I think that the Heads Up Teens community offers a decent amount of actionable advice on how to take care of your mental health. From eating instant noodles to journaling to watching movies, there’s plenty to choose from. Unfortunately, the thing about self care is that sometimes it feels a bit unnecessary. And I get it, sometimes you might say to yourself, “I feel happy today, so here’s no need to journal about my deep emotions. Life is good!” and that’s perfectly logical. While I’m ecstatic that you’re doing well right now, it may not always be that way. I think one of the biggest problems regarding teen mental health is inconsistent attention to it.
Let’s use a common analogy. Try and think of your mind and body as two separate but similar entities. If you exercise your body, maybe by doing some push ups or stretching, it will eventually build stronger and more interconnected muscle fibers. However, if you leave it inactive, it remains static or perhaps loses muscle mass. To help your body thrive, you need to feed and nurture it with the right foods, making sure to get nutrients as well as plenty of water, otherwise it won’t recover to the best of its ability after working out.
Now let’s look at the mind in a similar light. Unlike our bodies, our minds don’t have the option to be inactive; they’re pretty much always working. Unless they’re asleep, there’s always some sort of stress or strain them, varying from low to high intensity. For comparison to the body exercising, let’s assume the baseline that our minds are always taking a walk. But sometimes life picks up the pace; you have school work, family obligations, social dilemmas, or the occasional global pandemic. This is when our minds start to pick up the pace and a walk becomes a run. In times that are capable of inducing high stress, anxiety or depression, maybe right before you take a test or during a dilemma between friends, that run can become a sprint. How exhausting! A notable difference between the mind and body is that when the body isn’t resting (sleeping), we still nurture it with healthy foods, water, and light activity. I’m not saying put an apple on your head, but why don’t we do the same for our minds? I think we should.
Even in resting periods, we still try to eat healthy… we know it’s good for us and will help nourish our body. So even when your mind is in this content, peaceful state, it’s important to treat it just the same. In fact, providing the mind with the self care it needs during states of calm strengthens it to be able to better handle agitation by strengthening our ability to use techniques to nourish ourselves. It also makes us better at recognizing when we actually need self care. Finally, we build a nuanced understanding of ourselves and our minds, knowing how and when to give them a certain degree of attention.
Having a routine is, in my opinion, the best way to get the job done. It isn’t very difficult, it’s completely subject to your own needs and preferences, and it keeps you consistent.
For example, one of my self care strategies is meditation. I don’t want the task to be daunting, so I only keep myself accountable for 10 minutes every Sunday and Wednesday. It sounds like nothing, but setting low expectations can sometimes help. It’s easier to exceed a low standard than to try and meet a high standard, and usually I end up doing more on my own. How long and often I meditate is subject to how I feel on any given day is totally based on how I feel, but having a baseline makes sure I hit the bare minimum. I encourage you to try the same with whatever you decide would be most beneficial or enjoyable to you. It can help to download a habit tracking app or keep a log of your consistency in a journal.
The Long Run
Mental Health awareness is growing exponentially in the US, which is amazing. I think it’s about time we normalize self care for our minds the same way we care for our bodies. While I don’t have the studies to back my claim that self care will lead to a longer life, I can guarantee you it leads to a happier one.