By: Sophia Erickson
Recently, the discussion of mental health has been on the forefront of the media. Whether it be Tik Tok trends highlighting self care practices, podcasts with experts explaining brain chemicals or media stories with celebrities discussing their own mental health, we are starting to see huge strides in the de-stigmatization of mental illness. Finally, the importance of treating your mental health as you would your physical health is being accepted and appreciated. Not only is it becoming less taboo to talk openly about mental health, therapy, etc. but it is also an issue that everyone is seemingly on board with.
That being said, destigmatizing mental well-being goes beyond vulnerable discussions and trending social media infographics . It must be a priority that we follow-through with everyday, and not just on the days when we don’t feel so great. While applying a face mask once a month may provide momentary relief, self-care must be just as routine as getting adequate sleep or moving your body. The art of mastering self care, however, certainly isn’t immediate. We must invest time and effort into self care just as much as we would practice anything else. In the same way that a violinist spends hours with their instrument perfecting Beethoven’s Sonata for an upcoming performance, being in touch with our mental well-being means we, too, must allocate time focusing on our most important instruments, the body, and the mind. If you take the right steps it’s not that hard to start, especially since there is no single fix or unilateral strategy to practice self-care. While the list of products, regimens, and courses of action continues to grow, not everyone has the money to purchase pricey green juices, expensive wellness retreats, healing crystals, and just about any other trend you may see flooding your Tik Tok feed. Below, however, I have outlined some of the most impactful and least intimidating ways to prioritize mental health; this way, focusing on mental health becomes something we do day to day – not just something we talk about.
- Give yourself permission to take a mental health day
It is time to ditch the notion that taking a mental health day is selfish or unproductive. Everyone needs a day to themselves once in a while, and not only will it make you more productive and better off in the long run, but it will also prevent you from burning out. This being said, don’t be afraid to email your professor or boss when you feel like you are struggling. They are people too and would only want the best for you outside of the classroom/workplace.
- Do something besides watching Netflix before bed
Be brutally honest with yourself. When was the last time you stayed up until 3am binge-watching netflix and woke up feeling energetic and productive, ready to take on a new day? If you have more mornings than you can count where you have felt especially sluggish because of these late nights maybe try to do something besides Netflix or scrolling before bed. Make an effort to read a book for leisure, color, journal, stretch – anything that doesn’t involve a screen will prevent that feeling of lethargy the next morning. Not only will the substantial decrease in blue light before bed help you fall asleep faster, but studies have found that less screen time in a day is “associated with higher levels of life satisfaction and optimism,” as well as diminished feelings of “anxiety and depressive symptoms, especially among girls” (Oberle, 2020).
- Take 5 minutes to meditate (no, seriously just try it I promise)
Listen, I get it. Meditation is all the rage right now but you don’t have to be a certified yogi to experience the benefits. Heck, don’t even worry about pondering deep thoughts, just focus on your breath and being present in the moment. In a recent study, conducted with around 1,000 participants, it was found that meditation and mindfulness are “related to lower levels of depression and anxiety… especially with thoughts of worry and rumination” (Parmentier, 2019). So next time you can’t stop worrying about your midterm or that upcoming first date (which you’re going to crush btw) take a minute to meditate.
Also, if you don’t know where to start check out my other article Meditation: A Guide for Beginners.
- Ask for help, even when you don’t think things are “bad enough”
Try to remember that there is no de-facto “struggling-threshold” you must reach that warrants talking to a friend, seeking therapy or speaking to your provider about medication options . If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression that are not going away – especially if they are interfering with your ability to complete daily tasks – ask for help. Start by reaching out to someone you are close to, like a family member, friend, or even professor.
- Journal everyday to try and track the things that may trigger you
Going throughout your day to day without writing anything down might inhibit your ability to fully piece together all the variables that are affecting your mood or mental health. By keeping a daily journal to track how you are feeling, as well as what is going on around you, you may come to realize what coinciding feelings you have with what activities you are doing. For example, you may notice that you feel drained every time you interact with a specific person or spend too much time on your phone. By tracking these observations in a journal you can create a definitive list of things you want to change in your life to keep your mental health in check.
- Stop glorifying being busy and tired
Let’s be real. You take time to stay up late watching TV or scroll through social media and now it is time to prioritize your sleep. Remember, without sleep, your ability to adequately regulate and express emotions is compromised at both a brain and behavioral level (Goldstein, 2014). Ultimately, not getting enough sleep can negatively impact how you interpret others emotions as well as convey your own, both of which destabilize mood regulation and mental health.
If you need more tips on sleep check out our article Sleep: Why it is So Important and Tips to Get the Best Night’s Rest
- Write down positive affirmations that make you feel good and read them to yourself whenever you feel down
Finally, come up with a way to combat negative thoughts. We all know the feeling of helplessness that comes with overwhelming negative self-talk, but a recent study found that, “self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with reward and helps you better process negative stimuli” (Cascio, 2016). So next time you feel down, read aloud some simple reminders of how valued you are, like, “You are loved just the way you are!” Sometimes I also utilize physical activities as reminders; I’ll tell myself to walk in the sunshine because I know it will make me feel better! Any quote or reminder that might help you regain focus when you are struggling with your mental health will drastically make yourself feel better!
At the end of the day, mental health is a journey, a practice as well as a priority and you have every right to treat it as such.
Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Tinney, F. J., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., Stretcher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 11(4), 621–629. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsv136
Eva Oberle, Xuejun Ryan Ji, Salima Kerai, Martin Guhn, Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, Anne M. Gadermann. Screen time and extracurricular activities as risk and protective factors for mental health in adolescence: A population-level study. Preventive Medicine, 2020; 141: 106291 DOI: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2020.106291
Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2014). The role of sleep in emotional brain function. Annual review of clinical psychology, 10, 679–708. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032813-153716
Parmentier, F., García-Toro, M., García-Campayo, J., Yañez, A. M., Andrés, P., & Gili, M. (2019). Mindfulness and Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in the General Population: The Mediating Roles of Worry, Rumination, Reappraisal and Suppression. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 506. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00506