How are you doing right now?… Don’t just read those words. Stop. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and honestly ask yourself, “how am I doing right now?” On a scale from one to very not okay, where do you fall?
Life is crazy at this moment. Navigating through unwelcomed change is time-consuming, energy-consuming, overwhelming, and exhausting in every way that there is to be exhausted. However, it’s more important than ever to find the time to check in with ourselves on a regular basis. As someone who has been going to therapy for years, I feel like I’ve collected an abundance of coping mechanisms to store in my “I’m not okay” toolbox and yet, this pandemic has still wreaked havoc on my mental health. I’ll share a few things with you that are helping me be a little more okay right now, but first, let me tell you the story behind how mental health became so important to me.
When I was a senior in high school, my dad died by suicide. I used the words “died by suicide” because he wasn’t a crimal that “committed” a wrongdoing. He was someone with a painful past who never acquired the tools or help to heal.
Losing my dad to mental illness when I was so young brought the anxiety and depression that was already brewing inside of me to the forefront of my life in a way that I was absolutely not prepared for. I honestly don’t even know how I successfully graduated from college. Because I struggled in class, struggled to focus, struggled to have fun, and struggled to build relationships, I started questioning my future and decided a standard 9-5 job certainly wasn’t going to be the best situation for my mental health. I needed a career path that would allow me to optimize the time when I was feeling my best while also giving me the flexibility to take care of myself when I was feeling my worst. I was in my senior year of college when I was introduced to the world of entrepreneurship and I haven’t looked back since!
Since then, I’ve created a lifestyle website, The Gem, where I’m able to use my love of fashion, photography, and travel to inspire people in little ways everyday. However, being a business owner certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means. I’ve experienced a ton of failure, I’ve made some really bad decisions, I’ve let people down, and I spent what seemed like an eternity struggling financially. However, because I chose this path out of consideration for my mental health, I still feel much more capable of managing these challenges compared to the challenges I would face with the structure that comes with a traditional job.
The events of my life have taught me that when something terrible happens to you, it shows you the ways in which you’re not okay. It can direct you to creating a life that feels much more catered to you… If you let it. I don’t think I would have even thought about owning a business if it wasn’t for losing my dad. And while I would much prefer a version of this life and career that still had him in it, I think I’m proof of how life changing it can be to lean in towards your mental health instead of away from it.
My hope is that this pandemic encourages us to make some serious changes to how we manage and prioritize our mental health. While I am not a mental health or medical professional, I can share from personal experience that most improvements to my sanity come from the same place: setting boundaries.
Boundary setting can feel really hard at first
Somewhere along the line, many of us start to believe that we should put the needs of others before our own and sacrifice our own comfort and stability for the sake of others. Which can be completely okay and reasonable under certain circumstances if we are choosing to do so. However, our baseline has to be about ourselves and taking care of our basic needs so that we can continue to show up for others and stay engaged with life.
Because of all the stress, anxiety, and emotion that this pandemic has brought with it, now is a great time to check in with the boundaries you’ve set in your life (or the lack thereof) with both yourself and others. If you’re not sure where to start, this article from Psych Central offers a helpful set of guidelines for how to build and maintain boundaries. The goal is to see where you can create more safety, consistency, and security. We could all use a bit more of these things right now, wouldn’t you say?
Here’s what setting boundaries with yourself might look like:
- Set a limit for the amount of time you allow yourself to scroll through your social media feeds.
- Decide that you won’t watch the news after a certain time each day so that you have some dedicated space away from current events each day.
- Turn off notifications that aren’t necessary (that way, you’re checking your email/Facebook/Slack when it feels like a good time for you, rather than the potential for notifications to intervene at any moment).
- Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning (this is so hard for me but makes such a HUGE difference in my day when I do it).
- Start each morning in a way that feels good to you – even if it’s only for 5 minutes. For example, reading a chapter in a book, exercising, journaling, or sipping your morning coffee in silence. It can even be as simple as making your bed if that’s something that feels like it sets your day off on the right foot.
- Practice saying, “no” and giving yourself permission to not feel guilty about it.
