If you’re American, you probably feel like you are losing your mind from time to time (or maybe even all the time). It’s no wonder - our modern age is full of constant stimulation, mega stressors, and much more happening at a breakneck pace. 50 million Americans struggle with mental illness. 1 in 5 American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition every year. Anxiety disorders being the most common. If this sounds like you, there are 5 simple things you can implement today that will improve your mental and physical health. Make these practices habits, and you will notice your quality of life improve tremendously and immediately. Curious? Of course you are...
#1 Create Space in Your Brain
Overwhelm happens when there is too much going on in our brains and not enough space to process it all. Remember how on the old computers there was an hourglass that came up when the computer was thinking? It seemed like it would take forever for things to load when too much memory was being used. Sometimes it would be so slow we would give up before finding what we were looking for. It’s the same with our brain - we can only hold so much information for so long before the system starts to lag. And that lag can manifest as anxiety, depression and poor concentration. It means your brain is not firing on all cylinders.
Meditation is one of those things that everyone knows the benefits of but many won’t do. Most people say “I can’t sit still for that long” or “Doing nothing seems pointless when I have so much to get done” or “Meditation just isn’t for me”. These are all honestly just excuses. Which is understandable for one reason. You can’t know how awesome meditation is until you've experienced it.
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting improvements to anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, and stress management through meditation practices. People who meditate regularly report a significant increase in focus and concentration, the ability to manage and regular stress, the ability to calm anxious thoughts, and even improvements in physical health - all from “just sitting there!”
Americans are addicted to doing. It's what built our nation into a world power so it’s become a part of our culture as well. We often equate our own worth with how much we get done on any given day. So I know you're also very busy. I won't waste your time with the data. If you want to do it you will and if you don't you wont. So here's how you can meditate right now.
Mindfulness meditation is simple (but not easy at first). You will feel dumb and like your doing it wrong at some point. That’s a good thing. Start by sitting in a chair or on the floor in a comfortable but pleasantly alert position. Become aware of your breath and the sensations of your body. Notice the texture of a piece of fabric that's touching you. - this will bring you into the present moment so you're not worried about tomorrow. As thoughts return to your brain, become aware of them. We have a strict no chasing policy for early meditaters. No problem solving either. Let the thoughts come and go without reacting to or engaging with them. Just notice. I Allow thoughts to come and go like clouds in the sky as you stay centered in the present moment, listening to and feeling your breath in your nostrils and the rest of your body.
If you do that for 10 minutes a day, even just 4 days a week, your life will change. You may not win the lottery but you will win some peace within yourself. That's worth a lot.
Decolonize Healthcare has a free 21 day meditation exploration program to introduce everyone to meditation. The first week is a foundation of attention training, more or less as described above. The next two weeks explore unique meditation techniques to further develop specific skills, in this case bodily awareness and loving kindness. It is an amazing tool to help you build a practice that you will enthusiastically carry with you for the rest of your life. But that’s still only one tool.
#2, Green Spaces! Phytoncides and Forest Bathing
Spend time in nature to improve your mental health! It's not just a cute sentiment - it’s a scientific fact! An increasing amount of research is being done on the health benefits of literally just standing around in a forest, or “forest bathing” as the Japanese call it. Breathing in the wood essential oils from trees, called phytoncides, not only boosts the immune system and lowers blood pressure, it has a profound impact on mental health. Researchers found that forest bathing significantly decreased anxiety, depression, anger, confusion, and fatigue in participants. If its at all possible for you to get to green spaces regularly.
Grounding, Free Electrons
Another profound but often overlooked technique is “grounding.” In other words, making contact with the earth without anything in between such as shoes or concrete. Laying on the earth and walking barefoot are both types of “grounding.” To understand grounding, we need to talk about electricity. Humans are electrical beings. Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman in his many famous lectures on electromagnetism said that when the body potential is the same as the Earth's electric potential (and thus grounded), it becomes an extension of the Earth's gigantic electric system. The Earth's potential thus becomes the “working agent that cancels, reduces, or pushes away electric fields from the body.” Electromagnetic interference from phones and other electronic devices are canceled out when we are electrically grounded to earth.
The earth has an abundance of free electrons which our bodies use to neutralize free radicals when we ground. These free electrons reduce pain and inflammation, improve sleep, decrease depression and anxiety, decrease cortisol levels, and improve overall health physically and mentally. So take those shoes off and walk in the grass for a while! Science supports you!
Do Something “Meaningless” (AKA HAVE FUN!)
Since us adults need adult reasons to do things (like an open bar), I’ll give you a couple great reasons to have fun. Serotonin is released when chilling out and having fun. Serotonin is also the antidote to cortisol. Cortisol you might know is the stress chemical that ramps us up and eventually causes inflammation and tissue breakdown. As the antidote serotonin has the opposite effect. It also regulates our most basic functions such as sleep, memory, and mood. It also just feels good because Seratonin can be thought of as the satisfaction chemical. When we have enough of it, we experience relaxation, pleasure, joy, peace, positivity, and a willingness to connect with others. It helps stave off anxiety and depression and even helps to heal wounds! Which means in a way screwing off can literally help you heal faster.
So what is fun to you? If you can’t think of anything off the top, go back to when you were young.. What made you happy? Was it painting, molding things out of clay, going swimming, jumping through the sprinklers? Take note of all the things that are fun for you and pursue passionately!. Your health depends on it!
The Power of People,
Whether you like it or not the benefits we receive from connecting with friends, family, and other people in general cannot be underestimated. Just ask 2020. We are social creatures by design. Humans isolating for safety is like a goldfish climbing a tree for air. We simply work best when collaborating with others in some way. Want proof?
An article published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine states “there is significant evidence that social support and feeling connected can … decrease depressive symptoms, mitigate post traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improve overall mental health”.
In this same article, the importance of social interaction is clearly illustrated through a meta-analysis out of Brigham Young University. Holt-Lunstad and colleagues reviewed 148 articles published on the effects of human interactions in health outcomes. They reported that interactions with friends, family, and colleagues increase a person’s chance of survival by a whopping 50%! On the contrary, social isolation resulting in low social interaction was found to more harmful to one’s health than smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, not exercising, and being obese! How crazy is that?!
If you’re feeling isolated, it’s time to put yourself out there. Get involved in community events, start volunteering, pick up a new hobby, take classes at the local college, start saying hi to all your neighbors, and be open to interacting with others. It’s too easy in our society to go about our business with as little interaction as possible, but this can be detrimental to our physical and mental health. Make and keep social connections for a longer and happier life.
Its all about Training Your Brain!
Do you sit on the couch eating bon-bons and watching TV all night, then wake up the next morning expecting to see a six pack in the mirror? Of course not! So why do you expect to have stable mental health when you never prioritize it? You’ve just been given 5 easy ways to make your experience of life a lot better.
This may come as a surprise but don't do them all! Yes, each of these things will help you try to make too many changes at once none of them stick. So pick one. It doesn't matter if it's social interaction grounding forest bathing
meditation or taking play way more seriously. Do whatever calls to you most, first. Do it for a month and see how it goes. You are the only person with the power to change your life. Now you have the tools. You can do it. Go change yourself to change the world.