According to the World Health Organization (WHO), October 10 is World Mental Health Day. WHO observes this day annually with the objective of raising awareness about the multitude of worldwide mental health issues and the importance of allocating resources in support of mental health. This year’s theme is “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.”
WHO is focusing on the need for comprehensive mental health programs targeted specifically toward the younger generation, which I think is great. Unfortunately, the reality we exist in tends to approach mental health in a reactive manner: mental health issues are treatable. But very scarcely are we exposed to resources that teach us about preventative measures…methods that can be utilized to address potential issues before they have a chance to escalate.
WHO speaks of young people in a “changing world.” This era of young people: Millennials (myself included) and members of Generation Z, are coming of age in a technological environment that continues to expand at an exponential rate. With that, comes bounds of information at our fingertips, making the big ‘ol world seem a lot smaller…a lot faster.
From my own personal experience, remembering a portion of life sans Internet and growing up alongside its development, definitely helped shape how I view the world. For me, technology has given me instant access to a variety of cultures and perspectives; and it has helped me develop a strong sense of awe and empathy for others…something I don’t think would’ve been possible prior without literally traveling.
I gratefully exist in an increasingly sensitive, open-minded and fluid generation. I love it. Social boundaries are being broken, bent and re-construed in beautiful ways. However, traditional social structures label sensitivity as a negative; open-mindedness and exploration as a privilege (which is true, but it is seen through a negative lens). These filters lead to generalizations that Millennials and members of Generation Z are entitled, narcissistic and individualistic. What I’m getting at here is that while I see this “changing world” as an overall positive…it is accompanied by new, complex sociological and mental challenges.
Myself and most of my peers are at points in our lives where the terms “burnt out” or “overwhelmed” are common phrases used in conversation regarding well-being. We are the generation that went straight to college, racked up loans, jumped on that stable job to start paying those loans with a quickness…fast forward to 3-4 years in the workforce, grinding day-in and day-out. (ooooh I can already imagine how far back the eyes of Generation X and the Baby Boomers are rolling right now) We are the generation of dreamers: pursuing side hustles, fostering passion projects and/or creating our own jobs, with plans to break free from the traditional structures that we originated from.
Unlike generations before us, we are inundated with access to so much at all times that the stakes are constantly being raised, standards are increasingly higher, expectations are continually (and seemingly) unattainable, and our perception of our own potential for success is constantly being challenged through wide-casted comparisons to others. These technology-stemmed social pressures support a culture of overworking, overwhelming and overexerting ourselves…spreading ourselves too thin.
Stress Knows Not What Age Is
In the end, while the causes of previous generations’ development of mental health problems differ from that of today’s generation, they have similar origins. From my own observations of myself and those in my circle of family and friends, unaddressed stressors and their triggers are what lead to the development of anxieties, and frustrations. Regardless of one’s generation, it all seems to boil down to two things:
- a lack of self reflection – people are so busy with their lives hustling, stuck in routine, fixated on a goal (or multiple). It’s important for my sanity to step back on a regular basis to reflect on my intentions behind my actions, evaluate if those have changed and recalibrate if necessary. “Adjust accordingly” has been one of my mottos for a number of years now. It essentially reminds me to have a plan, know that the plan will be deviated and that the multiple deviations do not take away from the value of the original plan. If anything, deviations add to its charm.
- a lack of self care – Again…people are so busy living their lives that they forget to take care of themselves. Whether it’s something as simple as getting my nails done once in a while, making time for a hobby that I enjoy or sticking to a gym schedule…it all adds up. It’s okay to be selfish sometimes! We need to be happy with ourselves (or even just my day…I’ll take what I can get lol) in order to purely provide happiness for others…in my opinion. How can we take care of others effectively and wholeheartedly if we don’t take care of ourselves first?
This past year has been one of constant self reflection. Not that I haven’t already been doing that, but this year I have actively chosen to take a more mindful approach to my mental health. Finding a balance between when to say yes or no to things, experiences and people I come across. Learning to identify the little things that bring me happiness and the bad habits I need to work my way out of.
Perspective is everything. I’ve always been one to give people the benefit of the doubt, to imagine myself in another’s shoes. It helps me empathize with others and their unique circumstances that I may not understand. However, it’s only recently that I started utilizing the concept of perspective on myself and my well-being. After many talks with friends and family, many moments of reflection, here is what I’ve learned in the past year and a half:
- It’s okay to say no – Humans are social beings. We want to be accepted by others. Typically the word “no” isn’t the path toward acceptance/blending in. But it’s okay to say no to a night out in exchange for a solo night in from time to time. It’s okay to say no to more work projects if it’s going to negatively affect my other projects and more importantly, my ability to work on them effectively.
