It did not occur to me until well into my 30s that my propensity to seek expert advice from the experts should be extended to mental health specialists as well. In fact, I can’t entirely take responsibility for this as others probably recommended it rather delicately.
“You might want to see someone about that,” they said. They may have been a string of ex-boyfriends or friends who had recalled that last year I lived on Hershey’s Kisses for the entire month of February. “Yes, I should see a massage therapist,” I said, patting myself on the back for my commitment to self-care.
But I didn’t need my brain or heart massaged. I needed to understand them better. Going to a therapist or counselor might suggest that I didn’t have all my shit together, and that was just preposterous. I knew lots of adults who survived on chocolate and cried during coffee commercials.
I looked at all the self-care I had dialed in: I saw the doctor for my preventative care, I went to the dentist to keep my teeth healthy, I saw a massage therapist when my limbs got wonky, I trained for races with a coach, but when my mind needed a tune up, I never thought to seek the mind experts or even develop self-care around the state of my mental health. Now, I hand out coupons for good therapy as birthday gifts.
So here we are, riding the dopamine waves of the holidays: Sugar, alcohol, gifts, family, good food, surprises! Weeeeeeee!!! Now we’re burning through serotonin (the calming and content hormone) and washing ashore on the beach of Seasonal Affective Disorder. We’ll consider this our public service announcement to take care of your mental health. And here’s how:
- Don’t be reluctant to seek out good counsel by qualified professionals. Got something you’re struggling to work through? Need a mindfulness tune up? Have someone help you understand how your brain works. It’s not only a lesson in self-compassion but a healthy way to create positive change in your life.
- Catch up on sleep and be okay with that. It’s winter. Think of the comfort of hibernation. Slow your roll. Stay home. Go to bed early. It’s probably the kindest thing you can do for yourself.
- Take care of your gut health. About 80 to 90 percent of our serotonin is made and stored in our gastrointestinal tract. Eat probiotic foods (or take probiotics), lots of vegetable fibers, and go easy on the sugars and booze. This might be the best reason to join some 30-day health challenge.
- Spend intentional time with people who make you feel good doing things that make you feel good. The most beneficial mental health thing I do every week is a secret elitist run with my two best friends where we word vomit, cry, share highs and lows, plan weddings, and run through the mountains all at the same time. It’s cheaper than therapy and is usually followed with coffee.
Sometimes, our brains just need a little space and a little care. Treat yours like you would treat any other part of your body or piece of equipment in your house. Check in on it occasionally, make sure it’s working right (-ish, we don’t want to be over-achievers), and don’t be afraid of therapists. They are mechanics for your mind, and I haven’t had one shrink anything yet.