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How to Plan a Mental Health Recovery Day for National Stress Awareness Month

This National Stress Awareness Month, I think about how I feel stress in my body, a heaviness dragging down my hips and pressure inside my forehead. Often, it comes out as an uptick in my anxiety.  A few weeks ago, I sat at my desk, lungs squeezed inside my chest. When the stress became overwhelming, my husband came up with the idea to organize a Mental Health Recovery Day. I wanted to combine different activities that have helped me in therapy groups, along with ways to relax. For Mental Health Recovery Day, I tried to create my own structured day of self-care. I hoped that dedicating time would help me deal better with my anxiety and stress. I had reached the point of feeling so drained that I thought I needed to try something new.

Depending on available time, the day can be shorter or longer. You don’t need specific times, either. If it works better for you, you can pick and choose a few things to try when you get a chance. I was able to free up four hours one afternoon, and I decided to try organizing the activities around a theme. I picked self-compassion, considering my recent problems with anxiety and stress. I chose a topic I wasn’t as familiar with and wanted to learn more about. For activities, I picked a mix of group support and individual learning, regularly including relaxation and hobbies. This was the schedule I ended up with:

1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. 

Virtual support group

2:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. 

Watch TED talks on self-compassion

3:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. 

Walk outside

3:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. 

Read: self-compassion book / Activity: Write letter to self

4:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. 

Legos

4:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

 Meditation

 

If you’re interested, you can try journaling or checking in with a friend on how the day went. At the start and end of the afternoon, I talked with my husband about my goals to get through the day. These short conversations helped me focus and reflect. When creating the schedule, think about your energy levels and how long you want to spend on each activity. I picked half-hour intervals because I can get restless after thirty minutes.

 

Two tips for planning a mental health recovery day:

 1. Consider picking a theme

You can cover a variety of topics or pick a theme, whatever sounds more interesting to you. A theme can be a topic that has been helpful or that you want to learn more about, or an issue you’re working on. If you need ideas, possible themes could be self-compassion, stress, workplace problems, relationships, mindfulness, anxiety, distress tolerance and/or values. I picked self-compassion. I decided to try a theme because I hoped the day could be a deep-dive into a new topic that interested me. If you’re working with a therapist or psychiatrist, they might have suggestions.

 2. Think about how you learn best. 

Depending on your learning style, you can check out readings, videos or activities. I’m sharing resources that I’ve tried, but you can find options that work for you by looking online or asking for recommendations from your friends, family or treatment team.

For free readings and activities, I’ve searched for topics in Psychology Today, Psych Central, or here at The Mighty. Re-reading parts of a favorite self-help book can be worthwhile.

For me, the self-help books I turn to most are “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris (free resources on website) and “The Mindful Path Through Worry and Rumination” by Sameet M. Kumar.

I watched a couple TED talks on self-compassion, the theme I picked for the day. TED has mental health-related playlists such as this playlist on stress or this playlist on creating meaningful relationships. I recently listened to the talk “How Do We Cope with Fear?” on Headspace’s Youtube channel, which includes the series “Exploring Life’s Biggest Questions with Andy Puddicome.”

For mindfulness activities, I have appreciated the apps Insight Timer and Healthy Minds Program with their guided meditations. I also attended a virtual support group through my local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter. 

For other ways to feel connected, you could message your online community, call a friend or spend time outside around other people such as in a park (with masking and social distancing). You could also try writing a letter. When I’m alone, listening to music, especially music that I associate with good memories, can help me feel more connected.

What is your favorite way to relax? You can choose hobbies that you enjoy or have wanted to try. Consider exercise, including walking or yoga. Going outside can be energizing. Check out this list for ideas on new hobbies. These activities can help you cope with the physical experience of stress or distract you from your worries. 

I’m planning to organize another Mental Health Recovery Day in a couple weeks, although the experience had pros and cons. The mix of activities kept me interested, and the common theme helped new ideas sink in but finding time can be challenging and planning takes effort. The activities can be broken up into smaller chunks or spread over weeks. On days when I’m feeling more severely anxious or depressed, it could be difficult for me to plan and finish the activities. I could ask for help or try preparing activities ahead of time to use when I need them. My Mental Health Recovery Day introduced me to a couple new topics that I have continued learning about. I’m using new self-compassion practices, like hugging myself when I’m anxious. I started valuing my hobbies more and I’m trying to make more time for putting together Lego sets, which I really enjoy. My stress and anxious thoughts didn’t go away, but I’m learning different ways of getting through them with hope.  

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