2020 was a difficult year. A tough year. Scratch that: For millions, like myself, it was a f*cking impossible year. From struggling with depression and anxiety to unprocessed trauma and PTSD, I spent most of the year in a haze. I also lost my mother in 2020 — and, in many ways, myself. Oh, and did I mention that all of this occurred in the midst of a pandemic? Yeah. 2020 was a shitshow, through and through.
“Mental health struggles in 2020 were significant,” Traci Lowenthal, a licensed clinical psychologist in Redlands, California, tells Scary Mommy. “So many of us felt isolated, anxious, fearful and grief stricken.”
But there is help, for me and others. There is hope. And with a few practical practices and habits, 2021 has the potential to be a better year. Here are a 11 ways to care for your mental health, today and everyday.
Go to therapy.
Going to therapy, if you’re able, may seem like a given. After all, the benefits of therapy are well-documented and well known. And making a weekly (or biweekly) appointment which is for you — and about you — can do wonders for your mental health. “Talking to someone who provides a nonjudgmental space to address different issues can have positive effects,” Annie Varvaryan, a licensed clinical psychologist in California, says. It can also embolden and empower you and help you process this seemingly overwhelming time. Not interested in individual therapy? Group therapy can also be beneficial.
Make and keep your appointments.
While making therapeutic appointments is great, keeping said appointments is imperative. You cannot reap the benefits of therapy if you don’t show up. Plus, keeping your appointments affirms you are worth it. It proves your mental health matters. So set up a standing appointment with your psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, counselor, and/or life coach — and keep it.
Take medications, as prescribed.
Millions of Americans take medication to help manage their mental health, including me. (I take an antidepressant and antipsychotic every day.) And while this point may seem obvious, if you’ve been prescribed medication, you need to take said medication. Don’t forget it, skip it, or stop taking it without speaking to your healthcare provider.
The benefits of exercise are innumerable, but exercise can be particularly helpful if you’re anxious, stressed, or depressed. “Depending on your physical ability, walking, running, cycling, and/or other physical movements can have a profound impact on your mental health,” Lowenthal says. “But exercise isn’t limited to walking — or lifting weights. Anything that gets the blood pumping and neurons firing is likely to improve your mood, energy and sleep.”
Not sure where to begin? Take the kids for a stroll. Go for a swim, or stream a short workout video on YouTube. The point isn’t what you do, it is that you take time to do something — anything — for your health and self.
Therapy is great and medication is (for many) an integral part of their mental health plan, but all the pills in the world cannot help you if you aren’t caring for yourself. Trust me, I know. That’s where self-care comes in.
“Self-care is any activity we do to promote our own physical, emotional, and mental health,” Dr. Brian Wind, chief clinical officer at Journey Pure and former co-chair of the American Psychological Association’s advisory committee on colleague assistance, tells Scary Mommy. But what does self-care look like?
Self-care can take many forms. Some individuals read when they are stressed while others sit and soak in the bath. Listening to music or doing some exercise can also be helpful. “But you should do things you enjoy,” Wind says, “such as reading, going for a walk, yoga or any hobbies that you find easy and rewarding.”
Avoid toxic people and negativity triggers.
Does social media make you depressed or anxious? Are there people in your life who upset you and/or stress you out? Minimizing engagement with individuals or outlets which cause tension, strain, anger, nervousness, or trauma will improve your mental health.
Journaling is a common practice. In fact, many individuals journal to work through complex feelings, alleviate stress, and/or organize their thoughts. The act is both productive and helpful. Writing can be — and, for many individuals, is — cathartic. But journaling can also improve your mental health.
“Writing a journal or gratitude journal can help you gain perspective on the things [you have] to be thankful for you in your life,” Wind tells Scary Mommy. It can also help you meet your goals and improve your overall quality of life, i.e. journaling can help you clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and even buffer or reduce the effects of mental illness.
Another popular way to alleviate stress and care for your mental health is to meditate. In fact, numerous studies have shown regular meditation can reduce your blood pressure and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Don’t know where to begin? Headspace and Calm are two popular meditation apps. You can also find a wide range of meditation videos online.
Try something new.
According to Mental Health America, one of the best ways to boost your mood and mental health is to try something new. “Experiment with a new recipe, write a poem, paint, or try a Pinterest project. Creative expression and overall well-being are linked.”
Take time out to enjoy the little things.
Do you enjoy watching movies? How about sipping a warm cup of tea? Don’t underestimate the importance of cherishing and continuing these mini-rituals.
Remember to rest.
While keeping busy is great, the importance of downtime cannot (and should not) be overlooked. Prioritizing rest is imperative to your overall health. Of course, getting adequate sleep can be hard, especially if you’re a parent, but there are ways you can wind down, i.e., put your phone down early and turn computer screens off. Take a warm bath or read a magazine or book, and practice other habits — like journaling or meditation — in the evening hours, as these actions will help settle your body and relax your mind.