5 Things I Wish I Knew About Mental Health When I Was Younger
Do you ever look back on where you thought you would be today? When I was younger, I had my whole path mapped out, but then little things would pop up like little weeds in the pavement. I would have to stop and pull them out before continuing on my way. Sometimes the weeds would be better rooted and stronger and wouldn’t come up without a fight, and I would grow weary battling them, but eventually won (although worn out from the battle). Long after, I could look behind me and didn’t see the weeds, or the memory of the work to remove them; I only saw the beautiful path I had walked.
When I was younger, those weeds — the problems I had to overcome, the hurt I felt, the confusion that was caused in finding my way – were something I thought would go away on their own. Instead, they overgrew my path and I had to put a lot of work in to clear it. So, as I look back on my beautiful weed-free path today, I have wondered what I would have told my younger self to help her battle the weeds in her path.
1. Don’t allow yourself to stay in a situation that is damaging your mental health.
This one is a hard lesson to learn, and one that gets harder the longer it takes you to address it, but one of the most important ones. If your work environment is toxic, get out. If you are going to work each day and can physically feel the stress and drama bearing down on you, don’t stay there. Is it scary to leave what you know? Absolutely. Will it be easy? Not at all. But the change in your mental health after you leave that situation will be life-changing. The longer you stay, the harder it becomes to leave: you are making more money, you are more invested in your retirement plan, you have more life responsibilities, etc. But your happiness is important and your mental health is important. A negative environment drills into your brain and begins to make you negative. Your self-esteem, self-confidence and your desire to want more begin to diminish to make more room for negative thoughts. You owe it to yourself to make your mental health a priority and get rid of things that do not encourage good mental health habits.
2. Therapy is for everyone.
There is absolutely no shame in therapy; in fact, it shows a great amount of strength. There is a myth that counseling is only for people who are mentally unstable or struggling with addiction. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, if you are experiencing something big then you should seek help, but a counselor also provides you a sounding board for all of your internal thoughts. It is like preventative care for your mental health. I often joke with my counselor telling him he’s the big sister I’ve always wanted, but it’s true; we can talk about TV shows, movies, exercise and bigger life issues, but it stays locked away and we process through things together. Apps such as BetterHelp and TalkSpace make it so easy to check in with someone right in the moment. BetterHelp is my app of choice, and they did an awesome job of matching me up with the right counselor for me. It felt a little strange texting someone about how I was feeling at first, but now it is something I find myself looking forward to. It gives me a way to debrief after something happens, someone to share my joy with, and someone who helps me keep myself in check and accountable, and I am much better at expressing myself through writing than through speaking.
This was a big one for me. Self-care shouldn’t be so time-consuming that it ends up making you feel stressed. My old methods of self-care included getting my nails done, getting a haircut (with deep conditioning) or traveling. While these were relaxing, they did not help my day-to-day stress level. I had to find ways of self-care that did not add to my stress and workload simply by finding time to do them. What does self-care look like to me now? Taking a break to play a few games of “Words With Friends,” meditating (I am a huge fan of Headspace because of the short meditations they offer), or going for a quick walk and taking in my surroundings. I have a photo album on my phone with pictures I selected just to remind me of where I am and what I am going to accomplish, and I have a playlist on my phone that has music that builds me up when I need it. Sure, I have other means of self-care that take longer, but those are not something I can use quickly during a busy day to clear my head and keep me focused. I enjoy jogging, reading, napping and sitting someplace quiet to reflect on things. Having a variety of self-care methods you can use quickly will help get through stressful situations that pop up during the day.
4. 10 push-ups is still exercise.
I have a love-hate relationship with exercise. When I’m doing it, I usually enjoy it, but gathering up the motivation to start each time is something I struggle with. Recently, in a conversation with my counselor, we were talking about how tired I have been feeling. He pointed out that I need to exercise more. (He loves telling me to exercise.) I thought about waking up an hour earlier each day so I could go for a run (but let’s be honest, that was not going to happen), and he told me to just do 10 push-ups every half hour or so to keep myself awake and focused. It doesn’t need to be push-ups; if jumping jacks are your thing, do those. The point is, anything done throughout the day will give you little energy boosts. So, close your office door or run to the restroom and get a few seconds of exercise in. (I don’t recommend the push-ups on the bathroom floor, however!) While you are at it, drink a glass of water each time to keep yourself hydrated.
5. Find a way to give back.
This one seems easy to overlook, I know, but the response giving back has on your mental health is incredible. As I was trying to figure out who I was, I applied to be a volunteer crisis counselor with the Crisis Text Line. The impact helping others has had on my mental health has been indescribable. I have learned more about myself through my conversations with people needing help, I have learned different coping techniques, and I have been able to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Giving back is important because it takes some of the energy from our internal thoughts and experiences and gives it to helping people. So, find a way you are comfortable giving back: volunteer at a food pantry, help out at your local library, give blood — there are so many ways out there that will match different lifestyles. The trick is to find one that matches who you are and who you want to be, then you will grow.
These are only a few things I have picked up along my journey, and I will continue to gather more as I move forward. The key thing is to be you. Don’t let others tell you who you should be; you are the expert on you. And I think you are pretty amazing just for being here.
Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash