I wanted to provide an update on my recent experience at SXSW Interactive. I didn’t get to go to every panel I’d wanted to attend, but I believe most people come home from SXSW feeling that way.
Therapy 2.0: Mental Health For Geeks which I co-presented with Thomas Roche, was well attended with somewhere between 50-60 people in the room. As the room filled up, I wondered whether a group of this size would really allow for a conversation, but I was pleasantly surprised to experience people talking with one another and sharing ideas, as opposed to simply directing their comments back to Thomas and me. There was quite a bit of energy in the room as people talked about how they sometimes feel overwhelmed by information. Some mentioned issues with non-privacy while others talked about the illusion of intimacy that one gets with social networking sites. One person observed that the frequent interruptions of technology have changed her experience of what it means to be alone, which I found interesting. People talked about their own tips for keeping healthy which included hobbies, breaks, exercise, and techniques such as leaving their devices at home.
Since we were doing a Core Conversation, rather than a formal panel, I wanted to create some resource so that folks could obtain information, if they felt compelled to do so after talking about all of these issues. With that in mind, I created a Therapy 2.0 wiki where folks are welcome to find out more. Please feel free to check it out for information related to self-assessment, books, online tools, and how to find a therapist. We ended our Core Conversation with my list of five things you can do now to improve your mental health. These are also on the wiki, but I am also sharing them here.
In summary, I had a wonderful time presenting at SXSW this year and am looking forward to returning next year, regardless of whether I’m presenting or simply listening and learning from the other inspirational panelists and attendees who show up each year.
Five Things You Can Start Doing Now to Improve Your Mental Health
1. Weekly gratitude practice
Research shows that keeping a weekly gratitude journal has significant effects on increasing optimism and decreasing reported physical symptoms. But don’t overdo it. Lyubomirsky et al. (2005) found that those who practiced gratitude three times per week saw less benefit than those doing it once a week, suggesting that there may be a habituation effect and loss of gains if you do it more than once per week. Consider putting a reminder in your calendar to do this once a week.
2. Breathing exercises/Mindfulness practice
If you find yourself feeling stressed or anxious, doing a simple breathing exercise can help lower your blood pressure, lower your heart rate, and bring your attention away from distressing thoughts. It is easy to let future-focused or past-focused thoughts get in your way and this can increase depressed or anxious feelings. Be sure to breathe deeply into your lower abdomen, rather than taking shallow breaths just into your upper chest.
Breathing exercises are one component of mindfulness which is the practice of staying focused upon the present moment. There have been many studies showing the beneficial effects of mindfulness practice on depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, stress, chronic pain, and other ailments. When practicing mindfulness, sit in a comfortable place and start with the breathing. Then focus simply on being in your body. Notice your weight in the chair and the sounds you hear. If worrisome thoughts enter your mind, bring your focus back to your breath. Try to do this for 5 minutes a day and work up to 15 minutes.
You may also consider searching for podcasts that offer relaxation, breathing, and mindfulness exercises.
3. Connect with others
There is much data suggesting that social support and connection increases mental health and feelings of self-worth while simultaneously decreasing stress. Consider joining an activity group, taking a class, or even volunteering somewhere.
Have a lot of work to do? Try co-working or just go to a cafe to get your work done.
There is significant data indicating that exercise relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety while also helping with insomnia. Consider combining exercise with connecting with others by joining a gym or a boot camp or organizing physical activities with friends.
If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, tracking thoughts and moods can be helpful. Thought records are a cognitive-behavioral tool that can help you examine thoughts and beliefs and how they influence your mood. You may notice patterns and less useful beliefs that come up in your inner monologue with yourself. Identifying these thought patterns can be a first step in changing them.