With the start of a new year comes the talk of resolutions and fresh starts. If you're someone who likes the challenge of resolutions or if you're someone who simply wants to lean into actions and attitudes that can positively impact your mental health, I have a suggestion: consider moving towards more connection this year. Deeper connection with others and with ourselves can have a tremendous effect on our sense of wellbeing.
Here are 3 ways to up your sense of connection and mental wellness this year:
1) Connect regularly with people (or even just one person) who lift your spirit. Make a point of regularly spending time with someone who makes your heart smile. Studies show that people who feel socially connected have stronger immune systems, report lower rates of anxiety and depression, and may even live longer. Maybe it's your niece whose smile lights up your world, a friend who encourages you and makes you laugh harder than anyone, your partner who always feels like home after a long day, a sibling or parent who knows you better than most, a co-worker who really believes in you... you get the picture. It can be anyone as long as you notice you feel better for being with them (for our purposes here, count out the friends who make you doubt yourself or leave you feeling emotionally depleted).
Schedule in time with these spirit-lifting people on a regular basis. Perhaps monthly is what works with your schedule, or maybe you're able to see them weekly. Maybe a Skype session is necessary to connect with people living far away. However you make it happen, make it happen! These are the people who will celebrate life's ups with you, make ho-hum February days brighter, and help you through life's inevitable down times as well.
2) Connect with your body. If your goal is to run a marathon, more power to you, but don't think that connecting with your body means necessarily accomplishing extraordinary feats. A 30-minute walk, gentle yoga or stretching, playing a sport you loved playing as a kid, dancing in your living room, a bike ride (and so on) are all ways to connect more with your body and feel better for it. If you've suffered an injury or illness, you may have move differently than you used to, and that's ok! The important thing is to find something you can do to engage your muscles, your lungs, and your mind-body connection.
3) Connect with your breath. Focusing on the breath can help quiet a busy mind, reduce stress, and keep you in the present moment (giving you a reprieve from the mind's sometimes busywork over-analyzing the past or worrying about the future). Here's a simple way to focus on the breath and calm the mind:
1. Sit upright to open up the rib cage and make space for more air to enter the lungs. Let your arms sit loosely by your side or have your fingers softly touching in your lap.
2. Breathe in slowly through your nose for 4 counts.
3. Hold the breath in for 4 counts.
4. Exhale slowly through the mouth for 4 counts.
5. Wait 4 counts before taking another breath.
Try doing 6-8 cycles of this breathing to experience its effects.
You might also consider using an app (I like Headspace, MindShift, or Stop Breathe & Think) for some guided meditations that help you focus on the breath. I like guided meditations because all you have to do is push play and listen. And when your mind wanders (which it will because that's what our minds do) just gently re-direct your attention back to the voice that's playing.
How else might you connect this year? Counselling can be a safe, non-judgmental space to reconnect with yourself and your life's goals. If you're interested in trying counselling or feel like it would help in reaching your goals or making headway in tackling life's problems, please feel free to get in touch with me. I offer free 20-minute consultations so you can see if I'm a good fit for you.
Here's to a great 2017!