It's Mental Health Awareness Month, and I thought I would share some of my personal favorite mental health "check-in strategies" with you all.
But before we dive into them, I want to share with you some background on my personal mental health journey.
When I was a senior in high school I experienced my first physical anxiety attack. I had struggled with anxiety for years prior to this, but this one was different. I'll share with you some of the symptoms I experienced. Maybe you can relate to these:
+ shortness of breath (And by shortness I mean I literally couldn't breathe)
+ numbness of my face all the way down to my chest/arms
It quite literally felt like my body was SHUTTING DOWN. I turned to my (then) boyfriend and said, "I need to go to the hospital. I feel like I'm having a heart attack. I feel like I'm dying".
One would think I knew this was an anxiety attack, but I had NO idea. This was because I was having a great day. I felt no anxiety! So the only logical conclusion for me was...well...that I was dying. How could all of these negative physical reactions happen after a great day?!
Fast forward to the hospital and they run all the tests on me. You can imagine my reaction when they came in and told me everything came back great. I was shocked. Speechless.
Was I going crazy? I sure felt it.
That's when I had the first person ever in my life tell me the symptoms of a severe anxiety attack. *Cough this should be taught in school cough* The best part? The nurse told me there wasn't really anything I could do about it except for find ways to calm myself down when it happens. I had no idea how to handle this. But, if I wanted to not feel like I was dying, I guess I had to begin to learn.
That's when my journey around mental health began. I began to find ways to calm myself down such as baths, music, or going to the dance studio. But it took me many years to learn that my anxiety attacks weren't indeed "random" like I had thought. They were due to pressing down my emotions and bottling up everything negative I felt. NOTE: No negative physical or emotional response is ever random. Although I eventually realized this, I continued to press them down. It's easier to do that anyways, right? Easier...but not better.
The past couple of years I finally went beyond the coping mechanisms and started recognizing/dealing with my emotions head on. That was the game changer.
Fast forward to today, and I'm studying to be a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Practitioner. This practice, that I will very soon (EEK!) be using with clients, is specifically beneficially for people with anxiety/depression/low self-esteem. I have learned a lot myself along the way about the power of self-awareness around our thoughts and emotions and different ways to "check-in" with them. If you feel your emotions steer the ship, you can begin to gain control of them through these practices.
You don't have to be a writer in order to journal. Journaling is messy, raw, and the best form of expression for many. Why is journaling so great? Because the thoughts that take up space in your mind become more real when they are put out into the physical world. There is something different about writing down "I feel sad" compared to thinking "I feel sad" in your mind all day. It hits different. The thought or emotion gets thrown into reality.
If you would like to begin your journaling journey, Google, "Journaling Prompts".
This is a practice I have not actually learned about but found to be beneficial on my own. It may come as a shock, as I sit here writing a blog post, but I don't love to casually write/journal. It's a lot of energy for me. But I can talk to myself into my phone all day. So, I simply hit the record button in my voice memo app, and record any thoughts or emotions for the day. Hearing my thoughts and emotions out loud are powerful.
Meditation can look many different ways, but if you're wanting to start basic, I recommend reading this. This is exactly how I started to learn about mediation and realized that it doesn't have to be some grandiose moment on a rock outside at 5:00 AM as the sun rises and I wave essential oils around my face. It can look like sitting in your car in the quiet for 2 minutes.
What exactly is mindfulness? Well, it's technically a form of meditation, but I like to look at it more as being mindful of your thoughts, emotions, and actions throughout the day. Raising your self-awareness. Many people go through their day, or even their entire life, on autopilot. It's a habit that has become normalized and is used as a coping mechanism to just "get through life". An easy way to begin the habit of practicing mindfulness is to create daily "check-in" alarms on your phone. When the alarm goes off, you become present and acknowledge what you are thinking and feeling in that moment. You can even go as far as asking yourself why you feel a certain way. This will soon become a habit, and your brain will ask yourself these questions more often.
I hope that one or more of these exercises can help you begin your journey of checking in with your thoughts and emotions. Follow along here for more resources and community focused on mindset and habit building.