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What do you mean by self-care?

black and brown brush on saucer

Self-care is only for people with enough time and money, right?

Did you know that the majority of people misunderstand what effective self-care is and how they can benefit from it? Furthermore, surveys have reported that 44% of people believe self-care is only possible for people who have enough time. Surveys have also reported that about 35% of people believe self-care is only possible for those who have enough money.

Self-care does not have to be extremely time-consuming. We all have 24 hours in a day. The difference between the people who incorporate self-care habits and those who do not is simply time management. How do you use your time? Look at your phone’s daily screen time. You can see exactly how much time you spend on elective apps, such as social media accounts (unless your job requires social media), streaming services, and games. If you spend more than 20 minutes a day on these elective apps, there is your time for self-care!

Additionally, self-care does not have to be costly. Despite the misleading idea that self-care is spa days and retail therapy, self-care is actually about forming and maintaining healthy habits. Self-care is about taking care of yourself: mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can play an essential role in maintaining overall wellness. Self-care encompasses more than meditation, journaling, or bubble baths. Although, these can be a small piece of a self-care routine. In fact, “It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure, etc.), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.), socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.), and self-medication.” (WHO 1998)

How do I incorporate self-care into my daily routine?

As previously stated, self-care is about taking care of yourself: mind and body. This includes a range of areas from hygiene, nutrition, lifestyle, environmental factors, socio-economic factors, and self-medication. Below are just a few examples of the many ways to easily incorporate healthy self-care habits into your daily routine.

Hygiene (note: pay attention to the additives and chemicals inside your hygiene products)

  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Wash your face when you wake up and before bed.
  • Thoroughly wash your hair and body in the shower.
  • Moisturize your skin after you shower.

Nutrition (note: pay attention to organic, non-gmo labels AND what chemicals or hormones are inside the food you are consuming)

  • Eat a well-balanced diet (meal prep can be a great tool if you do not have a lot of time during the week)
  • Consume sufficient levels of necessary vitamins and minerals (supplements may help, speak to a doctor)
  • Avoid highly processed foods.
  • Hydrate.

Lifestyle

  • Engage in 30 minutes of exercise 5x a week. (ex. yoga, running, walking, strength training)
  • Walk 10,000 steps a day (ex. park at the end of the lot and encourage yourself to walk further)
  • Allow your body and mind time to rest.
  • Get enough sleep! Sleep is important for your overall wellness.
  • Meditate for self-awareness in the morning.
  • Journal for 20 minutes in the morning.
  • Read for 20 minutes before bed.

Environmental Factors

  • Pay attention to whom you spend time with. Are they draining you or energizing you?
  • What chemicals are you using to clean your household? Switch out hazardous/dangerous chemicals.

Socio-Economic Factors

  • Take 5-10 minutes each morning to reflect on your religious / cultural beliefs.
  • Create a budget that works for you, your family, and your lifestyle.

Self-Medication

  • Several MINOR illnesses / conditions can be treated without a doctor (such as occasional headaches, allergies, acne, stomachache, minor wounds); however, check in with your doctor if your symptoms worsen overtime, cause lifestyle disruption (severe pain / difficulties), or conditions are persistent.
  • Holistic medicine (such as meditation, aromatherapy, etc.)

Final Thoughts

How you care for your body and mind is up to you. Can you afford an extra 20 minutes everyday to incorporate just one healthy habit? Maybe you wake up 20 minutes earlier to meditate or journal. Maybe you take 30 minutes at lunch to walk or exercise. But do not forget one of the most important factors, that takes no extra time, is incorporating a healthy lifestyle by paying attention to what you put in, on, and around your body. You only have one life, the quality of it can be determined by how you care for yourself.

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Work-life balance or integration?

a woman holding a cellphone and typing on a laptop

What does work-life balance mean?

Work-life balance is the idea that you can divide your time and energy equally between work and important aspects of their life. Essentially, you divide between the demands of the workplace and spending quality time with family members, maintaining a social life, focusing on your personal growth, caring for your health, engaging in self-care practices, participate within your community, and other activities that are important pieces of your personal life. Fundamentally, work and your personal life exist separately, where one ends, the other begins.

The idea of work-life balance was developed to help employees and employers achieve a more balanced lifestyle. In response to the excessive feelings of stress and burnout, we developed an idea of balance and boundaries. However, stress and burnout comes with managing both work and personal demands as separate entities. Thus, the problem with work-life balance is the notion of “balance”. The word balance suggests a weighing balance scale that is balanced (or equal) on both sides. This concept, although ideal in theory, is nearly impossible to reach. The term suggests there would be little conflict between your work and personal life. However, at different points in your life, throughout various stressors / deadlines, one may require more time and energy than the other. They may also interlope from time to time. Yet the notion of “balance” implies that when you spend more time and energy on one area, you are taking from the other.

Thus, in recent years, work-life balance has progressed into a more realistic notion known as work-life integration.

Work-life integration suggests that work and your personal life co-exist and thrive together. Rather than specific boundaries of a traditional “9-5,” integration allows for your personal and professional life to intermingle. For example, you may make time during the workday to pick up your children from school and you may take time after dinner to respond to emails.

Work-life integration allows for you to participate in higher productivity and efficiency levels at work without sacrificing your personal life, mental, emotional, or physical health. It also can be beneficial in prioritizing important things outside of work, like family time, health, and self-care without feeling guilty. Furthermore, integration eliminates the stress of “having it all” in a sense of balance when instead they co-exist and thrive together.

Basically, work-life integration is about feeling content. When your life moves from a focus on producing content to being content, with all aspects of your life, you can not only boost your work productivity, but also grow in different areas of your personal life.

Is work-life integration important?

In my opinion, work-life integration is an essential part of your overall wellness. When you treat work and life as separate entities, there is an added level of stress and pressure. You are constantly trying to enforce boundaries where lines are often blurred. There may be personal emergencies during the workday, and there may be work emergencies during your personal time. Trying to enforce strict boundaries can lead to feelings of guilt and anger and increased stress levels when lines are crossed.

Self-care is an important piece of overall happiness and productivity. Without recharging, you will exhaust yourself to a point of fatigue and burnout. Burnout is linked to a reduction in productivity, lack of motivation, and symptoms of depression. However, trying to achieve “work-life balance” makes it difficult to set aside time for self-care without feeling guilty.

Integrating work and life to co-exist in harmony that allows ample time for both without feelings of continual guilt can positively impact your mental health.

Is work-life balance integration really possible?

As stated earlier, work-life integration is about finding a state of content within all aspects of your life. Work-life integration is about believing that dedicating time to work or life does not take away from the other. For each person, work-life integration may look different, based on their personal life and work demands.

For some, work-life integration may look like starting the workday after dropping off one’s children and leaving during the “workday” to pick up one’s kids from school but answering emails and working on proposals after the kids go to bed. Or work-life integration may look like taking an extended lunch break to workout, see a healthcare professional, or engage in a form of self-care. It is different for everyone, because it is based on your specific needs and work / life demands. Finding the proper integration may be easier for some than others and may take a while to properly develop. The important part is finding a combination that allows for growth in all areas without sacrificing your emotional, mental, and / or physical health.

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Is anxiety a real mental illness?

white and brown wooden tiles

What is anxiety?

According to the Encyclopedia of Psychology, anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes.

An individual living with an anxiety disorder typically experiences recurring intrusive thoughts and avoids situations out of fear / worry. They also may experience physical symptoms, such as sweating, trembling, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, stomachache, nausea, muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, loss of libido, breathing problems, and insomnia. (APA, Healthline)

Anxiety is a common emotion that we all experience sometimes. Fear, worry, and nervousness are unavoidable emotions because life is unpredictable. You may anxiety prior to making a life-changing decision, before taking a test, or when facing a problem at work. (NIMH) When we experience fear, worry, or nervousness, it can also be a sign of growth, because we are facing something we have never faced before. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, can be debilitating and disrupt one’s quality of life. Symptoms can impact one’s relationships and / or performance at school or work.  Unlike typical anxiety, anxiety disorders are not temporary worry or fear.

There are various types of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders. (NIMH)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances. The fear and anxiety can cause significant problems in areas of their life, such as social interactions, school, and work.

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
  • Being irritable
  • Having muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

(NIMH)

Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder have recurrent unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. Attacks can occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by a trigger, such as a feared object or situation.

During a panic attack, people may experience:

  • Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heartrate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of being out of control

(NIMH)

18% of US adults (18+) live with anxiety disorders. (NAMI)

In a given year, approximately 40million adults in the United States alone will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health condition. Yet, because anxiety is associated with an everyday, typical emotion, many people do not realize that anxiety can also be a mental health disorder. In fact, a lot of people view anxiety disorder as “attention-seeking” when it is not.

The symptoms that one experiences with anxiety disorder can vary. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms. However, the symptoms may impact one’s body, mind, and behavior. Anxiety disorder can impact one’s overall mental, emotional, and physical health.

Without proper support, anxiety disorder may worsen overtime. Luckily, anxiety disorders are treatable! Common treatment options include psychotherapy (“talk therapy”), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and / or medication. It is important to note that medication does not “cure” anxiety but can help to relieve symptoms. When facing an anxiety disorder, learning how to approach certain situations and cope with your emotions can be extremely beneficial. Remember, your emotional reactions can impact your physical reactions.

Anxiety disorders can lead to physical illness.

Did you know that your nervous system is closely linked to your immune system? In fact, your body releases chemicals and hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, when facing anxiety / stress. Your immediate response to the release is often rapid heart rate, increased breathing rate, palpitations, and chest pain. After the stress or feelings of anxiety subside, your body functions as normal. However, with an anxiety disorder, the feelings of anxiety and stress may not subside; therefore, your immune system may be affected. Overtime, as your immune system weakens, you become more susceptible to viral infections and illnesses.

In addition to impacting your central nervous system, the physical effects on your body, can also impact your cardiovascular, digestive, and respiratory systems. Anxiety can increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. It can increase your risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or cause symptoms of nausea, stomachaches, and loss of appetite. Rapid, shallow breathing can also occur, which may worsen symptoms of asthma.

(Healthline)

Final Thoughts

Although anxiety disorder is commonly overlooked and invalidated, it is a real mental health condition. Anxiety can lead to problematic effects on your physical health if not addressed. Finding the root cause of your anxiety, creating a treatment plan with the help of a mental health care professional, and developing healthy coping mechanisms can play an essential part in managing your anxiety.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing an anxiety disorder, please reach out to your doctor or mental health care professional to learn which treatment options may be right for you.

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Signs you need a mental health break.

wood working internet writing

When it comes to our physical health, we often have an idea how far we can push ourselves. When we are starting to feel under the weather, we recognize the warning signs, and we go to the doctor. Typically, when we get sick, we allow ourselves time to heal. When we break a bone, we visit the doctor, and we allow our body time to heal. Yet, when our mental health is declining, we often do not recognize the warning signs until we are burnt out.

Mental exhaustion is a normal occurrence. However, it can be avoided if you recognize the warning signs, practice routine self-care, and allow your mind and body time for rest to rejuvenate.

Mental health breaks are needed, especially during stressful times. We all need rest. If you allow time for both physical and mental rest, you can actually boost your productivity levels and enhance overall wellness.

Nonetheless it can be difficult to recognize when it is time for a break. When you start to feel off or a little different than normal, taking a break can be extremely helpful.

Here are some signs that you may need a mental health break:

  • Are you making yourself physically sick from emotional strain and / or high levels of stress?
  • Do you feel uninterested in activities you once found pleasurable?
  • Are you experiencing low energy levels?
  • Do you feel disengaged / detached from people in your life or from your life in general?
  • Are you having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
  • Is it difficult for you to get up in the morning?
  • Have your eating habits changed?
  • Are you experiencing lower levels of productivity than normal?
  • Is it difficult for you to concentrate?
  • Do you feel unmotivated?
  • Has your mood changed lately?
  • Do you feel more down and / or depressed?
  • Are you feeling irritable?
  • Are you experiencing higher than normal levels of anxiety?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, it may be time for a break.

Please note, a lot of these symptoms are similar to the symptoms of depression. Reaching out to a therapist or counselor for support and guidance on your mental health may be helpful.

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Beyond all labels, who are you?

lighted candle

If no one told you who you were or how you were to behave, who would you be?

Societal standards influence how we perceive ourselves, how we behave, how we treat others, what career path we choose, what we believe, how we vote, and whom we marry.

In my opinion, societal standards were created to control how we define ourselves. We were put into a box at birth based on our gender, race, culture, economic background, religion, and parental occupations. We grow up to fit into the box by making choices based on society’s expectations. Most of these choices are subconscious choices.

Peer Pressure

As children, we are always warned about “peer pressure.” What no one tells us is that peer pressure extends beyond your friends tempting you to engage in behaviors such as drinking and doing drugs. Peer pressure is the idea of societal expectations. These expectations influence our behaviors, even if they go against our values and principles.

You are not meant to fit into the world, the world is meant to fit you.

How many times have you heard the question, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Yet, we have somehow built a society consumed by fitting in, from beauty standards to clothing to hobbies to careers to the type of music we enjoy to the major we choose in college to the way we use social media. Somewhere along the way, society has decided that in order to be accepted, you have to be the same as everyone else.

Many of these standards were created for economic interests. They were created to feed your insecurities so that you may purchase products and make lifestyle changes that increase someone else’s bank account while diminishing your own self-worth anytime you step away from the box.

I let societal standards control my life for a long time.

Recently, I thought about how much time I have wasted comparing myself to supermodels, actresses, and influencers. I have exhausted so much time trying to change my appearance, from learning new makeup trends, changing my hair style, and redoing my wardrobe—not because I wanted to, but because I “needed” to.

The day before my freshman year of high school, I remember breaking down to my parents because I needed to change my hair color. My natural color was dirty blonde hair, and I was made fun of it in middle school. Other kids would tell me that it was not a “real color.” From the age of 14 to 21, I continually destroyed my hair by bleaching it every 2 to 3 months. But I needed to fit in.

In college, I forced my dad to watch makeup tutorials with me. I was crying, because other people were able to look society’s definition of beautiful with the perfect highlight, contour, and eyeliner wing. I, on the other hand, could not (and still cannot), so I felt ugly in comparison.

I even spent years battling anorexia nervosa trying to be “thin” enough. I woke up at 5am to workout before classes, walked 2 miles to class in 106-degree weather, and worked out till 12am every single day for an entire year. I starved myself, only allowing myself to eat 1 bell pepper and 1 cucumber a day.

In middle and high school, I was bullied over my blog and podcast, “Inspiring My Generation.” I would go through periods of time where I refused to blog and quit my podcast. It was not considered cool, so I started to give up on my dreams of changing the world for the better. In my high school advisor file, it said “Career Goal: wants to have a talk show like Oprah Winfrey and inspire others.” Yet, I felt like I had to hide that part of me for a very long time.

Do you truly love yourself?

When I look back at how certain societal standards influenced my self-worth and my behaviors, I see how much I hurt myself. I never showed myself any love, because I was focused on being whom society told me to be. Every day, I told myself all of the reasons I was not good enough, according to society’s expectations. A few years ago, I realized that of my beliefs were taught to me and all of the stigmas I had developed were taught to me. I continuously experienced anxiety attacks and panic attacks trying to fit into an impossible standard. Ultimately, I lost myself and my sense of purpose. In that brokenness, in that dark hole, was where I learned how the labels created by societal standards were the problem, not me.

Truthfully, I betrayed myself in countless ways. I became obsessed with who the world told me to be. Obsessed with the labels—beautiful, intelligent, cool, successful, athletic, normal, etc. I turned against myself, and I took it out on my own body. In fact, I completely destroyed my physical and mental health for years. Who I was and who I wanted to be were defined by the box society put me in, and I continuously felt like a complete failure trying to live up to impossible standards. Yet, I was trying so hard to not be labeled as “crazy, psychotic, mental, or deranged” that I suppressed it all inside.

Societal standards taught me to not love myself. They taught me to continuously compare myself to who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to look like. And they ultimately left me feeling numb.

Beyond labels, who are you?

Who are you? Without any of the labels that society has given you, who are you? Who are you not?

It is okay if you do not know who you are beyond the labels. It is not easy to discover yourself in a world telling you who to be, how to think, and what to wear. Take some time to yourself. Write down what is important to you, what you believe, and who you are. Then, write down where all of that comes from. Did someone tell you? You may find that most of who you perceive yourself to be was defined by someone else.

Your loved ones, your foes, society, nor the people around you get to define or label you. Only you can define yourself. So, I will ask you again: Beyond all labels, who are you?

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Is there really a mind-body connection?

woman relaxing in yoga mat

Even though we consider our emotional and physical health as two separate entities, they are actually connected.

The mind-body connection works both ways.

It is a scientific fact that our chemistry and biology impact our mood and emotions. Similarly, our mood and emotions impact our chemistry and biology. What does that mean? Here is an example: when we encounter a headache or stomachache while facing high stress, we are experiencing the mind-body connection. Another example: when we face physical illness or injury, we often become more susceptible to mental health symptoms, like anxiety and depression.

