One of the wisest people I know once said to me:
If I am drowning in an ocean and you are drowning in a glass of water, we are both still drowning.
These words were salvation during one of the darkest periods of my life and opened the doors for my mental health quest.
I have noticed that we often feel we have no right to be depressed, excuse to be anxious, or reason to share how we feel, particularly around people who may be experiencing their own hardships. We shy away from sharing our feelings with loved ones and friends out of fear of judgment, stigma, or being dismissed. I call the place where we hide the depression closet. We put on a mask and interact with society without giving away our true feelings and this rings particularly true for students and professionals who navigate a sea of uncertainty and academically induced stress. Unfortunately, burying your feelings will not do you any favors. It will only keep the doors closed for honest conversations with those around you.
Here are some lessons I have learned through my mental health journey:
Habits are everything
I could not possibly stress this point enough. Your habits will make or break you. Are you sleeping too much? Not changing out of your pajamas? Eating junk food exclusively? Falling into the pit of despair? Habits are the number one game-changer to get you out of the dark place. Unfortunately, they are tough to start and consistently maintain. Here are some tips to make habits stick:
- Start small: It is not realistic to plan to change your life overnight. We have all been there, sleepless at two in the morning, having a rush of energy and designing an entire workout schedule, meal program, and promising to wake up early in the morning only to find yourself without the energy to lift a pencil when your alarm goes off. Start with one or two habits in the morning such as making your bed and taking a shower. Once you complete these two activities you will feel a sense of accomplishment and nudged your body into self-care mode. Also, you will no longer be in your pajamas, which does wonders for self-esteem.
- Reduce or increase friction where needed: Take a look at your routine and identify the things that prevent you from being your best self today. Are you mindlessly scrolling through social media filled with self-loathing? Perhaps it is time to move those apps to the second screen or even remove them from your home screen. Many people have described how not having these distractions at your fingertips reduces the likelihood of engaging with them. Are you wishing to exercise or drink more water? Have your work-out playlist scheduled to start playing at a certain time, signaling your brain it is time to work out! Keep your water within arm’s length.
- Prioritize health habits: I firmly believe that healthy living equals being more productive in the long run. Exercise, eat properly, keep a sleeping schedule, arrange a time for social activities, and reach out to your loved ones often. This will boost your energy and provide the strength to do even more with your day.
Count your wins, not your losses
We are prone to fixate on the things we did not achieve rather than the ones we did. Always remember that accomplishing 20% or 80% of your intended tasks is still better than zero. Celebrate your small wins and permit yourself to adjust your daily expectations as needed. Not every day will you have the energy to complete five assignments, write a blog post, and clean the house. Learn to accept your limits for that day and be kind to yourself about it. Having a bad day does not negate all the work you have accomplished.
Practice mindfulness and gratitude
I struggled with this concept for some time myself. I don’t know if it was because I felt silly writing these things down or because I just wasn’t ready at the time. Today, keeping a journal drives me towards my better self. Do you have trouble thinking of what to write? Give yourself prompts each day to facilitate the start. Words are sources of immense power and have the potential to change your outlook on situations and that of those around you. Try to change your attitude by framing statements differently. For example, replace I am sorry for being late with thank you for waiting for me.
You must want to get better
This journey is yours only. You may have outside help, you may rely on friends and family, but the change must start within. It is not easy and it will take every ounce of energy you have but only once you make the decision and are ready to put in the work, will you see the change.
Help others and help yourself
Open the conversation about mental health. We never know who else is just as afraid as we are or once were. Cultivate your tribe. Have scheduled check-ins with your friends. Make it clear that when you ask “how are you doing?” you want to know the real answer. It is okay to not always have the energy to deal with the stress, though. When you find yourself not in the right frame of mind to assist someone with their problem, be honest.
This is not a contest
Do not compare your journey to others. Do not compare stressors or triggers. We all have our own battles to fight and just because someone’s battle may seem bigger, that does not take anything away from your own.
Whether or not you are in your darkest place today, remember that mental health is a journey and much like other habits, requires constant effort and commitment. Always remember that while today may be dark, there is always a better day ahead.
This, too, shall pass.
Did you enjoy this article? Leave your thoughts below! Want to read more? Check out The neuroscience behind tidying up.
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