When I started Mental, I wanted a phrase that would explain why Mental, why now. A phrase that would encapsulate the wild, intense, sometimes sad, often overwhelming experience of navigating our society, with all of the pressures and worries that come with living, working, loving, thriving, and sometimes just surviving with a mental health condition or just your basic levels of off-the-charts stress and anxiety. We hit upon “Because life is bananas” for two main reasons:
1. No use of the word “crazy”
2. The banana is an interesting metaphor for humans, because it’s perky yellow when ripe, until it begins to spot and eventually brown—at which point it makes the most delicious banana bread. In all of its states, it’s worthy. Kind of like you and me, ya know?
And so, accepting that life is often bananas, what can we do about it? What can we do that’s real, helpful, and actually do-able, particularly in a moment of chaos? Enter these tips from wellness and mental health pros, who answered the simple prompt: “When life is bananas, I…” Here’s hoping you’ll find a technique that you can employ on your most bananas days. Let’s try and get through them together.
Digital Mind Games
“When life is bananas, I focus on something that requires attention—so my mind can’t wander—but isn’t work- or life-related. For example, the NYTimes Spelling Bee game, where you make words out of the seven letters they give you.”
—Amy Keller Laird, Mental’s founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Women’s Health
“When life is bananas, I scoop up one of my beloved kitties, a pink fluffy blanket, lay on the sofa and promptly engage in boxed breathing. Inhale for four seconds, hold for four more seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold for four more seconds. I repeat this a few times. Resets my nervous system and gives me a break from my anxious thoughts.”
—Lori Davis, Psy.D., clinical instructor of psychology in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College
“When life is bananas, I take a moment to do two easy things that always make me feel calmer. One is intentional breathing. I love doing a physiological sigh—two breaths in through the nose followed by a slow exhale through the mouth. I do this reclined in a chair with a Hugimal—from my line of weighted stuffed animals—on my chest to get the benefits of deep touch pressure, a.k.a. weighted pressure.
“I actually created Hugimals for my own anxiety and racing mind at night. Weighted blankets were too hot for me, and Hugimals’ 4.5 pounds of evenly distributed weight does the trick. They feel like they’re hugging you back, which has a calming effect on me.”
—Marina Khidekel, founder of Hugimals
“When life is bananas, I utilize diaphragmatic breathing, also referred to as belly breathing. When we take normal deep breaths (not through our diaphragm) we actually don’t use our lungs to their full capacity. Breathing through your diaphragm allows you to use your lungs at its full capacity.
“Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your upper belly to ensure you are moving your belly in and out more than your chest. Inhale through your nose while your belly expands as if there’s a balloon in it expanding. When you exhale, you should be breathing out of your mouth as if you are blowing our birthday candles or blowing through a straw.”
—psychologist Rachel Goldman, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine
“When life is bananas, I use the 4-7-8 technique. As someone who experienced debilitating panic attacks in my 20s, this is my go-to for instant calm. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for 7 counts, then forcefully—so you can hear it—blow air out through your mouth for a count of 8.”
—Renée Rouleau, aesthetician and founder of Rénee Rouleau Skincare
On a Yoga Mat
“When life is bananas and I’m stressed, I pull out my yoga mat in a quiet place. I sit in a comfortable position and close my eyes It’s all about controlled breathing for me, which slows down my heart rate and my nerves. Works every time.”
—Nancy Berger, founder of SWAG: Start With A Good (___) and former SVP/Group Publisher of Cosmo, Women’s Health, and Seventeen.com
Mental Note: Need a reminder to breathe, like one that’s stuck to the back of your phone? Try our cool new Calm Strips + Mental stickers! They’re banana-shaped sensory stickers imprinted with a breathing exercise. Because they’re textured, they also function as a tactile spot to channel nervous energy, right at your fingertips.
Making a Plan
“When life is bananas, I make sure I’m eating, I make sure I’m hydrated, and I make a plan to restore myself when things are not so bananas. That gives me something to look forward to and it helps me remember that everything is temporary!”
