You will always need to protect your mental health whether your an insomniac or not. But it becomes even more important when your sleep is suffering.
If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person
If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house
If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation
If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.Chinese Proverb
I personally think something that generally isn’t talked about enough in public discourse is how to protect your mental health in the first place, rather than how to fix it later. There is some discussion around how to manage thoughts and emotions once they pop up, but it’s important to know that you can rearrange parts of your life to diminish stress before it has a chance to emerge.
As of this writing (March 30, 2021), COVID is still running rampant across the world. It’s obviously better in some places than others, and vaccines are giving some hope that there will be an end date. But the pandemic alone has caused a sort of collective trauma. Most of our lives were flipped upside down in some way, whether it was your job, marriage, kids, friends, health, family, finances, social support or others. The world changed and we had to adapt, literally overnight, to our new reality.
And the pandemic was ON TOP of whatever you were already dealing with in life. It’s a lot to contend with. So let’s just take a second here to appreciate that life has been harder for over a year now, and it’s completely understandable if you’ve lost sleep and feel anxious.
With that being said, let’s discuss how to reduce the impact of our environment so at the very least, you’re not dealing with an excess of external stressors.
Deactivate Social Media – the ultimate way to protect your mental health
Wild concept, I know.
But if you really want to protect your mental health, purging your social media habits is a great start. And here’s why:
We as human beings are incredibly susceptible to emotional contagion. This is when we are swept up by the emotional turmoil that is going on around us, whether it’s conscious or not and whether we want to be caught up in the storm or not. And what better place to experience the full gamut of human emotion than on social media? It’s near impossible to not to get wrapped up in the mob mentality if you’re a social platform – that’s emotional contagion for you1. As Bo Burnham sang in his song, “Welcome to the Internet”:
“Be happy, be horny, be bursting with rage, we’ve got a million different ways to engage”.
Social media is also no longer about social connection. And for many, it’s incredibly toxic to our mental health and well-being2. So to heal your mental health, step away and find your balance again.
Not ready to give up social media? At the very least, limit yourself to prevent depression and loneliness3 unfollow people who make you unhappy, turn off notifications on your phone, and set a definitive time restriction for yourself to wander down the dark rabbit hole that is social media.
Turn Off the News
“Feelings of powerlessness are not punishments, they’re motivations to empower ourselves. Stand up for what you believe. Write letters, demonstrate, lobby Congress, and so on, remembering that you’ll be most effective (and feel better) when focused on the change you want to see rather than merely reacting to what you don’t like.”– Dr. Steven Stosny, who coined the term ‘headline stress disorder’
Are you feeling anxious about the constant onslaught of news? Stressed about the barrage of never ending terrible events happening? There’s actually a term for this now called Headline Stress Disorder. While it’s not an official diagnosis, it’s very real for many of us who experience heart palpitations, chest tightness, and yes, insomnia, as a result of the 24 hour news cycle4.
Worried you’ll feel guilty if you’re not an informed citizen? A lot of us feel like we’re socially irresponsible for not being glued to our phones and refreshing our feeds. But why is that? Why are you so hard on yourself to the point where you have to know every nuance of every angle of every situation that makes the news?
You are not a bad person for not staying on top of world events. In fact, you’ll be a more mentally healthy person if you turn off the news in favour of doing something you enjoy. And don’t worry, the most important news will make it to you somehow. If you really need to get your news fix, try an app like Feedly (non affiliate, I just like it) and ignore everything else. Or get Appblock (also not affiliate) to block websites you constantly check for news.
Put Up Personal Boundaries – the key to protect your mental health
People come in all types of personalities, values, beliefs, and experiences and sometimes those types clash with your personality, values, beliefs, and experiences.
That doesn’t necessarily make them bad people, and it doesn’t make you a bad person for wanting to limit your time around them. Sometimes, we have to make a choice of who we spend time with and that includes setting up hard limits on people we don’t connect with.
Can’t avoid someone you’re not particularly fond of because they’re a coworker, family member, or friend’s significant other? Stick to discussing neutral ideas and events. Sometimes, it’s futile to get into deeper topics. Because, as George Bernard Shaw once said,
“… [never] wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”
Put Up Time Boundaries – a greatly overlooked way to protect your mental health
Protecting your mental health means putting up firm boundaries around everything having to do with your time. There’s a million examples of how we choose to spend our time, moment by moment. One of them, as mentioned previously, is the news – you have the choice to doom scroll for the next half hour, or you can do a multitude of other things. It’s your choice.
