It is (still) May, which means it is Mental Health Awareness month, and it’s time for my annual soapbox blog post! I’m very passionate about this topic, and I’m glad mental illness is losing its shame and stigma as a result of people speaking out about their own struggles.
The past few years, I have written about my own experiences with anxiety and depression. It’s a vulnerable topic, but I’ve found it so rewarding to connect with others through this very common experience of suffering with mental health. I still think those blog posts are relevant, and since I’ve written one each year, I can track how my relationship to my mental well-being has changed. I can see the intensity of suffering and desperation in my first post, the slow turnaround and hopefulness of my second post, the acceptance and steadiness of my third post.
I feel very fortunate that, going into this fourth year, I have felt stronger and more balanced – especially considering how out of control I felt just 3 years ago. My mental health practices now are more independent and self-help focused.
I know the things that make me feel good, like reading, meditation, music playing, cooking, and genuinely connecting with people around me. I no longer use my prescription medication, and I don’t visit a therapist (although I believe strongly in the use of both in conjunction when it’s really bad, and I believe everyone should have the enlightening experience of going to therapy).
I also know what makes me feel really unwell. Unstable relationships, toxic and insecure people and environments, social comparison, not having a certain degree of control over what my life looks like, not getting enough sleep.
So, I structure my life in a way that I can pursue the things that make me feel good, and eliminate the things that make me feel like shit. As a human being, there are some weeks when I achieve this, and some weeks when I miss the mark, especially when there are uncontrollable elements that disrupt this balance – from life events to simple hormones.
A big (and fairly obvious) realization is that my phone is both friend and foe to me. It allows me to connect with people, music, and ideas that wouldn’t be accessible to me otherwise, but it is an easy trap of social comparison, attention diversions, and mindless / endless disconnection from real life. You already know the biggest culprits – facebook, instagram, snapchat, emails, and more recently, the dating apps of infinite swipes. I’m sure you have your own combination of apps that can become time and energy drainers if you do not practice self control.
But, on the other hand, there are also some amazing apps and social media accounts that I use / follow which make me feel better, and that’s what I wanted to share in this post. Ways you can make your phone a friend to you. Here are a few of my favorite resources:
Insight Timer – I have at least 6 meditation apps, but this app is my favorite because it’s FREE, and has a huge resource of guided meditations for many situations that range different topics, from bolstering mindfulness practice, dealing with difficult circumstances, guiding through anxiety, depression, addictions, sleep meditations… etc. It’s not the most sophisticated of meditation apps (the UX design isn’t as good as Calm or Headspace) but again.. it’s FREE. I use this when I feel unbalanced or overwhelmed, and often before I go to bed.
Mend – there are plenty of dating apps designed to help you find bae, but what happens if your relationship with bae comes to an end? What about the emotional aftermath of a break up? Finally, a cool chick named Ellen Huerta designed an app to walk you through a relationship break up in a healthier and more mindful way. I don’t know exactly how I found it, but I used it last year when I was in shambles again after the 100th break up with my on-and-off boyfriend (bless his heart). When you open this app, it takes a quick inventory of how you’re doing emotionally, then gives you a quick 2 to 3 minute meditation, and prompts you to write a few words in the journal portion. The goal is to get to 60 days without contact with the ex bae- so you go on this app every day for 2 months for a daily emotional tune up. You can track your progress which is hard to see without tracking, since the whole experience seems so slow and unbearable.
Does it make a break up easier? Hell no. They’re always awful. But this does preempt any destructive or impulsive behavior you might engage in when your heart is that vulnerable, and it does give you a healthier alternative to the mental monologue of “I’m doomed, I suck, I’m never going to find another, I ain’t shit, etc.”
Podcasts – I follow Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, where she has conversations with different authors, spiritual and thought leaders on life’s bigger questions. Some conversations can be a little fluffy for me, but I’ve gotten a lot out of some interviews, and these people remind me to calm down and notice so many beautiful things to be grateful for in every day life. I also like the TED Radio Hour podcast when I need something less fluffy but still intellectually stimulating.
Instagram – I have stopped following influencer bloggers who do nothing except post perfect pictures of their asses, food, and vacations. The accounts which really lift me or speak to me are the artists who create work grounded in their vulnerability and emotional experiences, like Rupi Kaur, Mari Andrew, Adam J Kurtz, Humans of NY; female empowerment organizations like Girl Boss, Girls Who Code, Girls Inc and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls; and people / organizations that support emotional intelligence like Esther Perel and the School of Life. There’s a balance I try to strike in the ratio of entertaining yet mindless accounts (I would NEVER give up my memes) and accounts that are trying to achieve something real. I encourage anyone who uses social media frequently to play an intentional part in shaping their phone experience – easiest way to do this is to mindfully follow and unfollow certain people.
Phone Fasting– Finally, the trustiest and most difficult practice to maintain mental health while owning a phone is to shut it down and leave it for some time. I typically go overboard with my use of apps, and then I register that I don’t feel like myself, which kicks off a week long app fast. It’s pretty magical, because then I remember all the things that I love to do besides go on my phone – like reading, music, not comparing myself to everyone else, and all of the things I mentioned earlier. You don’t have to be as extreme, you could simply put the thing on airplane mode for an hour or so. But I do believe it’s critical to step away from the phone and have a life.
Thanks for making it all the way through this long post if you have. All of the above is my personal experience, so I can’t promise it will yield the same results with everyone, but I believe everything is worth a try when you’re trying to achieve a level of happiness, health and fulfillment… all of it tied to your mental state and well being. If you are suffering, please know there are resources available (below) and that it is possible to feel better. Wishing you all love and light.
National Institute of Mental Health – Lots of resources on this page
Talk Space – Accessible and more affordable therapy via messaging
Calm Clinic – Lots of articles for anxiety-prone people like me
Mindfulness Meditation 101 – A crash course
Anxiety and Depression Association of America – More info