Note from the Editor: May is Mental Health Awareness Month
by Carolyn Riel
As you might, or might not know, May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. It is a time to fight the stigma surrounding those living with mental health issues, and to remember that mental health and wellbeing is essential to everyone.
I remember having a conversation with one of my cousins only a month or two before the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, and she told me that she started seeing a therapist, that it was a very beneficial experience.
“What are you going for?” I asked in much the same way you see prisoners ask cellmates “what are you in for?” in movies and TV shows.
“Nothing in particular, just my overall mental health,” she said. “We put so much time, money, and effort into maintaining our physical health by paying for a gym membership, spending time lifting weights and eating healthy. Why don’t we put the same energy into improving and maintaining our mental health?”
Her insight revealed a new mindset to me that I hadn’t had before. Previously, seeing a therapist or counseling came with stigma or was thought to be only for those who struggling with mental health issues or going through grief. But that’s not the case, just as going to the gym isn’t just for people looking to lose weight or increase their strength; it’s just as beneficial for people looking to maintain their physical health or improve on work they’ve already done.
Mental health looks different for everyone, and it is essential to everyone when looking at the scope of our overall health. For some it may entail seeing a counselor on a regular basis to talk through their thoughts and learn tools for improving mental wellbeing. For others it may look like unplugging from their phone and computer for the weekend and sitting on the couch doing nothing but watching movies. Some may look after their mental health with “me time” spent alone reading a book, while others may benefit from being around friends and family.
There are a few things I do to help maintain my own mental health and help me whenever I’m feeling stressed or anxious.
I find journaling tremendously helps me process my feelings and thoughts after a stressful day or in a situation I’m not entirely sure how to handle. It’s my way of getting those emotions out of my own head and into the universe so they’re not bouncing around in my brain, and thereby making space for more positive thoughts. Even if I’m writing the same sentence over and over or nothing makes any sense, for me, it’s all about just getting those thoughts out.
A change of location often helps me remove my mental self from a stressful situation even if nothing about the situation changes. I’ll step away from the living room couch and go sit on the patio for a few minutes, just taking in and making a mental note of the scene around me, or I’ll go lay down on the kitchen floor and stare at the ceiling. I know it seems odd, but sometimes you just need that change in perspective to separate yourself from a negative mindset.
Hobbies, even small ones, are a great way to maintain your mental health. It’s taking a little you-time to focus on something that brings you joy. I personally love picking a new, random movie that I’ve never heard of before and giving it a watch (and yes, I consider watching movies a hobby). I also love to pour myself a glass of wine and cook something “fancy” for dinner that I wouldn’t normally take the time to do for myself during a work week. Sometimes, I’ll pull out my roller skates (that I am very terrible at using) and just go back and forth across the apartment for a few minutes. There’s no hobby that’s too small or silly if it brings you joy.
As for the daily things I do to help maintain my mental health? Every morning when I first wake up, I say out loud three things that I’m grateful for. Even if it’s something small, like “I’m grateful for the existence of macaroni and cheese,” it still counts. The point is to show you how many good things you have surrounding you. I take work breaks throughout the day just to go and hug my cat and give him some attention, because fluffy kitty cuddles make my heart happy. After work, I always give myself an hour to wind down. This is my time in the day to just lay on my bed and scroll through my phone without interruption. Before bed each night, I list out loud three things that made me smile or happy that day, and as I’m falling asleep I repeat to myself in my head, “I have love. I have happiness. I have security.” Sort of manifestation mantras to lull me off to sleep.
No matter what self-care looks like for you, I encourage you to take a deep look this month into what you are doing to take care of your mental health. Think of the things that bring you joy and allow yourself the time and space to do them. Think if there’s anything you wish to improve and take the steps to work on them by seeking counseling or setting a plan in place. Think of how often you ask the others in your life about how they are doing. Mean it when you ask. Invest in your mental health the same way you would your physical.
Editor’s note: Riel is the editor for ACDIS. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.