Here are some examples of setting boundaries with others:
- Only do what you’re comfortable with. If you want to set up lunch with a friend and you don’t feel comfortable sitting at the outdoor section of a restaurant, offer to pick up the food and suggest heading to somewhere with more space, like a park, instead.
- Ensure everyone in the house is sharing responsibilities. Everything is hard for everyone right now, which means that it’s okay to hold people accountable to basic, necessary responsibilities. For example, you might decide to alternate who is in charge of dinner each night with your partner. That way, expectations are set beforehand and you’re not left crossing your fingers that the other person is going to cook tonight.
- Stick up for your health in a respectful way. On numerous occasions, I’ve asked people who have tried to jump in the same elevator as me to please wait for the next one. The first time was hard. I kept thinking about how rude I must have seemed. But, there was no way that this guy would have been 6 feet apart from me and I wasn’t taking the chance. Every time it gets easier.
- Boundaries that are fun and relaxing are just as important! Decide that family game night will be from 6-9 pm every Wednesday or that every Friday night you and your partner will watch a movie together.
- When you just cannot take any more conversation on Covid19 (or politics, or another challenging subject), it’s okay to say, “I’m not able to carry the weight of anymore conversations around this today.”
This article from New U Therapy Center & Management Services breaks down a formula for approaching boundaries with others that is SO helpful.
Finally, remember that when you stand up for your own mental health (in a healthy, reasonable, and respectful way), you’re showing others that it’s okay for them to do so as well. Whenever I feel awkward about standing firm on a boundary I’m trying to set, I remind myself that not only am I prioritizing my own sanity, but I’m changing how we bring up mental health in everyday conversations. Plus, I’m giving permission for the people around me to voice their boundaries with me. It’s also my hope that they’ll be encouraged to set boundaries in other relationships, too (I think these are especially important behaviors for kids to see and pick up!). It’s small, everyday changes, like how we set and respect boundaries with ourselves and others, that can help set a new normal and break down the stigma around mental health.
Valuable Mental Health Resources:
Prevention Hotline – In the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 any time if you’re thinking about suicide, are concerned about someone else, or could use emotional support for any reason.
Therapy – Of course seeking professional help is a great place to start if you’re not feeling okay. When you find the right therapist, it’s almost like sitting down and catching up with a friend. Only you get to talk about your life the whole time and the friend on the other end knows how to direct the conversation in a way that makes you feel heard, validated, and understood. Many insurance companies are covering virtual therapy right now (even if it wasn’t covered before), so it’s possible that you won’t even need to go into an office.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – The work that AFSP does is incredible. The information and resources available on the website offer education and support in a very easy to digest way. They actually put together a toolkit about Mental Health and Covid19 that they update frequently. It includes an array of easy to implement tips for navigating through this season of uncertainty.
HearMe app – I think this one of the best things to ever happen to our phones. In less than a minute, HearMe connects you to an empathetic volunteer listener. It’s all anonymous and listeners are trained. While I don’t think anything is a replacement for therapy, I think this is a great stepping stone for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable or capable of seeking out help. Plus, it’s a more casual option to offer someone if they’re not open to therapy.
Talkspace – If you’re open to therapy and are interested in connecting with a licensed professional, one option to check out is Talkspace. Talkspace has made therapy convenient and affordable. They offer live video sessions and you can send text, audio, pictures, and video messages to your therapist whenever it’s convenient for you.
The Mighty – Whenever I’m feeling isolated or alone in my struggles with mental health, I always find value in reading through the mental health section of The Mighty. It’s a mix of articles, personal stories, and discussions (where others often share their advice and suggestions) surrounding mental health.
Allyn Lewis is an anxious, ice cream-loving, rule-breaking creative and photographer documenting her days on her lifestyle website, The Gem (hitthegem.com). Whether it’s behind the camera or in front of it, she loves the process of creating and capturing moments to put together a story people can connect with. Continually striving to bring a more heart-centered platform to the online world, Allyn is known for the depth and inspirational twists she puts on fashion, travel, and mental health content. Despite the hardship of losing her dad to suicide, she noticed that sharing her story with others brought strength, connection, and understanding on both ends, which is exactly why encouraging others to live more mentally strong lives has become such a core focus of her mission.