After a year of unprecedented trauma and uncertainty, we’ve finally made it: 2021 is officially here. And though it may take longer than we wish for things to return to normal, the new year offers a fresh opportunity for us to invest in our brain and mental health.
Since last March, millions of Americans have experienced social isolation on a larger scale than ever before. When paired with the stress, grief, and economic turmoil of the pandemic, it’s easy to understand why psychiatrists warn that this period of chronic trauma could have long-term effects on our mental health.
Making small, regular changes now can help you recalibrate your body’s response to stress and trauma, as well as support your brain and mental health in the long run. Here are some easy, go-to strategies for investing in your mental health this year.
Practice the Observing Self
Whether you’re new to anxiety or not, chances are that the events of the past year have increased your feelings of anxiety and depression. According to Mental Health America, the number of people reporting signs of anxiety and depression hit an all-time high in September of 2020, an increase of 1.5 million compared with the previous year.
Thankfully, there are many accessible ways to mitigate anxiety and its effects on your health, and one strategy recommended by mental health professionals is called the observing self.
The technique was originally developed by Dr. Steven Hayes as part of a branch of clinical behavior analysis and psychotherapy called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). ACT integrates the approach of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with mindfulness to help those affected by anxiety, depression, and other related conditions.
The goal of the observing self technique is simple: to bring yourself into the present moment. Though anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of ways, one common effect is pulling you into a deep spiral of negative thinking. By practicing the observing self, you train your brain to separate from automatic negative thoughts and approach anxious thinking with more objectivity. Though it may sound simple, it can be very difficult to do when you’re feeling particularly anxious or panicked.
To flex your observing muscles, try focusing on your five senses the next time you’re out for a walk or doing something physical. Pay attention to the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feels of the experience. With practice, you’ll hone in on your ability to observe your own movements, experiences, and thoughts.
The next time you’re consumed with anxious thinking, work this skill to your advantage—in other words, acknowledge your anxiety, but observe it from afar. First, take note of your physical surroundings. Are you actually in danger? If so, make a change. If not, count the ways in which you are safe and supported in the present moment. Over time, this approach can help you reduce anxiety and its effect on your mental and physical health.
Find What Makes You Sweat
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again (and again)—exercise helps to reduce stress, boost endorphins, improve mood, and support brain health. Not only has regular exercise been shown to delay the effects of chronological aging and neurodegeneration on brain health, but it has also been shown to be an effective standalone or complementary treatment for anxiety disorders.
High-intensity interval training is one way to improve your fitness and anxiety, but research shows that any physical activity that makes you break a sweat can be particularly beneficial for mood regulation.
High-intensity training, or other activities rigorous enough to make you break a sweat, will get your heart rate up, which in turn will change your brain chemistry. Research shows that this cycle will increase the amount of anti-anxiety neurochemicals in your brain, including serotonin, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
If you’re just starting out, any regular physical activity will help to improve your mood. But if you’ve been at it for a while, use the new year to challenge yourself with regular, sweaty movement to help boost your mood and support your brain health on a consistent basis.
Know How to Self-Soothe
At this point, “self-care” is more of a marketing term than one used by mental health professionals. If you’re skeptical about the practice, we don’t blame you. As men especially, we’re often taught to have tough exteriors, push through the pain, and solve problems on our own.
But here’s the thing—knowing how to soothe yourself in moments of extreme stress, trauma, or anxiety can help train your body to cope with difficult situations. Over the past year, many of us may have been caught off-guard without the tools needed to relax and calm ourselves during tough times.
This year, make it a priority to build your self-soothing tool kit. Find what makes you relax and feel good, using a variety of active and inactive resources. Your list may include activities like reading a book, going for a run, having sex, listening to music, or playing videogames. Whatever you find, make sure to practice these activities regularly—and acknowledge their effect on your mood.
Boost Your Mood and Cognitive Health with Vault’s Brain Kit
No matter how hard you work at improving your mood and brain health on your own, sometimes we all need a little help—that’s where Vault’s Brain Kit comes in.
Designed to improve your memory, focus, and sleep quality, the powerful ingredients in this kit also can work to combat the effects of stress on your productivity, mood, and cognitive health.
Our Brain Kit utilizes the power of several ingredients, including semax, an important peptide used to help improve cognitive decline and dementia; ashwagandha, a powerful ayurvedic herb that can improve memory; and rhodiola, which can help protect brain cells from the impact of stress. Together, these ingredients can work to protect brain cells from getting damaged, leading to better long-term cognitive health.
We’ve made it through a tough year—and difficult times still lay ahead. We hope these resources help you to build an arsenal of effective mental and brain health care.
And if you need extra support, we’re always here. Book an online visit with us today to learn how our Brain Kit can help.