Mental Health Awareness Month


31 Days of Challenges, Activities/Exercises, & Reflection

Day 1: Activity 

List 5 positive things that have happened so far this year.  Identify the cause of each positive thing.  Acknowledge, appreciate, and notice if there is a theme.  

Day 2: Challenge

Write or call 2 people who haven't heard from you in too long. Tell them what you miss about them. Notice how you feel about doing this.  Is it scary to be the one to reach out?  Identify the risks. Identify the rewards.  

Day 3: Exercise

Spend 20 minutes in solitude for this simple mindfulness exercise: Become aware of your thoughts and feelings as you sit with yourself.  Don't judge, just observe.  Notice smells, sensations sights.  Pay attention to sensations in your body; first your toes, your legs, hips, belly, arms, hands, fingers, neck, head, and eyes. Breathe and let go. 

Day 4: Challenge

Find 10 or more times today to say, "yay".  Saying the word yay engages your smile muscles, so you can't help but smile.  Performing that physical act first can open up the gateway to allow your brain chemistry and emotions to follow.  Also, "yay" taps in to your inner kid, making us feel a sense of freedom.  Try it, and you'll see.  Not feeling the "yay" today?  Well, you know the saying, "Fake it 'til you make it".  Sometimes it's true.
"Yay!" 

Day 5: Exercise

So you'e made some mistakes.  Oops! Now, so what? We all have.  And we're all going to make many more.  Mistakes are also one of our greatest teaching tools.  
1. Cut a piece of paper in 5 strips
2. On each strip, write down one thing you've messed up on
3. Own each mistake (i.e. "I made this mistake."
4. Give yourself a little hand hug.  It's okay. 
5. Ceremoniously let each one go by throwing the individual strips in the garbage.
No excuses anymore, but no more apologies, guilt, or shame.  Breathe in deeply, exhale, reset.  Go back and repeat day 4's exercise. YAY!

Day 6: Reflection

Forgive yourself for being human, for not being perfect, for not always saying the right thing, for not being there for someone, for doing something hurtful, for judging others, for being dishonest, for being selfish, for any of it. Do this by acknowledging the imperfections.  Then, make one thing right.  After all, it just feels better doing it right.

Day 7: Exercise

Take a 10 minute time out.  Breathe in deeply, and exhale fully 30-40 times.  On your last full exhale, let something go and make room for a new feeling, new day, new week.  Then say, "yay."

Day 8: Reflection

Spend a few minutes today reflecting on where you are indecisive or feeling paralyzed over choices. What are the risks of choosing?  What are the rewards?  Get all of it out of your brain and on to paper (or keyboard).  Find one thing that you are going to bravely make a choice on, and move forward with it.  Indecision is a choice.  It's the choice most likely to cause anxiety; it's also a symptom of anxiety.  Big or small, your decision you make today is a first step in reducing and preventing some amount of stress.  

Day 9: Activity

Take a walk/jog/hike/stroll and connect with the earth.  Fresh air is good for you, plus the outdoors, combined with physical activity gives you an undeniable mental health boost.  Harvard Medical School says so, and happiesbetter confirms. 

Day 10: Challenge

In light of tonight's full moon, let's dream big and wild. (If you're doing this on a new moon, crescent moon, or invisible moon....it doesn't really matter). Write down some of your wildest dreams and goals.  Really.  Do this! Are there any action steps you can take today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year that could propel you forward?  Allowing ourselves to dream makes us feel alive, and action reduces anxiety.  Take a step forward. 

Day 11: Challenge

Whether we are going to work, or to school, to the gym, out for social, or home doing chores, what we put on our bodies can have a positive or negative impact on our outlook and mood.  Wearable reminders to stay positive and healthy send a message to our brain that we are invested; that our outlook matters.  Today, (for me everyday) put something on that tells yourself and your world the story of your day. 

Day 12: Challenge

It's proven that being kind to others boosts our own happiness.  Performing random acts of kindness creates a cycle of positive energy.  What we put out, we tend to receive back in many different ways.  Today's exercise: 10 intentional moments, gestures, acts of kindness.  Write them down if you can and identify what felt the best.

Day 13: Exercise

We want to evolve and/or grow stronger.  That's now, and every moment ahead of us.  To do this,  all that we need from our past is the lessons we've learned.  Create a 'happy space' in your room, your home, your office, your garden; wherever you can carve out a place to sit.  Think of creating a space for new thoughts, growth, ideas; less about memories or nostalgia.  Decorate it with items that make you feel good.  Maybe things that are soft, or neutral, positive, inspiring, pretty, interesting, etc.  

Day 14: Activity

Playtime is good for all of us; it's not just for kids. Take a half an hour to be in a state of playfulness. That means no goals, no real purpose; just pleasure and fun.  Do you like to sing out loud? Talk to your animals? Dance in your undies?   No rules. 

Day 15: Reflection

What's working for others might work for us, too.  What are some things that strong, happy, healthy humans are doing differently?  Something you haven't tried, maybe. Take note of some of these differences.  List 5 things.  What's the worst thing that could happen by implementing a change?  What's the best thing that could happen?  

