When I wrote the first article about bulletproofing our body at home, I never intended for this to become a series, nor did I predict the global pandemic that swept through the world in 2020.
Quarantine truly changed my life in ways I never expected…But that’s a blog post for another day. One of these, however, sparked the topic of this blog post. While at home workouts are important, I’ve come to learn that protecting our mental health and mindset is even more important. During a time of such uncertainty, chaos, and instability, having anchors throughout my day allows me to stay mentally strong and resilient so that I’m better able to show up for others and live a more fulfilled life, even if confined within my one-bedroom apartment.
Here are strategies that I’ve used while spending time at home to protect my mental health. I wrote this in March when the pandemic first started, but realized recently that I never posted it here. Without further ado, in no particular order of importance: Ten Ways to Bulletproof your Mind…at Home!
Sure, at home workouts are the norm, currently. They were very strange and foreign at first, but I’m growing to enjoy them. But that’s not what this tip is about.
Movement is important. Not necessarily organized movement, just movement! They say the best posture is the one that’s always changing, and that couldn’t be more accurate. Getting up throughout the day prevents us from sitting in a poor position for an extended period of time, something that may lead to bigger issues. Have you ever stood up after hours of being hunched over the computer, only to find your hips are tight, upper back is sore, and your neck is screaming at you? Yep, this is what we’re trying to prevent.
By breaking these unconscious loops and getting up throughout the day, we can avoid a small discrepancy in posture from becoming a nagging pain in the butt, literally! This movement is important for the mind as well. If we sit, unmoving, trying to push through a project, we may not be able to give it our full attention. By stepping away and taking a break, we clear the mind and reset. As we step back, we may see things with a new perspective or in a new light.
Set breathing breaks throughout the day.
Moving is great, but sometimes all we need is to destress and clear the mind for a few minutes. While meditation is wonderful, it can also be daunting to people. It paints a picture of sitting, calm, for a long period of time, ignoring the outside world. That’s not always possible. However, enter breathing.
Instead of a structured meditation, we can simply take the time to breath. The Apple watch as this as a reminder that we can use to prompt us to simply breathe but setting an alarm on a phone or calendar reminder can do the same thing. Either closing our eyes or watching a GIF can help us clear the mind for just a few minutes. Taking this type of action, before we are overly stressed can be a way of preventing a bigger issue. Similar to how we perform mobility and stability exercises to prevent injury, breathing and de-stressing periodically can prevent major blow-ups or feeling like we don’t have control over our entire situation.
Have a goal.
This is probably the one thing that has kept me most consistent over this time. Prior to COVID-19, I committed to participating in the Tactical Strength Challenge. And, although training hasn’t been perfect and I won’t be able to participate in all three events, it has given me something to keep myself on track with.
With a bigger, non-body composition related, goal, I’ve been able to have direction in my training, meals, and recovery. It has helped guide decisions. While now may not be the most perfect time for a body composition goal, that doesn’t mean you can’t have any goals! Pick a new movement, sign up for a virtual race or challenge, or heck, maybe you do want to pursue a body composition goal – it’s not off the table, it just may be more difficult.
Having a goal puts you in a direction, mentally. It helps make decisions easier. Often, we can boil it down to yes or no: Does it support your goal or not? Simple answer, though perhaps not easy in execution. If you don’t have goal, now is the time to find one! In Wisconsin, our Safer at Home order was extended through the end of May and there’s SO MUCH that can be accomplished in a month of time. Take some time to think about it and outline a plan. Which brings me to my next point.
Journal, track, and measure.
What gets measured gets managed, and this goes for tangible progress, food intake, water consumption, and mental headspace. When we take the time to write down thoughts, feelings, food, etc. we can view them objectively. We’re better able to take emotions out of it and make decisions or take action based on the data laid out in front of us.
Journaling can also be a great way to release some of those thoughts from our minds. Speaking personally, I’m a notorious over thinker. I’ll ruminate on things over and over and over until I come up with possible scenarios that would never happen and then I’ll act as if they already have; it’s not my best trait. And, with this over thinking, I cause more stress than is necessary. I stress about potential outcomes that may not even happen!
Journaling, actually physically writing things down, stepping away, and then coming back to reflect, allows me the opportunity to see these thoughts as data, instead of reacting emotionally. It can also help me get to-do lists out of my head and gone are the worries about forgetting something or letting it slip through the cracks. I’m more organized, and better prepared to take on the day. I don’t feel overwhelmed or stressed about a massive to do list when it’s on paper in front of me and I can check it off throughout the day.
Allow yourself grace.
Now, yes, I do think it’s important to have a goal and pursue something during this time. It doesn’t even have to be health and fitness related. Heck, learn a new skill, read a book for fun, whatever you want! But I do think it’s important to pursue something that you can take with you beyond the four walls you’re currently quarantined within.
However, it’s equally important to give yourself grace in this pursuit. We can’t predict how we’ll feel day to day or even sometimes hour to hour. By allowing ourselves a more structured freedom, we can live with intentionality toward our goals while also ebbing and flowing with the emotions that each day may bring.
For me, I’ve noticed that my Thursday of each week, I just feel out of it. I can’t say exactly why, but Thursday’s have notoriously been just odd. I’m sick of being in the house, sick of not seeing people, and just over it all in general. For that reason, I’ve arranged my schedule to accommodate:
- Instead of having a set program to follow, I plan a training session to do whatever feels good for my body that day.
- I purpose set out to get work done early during the day, so I have an earlier end to my day.
- I schedule more challenging tasks early and get them done and out of the way.
- I will typically cook a dinner, instead of eating something pre-prepped.
- I go for a walk with Brock after he gets home from work, so I make sure I get out of the house and get some fresh air.
