For most of us on the FIRE path, this journey is all about trying to have a better quality of life than we otherwise would. And part of having a high quality of life is building a spirit of resilience that can weather and withstand trauma. Due to the high impact COVID-19 is having on our society, every single one of us is experiencing trauma in some form right now.
Developing a skillset to help you endure, persevere, and eventually even learn to thrive through difficult and trying times is also incredibly important to investing. During downturns, we have to be disciplined enough to hold our positions in the market and not panic sell. It takes a lot of self-control and restraint to stick to your downturn plan during a bear market when everyone around you is realizing their losses.
Whatever your circumstances are, maintaining good mental health techniques right now is more important than ever.
Habits to Develop Mental Strength
Eating a Healthy Diet, Exercising, Getting Enough Sleep, Spending Time Outside
Some of the main activities you can participate in everyday to stay mentally strong which provide huge benefits over time are eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, and spending time outside. To give you a leg up, I wrote more about how to get exercise in during the time of the coronavirus here. That article also overlaps with spending time outside, but I want to stress that, even if you are just standing in an empty park alone right now, looking out your window, or, watching a nature documentary, you are still reaping mental health benefits.
Getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet are the two best things that prepare your body to deal with whatever comes its way. The fuel you provide your body will determine how well it runs.
By the way. if you’re doing a double-take at that list and thinking that all of those habits are just for physical health, you might be surprised to know that the mental health benefits for all of those activities are actually very well documented. I’ve gone ahead and provided some links to published, peer-reviewed studies from reliable sources for a large majority of this list if you would like to go deeper into the science behind these suggestions.
Having a Supportive Community, Laughing, Optimism
After you’ve got your lifestyle basics down, surrounding yourself with people who encourage and support you is another amazing way to prepare yourself to be mentally strong. There has never been a more important time to Zoom/FaceTime/Google HangOut/Skype your friend who makes you laugh and always has a positive, supportive word to say.
In fact, this is the time to lean into optimism in general. Those who are optimistic enjoy better mental health, physical health, and report better overall well-being. Yes, prepare for the worst-case scenario so you know that you’ll be ok no matter what (you know I’m talking about that e-fund, team), but from there pause and feel grateful for what you have. Take time to reflect on what is going well in your life, what’s making you happy, and what you’re looking forward to. Finding joy, in whatever form you can, and focusing on it will make your life so much richer and give you so much more head space to deal with whatever life is throwing your way.
Limiting Social Media Exposure
This may seem counterintuitive to the prior suggestion to reach out to friends, but I also encourage you to limit your social media intake. Right now especially, social media, the news, and even my email inbox can be very dark and negative places. I certainly recommend staying informed on what’s going on in your community and best practice advice from somewhere reliable like the CDC. But, once you’re up to date, take a break from it all and step back. Allow yourself to focus on something positive and uplifting and you’ll find that you are better prepared to respond when there is a call to action.
Meditating, Journaling, Goal Setting
In fact, that could be a good opportunity to meditate or journal. I am a life-long journaler and credit it with shaping my life, creativity, and my mental health in a lot of ways. It’s something I use to reflect on the direction my life is taking and how I feel about that. It’s something I recommend to anyone because you can start at any time, easily keep it private and password protected nowadays, and use it however you want. Meditation has taken a bit more work for me to get into, but every time I put in the work to do it I feel significantly more relaxed, more at peace, and more able to handle what’s going on in my life. There are a million apps and YouTube videos out that you can find but a meditation group I attend occasionally often uses Sharon Salzberg’s recordings. I like meditating because it makes it easier to identify when I’m having negative thoughts, recognize the messages I’m telling myself, and embrace or replace them. The more connected you are to your feelings, the more mastery you have over them.
I also want to recommend adding goal setting into your routine right now if it’s not already part of it. I create goal lists on a weekly, monthly, annual, and life-long basis and check them off and add commentary to them as I complete them. This habit is especially helpful for staying motivated and engaged with your life. Keeping a goal list helps me figure out what’s important for me to focus my time on and how I should prioritize my to-do list. Seeing the priority on my lists reduces my mental load and means I have to spend less time trying to recall what it is I need to do on a daily basis. I also get a lot of personal satisfaction from crossing things off my list and feeling that sense of completion.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional
Finally, to be mentally strong, I want to recommend just going easy on yourself and doing things that make you happy everyday. Perfection isn’t the goal. But routinely developing a spirit of gratitude and reflecting on the things that are going right in your life and what you’re grateful for truly has a profound effect.
One of my favorite adages is, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Yes, things get hard. But, you get to choose your reaction in all this.
Resilient, mentally strong people will take all that is going on right now and learn to be ok and even thrive right now in spite of difficulty. And a resilient, mentally strong person is exactly what you are, my friend.
Please reach out to me if you’d like to learn more about or talk about any of these habits. Learning to be a better, stronger, more productive, and happier version of myself is a strong passion of mine and I’d love to know what you all think about this during times like this crisis.