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  • Writer's pictureGary Grewal

5 Ways to Earn Mental Health Dividends – Even When Times Are Tough

This is a guest post I did for the stealth man behind Accidentally Retired. Check it out and go read some his book reviews!

We’ve had no shortage of new phrases to describe how people are dealing with the doom and gloom of the last few years.

From “pandemic puppy” to “vaccine retail therapy,” pretty much all of us have had our worlds turned upside down after March of 2020.

And even with the events after that, from racial reckoning, elections, wars, and skyrocketing rent prices, many people have had it pretty rough since the start of this century.

It’s no surprise then, that people have been treating themselves from new pets to boats so they can “social distance” to total backyard renovations.

When lockdowns occurred, and many people were out of work, you could’ve become a contractor and made a killing.

People were stuck at home and realized how much they detested their homes.

Many gutted bathrooms and kitchens, and installed pools and fire pits, so they could just vacation in their backyard instead of a resort in Scottsdale.

Well, whatever you’ve been going through, it’s ok to treat yourself here and there – but you have to find some balance.

It’s when you start throwing reason to the wind for every purchase, that you can run into some problems on your path to FI.

So, if you’ve hit a rough patch after a breakup, job loss, or just a funk, here are some tips to help put yourself back on track without spending all of your hard earned money!

5 Ways to Earn Mental Health Dividends

1. Spend Time with Your Mother

Mother Nature that is. (Or your real mom too, that’s never time spent frivolously).

We are fortunate in this country to have protected open spaces, parks, trails, and recreation areas.

Thanks to Google Maps and Trip Advisor, I became enamored by state and National Parks, and have made a personal bucket list goal to camp in all lower 48 states (currently checked off 12). To say we are lucky is an understatement.

For those of you who have read The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, you already know the countless benefits of spending time in nature, beyond just being in a relaxing and serene environment to collect your thoughts.

Sure, some State and National Parks have paid parking and entrance fees, but many local city parks, county parks, and recreation areas are free.

So when you’re down in the dumps and find yourself doomscrolling, just walking to your nearest green space is bound to make you feel better.

2. Write in Your Gratitude Journal

Alright, so you’re not going to take me up on getting outside?

Bust out your nicely-bound journal, and just write what comes to your mind.

It might be what you woke up thinking, how your weekend went, what you’re hoping happens this week, or just how mad you are that the flight you were on was delayed.

Writing is release.

It relieves pressure on your mind by putting your thoughts on paper and giving context to them.

You’re forced to give validation to your thoughts and organize them, as well as give them merit.

Maybe being upset that your enemy at work is getting a promotion that will undermine your strategy to do even better at work.

Or maybe the end of a relationship is causing you to be cynical, and preventing you from giving people the benefit of the doubt.

No matter what the issue, once you start regularly journaling, you’ll find that you actually look forward to writing in it.

You’ll start to have more reflective journaling sessions, such as contemplating what you want your life to look like in 5 or 10 years, or what you’re hoping people would say about you when they make a speech at your wedding.

If you’re feeling especially crabby, try to find at least 5 things that happened in the last week that you’re grateful for.

It can be as simple as someone holding the door open for you as you leave the gym, or someone backing up to give you more space as you cross the street.

Like Luke Bryan says, I believe most people are good.

Ask anyone who has been journaling for a while, and it’s very unlikelythey’ll say their gratitude journal makes them feel even worse after writing in it!

3. Call/FaceTime with a Non-Local Friend

Thankfully, after the pandemic lockdowns FaceTime, Zoom sessions, and phone calls became more widespread.

However sadly I’m noticing them falling away as people get back into their normal routines.

Everyone has time for a few calls here and there.

If CEOs and startup founders with families and businesses to run can do it, so can you.

What is life without friends?

Too often we scroll on social media to see what our friends are up to, only to feel dejected because they post pictures of a recent trip or that they have the best partner/spouse and they’re super into each other.