The mind-body connection can impact your overall health and wellness.

The mind-body connection implies that physical changes occur in your body due to your mental state. Optimal emotional health is often achieved when we discover health ways to cope with life’s stressors (and symptoms of mental health conditions, including medication). Life has many stressors, including, loss of a relationship (divorce, friendship, etc.), loss of a loved one, laid off from work, moving, illness or injury, and various other life-changing events. Some life-changing events can be positive, such as having a baby. Others can be very difficult to experience, such as losing a loved one. Without proper coping mechanisms, these life stressors can negatively impact your mental and physical health.

When we feel our best, we tend to have more self-awareness. With that increase in self-awareness, we are more likely to listen to our bodies. In turn, this allows us to offer our bodies what they need, whether it is food, water, or rest. When we feel stressed, on the other hand, we release hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which cause some physical symptoms. These physical symptoms consist of increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and elevated blood pressure. Thus, chronic stress can result in conditions like a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stomach ulcers.

You can elevate your mental and physical health. (Here are a few examples)

  • Nourish your body and mind with enough vitamins and minerals.
  • Nourish your body and mind by consuming enough food. Balanced meals can be a great way to refuel.
  • Engage in regular exercise. Exercise is known to release endorphins, which elevate your mood.
  • Breathe. Breathwork and other forms of deep breathing exercises can help to calm your nervous system.
  • Meditate. Meditation is known to reduce stress while enhancing self-awareness.

Final Thoughts

Our health is at the center of everything. Our body reacts to our emotional health, just like our emotional state responds to our physical health. Therefore, instead of treating our emotional and physical health as two separate entities, it is imperative that we look at them together.

Often times, we ignore our mental health when we are experiencing a decline in our physical health. Likewise, we often disregard our physical health while experiencing a drop in our mental health. However, when we work on improving both simultaneously, we are working toward an overall optimal health.

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Is empathy a thing of the past?

photo of people using smartphones

Feeling heard and understood is a human need.

Have you ever needed someone to talk to who just understands? You were looking for empathy. Empathy is how we connect with others. Essentially, empathy is recognizing and understanding the thoughts and feelings of someone else. Empathy is an important part of our relationship with others. Furthermore, empathy is an important part of our relationship with ourselves. By getting in touch with our own emotions, we can learn to understand others’ emotions. This allows us to see things from their point of view.

Empathy is important.

As mentioned earlier, feeling heard and understood is one of the most basic human desires. We crave an authentic connection—a connection where we can be our true selves without feeling judged. Empathy allows us to connect and build strong relationships.

Furthermore, empathy plays an important role in our moral compass. Empathy is similar to compassion. When we have compassion for other people’s feelings, we are more likely to act in a way that does not hurt them. Without empathy, without compassion, we are often more focused on how we feel and receive things than on how our words or actions may be received. However, the difference between empathy and compassion is action. Empathy is passive, meaning we connect to one’s feelings. Compassion, on the other hand, is active, meaning we choose to act to help someone. For example, empathy is “I am sorry for your loss” because I have been there too and know what it is like to lose a loved one. On the other hand, compassion is empathy plus I am going to start a meal train for you to take off the pressure of feeding your family for a few weeks.

Empathy is not sympathy.

Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably. However, empathy and sympathy are very different terms. Unlike compassion and empathy, sympathy is not about understanding someone’s feelings. Rather, sympathy is about feeling sad for someone else who is struggling. Sympathy is simply, “I am sorry for your loss.” Whereas, empathy was “I am sorry” because I can relate to your feelings. And, compassion was, “I am sorry, I have been there too, I am going to help you.”

When we are struggling, we often desire empathy and / or compassion, not necessarily sympathy. Sympathy is not a connection. And, at the base of all human need is the desire for connection.

Are we raising a generation without empathy?

Social media has blessed us with the ability to connect with anyone from anywhere around the world with the touch of a button. Unfortunately, social media has also provided us with the ability to communicate without seeing how people receive our content. Therefore, we have a whole generation learning to communicate based solely on their own point of view and no ability to see the other person’s reaction. We also have the power to push our energy into other people’s lives. Think about the mean comments people write, including to people they do not know. This has created a sense of entitlement where we believe that other people should receive our energy, even if its negative energy filled with hate and pain.

