Practicing emotional and social skills is just as important as physical exercise for improving your overall wellness. Just as you might head for Peet’s Hill rather than Sacajawea Peak when you are just starting a physical exercise program, it’s important to know your “mental fitness” level in selecting the mental health exercises right for you. Here is a sampling of exercises arranged by difficulty. We believe everyone can benefit by intentionally practicing one or more emotional or social skills every day.
Easy but beneficial for all levels
- Grateful List. Each day, make a list of up to five things, including people, you feel grateful for, taking a moment to reflect on each one. This is a powerful way to shift your mood and feel more positive energy.
- Treat yourself every day to a 15-minute fantasy vacation, fresh-picked flowers, a slow self-massage, bath by candlelight or anything else you really enjoy and is guilt-free. Feel better immediately and slowly increase your self-esteem over time.
- Integrity Stones. At the start of your day put 10 very small river stones in your left pocket or larger stones on the left side of your desk or kitchen sink, wherever they will be most accessible to you during the day. Each time you act with less than full integrity (complete fairness and honesty to yourself and others) move one stone to the right. Your goal is to reduce the number of stones on the right at the end of the day.
- Set Boundaries. Pay attention to the extent that demands and request from others are harmful to you. These could be direct, such as visits, phone calls or expectations others have of you, or indirect, such as noise and the flurry of distractions around you. One at a time, as you are able, set a boundary to reduce these. For example, you might turn off your cell phone for periods of time. You might say, “I only have 15 minutes to work on this.” You might replace distressing background noise with soothing music. You might say “no” to requests that drain you.
- Be Nondefensive. Keep track of any occasions in which you feel judged, blamed or attacked. Instead of defending yourself or withdrawing, practice looking at the judgment, blame or attack for any portion that feels valid to you, and state your agreement with that. Practice doing so in a way that is lighthearted, nonjudgmental and forgiving of both yourself and the other.
Assert with Integrity.
Reflect on what you would like from others in terms of better understanding, cooperation, mentoring, or assistance. Ask for what you want without using any guilt, threat or coercion, in a such a way that it is great if the other says “yes,” but perfectly fine also if they say “no.” Keep asking different people until you find someone who wants to give you what you are looking for.