Continuing with my August life theme of “wellness” I want to discuss a very important branch of wellness that often gets overlooked. While I do think discussing mental health has become less taboo over the last year or two there is undeniably still a stigma when it comes to any sort of mental imbalance or health issue.
Like many people I have coped with bouts of depression and anxiety. My first few years of college anxiety could be pretty crippling on my day to day life but as I’ve grown older my anxiety has subsided. My anxiety did not just disappear overnight, it’s taken therapy sessions, lifestyle changes and honestly over 3 years of blogging to reach a point where anxiety doesn’t hinder me daily. I am lucky that my extreme anxiety is virtually gone. I now deal with much milder anxiety and really only find myself feeling overly anxious when it comes to uncomfortable social situations. I’m obviously very greatful anxiety no longer forces me into panic attacks that cause me to run to the emergency room or leave me crying helplessly on my closet floor but I know not everyone is so lucky. I share my experience not because I think my mild anxiety was the worst thing in the world but because I hope (in a small way) to contribute to a larger more socially acceptable conversation surrounding mental health.
Since graduating from college I’ve become much more mindful about what it is I need to be happy. Mindfulness and wellness are hot words on the blog this month! In high school and the first half of college I look back and realize I sort of flailed through life. I joined as many sports and clubs as my schedule would allow and then didn’t understand why I desperately craved alone time. I remember feeling so overwhelmed and socially exhausted that I would fake sick so I could curl up for two days with a book…alone! As an adult I can’t call in sick because I’ve attended too many social activities or committed to a plethora of responsibilities, yet I can still relate to the feeling when I overbook myself.
Growing up I was painfully shy. I hid behind my hair when I was sitting in class at my desk. I quietly begged not to be chosen to perform in front of the class. Though I was very confident reader I found my heart beating faster when it was my turn to read a passage aloud to the class. My voice still shakes at he beginning of a presentation! Knowing shyness was a weakness and desperately yearning to be more outgoing I fought back by enrolling in drama class, signing up for cheerleading and competitive constitutional debate. I joined leadership and a sorority all in hopes of acclamating myself to public spotlight, social situations and public speaking. I am proud that I pushed myself to grow rather than opting out of opportunities simply because they made me uncomfortable but the truth of the matter is…I never became naturally outgoing.
I would no longer consider myself “shy” but nine out of ten times I would rather take a long walk (coffee in hand) with a friend than head to a party with a big group. I generally prefer a night in making dinner and playing games with my boyfriend than making small talk with strangers at a bar. While I love to get dressed up and search for ANY place to dance with my girlfriends I have to toss back an entire bottle of champagne to myself before I’m interested in chatting with strangers on the dance floor. I’m friendly of course but I never understand how or why anyone would want to extend conversation to anyone and everyone within arm’s reach. No thank you!
Okay, where am I going with this and what does my preference of Friday night activities have to do with mental wellness? I’m certainly not spending Summers at cheer camp anymore so why does any of this matter? It all comes down to knowing yourself and the delicate balance you need to be your very best.
My best friend in the entire world is a true social butterfly. Bouncing from a jog with me to a dinner date with an old professor to babysitting, she loves to be busy. She doesn’t mind heading to a concert Monday, a dinner party Tuesday, working out with a friend Wednesday, a double date Thursday and a night out on Friday. Though she does enjoy traditionally solitary activities like painting she doesn’t mind inviting a friend to socialize and paint with her. I have a feeling if I were to look at her weekly schedule I would have a full blown panic attack! My wellness scale would be way out of whack by Wednesday and on Thursday I would be in tears as I cancelled all of my obligations and left work early just to enjoy a few moments in silence. It took me years to learn that what works for my best friends doesn’t always work for me.
Maintaing a healthy mental state for me has always been a delicate and precise science. I joke that I am constantly on the brink of a mental breakdown because I am not the girl that can skip sleep or exercise or time to decompress or social time and be happy. I need it all! I demand it all and as soon as I focus too much on one aspect of my mental wellness and forget about others my body is sure to tell me. Too much idle alone time is just as overwhelming as too much time socializing. Too much time spent introspectively pondering life and it’s meaning is just as dehibilitating (for me) as too many nights out sipping lemon drops and singing karaoke. My balance is delicate but my life is SO much happier now that I understand my personal desires and necessities for mental wellness.
Sometimes I’m at a party and I sip juice instead of alcohol (without telling a soul) because I know drinking two days in a row even a single drink makes me feel like a zombie. Sometimes I skip out on group dinners or happy hours to head to the gym or bake blueberry muffins at home because without this solo time I can’t be the happy, bubbly, joyful person I want to be when I am around others. Mostly I strive to listen to my own mental “wellness barometer” and to learn from my past experiences when making plans. When possible I don’t schedule back to back hangout sessions or obligate myself to attend every work related social or networking function. I allow myself to politely decline some invitations and gracefully cancel plans when life gets too chaotic. As an unmarried, childless mid twenty something this is the time to focus on my needs and my wellbeing above all else. It’s okay to be a little selfish, I promise no one really cares that much if you skip happy hour or yoga now and then.
A final point I want to stress is open mindedness. Remember not everyone needs what you need to feel well. It takes mindfulness and constant internal reminders for me to remember that my needs are not the same as the needs of my brother, boyfriend, bestie or coworker. I don’t need to compare or judge or focus on anything other than my wellness and respect for the wellness of others.
Do you have any insight on your mental wellness? How did you learn about what you need to feel well? What keeps you balanced when the world feels chaotic?