With May being Mental Health Awareness month (I know… it’s the end of the month, but better late than never!), I wanted to shed some light on this very important topic. My personal struggle with anxiety is something I’ve always been open about, and I wouldn’t be where I am or know what I know today without these experiences. I really want to dive into this topic and take the opportunity to share some practical things I’ve learned over the years that help me manage my anxiety and maintain a positive mental state through it all.
My 3 M approach is a set of three principles that I practice consistently to help bring me back to my most present self. My 3 Ms are: Meditation, Movement and Mindful eating. I can say with certainty that it is with the help of these habits that I continually show up for myself day after day; and most importantly– I show up even on the days that I don’t want to. This has led me to become the healthiest version of myself. Cultivating a practice that continually brings you back to the present moment is what helps reduce the cycle of anxious, ‘running on a hamster wheel’ thoughts.
I am by no means a mental health expert, and this advice is not meant to be used in place of medication or medical intervention, but I want to share what has worked for me in the hopes that I can help anyone living with a similar struggle. Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety or a mental health issue, the three Ms can still be applied to your life and can make a massive impact. Afterall, I built the core of my business off of these three pillars.
Meditation is one of the best things you can do for your mind and has been the biggest game changer for me. From the moment we wake, our mind is working on overdrive thinking about the next thing in front of us — It’s important to remember that an anxious mind is either living in the past or in the future. There have been times when I’ve felt physically suffocated by the tunnel of anxious thinking I was trapped in. I’ve even been unable to move forward with my day because of it. In moments like these, I pause wherever I am and come back to focusing on my breath, gently observing every inhale through my nose and exhale out of my mouth. Doing this for two minutes alone instantly decreases the cortisol levels in your body. Cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone’, which is why it’s important to keep it in check. In an ideal world, I would meditate as soon as I woke up, but when you add two kids into the mix– that is no longer happening! Working with what I have, I do the best each day to find time to dedicate to this practice.
Even 5-10 minutes of meditation a day can have such a profound effect on your mood, it’s kind of crazy! Let me tell you, on the days I don’t meditate, I am a much different person than I am on days that I make my practice a priority. To put it bluntly: #reactiveAF. Don’t be discouraged if at first you find your mind wandering. The brain is like a muscle; it takes time to build it up. Try my new 14 minute beginner’s meditation (linked HERE). I also love Tara Brock who shares free meditations on the meditation app Insight Timer (linked HERE).
Years ago, I spent the majority of my workouts killing myself at the gym for hours on end. I thought that I needed to incorporate at least an hour of cardio and an hour of strength training into my workout routine to lose weight or be ‘skinny’. It actually makes my stomach turn to even write that. Living with that self-imposed pressure brought so much stress and anxiety into my life. Eventually through meditation, I shifted my perspective and instead began practicing movement that I actually enjoyed. This led me to teaching, and as a result the MWH method was born! I have found so much peace moving my body in this way while also achieving visible results.
The next time you work out, really observe how you feel. Are you anxious? Are you excited? Do you feel at peace? Many of us subscribe to the outdated notion that we must torture ourselves in order to see real results. For me, that way of thinking is in the past, and today I work out to feel strong, energized and to support my overall mood and wellbeing. I believe it is so important to connect to the type of movement we practice. It sets us up for success, and when you truly enjoy it, it doesn’t feel like work.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you might know that I suffered from an eating disorder in the past. What I know now is that my eating disorder was a coping mechanism for the anxiety that was manifesting in my mind. Recognizing this was the first step to my recovery. Once I knew the root of the problem, I began to address the underlying issue. Again, this journey took years, but eventually I learned that eating mindfully played a huge role in regulating my anxiety. Today I eat foods that make me feel great and fill me with energy; foods that are high quality, nutritious and full of vitamins and antioxidants.
So many of us lead busy lives, which doesn’t always make it easy to eat well. We often end up shoving food in our mouths on the go and barely chew or taste our food. These ‘easy’, ‘convenient’ foods usually end up slowing us down rather than fueling us, which is counterproductive in the end. This is why it is so important to eat mindfully by blocking out all other distractions when your food is in front of you.
Pay attention to what makes you feel energized and happy, and what doesn’t. Personally, the more in tune I became with how my food was making me feel, the more I began eliminating foods that weighed me down. Ultimately, this is what led me to transition into a fully plant-based lifestyle. Incorporating as many nutrient dense foods into your diet will not only improve your overall mood, it will improve your memory, sleep and cognitive function. Food for thought…literally! The connection between gut health and brain health is undeniable and the extra effort you make to eat well is well worth it.
One more M…
To tie it all together, let me throw one more M at you: MAINTAIN! No matter how high the highs, or how low the lows, always come back to your practice. Whether you’re feeling great and on top of your game, or in the midst of losing your job, you must continue to show up for yourself! Coming back to your practice will offer stability and peace in your life no matter how insurmountable the external factors might seem.
Implementing the Ms into your life can feel challenging at first, so be gentle and patient with yourself. And remember, if you’re struggling with a mental health issue, you don’t have to deal with these feelings on your own. Talk to a friend, doctor or therapist. There is no shame in asking for help.
Photographer: Dan Nilsen