We all have days, weeks, months or longer where we are barely making it. In my family, we call it chinning. As in, you have to keep moving, but you are metaphorically sprawled out on the ground, unable to move, dragging your self forward a millimeter at a time with your chin.
Whether you are struggling with diagnosed anxiety and depression, a stressful season in your life, or just a really, really bad week, here are some low-bar, simple, fast, and free activities that you can try that might start to remind your brain and body how amazing they are and how beautiful life can be, and will be again one day when you’re no longer chinning along.
Going outside will help you to feel better.
Find a door, walk through it, and point your face a the sky. Nothing between your face and the sky. Yes, forest bathing and backpack hiking are great activities, but nothing so extreme is needed to give your life-force a boost in trying times. If you’re like me, you will have weeks where you’re caring for a sick husband, a sick toddler, it’s 35 degrees outside, and/or there’s a worldwide pandemic shutting down all social activity. Go outside for 2 minutes, face the sun or the clouds, and just let nature shower you with its benefits. If it is sunny – fantastic. If it’s nighttime, cloudy, raining, you’re in a noisy city – doesn’t matter. Throw a coat on and get under the sky for a few minutes.
Move. Not even exercise – just move
Do 10 jumping jacks. If you can’t do jumping jacks (I’ve been there), do ten stepping jacks. Stamp your feet, do 30 seconds of high steps, or just bend your knees and bicycle your legs to the best of your ability. Wiggle your toes. Stretch your arms and shoulders. Open your mouth and stretch your jaw. Shrug your shoulders and lower them again. Remind your cells that they are alive. Move some blood and lymph through their respective circulatory systems. Remind your body that it is capable of amazing things. Remind yourself that in the future, you will do amazing things. You will.
No one feels good when dehydrated. Drink a big glass of water, raw milk, herbal tea, watered down juice, unsweetened electrolyte beverage, something that provides hydration. Caffeine and sugar are not what you’re looking for here. Bypass the gatorade, diet coke, and Starbucks syrup latte. Put a measurable quantity of something liquid in your body, right now, so your cells can go all squishy and happy again, at least for a minute. It will help.
Hype yourself up
Write a list of 3 things you have accomplished in your life that you’re proud of. Literally anything. I once spent a summer waiting tables at a crappy little restaurant in suburban PA. This introvert was terrible at it. It was so far outside my comfort zone. I dropped full glasses of water on customers. But I DID it. When I’ve told that to other people, they thought this was the dumbest thing to be proud of. You might think that too. But I am proud of what I learned about myself and life by doing that. Do you have a high school diploma or college degree? Did you eat a vegetable last week? Do you keep up with pop culture? Do you know how to juggle? Did you accomplish something at work? Did you rescue your dog from an animal shelter? Did you master making homemade popcorn on your stove? Did you get your niece an amazing gift that she’s going to love? Anything that you have done that you are proud of, pick a few and write them down on paper in a list in your own handwriting. Then read through them, out loud for bonus points, and say to yourself, I did that.
Smile and laugh
When you were a kid, did your mom ever tell you to force a smile when you were in a bad mood? Mind did. Turns out there’s something to it – even fake smiles give physiological benefits. However, if you can find something genuine to smile about, that’s better. And laughter is the best of all – it has benefits ranging from lowered tension to pain relief and an improved immune response. So here’s something to try: Take 10 or 20 minutes (set a timer if you’re tight on time) and find something to laugh about. Scroll through some goofy cat memes (and share it to your mom/friend/coworker if appropriate). Watch a Kardashian. Giggle to yourself in your office cubicle over a short satirical piece. If you really can’t muster up a real laugh, then do this: set a timer, plaster a stupid, fake grin on your face, and keep it there for 25s. It will help.
A few minutes of slow, controlled breathing is an easy way to improve your mental and physiological condition. The benefits of intentional breathing are wildly recognized and ubiquitously beneficial. There are many advanced techniques and methodologies, but don’t overcomplicate things right now.
Straighten your spine – sit or stand up straight, or realign yourself if reclined. Take a long, slow inhale while counting to four in your head. Hold the breath while counting to four again, and then exhale over a count of four, and wait 4 seconds before starting over. Repeat as many times as you like.
This simple exercise is called “square breathing“. This site linked here has a wonderful video clip to breath along with.
Bonus activities that are either more difficult/require more spoons, or require some planning, but are worth the investment.
Pet an animal
Grab your furry friend, or visit a friend or family member with a friendly dog or cat. With permission, shamelessly bring the animal a food treat or a toy, or (and I’ve done this), rub on some tallow or fish-oil based lotions before going over. By showering the doggy or kitty with ear rubs and chin scratches, you will enjoy a boost in beneficial neurotransmitters , as well as the other documented benefits of spending time with animals.
Connect with someone
I know it would be great if we can all find someone to talk to, but that’s not always possible. I’ve been there. That’s why this is a bonus activity. But if you are able, this is truly the bes medicinet. Hugging releases oxytocin, if you can pull that off. If all you’ve got is FaceTime, do that. If text is at your disposal, text something to a friend. In order to strengthen your connection and boost (likely both) your mood(s), try two things. First, be vulnerable with them. Genuinely share your thoughts and feelings about life, and dont afraid to share that you are scared about something, that you truly hope to accomplish something and you’re not sure that you will. Share a stretch goal that you’re working on. Share a worry about a situation you might encounter. Second, truly listen, ask questions, and be interested in what the other person is saying. If you think of something cool and witty to say, it’s okay if it doesn’t get said or you forget because you were prioritizing listening. Why am I giving detailed instructions for how to connect with others in conversation? Because our society is broken, and few of us remember how when we’re feeling good. If you’re feeling lousy and can’t remember how to connect with others? That’s normal. The methods of communication we use today aren’t always conducive to true connection, though they can be. You and I didn’t break society (more on that later, maybe), but we can work to seed kindness and connection, and reestablish community wherever we are able. This isn’t easy. Sometimes it takes a numbered list of instructions that, in a different world, we would have been observing and practicing since birth. Please don’t be hard on yourself for any social anxiety you may or may not have. But don’t let it hold you back from connecting, either.
Please share below which of these strategies you have tried, and which helps you the most. If you have any more to ideas that others might benefit from, please share those too!
We all have days, weeks, seasons that are so challenging. And we don’t always have support or resources that we can access at the moment we really need it. But we can do hard things. If your are struggling to keep it together, try a few of these strategies, and make it through to the next day. You can do it. I believe in you.