Hello dear readers, and welcome to another day of our crusade for improved mental health! But what exactly does that look like? What does it mean to improve your mental health, and how do you go about doing it?
We’ve all seen the endless Instagram posts glorifying yoga, good food, meditation, and a myriad of other tools that will supposedly benefit your mental health. And in many ways, they do work. As a person who occasionally participates in these activities, they can certainly have therapeutic benefits, but they’re not the sole means for improving mental wellness. However, social media doesn’t make it look that way.
When you see dozens of posts a day that preach all sorts of healthy activities for your mind, you wind up thinking that wellness looks something like this:
- Finding time for daily yoga classes at the local studio
- Keeping a mental-health journal and updating it every night
- Waking up an hour earlier to prepare an organic breakfast free of GMOs and processed chemicals
- Exercising at least four times a week with a variety of machines and weights involved
- Getting a solid ten hours of sleep
- Only using technology for two hours a day
- Gardening and growing your own vegetables
- Meditating before and after bed
You vow to accomplish each one of these goals, setting a tight schedule for yourself with the absolute certainty you’ll adhere to it. You go into it with the mindset that you’ll come out free of depression, anxiety, and all of life’s ailments because you completed these tasks, and they totally work, right?
And then reality sets in, and your week ends up looking more like this:
- Going to two yoga classes and giving up after falling over several times
- Starting a mental-health journal and abandoning it after a few days
- Setting your alarm for an hour earlier, sleeping through it, and winding up eating cereal for breakfast
- Exercising once and being too sore the next day to do it again
- Getting an average of six hours of sleep because you were so busy trying to do all the other things
- Ending the week feeling more stressed than you were when you started.
At any rate, this was how my week looked when I tried these things.
We believe wellness is linear because it’s what we’re shown. We see all sorts of beautiful people on the internet who portray this idea of perfect mental and physical health, all because they’ve supposedly spent their entire lives doing yoga and eating well. They emerged from the womb in a perfect downward dog, reaching warrior one in a matter of days, and by the time they’re a year old, they’ve attended at least seventy ashtanga classes. Because that’s what wellness looks like.
The fact is, there is no cure for mental illness. In the same way that most chronic physical conditions can’t be fully remedied, chronic mental illnesses can’t either. And all the yoga, healthy foods, and sleep in the world won’t solve them. But they can always be treated. And the best part is that happiness is usually an effective treatment.
This is not to say that you can just “be happy.” No one can. It’s like telling a person with chronic pain to “stop hurting.” That’s not how it works. But for me, practicing wellness is doing things that make me happy. Improving my mental health looks like:
- Free-reading. Anywhere, anytime.
- Completing difficult tasks ahead of time and celebrating my accomplishment with some rest
- Eating a donut every once in a while
- Netflix on my couch with my dog
- Hugging my kids, and hearing their sweet voices after a long day
- A hot shower after exercising
- Engaging with the people that matter to me
- Going to sleep knowing I’ve done all I can to be the best I can be
This is what happiness is built on for me. Not yoga. Not exercise. Not adding more things onto my schedule, but enjoying the moments in between. It’s different for everyone, and you’ll get different results with different techniques. So when you work to improve your mental wellness, know that your choices should revolve around what’s best for YOUR mind. Not what worked for an internet influencer.
Because your mind is uniquely wonderful, and deserves to be treated as such.
Your fellow crusader