Work, bills, laundry, life obligations. There are many things I could list that come before myself. Scratch that. There are many things I could list that I consciously place before myself.
You may file this under “unpopular opinion” but I absolutely, 100 percent know I place all of the items I listed above and plus some above taking care of my own needs. And it took me almost all of my 31 years of life to fully grasp that concept. And it’s going to take the next 31 years to try and adjust to the thought that I should be a priority.
Oftentimes around these conversations, we talk self-care and immediate responses include spa days and indulging in that pint of ice cream. Although I often partake in both of those options, I would like us to pivot our discussion in honor of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10 and raise awareness about mental health and the importance it plays in yours and my life.
The World Health Organization summed up just how critical our mental health is now more than ever:
“This year’s World Mental Health Day, on 10 October, comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past months have brought many challenges: for health-care workers, providing care in difficult circumstances, going to work fearful of bringing COVID-19 home with them; for students, adapting to taking classes from home, with little contact with teachers and friends, and anxious about their futures; for workers whose livelihoods are threatened; for the vast number of people caught in poverty or in fragile humanitarian settings with extremely limited protection from COVID-19; and for people with mental health conditions, many experiencing even greater social isolation than before. And this is to say nothing of managing the grief of losing a loved one, sometimes without being able to say goodbye.”
Based on my personal experience, it’s easy to believe that we’re alone in feeling anxious, depressed, overwhelmed during daily life. I’m here to promise you that you are not alone. I started on my mental health journey years ago when a significant and traumatic event in my life forced me to reevaluate how I dealt with my anxiety and depression. It led me to seek support from a third party – a therapist. And although seeing a therapist on a regular basis has supported me in my journey to better mental health, it is not a one-stop-shop or quick fix. It takes daily practice and time to unlearn some of the bad habits I was magnifying when I would start to feel anxious.
I understand that society has placed a stigma around getting help from a therapist and don’t negate that fact. But as we honor World Mental Health Day, I encourage you to reflect on your own thoughts around mental health and how you can reframe them to support your own growth or support a loved one that may suffer from mental health issues.
As I continue on this path to ensuring the health of my mind is equally as healthy as my body, I wanted to share personal steps I’ve taken to support this work*:
*Please note that these are based on personal experience and that I am not a licensed medical professional.
Choose what surrounds you
This can mean different things to each person but at its core it functions as a way to declutter what is weighing you down in your life, whether you know it is or not. For example, I stopped following several social media accounts that made me feel like I wasn’t skinny enough, rich enough, <insert whatever> enough. And replaced those with accounts that aligned with what I wanted out of my life.
Find a hobby that is yours and yours only
It took me a long time to realize I was placing too much of my own value in my professional career. Although being passionate about your work is important – it was the only thing in my life that I was equating my value to. And that’s simply no way to live. So I started working out and fell in love with a local gym. In addition to focusing on my physical health, that one hour is dedicated to me and me alone. It allows me to unplug and clear my head. Whatever that may be for you, I encourage you to keep it just for you. You’re worth the time.
Yes, everyone recommends it! And there’s a good reason for that. It works! I start my day with gratitude, listing what I am thankful for in my life. Some days it’s that I simply woke up and am breathing, other days it’s gratitude that the work project I executed the day prior is finally off my to-do list.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your support network
The header says it all. As a society, we’ve placed too much emphasis on not being vulnerable with one another. Well I’m here to say, it’s time to get vulnerable! Please, please tap into your friends, family, whoever is that support for you! They are there for you and want to help you through moments of uncertainty.
These few steps I shared do not begin to scratch the surface of all the ways to take care of your mental health. As we continue to navigate these times, please remember that we are not meant to do this life alone. Let’s take care of each other and ourselves.
-Jenn Cartmille, Communications Chair, YES! Columbus Executive Board
Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation