Tools and strategies for managing your mental wellness 

May 22, 2024

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By Rebecca Sherman, LMSW, ACSW, CCTP, Clinical Behavioral Health Specialist, Sedgwick

Let’s face it: For most of us, when we wake up in the morning, mental wellness is not always at the forefront of our minds. Typically, we think of our routines — get out of bed, tend to our families, and prepare for the day ahead. For the last several years, even usual daily routines have been shaken by the shifting landscape of working arrangements. Now that remote and hybrid working are considered common, so too are the blurred boundaries between work and home life. 

How can employees effectively balance self-care related to mental health despite their lengthy to-do list of daily responsibilities?

The mounting importance of mental self-care

It is critical to prioritize ourselves — and that means taking care of our mental wellness. As humans, we need regular maintenance to function properly. You wouldn’t ignore a check engine light or an oil change reminder while depending on a car to perform properly; the same analogy is true for our bodies and minds. During childhood, we are taught the basic behaviors that are necessary to maintain our physical health for optimal functioning: visit the dentist two times per year for a cleaning and check-up; receive an annual physical from your primary care doctor.

Mental wellness, on the other hand, was rarely discussed — and subsequently has not been ingrained in the same way. Only recently, sprouting from pandemic-related mental health concerns, mental health has finally reached the forefront of public discussion in several spheres — employment, education, healthcare and others. Notably, it took a significant decline in the day-to-day well-being of much of the population’s mental health, for it to finally be addressed. 

This reactive versus proactive model toward mental health care is slowly changing. Instead of ignoring the check engine light and dealing with the snowballing consequences later, we instead would benefit from getting in the practice of performing the daily maintenance that solidifies our mental well-being, to keep our brains and bodies working like well-oiled machines.

Practice makes perfect

To care for your mental health means not only having an arsenal of basic mental wellness tools, but also staying committed to using them. A mental wellness break can be a quick two to five minutes in the morning, on a lunch break, or midafternoon when you need to stretch or move. A minor restructuring of day-to-day time usage can cement these practices into habits, evolve to be part of a daily routine, and eventually, deliver significant benefits to an individual’s quality of life.

Though visiting a professional therapist has a range of documented benefits, starting therapy isn’t imperative to addressing your mental wellness. The more tools at your disposal to address  your mental health,, the better. Provided below is a starting point for strategies to address mental well-being.

  1. Be conscious of your thoughts — At times, it is easy to spiral into a negative thought cycle. While acknowledging ones thoughts is appropriate, it is also important to challenge the negative thoughts and cognitive distortions (David Burns’ Cognitive Distortions) that we may experience throughout the day. Conduct reality checks with yourself; or ask a friend whose opinion you trust for an outside perspective. Keeping thoughts positive and reality-based can keep you forward-facing and focused on your daily tasks — whether that be work, rest or play.
  2. Sleep hygiene — Take steps to ensure you are consistently getting adequate sleep. If your tank is empty, your car won’t run. Sleep is a foundational necessity for brain functioning, and critical for good health. The average adult needs approximately seven hours of sleep nightly, per the American Academy of Sleep Medicine; yet most Americans are falling behind. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three adults do not get enough sleep on average. The consequences are an increased risk of developing obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions. Maintaining proper sleep involves building positive sleep hygiene. Try going to bed at the same time each night, avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and remove electronic screens, like mobile devices or computers, from the bedroom, among others. 
  3. Yoga/stretching — Movement is integral to human health. Schedule breaks for movement throughout the day. Even five minutes set aside to practice a handful of yoga poses or basic stretches can result in a range of physical and mental health benefits. Practicing yoga, for example, can aid in improved energy, better emotional health and sleep, a balanced metabolism, increased mental clarity and decreased stress.   
  4. Meditation/mindfulness — Meditation can be a difficult practice; quieting your mind midday can be challenging. But once you grasp it, it is enormously beneficial for a recharge. There are several mobile apps offer timed guided meditations. Some start at 30 seconds to a minute long, and others up to 15 to 30 minutes for more advanced practice. Just a few minutes of meditation or mindfulness practice (such as consciously focusing on the present moment and making intentional choices) can provide a new perspective, increase self-awareness and work toward lower stress and irritability. 
  5. Journaling — Sometimes thoughts can feel overwhelming. Journaling, or even list-writing, is an effective way to establish your feelings concretely and tangibly. It allows us to recognize, review and reflect on emotions we may not even be aware of. It also aids in granting permission to ourselves to let go of certain thoughts until we have the mental bandwidth, mindset and time to address them sufficiently.
  6. Breath work — Taking a minute to breathe, or even just a few deep breaths before an important meeting can ground an individual and increase oxygen to the brain. Breathwork has also been shown to be an effective way to manage anxiety or nervousness. There are several exercises that are short and quick to learn, such as 4-7-8 breathing, box breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and alternate nostril breathing.
  7. Social connection — Prioritize connecting with others. When you feel like you belong and have the support you need through social connectedness,  you are more likely to have better overall health, and even a longer life, according to the CDC. It can be simple: a quick text with family or friends or sharing a conversation with a coworker about your day. While working from home, or amid the transition of adjusting to a remote work arrangement, it is both crucial and sometimes challenging to connect without face-to-face interaction. Regardless, seek out opportunities to achieve connectedness — even via digital means — as it is essential to humans’ mental well-being. 
  8. Set realistic expectations and appropriate boundaries — Having set healthy boundaries or not can be the difference between daily life feeling manageable or spiraling out of control. Setting boundaries is a highly effective strategy for managing stress and respecting your own physical, mental or emotional limits. Whether it be a supervisor, family member or friend, at times, others set expectations for you that are not obtainable. It is critical to initiate a discussion at the get go about what is realistic, whether their expectation is sustainable, and the parameters around what you will or will not be doing. Setting realistic expectations for yourself is also key to managing your own expectations of yourself and your actions. 

Of course, it is impossible to do everything each day or begin practicing everything at once. Start slow with one new habit and once that is integrated into your routine, work through the next; or, try alternating days. Regularly scheduling mental wellness breaks using a phone reminder, or a different visual or auditory cue, decreases the likelihood of forgetting or skipping it. Ideally, these breaks will become a regular part of your daily routine just like the rest of your self-care and will lead to overall improved mental health.

Learn more:

  • May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Find the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s toolkit of resources, helplines, or opportunities to get involved at their website.
  • Read other key insights from industry experts on mental health by visiting our blog

Tags: employee wellness, Helping people, Managed care, Mental health, Wellbeing, Wellness