—Ashley Tisdale, actress and founder of lifestyle brand Frenshe
Addressing the Priority
“When life is bananas and there’s a lot on my plate, I tend to address the most anxiety-provoking or stressing thing, person, or situation. Maybe that’s called rapid addressing—haha, new term.
“Says I’m distressed by my stepmother’s situation with her leukemia treatment. It may just be anxiety: Will she die? Will she live? Or I’m just feeling damn sad for her. That could be on my plate of bananas, and I determine it’s top banana or emotional priority. So I’ll FaceTime with her to connect and give her love. Or call just to hear her voice. I feel better having reached out.”
—therapist Patrick Davin, LPC
Heat + Naikan Therapy
“When life is bananas, heat helps reset things for me. A hot 20-minute bath and subsequent 20-minute ‘rest-and-sweat’ recovery period—a sauna and cold shower—invariably really changes my frame of mind for the positive.
“Another thing: I did a Japanese form of therapy called Naikan, which is a little like a gratitude practice, except you also include all the ways you cause trouble for other people and the world in general—you write it all down, for 20 minutes a day, and even a week of doing it changes your perspective forever.”
—Jean Godfrey-June, executive beauty director at Goop
“When life is bananas, I put on a record, light a candle, and dance and sing in my living room. Right now my go-to is the Midnights album by Taylor Swift or Strange Desire album by Bleachers.”
—Danielle Catton, digital creator with a focus on mental health and body confidence; @danielleisanxious
“When life is bananas, I hop into my whirlpool tub full of lavender epsom salts paired with TikTok-induced laughter.”
—Akilah Cadet, founder and chief executive officer of Change Cadet, a DEI consulting firm
“When life is bananas, I pull up my Instagram folder ‘Attitude Adjustment;: This is where I keep uplifting messages I find that can totally change my mental track.”
—Katie Becker, beauty editor and writer for Vogue and Elle
“When life is bananas, I play with slime. I’m not overstating it when I say that slime play transformed my mental health. I was in a very bad place about six years ago, going through a lot of grief, mourning, and depression. A friend came over with her daughter, who happened to have slime with her. I wound up playing with her for four hours.
“Squeezing has been proven to release tension. That is a big part of slime play. Plus, the sounds and visuals of slime are amazingly satisfying. It truly calms me and brings me to the moment. It also makes me feel like a kid again—there is no better medicine than rediscovering your youth.”
—Karen Robinovitz, co-founder and co-CEO of Sloomoo Institute
Conjuring the Beach
“When life is bananas, I focus on a favorite moment in time. For me, that’s the beach. I focus on recreating the memory—with sounds and fragrances that shift my mindset.”
—Tim Quinn, celebrity makeup artist and co-founder of skincare line Halo42
“When life is bananas, I get on the tennis court. Playing tennis helps to keep me grounded and present-focused and calms my mind.”
—psychologist Jaime Zuckerman, Psy.D.
“When life is bananas, when I feel a panic attack coming on, I sit with my head between my knees and put ice on my wrists. I ask my roommates to remind me it’ll pass.”
—Akanksha Bhatia, writer and mental health advocate
“When life is bananas, I do a self-soothing DBT technique. The exercise involves noticing the five senses. Here’s an example: Naming five things I can see, four things I can touch, three things I can hear, two things I can smell, and one thing I can taste. This can be so helpful in getting grounded quickly.”
—therapist Shelby Castile, LMFT, founder of The OC Shrinks, a organization of 3,000 mental health professionals in Orange County, California
“When life is bananas, I do whatever I can to add some joy into my day! It’s counterintuitive, because we usually want to control and not focus on fun when things are extra intense, but it always helps shift my mood and even helps me let go.”
—Nitika Chopra, founder and CEO of Chronicon, a community of people who experience chronic health conditions
“I get up from my computer—that is key, to physically remove myself from the stress source—and envision this little scene I came across years ago on the island of Martinique. It was a blazing hot day, we’d hiked up a steep hill, and at the top was this explosion of green and flowers overrun with butterflies and bees. It was its own world, full of life and creatures and work and different kinds of obligations. It always reminds me that life goes on no matter what, and I must go on with it.”
—Megan O’Neill, associate beauty director at Goop
We’ll Never Tell You to ‘Just Calm Down’
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