Mental Health seems more like a hashtag these days than a facet of healthcare as we’re slowly emerging from several years of carrying the weight and anxiety of a global pandemic that rocked everyone’s equilibrium off-kilter. There has been a societal acceptance of one’s physical health; yearly physicals and dental visits, even massages and gym memberships, but it hasn’t been until recently that one’s mental health has garnered the same attention. When we finally emerged, blinking into the sun after a long stretch of several years (that aren’t even over yet), it became apparent that our physical health wasn’t the only thing that needed addressing- immediately. As a Mom with a generalized anxiety disorder, no one needed to tell me that. (Though my husband didn’t waste the opportunity to remind me that perhaps a call to my therapist might be in order).
Thankfully, not all was lost during the years in quarantine and there were a few good things to come out of our time in isolation; access to mental health via technology at home is certainly one of them. Platforms like Talk Space, Online Therapy, and Better Help have all made it exceedingly unintimidating to pursue mental health care from the privacy of your own home. In fact, in honor of World Mental Health Day, Better Help is offering 1 month of free therapy. If you’ve avoided finding a therapist due to the cost, now’s your opportunity to take one step forward to caring for your mental well-being. The first step is always the hardest, but it’s a little easier when you don’t have to leave your couch to do it.
One of the simplest, and yet, most difficult ways to care for our mental health is to signify when we’re having a difficult time whether it be anxiety, depression, burnout, overwhelm, and then, “take a day off” to rest and recover. I completely understand if this still sounds absurd to you. I was a public school teacher for over a decade. If you were not bloody or broken, you were coming to work. However, we all know how productive we are when we aren’t feeling our best; and we know that “pushing through” that feeling rather than giving our bodies the rest they require only quickens burnout and worsens long-term effects. If you’re concerned that you might somehow be penalized for taking a, “Mental-Health Day,” Laura Handrick from Choosing Therapy cuts those worries to the quick: “If your employer has 50 or more employees or you're under federal contract, you are protected by federal labor and anti-discrimination laws that prevent your employer from penalizing you for taking time off for a mental health.”
This self-care thing is all over Instagram, but that doesn’t mean it’s not noteworthy. It also doesn’t mean I think a bubble bath and a face cream that costs a mortgage payment is going to fix your anxiety issues. What I have learned, however, is that the best solutions are often the SIMPLEST. My husband (who is absent from all forms of social media, so I believe whole-heartedly in his genius) has been the one to tell me that self-care is any response to the question, “What does my body really need right now?”. In fact, he is the one who asks me that often, because I’m still not in the habit of asking myself. My answers have always surprised me with their simplicity and have led me to make adjustments to my routine that support my mental health and well-being. No screens after 9 pm, a meditation with my Calm app once or twice a day, no coffee after 2 pm, and reading for 30 minutes a day for pleasure. Seriously. If you need some encouragement in the self-care arena and you don’t happen to have a husband who’s also a self-care guru, try following some of my favorite female self-care heroes on the ‘gram: Morgan Harper Nichols, Alle Elle, Dr. Caroline Leaf, and Lisa Olivera.
There have been significant, scientific strides made to prove that one’s mental health directly impacts your daily life, your physical health, your ability to cope, and how much you can and will achieve over the course of your life. While some details are still fuzzy, one thing is certain: your mental wellbeing just as vital to a life well lived as an investment in your physical health. Start small by making a phone call, drawing a bath, “grounding” your toes in the grass, or taking a mental health day to read a novel on your porch. Most importantly, tell those you love if you’re feeling unstable, out of sorts, or in need of care in a way that a cup of tea or small chat won’t heal.