Exercise for mental health
For most of my life, mental health was an afterthought. Only after I hit rock bottom did I recognize the damage I was doing to myself and others. Even now, no matter how stable I may seem to be, I know it can always come back if I let myself grow weak.
So to keep myself on an even keel, I prize mental fitness as much as I do physical fitness, and maintain it with several exercises. This holiday season, or for your New Year’s Resolution, I invite you to build on what I offer here.
Time: 2-5 minutes, daily
Routines and Rituals: Like all exercise, meditation needs to be consistent if it is to be at all helpful. Since meditation is so counterintuitive — after all, our monkey-mind tells us, what can you get from doing nothing — it can feel like a pointless chore if you only sit down to do it once a week. However, if you’re making a point to do it for 2-5 minues, you’ll get a lot more out of it than you gave yourself 10-20 minutes once a week.
Get the frequency of the exercise down, then start building up to 20 minutes. This will build habit. And if you can’t find a private space to do it, then do it while pumping gas or waiting in line. I do these mini-meditattions several times a day, and they realign me whenever things start to overwhelm me.
Time: 30 minutes, 2-3 times/week
Routines and Rituals: I readily acknowledge how difficult finding nature time can be for people who live in a city. Every time I go down to Los Angeles, I struggle myself to find a small piece of public grass to sit down on and chill. So if that’s you, I’d recommend at least doing a digital detox for a few precious minutes. If you’re growing plants within your own personal space, this alone can be enough to take yourself away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and remind yourself of nature’s sustaining rhythms. Plants, as we all know, are medicine, in more ways than one.
Of course, if you’re starting out a nature routine, the first thing you’re likely to say to yourself is, “Okay, now I’m in nature – now what?” Well, whether you’re in a park or in your garden, the first thing to do is look at the plants and the trees. See how they grow towards the sun. Look at the tree, and examine its bends and contours, how the leaves develop. Listen for birds and insects. Feel and smell the grass. There’s a reason “stop and smell the roses” is still urged on people to this day. Once you start making a point of doing so, you’ll learn why.
Time: 8 hours/night, daily
Routines & Rituals: Like meditation, consistency is key to developing a good sleep practice. After an alarm on my phone alerts me to the end of my day, I take a good hour to power down every night before I rest, putting my phone on airplane mode. I’ll also read a good old-fashioned book – NO screens. All the lights in the house are out, since your brain is definitely affected by lights, especially the blue lights emitted by your screen. (My Swannies also go on, too, to make sure those pesky frequencies stay out. And of course, I also take 5 mg of Equanimity with my Bedtime tea, along with 5-HTP, to get a double shot of triptophan that will prepare my brain for the work it has to do the next day. Waking up, I’ll take a multivitamin, Omega-3 fish oil and GABA with a water, GSE and echinacea solution. Both waking up and falling asleep are the bookends of my day, and I often find if these go well, the rest of the day follows suit.
Aside from the cosmetic preparations for sleep, I often like to end the day on a note of gratitude. “I did the best I could do today while being fortunate that I have another chance to start over tomorrow.” This helps remove me from the outside world and to relax into my own body. Since everyone is different, you might have another means of placing your soul at ease, but the better prepared you are for the sojourn to the land of Nod, the more productive that time will be.
Time: Whenever possible
Routines & Rituals: Whether it’s a therapist, a minister or a close confidant, one should always have a mentor handy. For a brief but formative period in my life, it was my good friend and business partner Michael Hollister, and the wisdom he passed on to me during that time I will carry with me to the grave — and hopefully repay him for while I’m on this side. In the meantime, the 12-step community fulfills this role in my life, and gives me the opportunity to give a little back to others in the community who need it as well. As it is so often said in the 12-step, “In order to keep it, one must give it away.” That, aside from my chief connection to source, is what keeps me grounded.