Caring for Your Mental Health
By Olivia Rawley, AmeriCorps Career Pathways Coach
One of the things being discussed among experts amidst the coronavirus pandemic is the negative effects social isolation can have on our mental health. Maybe you have felt it, maybe you have not, but I know I certainly have. The days bleed together like a surreal “Groundhog Day” montage. A get together with friends over a coffee or dinner seems like a distant memory. The walls of our home have become confining. And, as graduating seniors, you are probably feeling angry; this is supposed to be a time in your life of celebration, filled with parties and gatherings with friends and family.
It’s okay to feel angry or to despair; we are all feeling a loss in some shape or form. With that being said, it’s important that we prioritize our mental health as we attempt to deal with this negativity flooding into our lives.
What does “prioritizing your mental health” even look like? Well, it can look different for everyone since each one of us has a unique mental landscape, but I believe it means developing some sort of self-care practice. Self-care is a bit of a buzz word these days, but with good reason. We cannot expect to show up as our best selves if we are mentally burnt out.
So, what are some things we can do for our self-care practice?
TRY SOME RADICAL SELF-COMPASSION.
This is a mental practice. It means being kind to yourself when you are having an “inner-dialogue.” You know: the voice in your head. And it is very easy for this voice to turn into something critical, especially during times of stress. Most of us don’t even realize when this is happening.
One of the ways we can quiet the voice in our head is to meditate. I can see how this can be daunting. An hour a day sitting on a cushion (or more!) doing absolutely nothing?! Forget it. Netflix, here I come! But meditation doesn’t have to be that formal. It could simply be taking a minute or two out of your day to take notice of your breathing. Or, to make it even less formal, it could simply be a moment of a pause to be mindful of how you’re feeling in the present moment—no breathing exercises required.
To sum it all up, simply take time to SLOW DOWN and let yourself simply be without the judgmental voice in your head.
CREATE SOMETHING. ANYTHING.
I think it’s easy to adopt a rigid mental framework around creativity. Our thoughts jump to painting landscapes or writing poetry in iambic pentameter. But creativity isn’t just limited to the arts. It can be anything.
For example, maybe you must create a PowerPoint presentation for your schoolwork. This is a creative opportunity! Instead of thinking about it begrudgingly and simply copy and pasting words on a slide, make it your own. Put in some exotic colors. Make your own graphic on Canva. Look up some inspirational quotes from a person you admire.
Another place to exercise creativity is your room. We’ve all been spending way too much time in there, and maybe the setup has become a bit stale. Now is the time to channel your interior decorating skills and change it up! Move the location of your bed, change up the pictures on your wall – anything that will help freshen up your space.
I say all this to say: be creative about your creativity. And if you do want to paint landscapes, write poetry, or make a short film—go for it!
USE TECHNOLOGY TO CONNECT.
We are social beings, and connection is vital to our mental health. We can’t forget about the people who are important to us; reach out to a friend and talk on the phone. Yes, you heard me—I am actually suggesting a phone call. Or, alternatively, you can have a group “hang out” on Zoom. Yes, it may be weird looking at all of your friends on a grid, but at least you can see their faces and read their expressions.
I would encourage you when having conversations with your friends to get vulnerable. Talk about how you’re really feeling and forget superficiality. This is a time where we can grow our capacity for empathy.
Also, maybe reach out to a family member or friend that maybe you wouldn’t typically reach out to. Because, why not? This can be an opportunity to build connections that maybe you wouldn’t have otherwise in your normal day-to-day life, and to let that person know you are thinking of them.
Nature is soothing, and we often don’t take advantage of it enough in our everyday life. But humans need to see some green! Take a walk if you can, or find an aesthetically pleasing spot to sit and watch and listen. Take a camera and photograph something you find beautiful, or maybe take a notebook and journal about how you’re feeling in the moment. Hopefully, you’ll find that you feel more at ease.
MOVE YOUR BODY.
There are a bunch of YouTube channels now that offer free at-home workouts ranging from yoga to high intensity interval training. But moving your body doesn’t just relate to “formal” exercise – it can be anything that forces your body out of stasis. You can dance; you can talk a walk; you can garden; you can play tug with your dog. Just get the juices flowing!
FIND SOMEONE TO KEEP YOU ACCOUNTABLE.
This is a time to find a mentor. A mentor forces you to check-in and evaluate what is happening in your life. A mentor is someone with whom you can discuss what is working/what is not working your life right now. And if something isn’t working, they can give you advice on what you can do to improve and get you back on track. You can share your goals with this person, and they can help you devise a strategy on how to achieve them.
A mentor is really additional support, and that’s something we all need. Thankfully, if you are a College Now Scholarship recipient, you are automatically placed in College Now’s Mentoring Program. This person will be there to guide you and lend a helping hand through those formative college years!
There you have it: self-care. Obviously, there are many more things you can do for your self-care because the great thing about self-care is that it’s personal to you.
Also know that it’s okay to not be okay. Maybe some of the things on this list seem too overwhelming to you, and you are only able to do the bare minimum right now. That’s okay. Take a nap. And, don’t forget that you can always reach out to a professional if you are in need of formal counseling. Mental Health America, NAMI Cleveland, or any local health institution are reliable places to look for professional guidance and advice. College Now is also here if you need support or advice on where to turn. Do not hesitate to reach out to your advisor or contact at College Now if you need additional support.
Until next time,