What a year it was. I think we can all agree that 2020 had a little too much in store for all of us. As the year came to an end, it was important to address that we made it through everything: we faced challenges, fought, and persevered. If anything, it opened our worlds up to uncertainty and strengthened us in ways we cannot begin to understand. With that being said, 2020 should not be sugar-coated, as it was a challenge for all. Challenges ranged from physical health, financial hardship, emotional drain, to testing relationships. Many people, including myself, faced mental health problems that became quite overwhelming. It is so important to acknowledge these mental health problems as you would any other physical ailment, as they can be some of the most harmful silent strains on a person.
Mental health is something I have grown up dealing with, and fortunately, I have a support system that is always there for me to turn to. Through open communication with my family and friends, I have realized that it is not just me that goes through this, but that more people than you can imagine have mental health problems they are dealing with. I am writing about my struggles with mental health to hopefully encourage people who are too scared to talk about it to reach out.
Firstly, it is real. I know it’s easy to spiral out of control and be uncomfortable talking about what is going on in your mind, but if you have someone to talk to I encourage you to do so. This could be trusted family members, friends, significant others, a teacher, a therapist, or anyone you think has a strong, comforting character. If you are in a bad headspace and feel as though you don’t trust anyone you know personally or just want an outside source of help, I suggest reaching out to a therapist or support line. The first step to dealing with your mental health is accepting and communicating how you feel.
For as long as I can remember I have had anxiety and depression, coupled with OCD tendencies. I have been on and off medication since I was eight years old, and in and out of therapy. I discovered that the most influential treatment has been my support system of friends and family. As I said, I have been in therapy and have learned many coping mechanisms to deal with my anxiety on my own. I have hobbies that help me with stress, and I even have natural supplements to help. All of these are great options to combat mental health and normally all I need, but this fall was a bad one. I am chalking it up to a stressful semester after a year in a pandemic. With this change in mental health, I knew I had to address things to get back to my normal life.
The first step I took was to recognize the fact that I was mentally drained, nervous, and feeling down. I know who “Bea” is, and this wasn’t it. I talked with my family and friends a lot, but I still was not turning a corner. If anything, I was losing more and more sleep over irrational fears. I ended up going home for a week on a whim just because I needed my family around me, and the stability to make a positive change in the direction of recovery. For anyone struggling with mental health I cannot stress enough how important it is to be in tune with yourself and who makes you feel safe and comfortable. I took this week as a mental break and opportunity to reach out to my doctor, to find a therapist, and to release endorphins through puppy cuddles. After my week “resetting” at home, I returned to school where I began seeing a therapist regularly and starting a healthy routine.
The routine was one of the most important things that changed for me, it was hard to get into at first. Over time, as my depression released its grasp on me, I was able to settle in. In a time of online classes, I found myself easily being able to wake up, sit in my bed, and attend class, never leaving my room. As a social person, this was not helping my mental health. I made a change and began to go to bed at the same hour (a new phenomenon, as my anxiety would keep me up till early morning), I went on campus and did my work and zooms in the library, I spent a couple of hours at the gym, and I tried to keep my evenings open to hang out with my friends. It was wonderful to finally be hanging out with my friends and not hibernating in my room to avoid social interactions. This routine is one of my biggest suggestions if you are dealing with mental health problems. It will help you live a more healthy life with balance.
Now it is more important than ever to check in with yourself and make sure you haven’t lost track of who you are or what makes you happy. With so much going on in the world around us, a world full of social, economic, political, and environmental chaos, it’s important to keep your mental health in check. Mental health is a challenge so many people face, and the question is: whether you will address it and tackle it, or let it control you. Fortunately, the University of Maine community has many options for people looking to face their mental health. Cutler Health Center is a great place to call because you can speak with a medical professional about your mental health. They have a multitude of counselors who are there to talk with anyone who might want therapy.
Therapy is something that should have no negative connotation attached to it. I have only had positive or neutral experiences with therapists. They are there for you if you need to talk and feel most comfortable talking with someone separate from your life, and are also there to teach you techniques to handle your health when anxiety or depression might flare up. Coping mechanisms are so important to achieve mental health, and they often teach you how to distract your mind from its whirlwind of thoughts, enough so you can get through the hard moments. If one therapist doesn’t work out there are many other options. It’s so important to find someone who you feel is understanding and most of all, helpful.
If you are like me and believe in the medicine of supplements, essential oils, and vitamins, I suggest looking up some natural remedies to mental health. I know I have been very successful with Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a natural supplement and neurotransmitter that helps with excitability in the nervous system. Vitamin D3 is also important to be taken especially in the Maine winter. Vitamin D3 is produced in your body as it absorbs sunlight, so in Maine winters, there is generally a lack of vitamin D3 in our systems. Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that helps with the immune system and the protection of the nervous system and brain. It is also proven to be helpful with the protection against many diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes. On top of making sure you are getting enough Vitamin D3, it is also important to be taking a multivitamin that helps keep all vitamin levels up. There are specific ones for women’s health too! Essential oils are also helpful, they can be used in many ways and are offered in an array of different scents. I find that lavender oil is the most helpful with my anxiety. I normally diffuse this into my room with an aromatherapy diffuser. You can find all of these things at most natural food and living stores!
Although it is good to start off with natural supplements and therapy, sometimes mental health problems do need to be medicated. Medication for mental health is definitely a taboo subject, and I don’t want to tell anyone what they should or should not do. That is something you must discuss with your doctor. Although for many people, including myself, this has helped dramatically with handling my mental health.
In challenging times like this, it is so important to be addressing any mental health problems that may be occurring. If left ignored, mental health will likely only pile onto itself and become more debilitating, so act in the now. You are not alone, and you are loved by someone. I urge anyone facing mental health problems to reach out to someone they are comfortable with and begin a new chapter in recognition and receiving help if needed. You will not regret taking steps in the right direction.
The University of Maine Counseling Center: 207-581-1392
Cutler Health Center: 207-581-4000
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255