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Mental Health

How I’m Prioritizing My Mental Health During COVID-19

It has been a little over a year since we first heard of the words “pandemic,” and “COVID-19,” and oh how the world has changed since then. Many of us had to make adjustments, whether it was at school, work, or at home, but through these adjustments, we also had to sacrifice a lot. Being in quarantine for a couple of months was a period of time no one had ever experienced in the 21st century, at least not to this degree. It took a lot of effort and time for many of us to come to terms with what was happening, and even today, it’s challenging to know that this is still a part of our current lives. Below are some ways in which I am prioritizing my mental health during these trying, and stressful times.

Running

There are numerous health benefits to engaging in physical exercise, but according to experts, exercising improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative moods, by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. While any form of exercise can be beneficial, the best way that I’ve learned to release all of my pent up tension is through running. For most people, running is not an activity they would enjoy participating in, but it’s proven to be quite therapeutic over the past couple of years (for me at least), and especially during this pandemic. I may not run as often as I used to, but 1-2 times a week is certainly better than nothing. For those who do not like running, engaging in any type of physical exercise can be helpful, and sooner or later, you will see how impactful it is.

Engaging in Self-Care

There is nothing selfish about engaging in positive self-care or self-talk. In many cases, people tend to feel self conscious, or insecure about themselves for whatever reason. Even if it’s for something small, the best way to overcome this can be through finding one thing you like about yourself, and telling yourself about it. When lockdown initially started, I felt like I wasn’t in control of anything in my life, and I started having all of these doubts, and fears about my future, which subsequently lead to me feeling insecure about everything else in my life. However, I decided enough was enough, and I took the time to do daily face masks, work out, indulge myself in sweets without feeling bad about it, and I even started journaling from time to time. Everyone has a different method, or way they engage in self-care, but the point is that we all deserve to prioritize ourselves. Try your best to engage in one small act of self-care/love, whether it’s taking a relaxing bath after a stressful week, buying a new pair of shoes, or decluttering your closet. Do what you need to do to relax, and feel better about yourself.

Addressing My Feelings

Many people, such as myself, avoid dealing with their feelings, and would rather ignore them and go about their day as if nothing is wrong. Although, we all know this is a rather unhealthy method of dealing with our feelings. When you don’t address what is going on in your mind, it builds up, until one day you unravel and explode. Which also plays into the delay of mental health treatment. This is why I now prioritize addressing my feelings, and oftentimes when I have something on my mind, I will take a step back and assess how or why I am feeling a particular way. Doing so allows me to understand and identify my stressors in life. I no longer want to go about life bottling up my feelings, and pretending like everything is fine, when in reality, it’s simply not. No one is perfect, but there’s this constant pressure to keep up with the rest of society, and we tend to bite off more than we can chew.

Establishing Boundaries

Everyone has their own responsibilities, and obligations they have to attend on a daily basis. From going to school, work, or taking care of your family, your schedule can fill up fast. Far too often, a lot of people feel like they have to say yes to everything that is asked of them, regardless of whether or not they actually have the time to do it. This creates a problem, because you’re not allowing yourself time to relax and decompress. If you feel like you are always on the go, have somewhere to be or do, then it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror and establish boundaries to prioritize your mental health. You have to be realistic with yourself on what you can and cannot achieve. It’s crucial to not overcommit to things, and instead give yourself the time and space to take care of your personal responsibilities, before you agree to something new. The most important lesson however, is to not feel bad about saying no. You should let people know that you are stretched too thin, and need a break. Any decent human being will understand.

Regardless of being in a pandemic, life will always have its ups and downs, and we will find ourselves in a stressful situation. That is why prioritizing your mental health, and well-being in general, will give you the strength you need to overcome these challenges. I know better than anyone that this is all easier said than done, but it really is important to take care of yourself.

Gaby is a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago, majoring in Communication and Psychology. In her free time, she likes to eat copious amounts of ice cream, and read books.
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