Kelsey May February 7, 2017
I’ve been working on myself this year, really paying attention to my body’s needs and voicing my concerns as soon as they arise. I got married last fall (hurrah!) but only a month after the wedding, I was crying almost every day for no reason. I felt unhappy, like a merry-go-round spinning in place, not going anywhere even though I was going through the actions of life. My partner held me and tried to understand why I was upset, but there really wasn’t a reason; I just was.
I started seeing a therapist at Spectrum Health – an awesome testament to how far mental health has come, that my doctor’s office is employing a full time social worker to address issues of mental wellness. She was amazing; she listened and offered practical advice; she talked about deep breathing and the normalcy of anxiety; in follow-up appointments, she remembered concerns I had previously brought up.
It was incredible to be acknowledged by a professional, to have my anxieties aired and empathized with. Many of us struggle with anxiety and depression. Personally, I feel anxious when I’m around a lot of people who I want to “fit in” with or whose admiration I desire. I have bad habits derived from my anxiety: I pick my nails and nail beds, I scratch my head, I chew things and fiddle with objects. These aren’t attractive character traits, but I’m admitting them so you, reader, might see your own tendencies in them and feel a sense of community. You aren’t alone in your struggle. You are one of millions of other teens and young adults who get nervous before public speeches or make impulsive choices to feel a sense of belonging. We want to feel part of something larger than ourselves, but we don’t always make the best decisions about how to do that. And others, those people we so desperately yearn to connect to, often hurt us out of their own selfishness and painfully low self-esteem.
So how do we meet our needs and work toward mental wellness?
One amazing thing I’ve learned is that there are two types of expectations we hold: our ideal expectation and the standard expectation. Here’s an excerpt from The Art of Happiness (interviews with the Dalai Lama):
For example, my ideal expectation in my relationship would be hugs every single day, fun, creative dates almost every day, and never having to clean up after each other. The standard (or more realistic) expectation would be: hugs every day we see each other, fun, creative dates when we can afford them, and minimal cleaning up after each other. See the subtle differences?
Here’s an example of a way I held myself to the wrong expectation. I gained about fifteen pounds last year after I came down with mono and wasn’t allowed to participate in any rigorous activity for fear of a spleen rupture (yikes!). I wanted to lose those fifteen pounds and felt awful about my appearance every day, even though I wasn’t making time to exercise so there was no way to lose the weight. But I ideally wanted to attain my lower weight, so I was mentally dissatisfied with myself, feeling disappointed in my figure, feeling sorry about my situation. It was absurd to expect that I could lose the pounds without time and effort, so I adopted a more realistic expectation, that I simply start exercising and that became my goal, rather than focusing on my physical appearance. It helped. I’ve lost three pounds, and even if I don’t lose anymore, I’m gaining muscle and definition, and my stamina is improving, and that makes me proud.
I also highly recommend that you see a counselor or therapist. If the first person doesn’t help, keep trying new therapists until you find one who understands you and who gives you the advice or assistance you need. My first counselor was kind and a great listener, but she didn’t give me practical advice. My current therapist specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, meaning she focuses on how I can change my own thinking and adopt healthier habits. That is the kind of assistance I needed, and it’s made a noticeable difference in my attitude and spirit. My partner has noticed a significant change in my day-to-day wellbeing; I haven’t cried for no reason in two weeks. I am motivated to write and hang out with my family and clean my desk. I am more honest and talk about my feelings before they turn into problems. I actually want to wake up in the morning and get started with my day.
So what changes do you need to make in your mental wellness habits? Do you want to implement yoga or start journaling? Do you need to take one night off a week to just spend some time alone and practice self-care? Do you need to be more honest with a significant other or a friend about how you’re feeling? Do you need to talk with your parents about your emotions and seek professional help?
Feel free to comment here, and I’ll do my best to connect you with resources or give advice, if I feel competent! Thanks for reading! Live well, reader. Peace.
Photo credit: Mr. Edventure