Written in honor of May’s Mental Health Awareness month.
I sat with a blinking cursor for a while–full transparency. Then I asked myself where my hesitation was coming from by checking in with my own mental health. Thoughts surfaced like, “I want this to be impactful. I want to make sure the message is clear enough. I hope it resonates.” As you can read, our mental health creates worry in some of our most enjoyable spaces.
It also goes to show that if we hinder our progress due to our own internal battles, we won’t be able to move forward. Our mental health can challenge us even when we know what we want, so go after it anyway!
Whatever ‘it’ means to you.
I believe that this topic of mental health is the most important aspect of us as humans. What’s even more important is having the awareness of these parts of ourselves and without judgment while moving through them with as much compassion as we would extend to a close friend or loved one. That self-compassion should be at the top of our list.
Not the criticism for the things that we didn't do, but rather the actions we took in spite of our fears.
Our mental health shows up in all aspects of life, it’s our mind that influences the way we view the world, how we show up in relationships, why we choose certain paths in life, etc. Some of the most challenging mental health issues cannot be seen on people, they are instead held and felt within. This is one of the biggest reasons why it’s taken society a very long to raise mental health awareness.
Mental health is vastly different from person to person due to very different experiences, environments and influences. Due to this, I am going to approach this from a place where we are all looking at life through a different lens. Once we explore our beliefs and values, we can better understand our behaviors based on our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations that all coincide.
For example, some emotions can be disguised as other emotions. Anger is more commonly expressed as a secondary emotion that conceals sadness, frustration, fear, humiliation.
Starting at a place of self-compassion offers us a safe space to start. When we learn to trust our feelings more, we can listen to what they are frankly trying to tell us.
1. Rebuild the relationship with our emotions.
Being open and willing to feel the large array of emotions that we have as humans can be super scary and unfamiliar, but I believe that everything in life is a relationship, even the one to our emotions. We can learn how to live better when we explore our emotions and tap into them.
It's finding the balance of feeling your emotions and riding that wave and then at some point, realizing when it's time to hop off and move forward.
We can spend too much time in an emotion if we don’t practice deeper awareness and ask, what am I feeling right now and how is that impacting the present moment? How is this emotion serving me, if at all?
There aren’t good or bad emotions, some are just more challenging or unfamiliar to us. If we haven't accessed certain ones, then they become harder to express freely and truthfully.
Exercise: When a challenging emotion arises that you would otherwise bury and ignore, instead sit with that emotion. Take some deep breaths to get into the space by focusing on the physical sensations associated.
- Describe the emotion to yourself.
- Where do you feel the emotion in your body?
- What size is that tension or tightness?
- What color and texture do you associate it with?
- What is this emotion actually trying to say?
- What else can you associate with that emotion?
See how the emotion changes and shifts with time. If you still don’t feel it soften, continue to be with it. The goal is to develop a new relationship with that emotion in order to understand it, believe its validity and let it flow easier the next time it arises.
When we validate our emotions, we are letting our mind and body know that we accept the feeling and can allow it to process.
2. Mindful awareness.
Sometimes those challenging thoughts and emotions grasp the present moment. It begins to be a cycle or a process and while sometimes we can find a way out through distractions, oftentimes it's best to observe those thoughts and emotions in a nonjudgmental way.
Using the 5 senses to do this.
- Task idea #1 - Sitting in nature. Observe the trees, rocks, grass.
- What do you see, smell, hear?
- Task idea #2 - Washing the dishes or folding the laundry.
- Oftentimes, we distract ourselves from these mundane tasks by listening or watching something.
- Instead, what do you hear, feel or see?
Begin playing with this practice for just a few minutes at a time. Here’s your reminder to lead the exercise with self-compassion. Whereas with meditation–which I am super fond of–you don't need to carve out extra time to do mindfulness.You are instead using your time efficiently by being present during a task or a moment in nature. Whenever you notice yourself in the past or future, come back to something around you by connecting to your senses. What’s another activity or way that you can practice mindfulness in your daily life?
3. Understanding our thoughts.
Thoughts are ever present, but our thoughts are not us. If you think about it, who is actually listening to your thoughts? You are.
With that, we can slowly learn to separate ourselves from our thoughts and realize that they are a part of us, but not the whole picture. Learning to set boundaries with those thoughts can help us get back to the here and now.
Exercise: When a recurring and unhelpful thought comes to mind, let it be there for a moment. By using mindful awareness, we can acknowledge it and recognize that it is taking us away from the present moment.
Pose questions like:
- What is the value of this thought at this time and in my life in general?
- What is its purpose, does this thought serve me?
- Is there any validity to this thought?
- What is another way to think about the situation that surrounds the thought?
- Does this thought make me create negativity toward myself or others?
Let’s also try to create space from the thought.
By doing so, you are acknowledging the power that you have over the thoughts in your mind and your ability to get back to the present moment. Tap into your five senses and try to redirect your focus to sensory information.
4. Establishing values.
Values give us life direction and purpose. Values can also shift throughout life because we are always changing. It's important to examine your values and ask the important questions of, what is each value doing for me and my future?
For example, if you value community, but you haven’t been able to make new friends after a move to a new area and are struggling to put yourself out there, ask the question, ‘is my value of community stronger than my fear of putting myself out there?’ Chances are, the connection is more important and you can allow the value to drive your decision and actions moving forward.
Create your own values list, I will share my main values to give you an idea:
wisdom, adventure, creativity, authenticity, compassion, love, unity. What are your own values?
5. Body-mind connection.
Let’s listen more to our bodies and the messages it’s telling us when parts of life and people create tension. Our brain is also a part of our body and therefore, it is all connected.
How can we set better boundaries?
One way is to refer to your values and hone in on what aspect of those values are not being honored when we struggle in certain relationships and environments. Let’s pull it all together with the mind and body to ask ourselves, ‘What was I just thinking? What emotion did it create? How can I get back to the present moment?’
Let’s introduce more mindfulness into the equation.
Sustaining a practice can be challenging, but here is your reminder that small victories lead to progress and satisfaction. I have to stay on top of each practice in order to maintain the mental health that I need in order to take on life. It isn't about getting it right, it’s about making a conscious choice to align your actions with your values.
We are born with little to no fears, but with time we become so conditioned to fear certain things. With that, if I let my fears override my passion, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post today.
Mental health is the strand that holds all of our life-bulbs today, keeping them intact and reminding us that the mind is lighting our way!
Macy Cassera is a mental health coach, ambassador and freelance blog writer. She has prior experience as a model in New York City for fashion, commercial and parts modeling. Macy combines these passions with mental health awareness to underpin our sense of self and strive for a world of inclusivity and equitable representation. To get in touch with Macy, please send her an email or send a message through her official website or Instagram.