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Feel like your mental health is hanging by a thread? Or perhaps you’ve been feeling more like a walking yo-yo… You’re okay. Then, you’re not okay. You’re okay again. Then it’s back to not being okay. And, the cycle continues.
According to the World Health Organization, you’re not alone. Since the pandemic there has been a 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. And, that’s on top of what was an already steep decline in mental health over the last decade, particularly in America.
So, how can we begin to heal and safeguard our mental health, especially during these difficult times?
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. But, along with therapy and medication as needed, we can all benefit from consistently incorporating self-care rituals into our daily lives.
Elena Brower and Nadine McNeil, yoga and wellness leaders who have both navigated their own mental health journeys, share everyday rituals that help them and countless others who they’ve worked with.
McNeil is a yoga instructor and transformation coach who travels extensively to teach around the world, and is based mainly between Bali and Jamaica. It was during her previous life as a disaster response executive at the United Nations that McNeil found yoga to remedy the unbearable stress of her job. Eventually, she fell into a period of debilitating anxiety and stepped away from the UN, diving head first into yoga as a pathway to healing.
Brower is a lauded, US-based, yoga and meditation teacher, bestselling author of multiple books, podcast host and super successful aromatherapy entrepreneur. Her mental health journey centers around her sobriety. Not long ago Brower caught herself stuck in a cycle of excessive marijuana use, as she tried to quell her tendency towards depression and anxiety.
“I traded in rituals of subtle destruction, for practices and rituals of renewal,” Brower reflects.
“Instead of a daily marijuana habit,” she explains, “I choose art and excellence in my leadership at work. Instead of rushing out of bed and starting my day, I choose breathwork followed by reading and stillness. These choices have changed the way I approach myself, my family, my colleagues and my creativity.”
McNeil is also a faithful devotee of daily ritual for mental health.
“Especially on those days when we feel as though we could just curl up in bed forever in a fetal position and wait for life to pass, rituals get us up and out of bed, and keep us moving in our desired direction. One of my mantras is that there is immense power in consistency. Rituals help return us to ourselves and keep us connected to our bodies. The body keeps the score, so if we’re able to listen to and trust the wisdom of our bodies, our mental capacities are vastly improved,” she reasons.
So, what are some rituals we can all use everyday? Here are six of Brower and McNeil’s suggestions.
A daily breathwork practice was the first ritual both McNeil and Brower recommended.
“Breathwork balances the system and helps tremendously to stabilize the mind,” Brower says. Her proposed technique includes an even inhalation and exhalation, lengthening both over the course of 8-10 breaths. “This goes a long way toward steadying us.”
McNeil’s method is 3-5 rounds of: inhaling for a count of four; holding the breath for a count of four; and exhaling slowly through the nose for a count of four. “This brings awareness and gratitude to your life force. It keeps any anxiety at bay that may want to rush in as we rise,” she says.
Next is meditation.
According to Brower, “Breathwork in concert with meditation has changed my relationship to myself completely. I’m much calmer and more relaxed.”
McNeil suggests practicing meditation for 5 to 20 minutes, by either sitting in silence or using an app for a guided experience.
McNeil also recommends a gratitude practice.
“Create a gratitude jar, and write down at least one thing that you’re grateful for. Each time you write something down, place it in your jar. On those days when you may feel a bit low, stick your hand in your jar and pull one out. This will immediately return your balance and equilibrium.”
Contemplative Reading or Writing
Brower says she has also found contemplative reading and writing to be powerful daily rituals. “This practice has changed the way I think and write. Daily readings of the Stoics, Zen masters and poets, leads to a much broader perspective, and has improved my ways of relating and creating,” she notes.
Move your Body
Both Brower and McNeil are strong proponents of moving your body as ritual.
“Physical activity, particularly building muscle, is crucial for my mental health,” Brower explains. “Each time we contract a muscle, we release a cascade of easeful chemistry into our bloodstream, enhancing our neurology and releasing anxiety.”
“Move your body any way that feels good to you: walk, run, swim, dance, practice yoga, crossfit—do whatever works for you to shake your energy up,” McNeil implores. “Give yourself a minimum of 30 minutes. Once this is complete, you’re ready for whatever curveballs the day may throw at you. You’re more in a place of responsiveness rather than being reactive.”
Take Time Just for You
Lastly, McNeil encourages blocking out time devoted just to you, every single day. This is its own ritual practice.
“I can hear the pushback already… I don’t have time! Even if it means drinking your cup of whatever, while sitting on the toilet with the door locked… It’s super important that there is a block of time that is devoted entirely to you.”
Kinisha Correia is an award-winning journalist, content writer, editorial director and founder of About Her Culture, who has worked with a variety of publications throughout the US and the Caribbean. Her body of work largely explores the cultural intersections of wellness and its correlation to social equity; a people and planet-focused approach to business; and women of Caribbean and African descent effecting positive change across the globe. Kinisha is Jamaican and currently lives in the US.