As the weather gets colder in many parts of the country and the holidays become a distant memory, it can be easy to fall into hibernation. In addition, various lockdown regulations, work disruptions, and general pandemic fatigue are challenging. Canadian Armed Forces families may also be managing deployments or moves unique to your military family life.
But a few daily practices can help you maintain optimum mental health, even when things in your environment feel out of control.
Here are ten ways to protect your mental health to thrive:
Exercise boosts endorphins, which offer a chemical lift to buffer against depression. Even small bouts of physical activity, as little as ten minutes daily, make a difference to your mood. Start by committing to walk around the block in the morning or doing some stretching exercises. Discover online fitness programs through the Personnel Support Program (PSP) in your region.
Ready to embrace the weather? Check out activities you can enjoy with the whole family.
Connect With Friends and Family
Being by yourself can make it difficult to maintain social connections in a meaningful way, especially if someone in your military family is deployed. But strong interpersonal relationships help us to live longer, feel supported and keep depression at bay. So beyond social media messaging, plan some safe outdoor activities with friends to connect in person.
Stuck at home? Why not schedule a video call or an online game night? You can also check out your local MFRC list of activities to see what’s happening in your region.
Eating vitamin-rich foods gives you an energy boost and helps keep you physically and mentally healthy. Specifically, calcium-rich foods like dairy, leafy greens, and salmon (bones-in) keep bones strong and ward off arthritis. Also, get iron through meat, beans, and green vegetables to keep up your energy.
Did you know one-third of Canadians have a vitamin D deficiency, which is especially pronounced in the winter months? Low D can leave you feeling tired and affect your mood. Consider a vitamin D3 supplement to compensate for the lack of direct sunlight in the winter. Kids benefit too!
Limit caffeine and alcohol to allow your body to regulate hormones, so you can feel energetic and keep anxiety at bay. Plan meals and snacks in advance to avoid the temptation to grab sugary foods when you feel tired. Sugar gives you a short-term boost, but blood sugar fluctuations can make you sluggish.
Getting eight-to-ten hours of quality sleep at night allows your brain and body time to rejuvenate. Having trouble getting your Zs? Try setting an alarm in the evening 60-to-90 minutes before bed as a reminder to turn off devices and start your bedtime routine.
Charge your phone in a room where you’re not sleeping, and use an old-fashioned alarm clock. Moderate exercise, light reading, meditation, or a hot shower can help you relax in the minutes before lights out. Try getting to bed and waking up at the same time seven days per week. If you like to stay up late on weekends, keep it within ninety minutes of your weekday routine for optimum energy and mood.
Manage Work Stress
Deadlines and work demands can trigger anxiety. Some stress is okay and manageable, but you want to avoid burnout. Figure out how to plan your workday to address pressing tasks when your brain is sharp. Take short, frequent breaks throughout the day, if you can, to rest and garner a different perspective.
If you’re working at home, use your breaks to step away from your computer, connect with a friend, go for a walk or do something you enjoy. Getting caught in the weeds or focusing on things you don’t like about your work is easy. Take a step back, recognize what you like about your job, and zero in on the positive. If you can, take time to develop those skills and do more of what you love in your work. Don’t be afraid to ask your manager or mentors about new opportunities. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest.
Make Time for Fun
Hobbies and leisure time are a form of rest. Plan time daily to engage in something you enjoy. It could be a sport, watching a comedy, reading or art. These things reinvigorate by sending positive reward signals to the brain, increasing energy and elevating mood. Want twice the mood booster? Discover clubs in your area to turn your hobbies into social time.
Yes, it is altruistic to do things for others, if for no other reason than it makes you feel good. And it’s a great time to reach out to people in your community. For example, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, neighbours and friends may need a grocery delivery, a phone call to check-in, or help to access childcare or other benefits. Reaching out keeps you connected to your community and gives you a sense of purpose, which is a huge mood lifter.
Create a Daily Routine
Working from home and school closures have made it difficult for people to find a routine. But humans like repetition and knowing what’s coming next. We’re happier when we have control over our lives. Try to wake up at the same time daily, have a shower, and dress, even if you’re not leaving the house. Take regular breaks in your workday and resist being tied to your desk. Build exercise, fun, and social time daily to ward off fatigue and depression!
It’s easy to get caught up in daily stress and challenges. But gratitude is a game-changer. Numerous studies have shown that taking a few minutes daily in meditation or prayer to be thankful can reset your mind to be more optimistic and resilient. It can be hard to think of things if you’re feeling low, so start with a simple list in your mind.
Eventually, you may consider keeping a gratitude journal to emphasize the things that matter. Start by writing down your list of three things daily in a notebook. Then, as you get more experienced, try to be specific in your gratitude. How does it make you feel, what does it look like, smell like? How does it affect different aspects of your life?
Why not get the family involved? If you have a blackboard or bulletin board, have everyone in the house write down something they’re thankful for each day and see how you thrive.
Be Good to You
Practice self-compassion. Forgive your mistakes and avoid negative self-talk. Instead, focus on things you’re doing well. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going wrong, but that can send your mood spiralling downward. So instead, start by recognizing the smallest things you’re doing well. This will boost your mental energy and help you prioritize doing more things that keep you on the right track so you can thrive in all you do.
Feeling depressed or anxious? You’re never alone—access free counselling through Military Family Services through the Family Information Line. In addition, military teens can contact the Teen Crisis Text line for immediate youth mental health support.