This year’s theme is “young people and mental health in a changing world.” This theme reminds me more of myself a few years ago. Your teenage years and early twenties are full of changes, and these changes can be stressful, especially for those of us with mental illness. I’ve spoken about my own mental health journey in a previous post and the difficulties that came with being diagnosed with depression and then anxiety in my college years.
For this year’s World Mental Health Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes the importance of building mental resilience. Mental resilience basically means strengthening your mental health abilities so that you can cope with the challenges you face in life.
I work really hard to build up my mental resilience every day. Some days, my resilience is better than others, but overall, I feel like I have a strong foundation to lean on. This World Mental Health Day, I’m sharing six ways to build mental resilience that have helped me as a young adult in a changing world.
1. Learn everything you can about your mental illness. For many people, the scariest things in life are unknown: an unconfirmed diagnosis, a missing person, a dark room. The cliché “knowledge is power” is often true. Do thorough research about your mental illness so you are better prepared to fight it when it tries to take over.
2. Spend some real time getting to know yourself, your triggers, and your coping tools. I know it can be hard to spend alone time with yourself, especially when your brain wants to take you to dark places. But as with any relationship, the closer you are with someone (including yourself), the stronger the foundation. Be honest with yourself about your deep, dark secrets, what takes you to a dangerous place, and what can help drag you out of it.
3. Create stability and routine whenever possible, but don’t let it rule your life. It’s hard to maintain mental health when you have no stability in your life. Real stability often doesn’t exist for us twenty-somethings. We’re graduating, getting jobs, losing jobs, making friends, losing friends, dating, breaking up, getting married, having babies, traveling, moving, and doing a thousand other things in the quest to create a stable and sustainable life for ourselves.
No matter what your life situation is, it can be helpful to find stability and routine. For me, this includes consistent at-home yoga practices, a nightly bedtime routine, and texting my boyfriend every day no matter where I am or what I’m doing. Just make sure that your routine doesn’t rule your life. Don’t rely on routine so much for your mental wellbeing that when you miss a yoga practice or your phone dies, you start to panic. That’s just as unhealthy as having no stability at all.
4. Push yourself as much as you can while still being kind to yourself. If you have a mental illness, you need to be tougher than most to live a “normal” life. Often facing your illness head-on can help you grow and learn how to thrive despite it. If you want to say hello to a stranger, go to an event, travel somewhere new, or jump out of a plane but your anxiety tells you no, push yourself to do it anyway. Sometimes, you can get yourself to do something amazing, and that’s worth celebrating. Sometimes, your mental illness will be too strong and you won’t be able to do the thing you wanted. And that’s okay too. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Be kind to yourself. You can’t win every battle, but you can make yourself stronger for the war by forcing yourself to try uncomfortable things.
5. Develop a healthy relationship with technology, and don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) bring you down. Technology allows us to easily connect with people, get help right away, and learn more about the world, but it can also make mental illness worse. Scrolling through social media feeds and dwelling on the seemingly perfect experiences of others can cause anxiety, depression, and FOMO. Create boundaries with technology. For example, I put my phone on do not disturb mode from 10 pm – 7 am. I also use that feature when doing yoga, exercising, working, or having dinner with a friend. It’s nice to regularly disconnect and focus on your life instead of others.
6. Never ever feel afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Unfortunately, stigma around mental illness is still very real. People might tell you it’s all in your head or that you can will your way out of your illness, but that’s not true. There are so many people out there—myself included—who want to help you. Talk to a friend, a family member, a co-worker, a psychiatrist, a therapist, or anyone else you trust about what you’re feeling. Don’t feel bad about taking medication to help build your mental resilience. You are strong, but mental illness is strong too, and no one can fight it alone.
Challenge yourself this week to try at least one of these tactics to build your mental resilience. Share in the comments below which one you try and if it helps you.