The pandemic has shone a harsh light on the true significance of mental health. Medical director Ken Duckworth, of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, noted that prior to the pandemic, about 1 in 5 Americans suffered from some form of mental ailment. That figure has now doubled to two in five. Isolation, financial insecurity and consistent fear for safety has clearly taken its toll. More Americans are now seeking professional help, although cost and lack of access, especially as therapy has moved online, continue to act as barriers.
Emerging young professionals, burdened with the challenge of establishing themselves in the workforce and carving out a viable future, have been hard hit by these unprecedented levels of stress. While it’s all too easy to compare or minimize hardships, it’s crucial to acknowledge how such stress impacts health, especially as virtual office environments threaten the typical notion of a work-life balance.
The situation appears bleak, but certainly not hopeless. In a time of constant coping and adjustment, there are several cost-effective and timely ways to monitor mental wellbeing, all from the comfort of your own home. To name a few:
Maintaining a journal
For those who poured their heart and soul into diaries during those tumultuous middle school years, this tip should be easy to follow. We may have discarded our angst-filled notebooks by now, but the benefits of journalin
g continue to ring true. According to the Health Encyclopedia maintained by the University of Rochester, journaling allows us to manage stress by
prioritizing our fears, tracking everyday symptoms of anxiety and identifying negative thoughts.
Of course, journaling is not a cure-all, nor a replacement for therapeutic help - writing an entry will not immediately rid you of all stress. For many, journaling might simply act as a stepping-stone to being able to open up to therapists or loved ones. For all, however, a journal provides a medium for reflective thinking. No matter what form the journal takes – whether it be a leather-bound notebook, a blog, or a series of rants on your notes app – it fosters an open discussion with yourself.
Scheduling leisure breaks
For those getting close to graduation and beginning the job search, it can feel that any moment of free time must be dedicated to thoughts of the future: laying out career goals, buffing up the résumé, drafting yet another cover letter... the list goes on. Those tasks are certainly important, but one should never lose sight of the fact that every mind deserves a break.
So how do you find the time to just relax? Schedule it! Check off 15-30 minute breaks off your to-do list, and remind yourself that such a task is just as valuable as the rest. Use this time to take a quick nap, read a couple chapters of a favorite book, chat with a friend or make shadow puppets against your bedroom wall. Keep it simple, fun, and stress-free!
Setting aside time to exercise
Not only does exercise keep your body in shape, it also helps to keep it at ease. The science makes it clear: physical activities ramp up the production of endorphins, alleviating stress and providing more control over mood. While pumping iron at the gym or sprinting miles on a treadmill are certainly commendable feats, exercise can be as simple as taking a walk around your neighborhood. Make room on your daily planner for small bouts of aerobic activities, and do your best to stick to it.
Keeping up a consistent sleep schedule
Sleep is certainly not for the weak, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. It sometimes feels impossible to achieve that solid 8 hours of quality rest, but one way to work towards that common goal is through consistency. Setting up a bedtime and firm alarm clock routine may seem inane at first, but your body clock will thank you. Regular sleep cycles have been proven to minimize daily stress and boost overall mood, ensuring that you start each day well-rested and with a higher degree of focus.
Forming traditions with friends/family
If being forced to socially distance has taught us anything, it’s that quality time with loved ones cannot be taken for granted. Finding ways to spend even the fewest of moments with those who make you smile is critical to maintaining a clear headspace; however, anyone who has dealt with group chat bickering understands that making plans is never as simple as it seems it should be. That’s where traditions come into play. Humans are not only inherently social, but we’re also creatures of habit. Perhaps Fridays can become movie nights or Sundays are dedicated to park picnics – there are countless ways to spend the time, but establishing a pattern can be key to getting a group to follow through.
And there you have it! This is by no means a conclusive list, and it should be clear that none of these practices are being touted as “cures,” in any respect. Rather, each of these recommendations are designed to highlight the importance of taking the time to address mental health concerns and encourage a more balanced lifestyle. As we conclude Mental Health Awareness month, always remember that you are enough, you are not alone, and there is nothing wrong with admitting a need for help.