As summer is coming to a close, I'm wrapping up the life after college series here on the blog. We've talked about making the transition from college to postgrad life, navigating careers, making and keeping friends as an adult, and finding the best living arrangement for you. Today's post is all about prioritizing mental health in your 20s.
There are so many things pulling for your attention and time after college. Not to mention competing messages from society and people in your life:
Now is the perfect time to travel, take time off to see the world!
Put your nose to the grindstone and excel in your career!
Go to grad/law/med/vet school!
Get involved with Teach for America or AmeriCorps!
Find your future spouse!
Have as much fun as you can, before you have to settle down!
Whew. I'm tired just thinking about it.
Now, there's nothing objectively wrong with going after these things. But trying to please other people or follow a path that someone else has for your life can lead to burnout, and it can lead there fast. Plus, attending to even a few of these things can result in putting your mental health on the back burner. What's the danger there? Neglecting your mental health not only impacts your state of mind, but the state of your body, spirit, career, and relationships.
So! Just how does one go about making mental health a priority?
Prioritizing mental health will look different for everyone! There is no one correct way to go about it. Here are a few ideas. Take what works for you, and leave the rest.
- First, realize that making mental health a priority takes a certain level of intentionality. You will have to choose to put it on your to-do list. You even will have to carve out time to attend to your mental health. As nice as it would be, cultivating strong mental health doesn't just happen by accident. It might be helpful to make a mental health or self-care plan.
- Plan dates with yourself. Everyone needs time to herself, regardless of where she might fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. These self-dates can give you time to take stock of how you're really feeling. Let's say you've been working 60 hours a week for the past few months. You've hardly had time to breathe, let alone take time to recognize your emotional state. Busy-ness can be a mask for any number of things, and it's likely that when you slow down, you could become aware of just how much stress and anxiety you're feeling.
- Trade your phone for a good book. First of all, time away from screen is hugely beneficial. Lots of recent college grads forgo reading for pleasure and instead choose to read books that are pertinent to their career. Note: there is nothing wrong with that! However, consider the difference between reading for work and losing yourself in a juicy memoir or a cozy novel. You may even consider it to be soul care.
- Attend to mind-body-spirit. This 3-pronged approach to life can do wonders for helping you to feel balanced, centered, and grounded. Take stock of where you are with these, and notice if you feel unbalanced. Do you find yourself getting that workout in almost every day, but you keep pushing meditation to the bottom of your to-do list? Or maybe you're stimulating your mind constantly at work, and not allowing your body the time it needs to be exercised in whatever way is best for you. Find what balance feels right for you, and remind yourself of it regularly to keep your priorities aligned.
- Find a good counselor and invest in yourself. When you're looking for a counselor, there are a few things to consider. Location, cost, and availability of appointments are key. One of the most important considerations is how you feel around the counselor. Does the therapist make you feel safe, like you can tell her anything? Do you feel comfortable talking with her? Self-disclosure is a huge part of counseling, and so it's important that you feel good about confiding in your therapist.
That's great, but I don't think I need counseling... I don't have big enough problems!
Let's just bust this myth right now- you don't have to have "big" issues to come into therapy. In fact, you don't even need a diagnosable mental health condition (as long as you are paying for services yourself, that is). Investing in counseling means you have a space to talk about yourself and your life, to a non-judgmental and empathic person. A space to say what you want to say, even if you don't know how to say it. A space to talk- or not talk. A space to work out some things from your past. A space to discover who you truly are and develop your identity. A space to learn new skills. A space to try out a new way of being, a new way of treating yourself and others. A space to feel truly heard and understood.
If you're in the Minneapolis - St. Paul area and looking for a therapist, let's connect. My therapy office is just minutes north of Minneapolis and St. Paul, off 694 and 35W in New Brighton, MN. To take the first step toward growth, schedule your first appointment today.