I’m writing this as I’m waiting for an appointment today. The appointment is my first session with my new therapist, Max. I recently started my new role here at Beauty for All Industries (BFA) as the Director of Organization, Learning & Inclusion and moved to San Francisco (a lot of exciting new changes!). Finding a mental health practitioner was high on my list of priorities for getting and feeling settled in my new homes.
The process of therapy is like cleaning out a dresser. You pull it all out, examine it, deal with what you need to let go of, choose what you’re going to keep, and put that back more neatly than before. This is exactly what I do with every therapist I’ve worked with whenever I’ve had something I wanted to work on, process, or examine. Each experience has allowed me to build new skills and new insights to enable me to take better care of myself when challenges arise.
Therapy is a cornerstone to my personal mental well-being. I trust the therapeutic process. I believe in its power so much so that I went and got a master’s degree in social work, and I’m currently licensed in New York, New Mexico, and soon, California.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so I thought I would share with you some of the insights I’ve gleaned over the last 20 years of my personal and professional journey into mental well-being.
Positive mental health starts with remembering to be kind—to yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in all the things that we should do, should say, should be. It’s normal to be our own harshest critic—especially when we miss a deadline or forget to accomplish something. But we need to remember to talk to ourselves like we would a friend who needs support. At the end of each day, practice reminding yourself of all the ways you kicked butt that day. Talk about how you were a supportive friend and colleague. Talk about how you were innovative. And if it was a tough day, tell yourself how awesome you were for making it to the end.
Positive mental health continues by practicing gratitude. There’s a lot I don’t have. There are days that don’t go well. I’m sure the same holds true for everyone reading this—but it’s harder to remember all the things you lack when you intentionally focus on all the things you have. Each day, practice naming what you’re grateful for; maybe even write it in a journal. Each morning, I am grateful for a spectacular cup of coffee. I’m grateful for the people I work with; I know I’m getting a smile and a good chat when I go into the office. I’m grateful that I have a job that lets me make a positive impact on the lives of people with whom I work.
The more we practice the two habits above, the easier it becomes.
But what if that’s not enough? Maybe you need more. Maybe you’re finding it harder to maintain positive mental well-being. The best way to get out of your own head is to focus on someone else. The number one recommendation by therapists to combat anxiety and depression is to volunteer. So find a cause you’re passionate about, volunteer, and focus on making a positive contribution to someone else’s life.
And maybe you need even more. Maybe it’s time to reach out and ask for help. Of all my guidance, this may be the hardest for you to implement. Despite all the progress we’ve made, there’s still a lot of stigma around seeking mental health services. I know. I was there 20 years ago when I needed help battling my own anxiety. Sometimes it’s easier to be supportive of others, but harder to give that support to ourselves. Remember what I said above: It all starts with kindness. Be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that you are just as deserving of getting the help you need. And, chances are, your employer has an Employee Assistance Program that can get you started.
Positive mental well-being, and the habits that foster it, are not just for one month. It’s an all-year, every day practice. Start small, make progress, see your growth. And as for me, I’m off to see Max—we’re going to open a new dresser, pull some stuff out, and see what I’m going to keep.