- It’s okay to ask for help – I find solace in having control over a situation or project. But control doesn’t mean I need to do everything myself. I had to learn that asking for help does not mean I am incompetent. If anything it makes me a more competent human being to admit when I can’t handle something and to appropriately delegate.
- It’s okay to say “I don’t know” – There’s a saying that goes something like, play to your strengths and hire others to fill your weaknesses? I don’t know (lol no pun intended) what it is exactly and frankly, I’m too lazy to look it up…but the point is that it’s not the end of the world to not know something. That’s what Google is for.
- It’s okay to be scared – Fear is a lot of people’s reasons for not doing certain things. I continue to fight this fight. Isn’t there another saying that speaks to finding comfort in being uncomfortable? Well, there’s something to that. Doing something I am afraid of teaches me a lot of things about myself and my capabilities. I don’t consider myself a good public speaker and I never enjoyed public speaking. But my job requires it on a regular basis and even though it’s not my favorite thing in the world, I can see myself skills improve every time.
Good Mental Habits = Good Mental Health
When discussing goals, a lot of the time people are looking to break bad habits…what if we shift perspective and look at it as developing good habits? If we continue to build more good habits in our lives, won’t they eventually outweigh the bad habits? We all have our vices, but as long as we live an 80/20 lifestyle, I think we are good. That’s a B+ lol. We can’t all be A+ students.
Here are some things I try to incorporate into my day in order to give myself a mental break and decompress:
- Take your designated breaks – I admit I’m really, really bad at this. Yes I had to add an extra “really.” But I am constantly trying to get better at this. I am entitled to my breaks and work will always be there waiting for me when I get back. It’s easy to get caught up in the work, but removing myself for even just 10 minutes gives my brain a much needed rest.
- Utilize the Pomodoro method – My brother introduced this workflow method to me and I try to use it as much as I can. It consists of 25 minutes of uninterrupted, focused work, followed by a 5 minute short break. Repeat. It’s kind of like a game and it helps me increase my productivity 🙂 I use tomato-timer.com. You should try it out!
- Stretch periodically – While using the Pomodoro method, stretch during breaks. It promotes blood flow and good posture…and who doesn’t want good posture!
- Stay comfy – We are at work for a huge chunk of our day. Why should we be uncomfortable? Take advantage of ergonomic evaluations and accommodations if available and make your workspace as comfortable as possible. I have house slippers at my desk because I see no point in wearing real shoes unless I’m in meetings or walking outside. My co-worker runs cold, so she has a blanket at her desk. Why suffer through cold for 8 hours a day? No need.
At Home (Not at Work)
- Find a physical activity that you enjoy – not everyone is a gym rat, but physical health is undeniably tied to mental health. So whether its going for a daily walk, jumping rope, rock climbing or Zumba, find something that doesn’t feel like a workout. I’m still figuring this one out…
- Read a book – o0o novel idea there! (no pun intended…or maybe it was) It’s sad how refreshing it is to detach from a screen and read an actual book. Remember those? They still exist lol. But seriously, I forget how much I enjoy reading a good book until I carve out time to do it. Plus, while reading a book you are guaranteed no encounters or interactions with Internet trolls. SO GREAT.
- Do nothing for at least 15 minutes – Why are we constantly moving from one thing to the next? Wake up, work, come home, do errands, etc. Call it what you’d like: meditating, self-reflection, zen time. I think it’s important to actually be still and be okay with being still at least for 15 minutes. Try it, it’s kind of difficult at first, but it’s possible to build up to it. I like using the Headspace app.
- Stop and smell the roses! – I’m not one to stuff my itinerary with activities when I’m on vacation. It stresses me out trying to stay on schedule…while on vacation. It’s counterintuitive! For me, the act of wandering is an essential part of vacation to me. It’s not a vacation if I don’t take my time to immerse myself in the new environment around me.
- Exercise – I always feel extra good about myself when I sneak a workout in during a vacation. Vacations tend to be filled with good food and a lot of lounging, only to get back home feeling like a lump of lard. No bueno. Take advantage of that underutilized hotel gym…you can fist bump the one other person in there and it’ll be a cool moment lol. Or you can go for a morning/evening run or walk. It’s a great way to see a new city! Be safe of course.
Happy World Mental Health Day
I know we live in tumultuous times and there is a constant stream of bad news infiltrating our feeds. It’s overwhelming and exhausting fighting the good fight day in and day out. That’s why I think it’s more important than ever to make sure we are taking care of all aspects of ourselves: physically, spiritually and mentally. Hopefully this day is a reminder that your mental well-being is worth prioritizing. Cheers to your peace of mind ❤