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Article: Week 2: Prioritizing Your Mental Health

Week 2: Prioritizing Your Mental Health

As the days get shorter and nights longer, the spiralling news cycle and the coronavirus are still very much with us, sad to say. It's already clear the next couple of seasons won't be the "life as usual" we all hoped for.

If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that looking after your mental health is important. We’ve all faced strange, unprecedented times; yet we still continue to put a different weight on our mental wellbeing compared to our physical. Think about it: you wouldn’t feel bad about taking time off when sick. You shouldn’t feel bad about taking some time off when you’re sad.

The incredible Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have been the latest high-profile persons who have taken a stand for the sake of their mental wellbeing. But it's not just superhuman athletes who deal with pressure — I mean, there is still a pandemic raging.

It may be easy to ignore your burnout because a lot of people around you feel the same way, but burnout can come with serious consequences for individuals' mental health and needs to be addressed. Here are some tips to getting started.

Recognize and reframe anxiety. On the NPR Podcast, Life Kit, hosts spoke with New York University neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki about reframing anxiety. Suzuki explains that uncertainty provokes anxiety — that sweaty, stomach-dropping feeling you get when you are on high alert — which is a natural stress response system of the body.

She says instead of approaching anxiety as a negative emotion that must be suppressed, we should think of it as a superpower that motivates us to act. It helped our ancestors escape lions, she says. It's that "quick hit of cortisol," along with adrenaline, that helps a mother lift a car off her toddler.

Connect with others. Being with other people is a critical part of maintaining our mental health and something many of us either stopped doing or moved online during the initial period of tight COVID-19 restrictions last year and have now (truthfully) lost interest in. But we can get that back. It might not be your first instinct anymore, but go on a mini vacation, visit your parents, see the friend you haven't seen in a while — and be careful, of course. 

Take time off, and say no. These are extremely important in figuring out where your boundaries lie, and how to set them. Your company may not specify that sick days can be used for this purpose, but “mental health is health. 

The signs that you need to take time away from work may not necessarily be obvious. Indicators could be changes in your mood, productivity or ability to concentrate. You may also notice that you are less patient and more irritable than usual, or are having trouble sleeping. Or even physical symptoms, like headaches. The bottom line: if you feel like you might benefit from a mental health day, you have earned one.

Planning your day off ahead of time will help you use it in the most helpful way possible. While one person might benefit from a massage or a day of pampering, another person might want to paint or garden. Or you may just need to hang with some friends, or family, (or puppies!) for a couple hours instead. Whatever you do, don’t spend the day checking your messages or feeling guilty. 

Talk to someone. Do not be afraid to be open about your feelings. Find someone to talk to. Whether that be a friend, partner or professional. Talking through what you’re going through can be very cathartic. I mean how many of us have shelled out stupid amount of money for fitness trainers or fad diet trends? If you’re willing to work on your physical, why is it different when it comes to mental? Today, many therapists charge on a sliding scale depending on your level of affordability and comfort. 

In the end being mentally healthy doesn’t mean that you won’t have trouble. All of us have mental health maintenance needs every day, and that is something that can be ignored or maintained. Start again, as many times as it takes. And most of all, remember, you deserve all the care in the world.

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