By taking small steps and adding things into my day that I enjoy allows me to still show up for clients and members, but with a few small adjustments in my schedule. I’m still making progress toward my goals, personally, professionally, and athletically, but also giving myself grace in changing what that approach looks like, instead of trying to make it perfect.
Log out of social media.
I think we can all agree that social media is a minefield lately. I know on my feed, I can go from puppy videos to the doom and gloom of the latest headlines in a matter of seconds. And, although we’re connecting through social media more than ever before, it can take a toll on our mental headspace.
Take time each day to log out and stop scrolling. This can be at the end of the night, or perhaps when you’re working on something else that requires your attention. It really doesn’t matter when, but the point is to stop reading. There’s a point where informed and aware becomes overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Though that point is different for everyone, it’s important to take a break before you reach the point of overwhelm.
Stopping the scroll and logging out allows you to refocus on what’s right in front of you. And, more likely than not, that’s something you can control. Unlike the what if’s and hypothetical outcomes that are splashed across your newsfeed, what’s in front of you, is controllable. Set your schedule, move your body, spend time with loved ones, whatever it is, gaining that small amount of control can help offset the feelings of lack of control that we have while scrolling.
Schedule your day out the night before.
If I had to choose my number TWO tip, this would be it. (Number one is coming soon!) This has been a game changer for me, especially during this work from home time. Though my schedule is typically more flexible than most, during ‘normal’ life, there are times when I have to be at the gym. Now, as long as my work is done, it doesn’t particularly matter when I do it – unless it’s a coaching call, virtual class, or meeting.
With that flexibility, comes freedom but that freedom can quickly get out of control. By laying out my schedule the night before, I ensure that my priorities are set in place for the day. The decisions are laid out for me; they’ve already been made. When I wake up, I simply execute.
Now, this doesn’t mean things don’t come up – meetings, calls, extra projects, etc. But by having a rough outline, I’m better able to shift things around and accommodate. By building in breaks throughout the day, I make sure I’m not staring at a screen for hours on end. I guarantee that I’m able to get a workout in by placing it when I know I won’t be interrupted or when something won’t be scheduled for me. (Typically, this is first thing in the morning. No one can distract if they’re not even awake yet!)
Ultimately, scheduling my day the night before prevents me having to take the time to lay it out that morning, when my email inbox is packed, and people are grabbing at my attention. Scheduling allows me to control my time in a way that best serves me, as well as allows me to serve others.
Set an end time for your day.
Are you someone who could just keep sitting at the computer for hours and hours without getting up and all of the sudden, you realize that it’s dark out? While this hasn’t happened to me now, I vividly remember nights in college when I looked up and realized that it was pitch black outside. If you’re not that person, have you found yourself answering emails at 7, 8, 9pm, “just so you don’t have to do it tomorrow”? Yep, I’ve been there too. Many times, actually.
Neither of these situations are great. Have you heard the idea that the work you have will expand or contract to fill the time that you have available to complete it? This is absolutely true.
If we don’t have a deadline, we’ll work along on the project, often not even realizing that we could be more efficient with our time. However, with a deadline looming, we become machines. Churning it out and all of the sudden it’s done in record time. This is part of the magic of an “end of day” when working from home.
When we have an end time, we know when we have to get our work done by. Procrastination isn’t an option, because that report has to be in by 5pm, no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. In addition, setting an end time allows for personal time. While it’s difficult during this social distancing time, we have to make an effort to separate work and home life. Setting up a space to work and a space to relax and spending time in each can help with this distinction. If we find ourselves burning the candle at both ends, it’s only a matter of time before we fizzle out, which isn’t good for us or our employers!
My number one tip that I’ve found helps me so much is to spend time outside. Thankfully, this Wisconsin spring weather has been relatively cooperative in this effort. I’ve added walks to most nights, taking a break from screens and going outside to enjoy the sunshine.
It’s given me a chance to disconnect. I’ll put my phone on do not disturb and either spend time with my boyfriend, if he’s walking with me, or just listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook. Taking time away and clearing my mind from the day. This is usually when I come up with blog and post ideas from the things that have happened that day!
The benefits of spending time outside go well beyond what I could simply tell you here. We connect with something bigger than ourselves, soak up some vitamin D, and connect with other people – even if only through a socially distant 6-feet, smile, and a nice wave. That’s all not to mention the benefit of just moving the body and getting the blood flowing!
Okay, so maybe this is my number one tip. I don’t know… they’re all important! Let’s call this one most impactful on those around you. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, how can being selfish be impactful to those around me?
Well, as the saying goes: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” So, though we may be inclined to give, give, give of our time and of ourselves, we have to place some of that energy into filling our cup. Without it, the feelings of exhaustion and burnout will be there faster than you can say “self-care”.
Self-care is a trendy word right now and can easily become procrastination or avoidance of responsibilities. However, I like to think of self-care as scheduling time for yourself. It doesn’t have to be through an elaborate spa day or expensive shopping spree. However, it’s taking time out of your life to put toward something that you truly enjoy, and not feeling guilty about it.
For me, this can be cooking or baking, going for a walk, getting in a training session on a busy day, watching a reality tv show or cooking show, spending time outside, reading just for pleasure instead of education, etc. There are endless things that I know fill my cup. While I don’t have time to do every single one of these every day, I do make sure that they are sprinkled throughout the week. For example, if I know I’m going to be working later at night, I’ll schedule my workout first thing the next morning, so I know I start my day with some “me” time. Or if I have a busy week, I’ll make sure that I cook something fun on the weekend. The options are endless, but the important part is to make sure we’re continuously filling our cups so that we’re able to give to others more fully.
Our mental health is truly just as, if not more important, than our physical health. We MUST take time to protect and train all aspects if we want to achieve true, full, total-body health. There is no shortcut. We must simply do the work.