With the benefits and the drawbacks of social media, the question at hand is “is empathy a thing of the past?”

My opinion.

Empathy is a trait that many of us are born with. Empathy can also be learned through emotional training. Many of us are naturally empathetic, but that empathy is not being cultivated. For example, we spend most of our time communicating behind screens. Especially since March 2020, most of us have been primarily virtual. Over the past year, we engaged with screens more than we did with other human beings, face to face. Imagine growing up with that same scenario, where 90% of your communication is done through a screen—think phones, social media, school computers, television, video games. The world around you is you and a screen that allows access to the whole world.

The next generation is not growing up without empathy. Instead, this generation is growing up in a world that discourages the cultivation of empathy. There is no chance to truly connect, not with ourselves and not with others. Because of the amazing advantages technology and social media have provided us, we have started to forget the importance of building deeper connections. Furthermore, we have not been exposed to seeing the fallout of a lack of empathy behind a computer screen. When we press “send,” we do not see the person, how they receive it, or how it affects them.

Remember, feeling heard and understood is a human need. Social media can help bring us closer to people who also understand us. Social media can also bring us closer to people who choose to be mean and share content without thinking. Therefore, social media itself is not the problem, but rather the lack of true connection is.

Empathy is not a thing of the past; empathy is a very much alive. Thus, it is essential we start encouraging ourselves, our loved ones, and the younger generation to connect with the person on the other end of the screen—not simply the screen itself.

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Is mental exhaustion real?

crop pitiful black woman embracing knees on bed

What is mental exhaustion?

Imagine you are driving a car across the country. At some point, your car is going to run out of gas. Usually, we fill our gas tanks before it gets to empty. But every once in a while, we push it out as long as we can. What do you do when your gas is empty? Do you keep driving? No, you cannot. Eventually, your car will stop moving, until you refuel it. Your mind is just like your car. It needs to be refueled constantly. If you push your mind too far, it too will stop functioning properly.

Mental exhaustion is a form of burnout. This burnout is brought on by experiencing long periods of stress. And it can happen to anyone. We are all vulnerable to burnout, especially when we feel extremely overwhelmed. It is important to remember that stress is not the same thing as burnout. Stress is a normal reaction to new situations, both positive and negative. Thus, it can actually be healthy for the body. Burnout, on the other hand, is stress for an extended period of time. Burnout can affect your physical, emotional, and mental health.

Burnout can make you feel emotionally drained. Everything may start to seem impossible and lead to detachment. Luckily, you can overcome mental exhaustion.

Am I mentally exhausted?

Here are some warning signs that you may be mentally exhausted:

  • Experiencing symptoms of depression and / or anxiety.
  • Feeling detached from reality or apathy (not caring).
  • Low energy levels and / or lack of motivation and / or fatigue.
  • Difficulty focusing / concentrating.
  • Feeling irritable and / or angry.
  • Experiencing headaches.
  • Changes in appetite and / or fluctuation in weight (gain or loss).
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Insomnia.

How do I cope with mental exhaustion?

Mental exhaustion is different for everyone. As we know, everyone’s body is different. Some of us display more physical or emotional symptoms than others. Therefore, different coping mechanisms may work better for different people. If the first few coping mechanisms you try do not work for you, do not worry. It can take time to find the best tools for you.

When I feel mentally exhausted, I do three things:

  1. I take a step back and try to pinpoint my stressors. Where is my stress coming from? Once I pinpoint my stressor, I create a plan to help reduce the impact. For example, a few months ago, I faced burnout. I realized that I had been putting too much on my plate with tight self-imposed deadlines for over a year. I was spending upwards of 12 hours a day working. And I was taking time away from sleep to workout and maintain a social life.
  2. Next, I give myself time and space. After, I identified where my key areas for improvement were, I gave myself 3 days off of work to catch up on cleaning, get quality sleep, read for fun, and meal prep. These 3 days were also filled with coping mechanisms, like meditation, long walks, and journaling. After 3 days, I felt a tad better and I was ready to start over. I knew if I had taken any more time off, I would feel even more stressed; therefore, 3 days became my rule of thumb.
  3. Then, I reorganize my priorities. When I started working again, I created lists of between 3 and 5 things I had to accomplish each day. The tasks could be as simple as laundry or as complex as completing a workbook for publication. The shorter list allowed me to feel accomplished each day without putting too much on my plate day after day. I noticed that without overwhelming myself, by the end of the week, I was still accomplishing a lot.