If you’re someone who has a healthy family, a good job/business, or some level of admirable stability, take it upon yourself to call your friends who’ve maybe had a rougher time.

They might feel like you are too busy or good for them now, and hearing from you can rekindle a friendship just like in your glory days.

When you’re feeling defeated, nothing helps like seeing a familiar and friendly face, because the memories you had with that person will come rushing back.

Cracking old jokes, or even just venting about what you are going through can help you feel so much better.

And you never know, you might find out the friend with a perfect life on social media has been struggling with something themselves, and your call couldn’t have come at a better time. Trust me.

Just take an hour on Wednesday night to call a friend instead of watching “hustle culture” YouTube videos and you’ll be glad you did!

4. Volunteer

One of the things I learned is that when we give our time to others, we take the focus off ourselves.

It’s especially helpful to do this if you recently went through a major life event, such as a move, job chance, breakup, or diagnosis.

Rather than dwelling on the current state of things or wishing you did things differently/seen the signs earlier, you can focus on those who may be less fortunate than you.

Many of those cheesy Christmas movies actually have a good lesson.

They’ll have one person living an amazing life with lots of money, and the rug is pulled out from under them and they move away to a small town to reinvent themselves.

In the meantime, while helping out at the food bank, senior home, or children’s hospital, they realize that their issues are so trivial in comparison to what some other people are going through.

Complaining that you got laid off may feel like the world is ending, however, when you help at an event raising money for victims of domestic violence, you’re grateful that you have a safe home to go home to, or a relationship/family that loves you and would never subject you to such trauma.

If those types of events are too much for you, consider tapping into your passions to line up your volunteer interests. This could be animals, parks and trails, at-risk youth, or sustainable travel.

The goal is to find something that can take your mind off your current struggles, strengthen your gratitude muscle, and maybe even spark an idea of what direction you want to change in your life.

5. Look at Old Albums

Yet another great idea that doesn’t cost a thing, yet is guaranteed to make you feel better, includes looking at old photos, preferably real ones over digital.

I started an annual tradition after each Thanksgiving, to print photos of the best memories of that year.

I’ve gotten 3 full albums so far, and only really have photos as far back as junior year of high school.

Looking back at memories of birthdays, trips with friends, camping, family vacations, holidays, or even just a game night at home with some of your best buds can evoke positive emotions and laugh about the jokes cracked that evening.

Watching old videos of these events is also a great idea, to hear the voices of those you don’t see too often or feel grateful for those in your life. (Maybe doing this exercise may even prompt you to call one of these said friends or FaceTime them, and then write in your gratitude journal about how thankful you are to have people like this in your life. See the connection here).

You can even put things in your album that are not pictures, but keepsakes from vacations or memories of the past, such as tickets to a baseball game, wristbands for festivals you went to, or cards sent to you from years ago.

I’ve kept some cards from over 10 years ago, not because I’m a hoarder (quite the opposite, I’m a big fan of minimalism) but because some of the things that people have written to me are treasured sentiments of our friendship or family connection, and some of those people are no longer here.

So, when times are tough, I can read their handwritten messages of encouragement. Then it’s time to dust myself off, power through the valleys, and get back on track with life and the journey to FI.


And there you have it.

Sometimes, when we are down on our luck, in a funk, or just feel like the world is against us for whatever reason, we need to pause and look after our mental health.

That doesn’t always mean retail therapy or jetting off to a tropical island.

Counting our blessings, being mindful, and practicing gratitude in our relationships will pay dividends.

Maybe not stock dividends, but certainly mental health dividends!

All we need sometimes is to look at our life from a bird’s eye view.

  • Does this problem you’re having matter in the grand scheme of things?

  • Is it going to last forever?

  • When you look back on it in a year or 10, how will it truly impact things?

Learn to dance in the rain, grateful for the harvest it nourishes, and you’ll be ahead of many people.

What do you think? Is there anything you like to do when times are tough and you’re wanting to throw caution to the wind?


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