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Related Member: Mason Jar Cafe, Warren Dunes State Park, Lions Park Beach, Silver Beach County Park
Southwest Michigan sunsets help Mental Health

World Mental Health Day is coming up on Oct. 10. While only a day long, its intent is to focus on mental health education, awareness and reduce the social stigmas around mental health. In a world that can be heavy enough at times, we are all carrying something of our own, too.

Personally, life seems fast-paced enough that there is never a moment for a breather, processing emotions or simply relaxing. But today, I encourage you to take that break for yourself. Whether it be from the comfort of your home with your favorite snacks and shows or elsewhere. If you’re a busy bee who can’t remember when you last had a self-care day, allow me to get you started with ideas.

Here are six ways to take a mental health break in Southwest Michigan from someone who often needs one.

  1. Take a hike
    During the peak of the pandemic, I worked from home, like many of you reading. There were several occasions where I couldn’t remember the last time I stepped outside for fresh air. Even now, when I am back in the office, I quickly go from being at a desk to at home on my couch. This makes me feel a little sluggish, which quickly leads to worse feelings. To try and remedy that, I like to hit the trails or go for a walk.

    If I really want to work up a sweat, I’ll go to Warren Dunes. Those are massive sand mounds and I am most certainly not the most physically fit individual on them. But climbing up the dunes along the trails forces me to take breaks for myself — something I am trying to do in all aspects of my life. Whenever I finally make it to the top and look at the view, it reminds me how small my big feelings are in the grand scheme of things and usually clears my head so I can sort them out. Plus, it’s a good way to put a smile on my face when I run back down.

    If you’re wanting less of a commitment and an easier trek, hop on the John and Dede Howard Family Recreation Trail. This gets me moving, and I can always count on passing several people as I walk along the path. Sometimes, it’s not about having a conversation, but rather being near people that helps. We have several trails in Southwest Michigan so you can find the perfect one for you. At the end of the day, even if you just take a walk around your neighborhood though, the exercise is scientifically proven to help. As my favorite Legally Blonde lawyer once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
  2. Socialize with friends
    I’ve moved around a lot in the last few years for various internships, and as a result I have a lot of friends outside of Southwest Michigan. Sometimes, I start thinking about how long it has been since I saw any of them or talked to them. From there, it’s an easy downhill slope to feeling like a bad friend. To help that, I invite them to come catch up. I always set aside a day to hit the Makers Trail. Not only because it’s fun to show them unique Southwest Michigan creations, but also because we can eat great food at most of the stops. Starting my own Makers Trail Passport and encouraging my friends to do the same ensures two things that will help future friend-free gaps. It means that I have something to work towards that gets me out of the house for a fun activity, and it means my friends and I have an excuse to make time for each other throughout the year so we can earn more stamps.

  3. Find a new hobby
    I’ve never been artistically gifted, but I’ve found that it is a lot easier to put your feelings into something else rather than share them out loud sometimes. If this is the case for you, look into the Creative Connections game. Much like the Makers Trail, you earn a stamp each time you attend a new destination, but all of these locations are art-focused.

    Taking a class helps you meet new people and find a new hobby that you can pour yourself into. I most enjoy shopping for locally made art and adding it to my home. It’s a nice way to bring a smile to my face when I look at a piece that makes me feel understood. Another way to let the arts help your mental health is to watch plays and attend concerts. I’m a word-oriented person, and lyric meanings fascinate me. If I can’t describe how I’m feeling, the bridge of a song usually can. The same can be said for relating to characters in a play. Regardless, it’s a nice reminder that you aren’t the only one out there feeling the way you do. It’s even more refreshing to see it expressed in a way you wouldn’t have thought of yourself.
  4. Have a staycation
    If you’re from Southwest Michigan, then treat yourself to a vacation. Don’t stress with the hassle of booking a flight and coordinating transportation. Vacation in your own town. We have a staycation guide full of ideas to make a solo trip or one for the family right here in your hometown. Go somewhere where you don’t have to worry about making the bed and cleaning up the mess. These tasks can be taxing on top of a normal day-to-day schedule.

  5. Treat yo’self
    If I ever have a particularly rough week, I like to treat myself to a meal. It’s one less task in my day, and it’s a good way to thank my body for everything it does for me. Luckily, there is a wide variety in cuisine and price range in Southwest Michigan so I can find exactly what I am craving that week. In case no one tells you this today, you deserve that dessert, too. Go for it! I personally have a sweet tooth for Saturday brunch at Mason Jar Cafe. The Mason Jar French Toast mixed with the friendly staff and a coffee are perfect ways to treat myself. Forget about calories, your to-do list and life’s stressors. Just eat. This is a fun way to reduce the knots in my stomach that come about when I am extra stressed or anxious — and I usually have leftovers to treat myself twice!

  6. Spend time by Lake Michigan
    The reality of mental health is that some days, I could do all of these things and it still may not help how I am feeling. I’ve learned to acknowledge that that is absolutely okay. On these days, I rely on an old fix.
    I grew up taking a drive by Lake Michigan to watch the sunset most nights with my family. Even now, when family is in town, we still set aside time to watch. On my worst mental health days, I often feel a little less stressed in the evening. On these nights, I drive down along Silver Beach, then follow the road to Lions Park Beach at sunset. Because at the end of the day, the best thing I can do is look at something truly beautiful and remind myself that I get a fresh start tomorrow.

These guidelines are a recipe for mental health mindfulness — you can repeat and adjust them as needed. And remember, you don’t have to wait until World Mental Health Day to do these things, this list is helpful year round. Be kind and patient to those around you who are figuring out their own recipes for mindfulness, too. Be gentle with yourself today so you can find more of life’s simple joys tomorrow.

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