We all aim to enjoy life. As we enter warmer weather, we begin to dream about walks in the neighborhood, hammocks by lakesides, long days at the beach and a break from the frantic pace of the school calendar. But our dreams rarely live up to our actual reality. School schedules are replaced by summer sports schedules, hammocks are replaced with endless lawn work, and building sand castles is replaced with beaches with crowds of people fighting for their own spot on the beach. How do we break the cycle and really pursue wellness this summer and get a little bit of that dream back?
One way to spring into wellness is to focus on our mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Pursuing mental health means paying attention to our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. It means paying attention to your feelings and behaviors.
So how do we pursue wellness? One of the first things we can do is practice self-awareness. Another word for this is mindfulness.
When stress or negative emotions make you want to reach for a bag of cookies or fill up your schedule, pause. Ask yourself, “What is the emotion I’m feeling?” Stop long enough to find it – your emotion – and acknowledge it. A “feeling wheel” can be helpful—you can find these easily online.
Once you know the emotion behind a behavior, stop and de-stress. Sometimes simply taking a breath, smelling a candle, changing location or listening to music can help you think clearly. Then ask yourself, “How can I practice wellness right now?” If you’re stuck in traffic, listening to music or a podcast would be a way to de-stress and practice wellness. Naming five things you are thankful for can also change your entire outlook.
Then, evaluate if what you were inclined to do would truly be helpful or not. Eating that bag of potato chips may actually increase anxiety, for instance, and it’s important to acknowledge that without beating yourself up. Getting that negative feeling under control first helps you consider doing something else that is more effective.
Positive action might be calling a friend. Or, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your family’s schedule, ask each family member to cut out one activity this summer. Practicing wellness involves linking our emotion with behavior and evaluating the effectiveness of that behavior. Try different things to see what works in your situation. Healthy solutions benefit you and those around you.
Wellness is worth practicing! As we begin to name our feelings, process our emotions, and practice healthy solutions, we will begin to see positive consequences that feel good. With repetition, wellness will begin to spring forth naturally and you will have energy to face the dog days of summer.
Charity Schaulis is the Executive Director of the local nonprofit, HopeNet, transforming lives through coaching and counseling.