Tomorrow, Saturday, October 10, is World Mental Health Day. It is extremely important, perhaps now more than ever—in the middle of a global pandemic, a divisive election year, economic uncertainty, unchecked general anxiety—to make mental health a priority. Every day presents a new opportunity to make changes and improvements, and we need to make sure we take care of ourselves.
First, the basics. Restful and restorative sleep, drinking enough water, eating nutritious foods, physical activity. Do you have to follow strict rules and ban everything tempting? Heck no! Chocolate is good for the soul. But the approach has to be balanced. We all know how our mood changes when we’re hangry, right? It’s basic biology. Our body needs certain things to function properly: food, water, sleep, movement. If we don’t have enough of them, our bodies don’t work as well. There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a torture tactic. It does terrible things. Ask any new parent. Cover the basics so you have a healthy foundation on which to build.
Sleep can be one of the most difficult basics to accomplish these days. There is a lack of mental & physical separation of space as we all spend increasing amounts of time at home. Lines get blurred and there is no delineation between work, school, and personal time. Staying focused becomes increasingly difficult. We all have much more screen time these days and are likely to be much more sedentary. All of these things affect your ability to get restorative sleep. So make efforts to counteract them. Go outside for five minutes every hour or two and get some fresh air. Walk around the block. Little breaks help you refresh and re-energize your body and your mind. Unplug well before bedtime so your body begins to relax.
Our emotional well-being is being assaulted from all sides these days. The air seems filled with toxic negativity. We are bombarded with uncertainty, fear and stress from all angles. We need ways to process our emotions to make sense of everything and not become overwhelmed. Journaling, talking with others, running, playing with animals. Do whatever works for you to allow your mind to process what you experience. Focus on the things you can control, and it will give you a small sense of empowerment.
With the universal impact of COVID, pretty much everything is disrupted and changing regularly. It’s OK not to be OK. It’s OK to be struggling even if your life is not falling apart. Yes, others have it worse but that does not negate what you are feeling. Cultivate compassion for yourself. Be more forgiving. Just give yourself and others a break. You might not be as productive. Things take more time or run late. Technical problems abound. Cancellations are frequent. It’s OK. It happens; just go with it.
Feeling overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done? Prioritize ruthlessly. Does it really need to get done today? Probably not. Space things out. Break down big tasks into more achievable pieces. If you have a huge and overwhelming project, and you don’t get it done, you will feel a sense of failure. But if you give yourself smaller tasks to accomplish toward the larger goal, you can build on the success of those smaller achievements. Positive momentum builds on itself, just like negative energy, so set yourself up for success.
One of my favorite people very bravely shared her feelings with her classmates recently in order to normalize honest discussions about mental health struggles:
- I have felt like crap this semester, and the past two weeks have been the worst. Specifically, I have felt sad, embarrassed, insecure, and afraid that everyone will find out about these feelings–that I don’t have it all together. I can’t keep up with my readings or focus in class, and it makes me feel stupid, which makes me feel embarrassed and insecure. I don’t socialize as often as I used to, which means I put more pressure on myself to be my most awesome-to-be-around-self whenever I do socialize–cue the self-criticism and insecurity. I miss my family and worry about how they are coping. I miss how law school used to be. There’s sadness. All of these feelings make me unproductive and inefficient (more so than usual), and not using my time as efficiently as possible leads to shame. Sometimes these Feels make me think that I am alone. That I am abnormal for having a hard time.
What an honest and genuine thing to share. This person is a rock star, so it is really not surprising. And even though it was really “mortifying” to share, she did it for others: We might not be able to help each other feel less insecure, anxious, stressed, or scared, but maybe we can help each other feel less alone in our thoughts and feelings.
In this strange time when we are separated, we still need connection. Probably even more than ever. We just have to be a bit more creative in finding ways to achieve it. Pay attention to your body. Listen to what it is saying and take care of it. Look out for others as well. You don’t need to be an expert to express concern and let someone know you care. Just be a friend.
And if this post feels like it is disjointed and all over the place, it pretty much is. Welcome to my COVID life. It’s a bit scattered and kinda messy. But that’s OK.
Learn more here:
The Importance of Sleep in Law School
ABA – How Sleep Affects your Health
TED Talk: Matt Walker, Sleep is Your Superpower
Healthy Habits for Successful Law Students
Take Care of Your Body
Mayo Mindfulness: Overcoming Negative Self-Talk