Day 16: Exercise

 The Relaxation Response

The following is the generic technique taught at the Benson-Henry Institute:

  1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system, such as "one," "peace," "The Lord is my shepherd," "Hail Mary full of grace," or "shalom." 
  2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position. 
  3. Close your eyes. 
  4. Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck. 
  5. Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase, or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale. 
  6. Assume a passive attitude. Don't worry about how well you're doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, "Oh well," and gently return to your repetition. 
  7. Continue for ten to 20 minutes. 
  8. Do not stand immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising. 
  9. Practice the technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.

www.bensonhenryinstitute.org

 

Day 17: Challenge

Give. Sign up to volunteer with a charity or an organization that you like.  Don't know of one or where to start?  Visit www.guidestar.org for a comprehensive database of charitable organizations for volunteering.  The benefits?  You get to be a part of something much larger than your self.  Spending time in service to others is a fulfilling feeling that decreases chances for depression and can alleviate stress.  You can also get a healthy dopamine release in the brain, creating those happiness feelings that we get fro a vigorous workout.  It's also just good karma. 

Day 18: Activity

Affirmation: the action or process of affirming something or being affirmed.  It starts in the mirror, and it happens out loud.  Visit WWW.mental-health-today.com/healing for a list of basic affirmations.  Make up your own if you prefer.  It doesn't matter; just pick one for today and say it to yourself in the mirror, or in the car, or wherever you can.  Yay!

Day 19: Exercise

Rest. We all need it to put ourselves in the best possible mental space for making healthy lifestyle choices.  So get some good sleep tonight if you can.  Repeat the breathing exercise from Day 7 to relax before bed if needed.  Like exercise, the amount of sleep you need depends on your age.  The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends at least 11-12 hours for preschool aged kids, 10 hours for school-aged kids, 9-10 for teens and 7-8 for adults.  

Day 20

Find a moment or create a moment.  Be present in it, let go. Thank yourself for being present.  Breathe.  

Day 21: Challenge

Unplug.  Enough with the gadgets, phones, devices, computers, apps, whatever.  Take an intentional break.  These things are designed to addict us, keeping us constantly engaged.  It's too damn much.  We must remember that we get to CHOOSE how much we engage.  Finding it difficult to take the break?  You're not alone.  Take this Digital Ditraction Test  from the center for Internet and Technology Addiction. How did you do?
 

Day 22: Challenge

Create your own "productivity ambiance". Make a list of crucial goals for the day and the week ahead.  These are things that can't be put off, but we really want to put off...because they're hard.  Difficult to focus on, outside of our comfort zone, boring, tedious, scary.  Next, put "feel good" vibes in the space where you need to spend time getting those crucial things done.  Light a candle, turn on some tunes, let in some fresh air.  Studies show that prioritizing the most important tasks first sets us up for more accomplishment throughout the day, and a better day overall.  The goal is feeling good.  Ambiance + Action = Feeling Good.

Day 23:  Activity

Guided imagery can be very powerful for healing and for creating the story you want to live.  Grab a trusted friend, colleague, or family member and try the Magic Carpet Ride exercise.  This guided relaxation exercise created by the Behavioral Sciences Institute.  It's a kid favorite, but is used across all age groups.  

Day 24: Exercise

Carrying around a bag of rocks might be a good workout, but it's not good for our mental health. Our behaviors must be in  line with our health and lifestyle goals.  It's old habits and thought patterns that weigh us down like heavy boulders, keeping us anchored someplace we'd prefer not to be.  Progress starts with identifying the pebbles, stones, and boulders in our life.  Spend 20 minutes reflecting and/or writing about what's anchoring you and which behaviors/thoughts need shifting.  

Day 25: Activity

Feed your mind.  Vitamins and nutrients from fresh, whole food sources is preventative care and maintenance for mental wellness.  Conversely eating to reduce inflammation combats mental illness.  Check out this article on the subject from Yale University's Mental Health Blog. Try this Smoothie! It's loaded with organic goods, antioxidants, and amazingly delicious!
Blend the following:
1TBSP fresh ground coffee beans
1/2 cup organic berries (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp cacao powder
1/4 cup gluten free organic rolled oats 
1/2 frozen banana
10-12 unsalted almonds
1 cup ice
3/4 cup almond milk.

Day 26: Activity

Beware shiny objects.  We can't buy happiness.  The endless quest for wealth and material items is driven by emotional voids and insecurities.  Good relationships, enriching experiences, challenging work, and belonging to communities are some of the REAL drivers of wellbeing and happiness.  Today's activity: Plan a minimally material day for the weekend ahead.  Not shopping, buying, consuming.  Just being, living, doing, loving, breathing, experiencing, giving. 

Day 27: Reflection

No matter who you are, your story and your journey matters.  Successes and struggles, they're real, too.  You get to decide what defines you in each moment going forward.  This happens through choices.  It happens by deciding which voice we allow to be loudest.  Which thoughts do we catch and hold on to?  Which ones do we throw away?  Mostly, I choose to smile, be brave, face fears, be inspired, to love and be loved, and I choose freedom for my mind.  Sometimes it's easy.  Sometimes it isn't.  What do you choose?  

Day 28: Breathe

Seize the moments in the day.
Seize moments in the night.
It's your privilege,
It's your right.
Find beauty in nature, and give thanks.
Let in the light.

Day 29

With mental illness, rarely are there days off.  Moments of lightness are a gift.  In the pursuit of optimum mental/emotional wellness, there are more moments off and maybe a day off here and there.  Enjoy a day off; or at least a few moments.  

Day 30: Activity

How much of our lives should we waste worrying about how others think about us?  It's reasonable to want people to know you're kind and respectful, but how far should we go to be pleasing to a world where you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't?
How others see us, what they think, how they evaluate us, what they say....it's none of our business.  You and I can't change other people.  We certainly can choose to be free of their concern.  Make a list of 10-20 things that you do or don't do, say or don't say, etc., based on how you fear people might perceive you or what they might say.  Is there anything on that list that you can let go of right now, knowing you have zero control over others?