Sometimes it can feel like the only thing certain in the world today is uncertainty. With every day bringing new challenges, questions and expectations, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Rightfully, there is so much emphasis being put on everyone’s physical health, but it’s equally important to be aware of our mental health, as well.
While the ways to protect our physical health are much more tangible, caring for our mental health can take a bit more introspection. Giving ourselves the attention that we need can almost seem too self-indulgent at times, but learning to be your own mental health advocate is a key piece to navigating a confusing and stressful time.
Maintain your boundaries
Boundaries can be hard enough to maintain in a normal world, much less one that feels as though it’s tipped upside down. From work/life balance to emotional and relationship boundaries, people everywhere are being put in positions where maintaining their center is more of a challenge.
Having your home turn into a makeshift office/classroom/daycare, etc. can make it really easy for boundaries to start disintegrating. Having an open and honest discussion about realistic needs and expectations is key, both with yourself and whoever else is sharing a space. We can’t be everything or everywhere at once, and protecting yourself from taking on too much will help prevent burnout, increased stress and unnecessary conflict.
Boundaries aren’t just about workload either. Emotional boundaries may be harder to navigate, but are arguably just as (if not more) important for your mental health and wellbeing. During this time it’s understandable to want to give as much as we can wherever we can: to our partner, children, loved ones and those we don’t know who need help. While that speaks volumes about the intrinsic warmth of human nature, it also allows us to put ourselves on the back burner for far too long, and spend all of our emotional energy on other people.
Take the time to take care of yourself, and know when to take a step back if you feel like you’re giving too much, or too much is being expected of you.
Acknowledge your own self-talk
Take a minute to think about the kinds of things you say to yourself, about yourself. Are they more positive or negative? By and large, we are our own worst critics, and the way we talk to ourselves contributes largely to our self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Self-talk in general is something everyone experiences, but whether it’s positive or negative is often a very personal, learned behavior.
If you find yourself leaning more toward the negative self-talk, shifting that to a more positive inner dialogue can make drastic differences to your overall well being. Unlearning negative self-talk is not an overnight process, and does take consistent work. Yes, it will probably feel weird at first to consciously talk to yourself. Start small, and make sure you’re not trying to combat those positive thoughts with negative ones.
Try to avoid comparing yourself or your life to someone else’s, especially on social media. Remember that they’re choosing small snippets of their life to share with the world, and everyone has struggles to go along with their highlight reel.
Come up with a list of things you love about yourself (although tempting, try to refrain from asking for help/suggestions from others). Take some time at least once a day to give yourself a compliment. Think about the way you talk to those you love, and try to internalize that more. You are the person you spend the most time with and your biggest advocate, so it’s important to stand strongly in your own corner.
Find a routine that works for you
As much as I would love to think rolling out of bed and watching Frasier reruns for 3 hours is great for my productivity, I had to re-evaluate that a few days into self-isolation when I realized I was getting little to nothing done until the last minute, if at all. Like a lot of other people, our plates are full. Between my husband and I, we’re juggling kids, grad school, working from home and a clinical internship. My husband has quickly learned that he is not really a “work from home” type of person, and has had to really make conscious efforts to stick to a routine and schedule that helps him be as productive as possible.
Having spent 5 years as a stay at home mom prior to grad school, I have a slightly easier time dealing with the “same four walls” syndrome…only slightly though. It still isn’t perfect, but we’re honing in on a routine that works for everyone. Just like with boundaries, it’s important to be realistic and honest about the expectations and responsibilities each person has. Is every day perfect? Of course not, but we don’t beat ourselves up for it if there are still things on our list to be checked off at the end of the day. What our routine gives us is an opportunity to get it done, and the freedom to know there’s still time for us tomorrow if we need it.
Explore a hobby that encourages your creativity
Admittedly my husband and I are serial hobbyists. We’ll give anything a shot once, and really love the idea of using our creative brains as the driving force behind something new. Right now it might even feel like a chore to take on another “unnecessary” task, but hear me out. Finding a creative outlet can help reduce stress, give the brain a break from dwelling on current worries or things out of our control and allow us to learn more about ourselves. There have even been some studies to suggest a link between creativity and increased brain plasticity and function.
What it really comes down to is finding what feels right for you, which can be virtually anything that fires up that creative spark. Some great go-to’s could be painting, cooking, writing, photography, dance or gardening. Being a “color outside of the lines” person by design, I also love exploring more obscure hobbies, some of which I have tried and can confirm they’re pretty great. Some of my favorites that either I or someone I know has done include: special effects makeup, cosplay/prop building, archery, podcasting, accordion playing, unicycling, raising chickens and honestly too many more to count.
One of my favorite go to’s to offer people is to do something you loved to do as a kid. All of these examples are really just proof positive that creative hobbies can and will look different for everyone, but the benefits are universal.
Celebrate the small stuff
This pandemic has rocked the entire world, and with it our mental health. Everyone is just trying to do the best they can to stay safe and sane. It’s important to remember that this is not a normal situation. We’re all experiencing a collective trauma in one way or another, while at the same time being expected to carry on as professionals, parents, students, teachers, essential workers or caregivers, sometimes all at once.
Small victories look different for everyone. If you’re struggling with depression and you were able to get up and shower today, celebrate that. If you’ve been struggling to prioritize your workload and were able to finish a task today, celebrate that. If you were able to help your child with their common core math problems even though they defy all logic, DEFINITELY celebrate that. Give yourself that pat on the back. Look for what went right to see if it can be brought into tomorrow, but don’t take away from the success of today.
Nothing about the state of things is normal or ideal. It can be easy to forget that our mental health is just as high a priority as our physical health, especially because it’s not always as obvious. Check in with yourself. Make the effort to give yourself the time and attention you need, even if you think you don’t. Give yourself credit for getting through that Zoom meeting, have a dance party in the kitchen and ignore the sink full of dishes for a while, dust off that unicycle. Don’t forget to remind yourself that you’re worth it.