Are meetings always running late at work? Learn and exercise the term ‘hard stop’. Does your spouse want to talk your ear off when you really just need a minute to unwind? Tell them you’d love to talk at ‘X’ time, but for now you just truly need space. Do parents or in-laws drop by unexpectedly? Tell them now is not a good time and to please call next time to make plans.
Yes, we can’t control all of our time – we have work or school, chores, cooking, children to look after, and other obligations. And that’s perfectly fine – a lot of these things are enjoyable. If they’re not, for the love of all that is holy, think of some things you can implement immediately to make your life more bearable.
If you say to yourself, ‘nothing can make this better’, you are overloaded and need to prioritise getting back to a healthy state of mind. Whatever mental health you have left needs to be protected, but you need more fuel in your tank than that. If that’s where you are, please see the additional resources section at the end of week 6.
The key to taking back your time is to always ask yourself, “how can I choose, in this very moment, to make the best out of the time I have?”.
Engage In Your Inferior Function
If the following sounds a bit hippy dippy, it’s because it is. But hey, if you want to protect your mental health, it’s worth a shot.
Have you ever heard of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory (MBTI)? If not, it’s a test that divides people into 16 personality types. You are either introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, a thinker or feeler, and a judger or perceiver. It’s based on Carl Jung’s The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (The Myers & Briggs Foundation). However, it was never vetted by the psychoanalyst. It’s also not a very good idea to use the MBTI as the sole source of defining yourself or choosing a career5. But I digress.
Still, I think the MBTI can offer some perspective on how your brain operates. For example, I’m an INFJ and find the descriptions suit me. It’s not all of who I am, but it is interesting to know there’s a ‘framework’ for my thought process.
The really interesting thing to note here isn’t so much your type, but the functional stack of your personality type. Here’s how PersonalityJunkie.com explains it:
Each personality type prefers to use four of the eight functions first described by Jung. These four functions comprise a type’s “functional stack.” The relative strength of preference for these four functions is expressed in the following manner: dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior.
Dominant Function: Your type’s signature strength
Auxiliary Function: Sidekick to the dominant function
Tertiary Function: Relatively unconscious / undifferentiated
Inferior Function: Least conscious / accessible.
In other words, you have a driver (dominant function), front passenger (auxiliary), backseat behind the driver (tertiary), and backseat behind the front passenger (inferior).
I have a theory (and yes, it’s just based on personal experience) that we have to engage with our inferior function in a constructive way if we are feeling overwhelmed. For example, my inferior function as an INFJ is extraverted sensing (Se), which is engaging with your five senses. When I’m mentally exhausted or overwhelmed, I tend to engage with my Se in a destructive way (drinking, over-indulging, overspending).
But I feel a lot better when I engage in my senses in a constructive way that makes sense for me. For example, I love hiking and playing the violin. Both are very sensory experiences, and both are truly healing.
To take the MBTI test, here are a few sources:
To find your functional stack, including your inferior function, Personality Junkie seems to have the best write ups on the subject. To learn more about inferior functions in general, take a look here.
Do a Brain Dump
Sometimes, what we feel anxious about feels like a nondescript static in our heads. If someone were to ask us what we’re stressed about, you might be inclined to say “EVERYTHING”. But even if it feels like a jumbled mess, there are particular thorns in your side and sometimes you need to just pluck them out.
So open a Google Doc and start writing. Don’t edit as you go. Just write. Write what you are feeling. Sad, angry, anxious, stressed, hurt, frustrated, uncertain. Name it, and expand on it. Why are you feeling what you feel? Let it flow. You are safe from judgement here – no one ever has to read what you wrote. Just getting it off your chest can feel like a big weight has been lifted.
Get Outside Your Head
Easier said than done, but there are two methods that can really help: savouring and reframing6.
To savour something, truly appreciate what is in front of you. If it’s a meal, really savour it. Don’t look at your phone. Eat with someone and talk about the subtleties of the food. Savour how awesome it smells and how beautiful it looks. If you’re outside, look at the vibrancy of the colours around you. Listen to the birds and the rustling of the leaves. Literally stop and smell the flowers. If you have children, listen to them and appreciate the wonder in their eyes, or how they do something that is so uniquely them.
To reframe, try this: think of your life situation now. All of your relationships, work, hobbies, values, interests, and beliefs. Create a clear picture of who you are at this very moment.
A series of decisions over the years have led you to this point. Maybe you chose one job over another, moved to a certain city, traveled to a certain country. Now think – if you didn’t do those things, where would you be now? Who would you have not met? How did this shape the person you are today?
Reframing will at the very least take you out of your current frame of mind and help you appreciate where you are, and maybe, remind you that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.
📍 Quest #3
Do at least one thing every day this week to protect your mental health.