How To Protect Your Mental Health During Tough Times
It’s happened to me a few times now — one day, the constant barrage of global and domestic events simply becomes too much and I break down into a sobbing mess about the state of the world and my feelings of helplessness to do anything. It’s a much-needed catharsis, then I continue to do what I feel are some actionable steps (but never enough), take in bits and pieces of worldly injustice, and attempt to live life like things are normal until I reach that arbitrary breaking point again. Rinse and repeat.
I don’t think I am alone or unique in this cycle at all; in fact, I know I’m not based on conversations I’ve had with others in person and online. We are living in unprecedented times faced with a global pandemic, finally focusing attention on the abhorrent treatment of black and brown people, and trying to cope with a baffling political climate. This is simplifying things, as many still have to deal with the trickle-down effects such as homelessness, loss of work, death of loved ones, etc. IT’S A LOT.
The feelings of helplessness don’t help the situation. If you’re like me, you tend to empathize with anyone and everyone and it’s extremely overwhelming. You want to fix the world. You want everyone to be happy. You feel like whatever you’re doing simply isn’t enough. Then you break.
Here are some of the things that have helped me protect my mental health during tough times. If you’ve found things that have helped you that aren’t on this list, please share in the comments. We’ve got this.
Feel your feelings
This sounds obvious, but with SO many things happening right now, it’s more tempting to just shove feelings to the side in favor of other distractions. I can 100 percent tell you from experience that doing so doesn’t make the feelings go away, it just puts them all in a convenient place to explode when that place reaches its storage limit. This can look like breaking down when you drop an egg on the floor (hey, hi) or lashing out at the nearest person over something inconsequential.
Avoid the urge to shove feelings down and instead let them happen as they happen. Cry if you want to cry; take a day off if you need a day off. Processing things in real time is far more efficient and therapeutic.
Talk about your feelings
You also don’t have to hold onto those feelings alone. We are all living this experience together, and sharing it with those around you makes everyone feel less alone. There’s no reason to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders and it’s important that those close to you understand where you are mentally and emotionally. Often just talking about what’s going on can help tremendously.
Limit your social media usage
I’m working on this one, as I recently shared on Instagram. I’m working to find a balance because on one hand, I find a lot of important and relevant information that way, but on the other, I can sometimes get overloaded on it. I rely on different forms of social media for this business, but there are ways that I can limit my use and still use it effectively. Find ways to improve your relationship with social media and take a break altogether if that’s something you need.
I also limit my news intake, as it can often bring a lot of fear-mongering rhetoric with it. It’s important to stay informed, but no need to bombard yourself with the same things over and over throughout the day. I get a daily email from two sources every morning and that’s the extent of my news intake for the day.
Keep in mind that ignoring what’s going on in the world altogether is a form of privilege and that it’s still important to stay informed and not turn a blind eye to everything simply because it makes you uncomfortable.
Practice your form of self-care
As I continuously emphasize, self-care is not just baths and candles. It’s also unique to each person, so what works for you may not work for me. Figure out what actions help revitalize and center you and do more of them. Currently, what brings me joy is taking Miles on adventures. We’ve been finding a lot more adventures because it’s a way for me to take a mental break AND be able to explore new areas where we’ve moved. I’m able to give him new experiences and find some peace of mind during everything that’s going on.
Learning to set boundaries is such an important life skill. It’s imperative to maintaining your sanity and respecting yourself. In order to set boundaries, however, you need to know what you are and are not willing to tolerate. What your values are. What is important to you. Without those things, it becomes harder to stay firm in your boundaries.
Set boundaries around things like political talk, social media usage, and interactions with people who can be damaging to your mental health and well-being.