that God is for me. Those prayers are empowering.
Here are a few excerpts of David's payer's
"Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" - Psalm 10:1
Then by the end of the prayer, he shares this.
"You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry." - Psalm 10:17
The key is to be honest in your prayers. Tell God how you really are feeling. Then allow God time to tell you how He feels about you.
To emphasize the power of prayer, check out this great quote from Mother Teresa .
“I used to believe that prayer changes things,
but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.” - Mother Teresa
4. Mediate on the Word
You can probably guess I am a person of faith. Faith is important to me. For me, the focus isn't about religion or even Christianity, which can tend to get wrapped up in the rules and in the regulations of doing. It's not about what we do, it's about what God does. Faith to me is about belief and trust in what the Creator of the universe believes about us and what he promises for us.
What I need to look for when I open up the Book are words that raise my faith and give me a hope to believe in. I look for words that strengthen my trust, and give me courage because of the promises He will do.
Here are ten you can use to bolster your faith and lessen the stress:
I hope these verses encourage you as they do me.
5. Protein Up
Often, when my mental state is off, it's because of one of four things. I am Hungry, Lonely, Angry or Tired. I learned this little trick from my wife who is an Executive Coach and Brain Health Advocate. She uses the word HALT as a trigger to understand what's going on.
When you experience any of these three things -- take time to HALT and reach for something that can help you rebound. One of her go-to tricks is PROTEIN. Often taking time to grab some protein that can give us an interrupt from the mental stress and frustration -- especially in the middle of the day.
Nowadays there are plenty of gluten-free options with a significant amount of plant-based protein including nuts and protein bars. Another option that works well for me is to Protein Up by visiting the local Chipotle and getting two sides of meat and some Guac. Perhaps the worst thing we can do is carb up. That might satisfy for the short term, but it's not good for you in the long term
6. Go For a Walk or Bike Ride
Take time to for a walk or jump on the bike. Just find 20 minutes to exert some exercise. Your brain works better - and lasts longer -- if it gets good blood flow. Mental health is really about better brain health. Take time get the blood flowing. Blood flow to the prefrontal cortex is super important for decision-making.
7. Use the Breath App
A few years ago, I bought an Apple watch that offered a tool that has immensely helped my brain's blood flow. It's the Breath App. This little app helps guide me in a simple breathing exercise that allows me to take in a good quantity of oxygen and release the built-up old stress air out. The breath and release exercise seems to help destress me. It's a quick way to rest my mental system.
8. Enjoy Some Music
Nowadays it is super easy to stream great music. Whether it's Pandora, Spotify, or Apple Music, you can access virtually every song on the planet. I personally like Apple Music and have created several different playlists.
My playlists include fun classic rock and roll songs that get me in the grove, I also have some inspirational Christian music that gets me focused. I also have a playlist of praise music that I occasionally listen to that gets me in a spirit of reflection before I pray. I also have a playlist called "Music to Imagine By", which features movie soundtracks and instrumental songs that give me focus when I'm thinking or ideating. What playlists do you have that give you an edge mentally?
9. Call on an Audible
Sometimes my mind is so fixated on a worry or a problem I can’t get my mind off it. The worst time that happens to me is during the course of the night. I might lay in bed thinking about what I still have to do the next day – or wake with that thought hours before the sun rises. I can lay there for what feels like hours. But sleep is super important. I need to get some shut eye.
One little trick I discovered a few years ago was to have a book on Audible ready to play using an old iPhone (as an iPod). I need something that can distract my mind -- get me focused on another track. Over the years I have had some struggles to figure out the right kind of book. By day and weekend, I love a good book on strategy and leadership, but those aren’t always good books to listen to during the nocturnal hours. If I listen to a fiction book that might get me too wide-eyed as well. The better book for me is to listen to a biography book filled with someone's back story of an experience. It might be Bono reading Surrender, Ron Howard and his brother, reading their autobiography, or the story of Pixar as told in the book Creativity Inc. Biography books focused on people of interest to me tend to be the best.
I used an old iPhone with headphones that don’t penetrate too deep into the ear canal. I keep the volume just loud enough to listen to it and let the author of the book carry me back into sleep as I hear their story.
10. Spend Time with Your Pet -- or a Horse
Many of us have some amazing pets. They are mental therapy animals. Spend some time with them. If you can, also consider visiting a farm with a friendly horse. Horses are phenomenal energy lifters. They read your energy, but they can also calm your mental energy.
11. Plan Out a Mini-Vacation (or Self Retreat)
Vacations can be a blessing and a curse. Having a vacation is vital for your mental health, but planning can be a headache, can’t it? Here's what I recommend to lessen the burden.
Writing is one of the most therapeutic things you can do. Perhaps the best kind of journal is a gratitude journal. I like to mix thoughts of gratitude and my written prayers and petitions, and reflection into one journal. Writing helps give me clarity. It's one of my favorite mental release tools in my toolbox! The key to journaling is to mark just enough time. Just write. Pen to paper. (Lay off the keyboard and computer).
13. Find Water (or a Mountain View)
There's nothing like mother nature to help realign the mental chaos in our minds. Spend some time outside. Take in the view. Listen to the ocean. Hear the wind. Hear the birds. See life in real HD. It's how life is meant to be absorbed. I like to journal when I go to the nearby river. It's amazing. Let your thoughts flow and see things with a fresh set of eyes.
14. Turn off the Constant Negative News (CNN).
We don’t need more stress in our life, we need less. Budget your time to catch up the news. Limit how much comes. Instead, turn to some of the other ideas offered in this blog that can help fill your mind with good thoughts. Remind yourself every day is a gift. It’s meant to be embraced. Let the new day give you the reset you need offering you a fresh day to make a difference. The news you watch is often yesterday’s tragedy and the discussion of tomorrow’s worst-case worries. You don’t need that.
15. Seek Support
There's nothing wrong with seeking help. I encourage you to find a therapist, coach, or counselor. Those crazy thoughts you think you have just needed a little guidance and direction. They can be tamed, controlled, and managed. Often you don't need special medicine, you just need someone who can listen to you. Someone who can help.
The stress you feel is real. Holding onto the stress or anxiety can just build. Let others help you. You are not alone. What you are experiencing doesn't need to be forever. Recognize that we all go through tough seasons, and oftentimes we just need others to help us on our journey. If someone can pray for you -- let them. We are here for each other.
Final Thought - YOU ARE ENOUGH!
My final point is simply this: The mental stress you may be going through is not meant to last forever. What you are going through can one day be a story of hope that helps someone else.
Often our purpose in life is a result of the challenges we've had to endure ourselves. Those challenges equip us to help others who find themself in a similar predicament we once did.
When you pursue peace, you'll not only find it but equip yourself to help others find peace too. The world needs you! Overcoming mental stress starts with the belief that You are Enough!
If there's only one thing you pick up from this blog, it's that. You are Enough! Live each day believing this truth, and you'll find the breakthrough you and the peace you were looking for.
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team. You'r information will not be shared.
If you have a passion for personal growth or leadership, then let's stay connected. Occasionally, but not too often. I'll share helpful information and useful resources to encourage those on the breaking average journey.