I’ve always found it amazing that we’re taught so many things in school and life, but not the most important things of all.
For example, we’re never formally taught how to be skillful at interpersonal relationships – we’re just expected to pick this up on our own. Most of us learn by trial and error. Sometimes lots of errors – just look at the divorce rate.
Similarly, unless we seek out a specific class, we’re never taught how to parent. Two young adults can literally walk out of a hospital with a newborn baby and not have the faintest clue about how to raise a child. That’s bonkers to me!
Just like relationship skills and parenting, there’s a third critical area of knowledge that I believe should be taught to every human alive from a young age: how to manage our own mental health.
You need only look at the mental health crisis in our country to realize that our current way of life takes a toll. To make matters worse, none of us are taught how to care for our emotional selves unless we happen to stumble onto some good resources along the way.
I want to change all that. I’m on a mission to get people to take care of their inner selves, starting today. You don’t need to have a diagnosis or be in a crisis to care about mental health; on the contrary, it makes sense to pay attention to these things when you’re feeling fine. That way, if life does take a downturn, you’re prepared to handle any problem that might pop up.
How are you feeling? How are you coping day-to-day? How will you handle it when crises arise – because they can and do crop up for all of us.
My training as a Trevor Project volunteer has taught me a lot. Our family’s experiences with various therapists, including an intensive, multi-month DBT skills program, have also shored up my knowledge base in this area. I am more than happy to pass along what I’ve learned.
Here are four things every human should have in an emotional or mental health or self-care “toolbox” to use as needed and when personal crises arise.
- Self-care activities – Self-care means many different things to different people. To me, self-care covers the things that help us maintain our emotional health when no immediate stressors are present. This can range from eating well, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep, to journaling about our feelings, spending time with friends, holding crystals, spending time out in nature or meditating. Whatever makes you feel good, feeds your soul and helps you be your very best inside and out could be self-care for you.
- Coping strategies – Then, there are the things you do to take care of yourself when life gets rough. When you have a big fight with your partner, a friend is unkind or you get laid off from your job, you need coping strategies. These are behaviors or activities that you do when there is a crisis trigger present and you need to regulate your emotions, process through tough stuff or self-soothe. Examples might include exercise or moving your body, talking to a friend or trusted confidant, writing out pros and cons in a journal, or doing mindful breathing exercises. Some of your self-care basics may also double as coping strategies during a crisis if they bring you comfort and help you to feel safe.
- Supportive network – In addition to the things we can do for ourselves, it’s also important to have trusted people in our life, either professionally or personally, who can be there when times are hard. This could be your best friend, a parent or other mentor, a good therapist or even a life coach. These are people you can share your feelings with and who will offer a listening ear, validation and, if you ask for it, advice or guidance. Your trusted network doesn’t have to be large, but it makes sense to cultivate at least a couple of people who can play this role in your life.
- Other resources – This last category is hard to prepare in advance, as it can fall into the arena of “you don’t know what you’ll need until you need it.” Still, it’s good to have a list of warmlines and crisis hotlines you can call for support in case you ever need them. Other resources might include local places we can go for information or expertise outside of our immediate support circle when we need help or support. I can personally vouch for the Trevor Project as a great mental health resource that is intended for young LGBTQ people but also serves anyone in crisis; we don’t turn anyone away.
Life can be a roller coaster sometimes, with highs and lows. When we’re faced with a lower low than we’ve experienced before, sometimes it can be jarring to our mental health. That’s why I’m a big believer in having that toolbox ready so we can open it up and use some of our skills or resources to help us out when we need it most.
Don’t forget to practice using those daily self-care skills and remind yourself what else is in your toolbox. That will make it a lot easier to remember and reach for additional help when tough times come our way.
What else is in your self-care toolbox? As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or over on Facebook or Instagram.