To the community struggling with mental health, you are not alone. With things being what they are in this world, we are all facing new challenges and obstacles in terms of our journey in self-care. In the midst of a time when we are encouraged to limit our social contact, it can be hard to generate meaningful connections that we not only want but need. It can be medically harmful to spend time with loved ones and friends so we distance ourselves and try to manage our day-to-day lives alone. This is dangerous for those of us who struggle with anxiety, depression, or any other state of mind that falls under the mental health umbrella. Let’s be honest, all states of the mind fall under the mental health umbrella. Our mental health encompasses everything we do all day and every day, and it is common that we only acknowledge our mental health when the s**t hits the fan. This is often too late to start handling our mental health. Much like our physical health, our mental health is best managed when it’s consistently checked on. Finding out what you are doing right and what needs to change to prevent disaster. There are so many ways that we can benefit our mental health every day to make sure that we are not falling into old dangerous habits, but it can be difficult to remember to use these tools when we are worrying about financial, medical, and housing needs.
One of the most important things we need to do is practice self-care. This means giving our mind, body, and spirit the time it needs to regain balance. There is endless literature on how when we neglect our physical needs, our mental health begins to decline. Whether it is diet, exercise, sleep, or leisure, our body needs time to recuperate. None of us are robots and we cannot run endlessly without putting in the time for self-care. I understand that this is really hard when we have jobs, families, bills, and other responsibilities which make it difficult to carve out time for ourselves. To that, I say that if you are not caring for yourself, all of these other responsibilities will inevitably fall apart when we hit our breaking point, and rest assured you WILL hit that breaking point if you continue to burn the candle at both ends. Some of us might last longer than others but everyone will reach their breaking point eventually and none of us can choose when or how that will come.
Our self-care and mental health is as much a priority as any other responsibility that we could put on the table. I would argue that it is more important because it is the foundation of being able to meet any other responsibility that you might have. Please understand, I am not saying that you should go to the beach instead of going to work and skip school and claim it is self-care. What I am saying is that you need to carve out time for self-care just as we carve out time for any other necessary responsibility that we may have. When new “unavoidable” responsibilities are dropped in front of us, we find a way to fit them in our schedule even when we are already juggling so much. Please note that our self-care should be just as essential in our efforts to make time as any other item on the list. For all of us, this self-care will look different. Some of us will find it in reflective time at the beach, some of us will find it on a hike where we can commune with nature, some of us will find it in a book, and some of us will find it in a television show. The only one who determines the nature of our self-care is us, but the caveat is that we have to be honest with ourselves about whether this is self-care or just selfish, self-destructive behavior. Deep down we know the difference and we owe it to ourselves to find healthy, positive outlets for self-care.
A significant way for us to find our healthy self-care is to engage in our hobbies. Some of us already know what our hobbies are, we know what we love to do and we know what makes us truly happy. Others are still on the search for our real hobbies because what we love to do has gotten lost in our battle with mental health. For anyone, exploring is the only way to find our hobbies and our happiness. We have to put ourselves out there and explore the new activities and areas of our lives so that we can find what makes us happy. This is difficult because it requires us to make time to search and be okay with being a little outside of our comfort zone. I encourage you to look at this as a means to an end in finding our happiness and finding ways that we can be truly happy.
How do we identify this? I believe that our true happiness is found in hobbies that we engage in without the affirmation and recognition from others. These are the things that we do and we feel so engaged in that our outside concerns and worries melt away. This is what being truly mindful is all about. We find activities that help us forget, for just a little bit, that we are scared of losing our battle with mental health. Most importantly, these activities leave us feeling motivated to take on the challenges ahead and feeling like we were able to refill some of the cup of life that we are constantly pouring from. I encourage all of you to find this and as many of them as you can, as there is never just one for anybody, and the more we have the more we can implement in different areas where we cannot implement one. Good luck in your journey and remember that it is okay to not be okay, just don’t give up.
Frank Kotey, LMHC, NCC