Final Thoughts:

We all need rest. When we ignore the warning signs and push self-care to the back burner, we often are faced with mental exhaustion. It is normal to experience mental exhaustion every once in a while. As humans, we often put a lot on our plates. It is okay to burnout, but there are tools you can use to not only avoid burnout but also help you if you do get to that point.

Today, I make ample time for self-care. I created boundaries on work hours. I set aside 1 hour to workout, walk, or sit outside every day. Also, I make time to fuel my body with the right foods and supplements. Furthermore, I practice mindful eating rather than eating on the go. Small things make a big difference in our overall health.

I will leave you with this question, proposed to me by a friend. Would you rather take 20 minutes a day away from work for self-care or would you rather take 3 days away from work from mental exhaustion?

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What does it mean to prioritize your mental health?

smiling woman wearing a sun hat and reading a book

Do you believe in the mind body connection?

We prioritize our physical health. As children, we often receive annual wellness check-ups and see a doctor whenever we start to feel sick. We are taught the importance of exercise, good hygiene, and a balanced diet. When we break a bone, we go to the doctor. We do not say “think positive, walk it off, or get over it”.

Our mental health is not treated with the same value as our physical health. Mental health is rarely prioritized. Self-care and self-love are often labeled as selfish. Yet, your mind is a key player in your overall health. A healthy mindset improves many physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, low immune system, chest pain, and more! Still, we lack an emphasis on cultivating our own mental health.

Why should we prioritize our mental health?

When you prioritize your mental health, you engage in self-care that stimulates inner peace, inner happiness, and self-love. You continuously practice and develop new coping mechanisms. And, you learn how to forgive yourself. More than that, you show yourself compassion and understanding. You provide your mind and body with space and time to relax, to heal, and to grow.

Just like with our physical health, taking care of our mental health is important. We are focused on being the “perfect support” for everyone around us. As a result, we push ourselves and our mental health to the back burner. The paradox is that in order to be the support our loved ones need and deserve, in order to be the best version of ourselves, we have to put time and energy into cultivating our mental health. Therefore, it is important to value your mind as much as you value your body. Furthermore, it is important to spend as much time and energy caring for your mind as you do your body.

Your mental health affects how you feel, think, and act. Unlike when you feel sick or when you break a bone, it is not always as easy to recognize the warning signs within your mind. Often times, our mental health has declined a significant amount before we have recognized it. Furthermore, our mental health can dramatically affect our relationship with our loved ones and with ourselves. Therefore, we have to prioritize cultivating our mental health every day.

A few of the many ways you can prioritize your mental health.

Make time for yourself. This can be as simple as spending 30 minutes reading a book or journaling in the morning. This could also be taking a quick walk or meditating during the day. Spend some time alone with yourself and learn to love the moments of silence.

Do things that bring you joy. The week can feel very long and stressful. There is a lot going on in your world and the world around you. You do not have to sit in all the trauma and fear all of the time. Try to dedicate at least 1 hour a week doing 1 thing that you really enjoy, something that brings you joy, and makes you happy to be alive.

Check in with yourself. How are you really? What are you feeling right now? What kind of headspace are you in? How can you allow your mind some space and time to rejuvenate? What can you do for your mental exhaustion? Which coping mechanisms would be helpful right now? Be honest with yourself. Lying to yourself will only hurt you in the long run.

Listen to your body. Is your body starting to feel tired? Are you constantly running on empty? Honor your body. Acknowledge the stress put on it. When your body needs rest, allow yourself to rest. Taking a nap is not “being lazy,” it is preventing a burnout that takes an extended period of time away from work, school, and / or your day to day.

Listen to your mind. What are you telling yourself? Are you putting yourself down? Are you upsetting yourself? Why are you telling yourself negative things? Listen to what you are telling yourself, become aware of it, and counter it with positives. Treat yourself with the same love and kindness you would a friend.

Pay attention to your feelings. What are you feeling? Where is that feeling stemming from? Pay attention to how these feelings are affecting your mind and body. How are you reacting? What coping mechanisms can you use to validate yourself while simultaneously comforting yourself? Remember, it is okay to not be okay. But, also remember that there are coping mechanisms and resources available to help you through the hard times.

Fining a safe place where you feel content. This can be an actual physical space or an image within your mind. When the world feels overwhelming, when our symptoms are too much to handle, connecting to your happy place can provide a sense of calming. Maybe this place will comfort you, motivate you, inspire you, or help you escape for a few moments.

I will leave you with this thought: Prioritizing your mental health validates you as a human being. If you do not validate and prioritize yourself, who will?

“If I wait for someone else to validate my existence, it will mean that I am shortchanging myself.”

Zanele Muholi

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What age is appropriate to begin the conversation on mental health?  

family sitting on grass near building

What age is appropriate to begin the conversation on mental health?  

My answer: it is never too early to start the conversation.

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding wellness conversations are that you only need to have the conversation once. Like various other wellness and safety conversations, mental health conversations are not a one-time sit-down dialogue when your child reaches a certain age. These conversations should begin at birth.

What do you mean conversations should begin at birth?

Communication can occur in different ways. For example, when a baby is crying, providing support by holding the baby close to your heart, softly singing, or gently rocking them can be not only soothing but also let the baby know they are not alone. Another example would be allowing the baby to scream and cry (as recommended by doctors for the baby’s age) can also teach the baby that it is okay to express their emotions. Then, as your child continues to grow up, providing safe space to express their emotions without judgement is extremely important.

When a child is in grades K-2, these are core years in emotional health. This is when we often begin invalidating and gaslighting them. Although the problems and stressors children face may seem “small” or “insignificant” to us as adults, they are still very real and very difficult for children. By shutting down children when they begin to cry or get upset with phrases like:

  • People are dying.
  • Big girls do not cry.
  • Stop acting like a girl.
  • You are acting like a baby.
  • You are being dramatic.
  • Stop crying.

We are communicating that their feelings are not important, and thus, they should suppress them. Then, as they get older, we often build upon that same destructive message.

In grade school (3-5), we often use phrases like “You are not 5 anymore, grow up” when children express themselves. Often times, we do not pay attention to the drama or problems they are facing, because elementary school bullying builds character and thicker skin. Essentially, we teach them that it is okay for people to be mean to them and it is wrong for them to speak up for themselves.

By middle schools, when gossip and bullying are at an all time high, when children are beginning to explore or understand their sexuality, when their bodies are changing, they are extremely impressionable. This is a key age for self-esteem. However, we often invalidate their problems by saying, “Do not let it bother you. This won’t matter in 5 years.” Essentially, we are teaching them that their feelings do not matter.

Then, we get to high school, where life becomes complicated. Many kids are experiencing or have experienced first love and first heartbreak, grief and trauma of losing loved ones, extreme pressure on grades and SAT scores, stress to decide the trajectory of their life by choosing a college and a major, puberty, bullying, and the list goes on. Instead of having healthy wellness check-ins, we are piling more and more on to their plates with impossibly high expectations.

Then, we see suicide is the second leading cause of death from ages 10-35 in the United States, and we ask ourselves why.

Why is the suicide rate so high among our youth?

Here’s why: we are invalidating them, subconsciously teaching them to suppress their emotions, meanwhile refusing to engage in important conversations.

Imagine if in K-2, we taught kids that it is normal to have feelings AND that all feelings are valid. Imagine if we taught them there are different ways to express their emotions, such as through speaking, drawing, writing, or music.

Imagine if in 3-5, we taught kids what mental health is on a scale from wellness to illness. Imagine if we explained that sometimes, we may move along the scale as the day goes on, and that is normal to not always be happy.

Imagine if in 6-8, we taught kids about early symptom detection. Imagine if we gave them the tools and resources needed to explore their symptoms and emotions, while developing tools to cope with them. Imagine if by the time kids were 13 years old, they understood how to advocate for themselves and their mental health. Imagine if they knew the right questions to ask themselves and their doctors.

Imagine if in 9-12, we taught kids about suicide prevention. Imagine if we taught kids how to have supportive and validating conversations with their peers, as well as warning signs to look out for with themselves and with each other. Imagine if we educated them on various mental illnesses and resources available to them.

Imagine if by the time one graduates from high school, they have all of the tools and resources needed to maintain emotional wellness and cope with life’s stressors and traumas. Imagine if we set the next generation up for success in life, rather than throwing them into the world with no real understanding of mental health or how to maintain it.

So, when should we have the conversation? Every. Single. Day.