Taking Care of our Mental Health in 2021
by Jenny Gomez
The biggest silver lining of 2020 for me, was the normalization of talking about mental health. The phrase “it’s okay to not be okay,” became a common slogan and gave us all permission to talk about something (our mental health) that has historically been stigmatized. So, let’s talk about it!
We all felt the weight of 2020…Covid-19, quarantine, virtual learning and work, job loss and financial insecurity, protests, politics and isolation. All things that can take a toll on our mental health. Thankfully, things appear to be looking up in 2021 and as we all re-calibrate for ‘normalcy’ again, it’s important that we do a check-in on our mental health and make sure we are doing all we can, to be healthy as life resumes.
When we are in stressful situations and feel like we are in survival mode, caring for our mental health feels like a luxury we don’t have time for and it’s typically the first to slide. Relationship stress, marital discord and/or divorce, grief and loss, job/financial insecurity and other life transitions put stress on our emotional functioning, but they are typical life events of human beings and are issues that we face at various points in our lives. Many of us may also have genetic predispositions to additional vulnerabilities with our mental health, with family histories of anxiety, depression, addictions, etc. This is known as the ‘nature vs nurture’ debate…are we impacted more by our environment, how we were raised, life events, etc. OR are our genetics more determinative of our functioning? Most mental health professionals would say it’s a blend of both. But when both of those systems, the nature and the nurture, are having a challenging time, it’s a lot to handle. Then, when you add in a year like 2020, it’s REALLY tough.
Resiliency is ‘the ability to bounce back, despite repeated exposure to stress.’ Basically, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. However, in order to benefit from that resiliency and strength, we have to first acknowledge the challenges and address them head on and then work to implement healthy coping skills to course correct and make positive and constructive choices for moving forward. Instead of just stuffing down your hard feelings or trying to ignore the stress, see it as an opportunity for growth and move through it, learning and adapting as you go. Our biggest sources of personal growth almost always come through times of pain.
We have 2 choices with our feelings: hold them in or let them out. Temporarily holding in feelings sometimes makes sense…like if you are really angry at your boss and you choose to NOT rage in the middle of the office and instead put a cork in it and let that frustration out at the gym later. But bottling up our feelings as a long-term solution doesn’t lead to healthy outcomes. It’s crucial that we all have healthy and constructive outlets for our feelings that work for us. Talking with friends, family or a counselor, journaling, art, and exercise are a few of the many ways that we can let our feelings out in positive ways. Find something that works for you and make it a part of your regular self-care routine.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s incredibly beneficial to have a therapeutic relationship with a counselor or psychologist to process your feelings and talk through challenging situations with. It’s so helpful to have a person who isn’t a friend or family member that you can share openly with, but with confidentiality. Going to counseling doesn’t mean that something is ‘wrong’ with you. It means that you are wise and insightful enough to want to make sure all of your systems are operating at their healthiest, so you can be as successful in your life (relationships, work, school, quality of life) as possible. It also shows those around you that you are prioritizing your mental health and the ripple effect of that has positive consequences that you may never come to fully realize, but are nonetheless incredibly impactful.