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Mental health challenge inspired by Kristen Bell will help with your anxiety detox

Women's Health logo Women's Health 10/14/2019 Alexis Jones
a young boy wearing a yellow dress and smiling at the camera: The Good Place's Kristen Bell is a busy woman. But she relies on her mental health toolbox to keep her well. Here's her challenge to help you develop your own. © Dennis Leupold The Good Place's Kristen Bell is a busy woman. But she relies on her mental health toolbox to keep her well. Here's her challenge to help you develop your own.

Kristen Bell has been refreshingly open about suffering from depression and anxiety. So when Women's Health interviewed the star of The Good Place and Frozen 2 for our November Mind Issue, it's no wonder that she had the best idea for staying on top of your mental health: developing a "toolbox" of strategies that help when you're feeling overwhelmed...or even just meh.

If you prep a mental-health toolkit of your own, you'll be so much better able to deal when anxiety starts to creep up on you, says Nicole Issa, PsyD, a Rhode Island-based psychologist. "You don’t have to worry about, 'What am I going to do next? Or what am I going to do when I feel this way?' You’re already prepared for these situations when they come." 

To help you create your own toolbox, WH has put together a mini mental health challenge using inspiration from the things Kristen told us help her stay in a good mental place—and then tapped some of our favorite psychologists for intel on how you can use the tools in your everyday life to improve your mental well-being.

a screenshot of a cell phone: The Kristen Bell x WH Mental Health Challenge © Hearst Owned The Kristen Bell x WH Mental Health Challenge

Challenge #1: Do a physical activity you genuinely enjoy.

For KB, working out with friends trumps...pretty much any solo workout.

“Exercise should be the first stop for anyone who experiences depression or anxiety because it encourages serotonin and endorphins," she tells WH. "I feel so much more centered, patient, capable. It sets the next 48 hours for me.”

Experts cosign the mental-health perks of physical activity for everyone—not just people who experience depression or anxiety. But if you're forcing yourself through an hour-long torture session at the gym, it's going to be really tough to make it a habit and therefore reap the benefits. That's why you want to focus on something you really like—and therefore will do on the reg.

Having that go-to type of movement in your toolkit can also help you in specific moments where you're feeling stressed or down, says Dr. Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a New York-based clinical psychologist. “Doing physical exercise you enjoy helps to create feelings of empowerment," she says.

The result? A calmer, more centered you.

Challenge #2: Find a way to restore your energy when you’re feeling drained.

Maybe surprising, but true: Kristen Bell, the ultimate perky girl, considers herself an introvert. “I will get irritable when I have to do too much press or people interaction,” she says. “Turning into alone time is how I fill up."

Knowing what helps fill you up is key, say experts. "It is essential to engage in restorative activities," Issa says. "It means you'll be less likely to lean on destructive ways that people manage their emotions, such as binge eating, overconsumption of alcohol, etc."

Once you know which activity (or activities) help you feel restored, the key is finding the time to actually do it. For Carmichael, massages after stressful events help her refocus and center her energy. So she schedules them in advance and times them for the day or week after things she knows will deplete her energy (a conference, a big meeting with a manager, etc).

"Plan into your calendar to do your recharging activities at regular intervals, or you can plan them to happen right after a big challenge," Carmichael says. Either option will make the draining situation feel more manageable because you'll be able to look forward to your restorative time, Carmichael says.

Challenge #3: Do something that helps you live in the moment.

Before, Kristen says she would spend her entire drive home from work fixated on what she had to do for her kids that week. Not anymore. "Taking CBD oil turned off my mental to-do list that is constantly in a slot machine rotation in my brain," she says.

"If we don’t have a way of consciously shutting off our to-do list, we run the risk of constantly feeling like we’re on the hamster wheel," Carmichael says. "If you are able to focus on the present moment and practice mindfulness, then you will be less likely to get swept up in problematic thought patterns or emotions," Issa adds.

If you find yourself obsessing, break the cycle by using CBD oil like Kristen, jade rolling before bed, or whatever relaxing activity works for you.

"The more consistent you are, the more benefits you have," Issa says. If you build this habit, over time it will signal to your brain that it's time to relax and engage with the present.

Challenge #4: Explore coping mechanisms for when you're annoyed.

Stars, they're just like you! As in, they also like venting about their S.O.s sometimes. Or Kristen does, at least. She says she will go on the video app Marco Polo to connect with her girlfriends "all day, every day."

"It’s just like, 'I had a terrible day. My husband’s being an a**hole.' 'I’ve got to have lunch with you because I’m f*cking freaking out.' Anything like that."

When you're flustered, it's basically impossible to come up with a productive way to deal in the moment, says Carmichael. "To have a little foresight and think about something helpful you can do before you even get upset helps you have a healthy tool that will make moments of frustration go smoother—so you're less likely to spiral."

So jot down your version of venting to your girlfriends on Marco Polo (or just steal KB's strategy for dealing) and make it your go-to the next time you need to get to a more Zen mindset, stat.

Challenge #5: Do something that makes you feel strong.

Kristen says she's never felt physically powerful—until she started taking classes at a local place called Studio Metamorphosis. "I’m loving the fact that if we ever get attacked by ninjas, I would be a valuable asset," she says.

Not feeling confident or empowered can lead to negative self talk, insecurity, and anxiety, says Issa. "When you need a boost of empowerment, it’s good to be able to know what to reach for," Carmichael adds.

If your confidence booster is something like going for a run, you might be able to do that in those times when you need a pick-me-up. But if your answer is, say, sky diving, even just looking at a photo of yourself enjoying your favorite activity can help, Carmichael says. When you see it, you'll feel stronger.

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