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It’s been one year since I opened up about a hospital stay due to high blood pressure and chronic anxiety. Since then, I’ve tried multiple self-care techniques, read a lot and logged countless hours talking to friends, family and my therapist. I’m in a better place mentally and physically, but I still have a long way to go. Don’t we all?
I’m still on medication and have anxiety, but my blood pressure is under control. I have a deeper understanding of my needs. I’ve become more empathetic. I’ve come to appreciate the days when I feel great and lean into the feelings when I don’t.
For Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m diving deeper into how women take care of themselves. Everyone has different needs, but here’s a list of resources to start. I hope you find something that resonates with you or a piece of advice you can send to a friend.
To help me out, I spoke to nine women including, podcast hosts, inspirational speakers and entrepreneurs, all on their own mental health journey.
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How do you suggest approaching the topic of mental health with your boss or co-workers?
Minaa B., author of “Rivers Are Coming”: I truly believe that mental health and self-care is a topic that needs to be addressed in the workplace. ... If you had a physical ailment, chances are you wouldn’t be afraid to inform your boss that you needed a sick day. So when it comes to our emotional hygiene, we should view it within the same lens.
Nora McInerny, host of the podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking”: My job involves being in a studio, talking to people every day about the most terrible things that have happened in their lives, so generally speaking we are a very cry-positive environment. After losing my husband, dad and baby over the course of six weeks, I learned that there are times in life when your feelings will show up at work whether you like it or not. Humans are capable of doing their work while also feeling their feelings.
What prompted you to be so open about your mental health?
MB: As a woman who identifies as both black and Afro-Latina, within my community, mental health is highly stigmatized. Above all else I am human, and I should never be expected to be anything other than that. ... Perfection is not my calling in life, nor is it my destiny.
How has dealing with your mental health affected your relationships, positively or negatively?
MB: I was not only able to show up for myself, but I was also able to show up for others in ways that I couldn’t before because I was always in low spirits. When we learn to be a little more kinder to ourselves, loving to ourselves and courageous with our acts, we are then able to love on people harder, give to people more and show up for others in the same way we show up for ourselves.
NM: Everyone who could benefit from medication should take it. There’s no shame in it. My relationships are always improved when I’m honest about how I’m feeling. When I’m pretending to be “fine” when I’m really not, it’s actually very isolating because it doesn’t allow people to really know me or respond with any empathy. Empathy is a basic human need. Being honest about the terrible things in life is what allows us to find it.
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What’s the relationship between your mental health and creativity? Do you feel like it’s made you more creative?
Anjali Pinto, photographer: There are many times where I get into negative cyclical thought, but sitting down to write, make images or brainstorm a creative project helps pull me out of that place. Turning outward through my art has drawn a lot of understanding people closer to me, which also lifts me up in dark or confusing times.
Lauren Ash, founder of Black Girl In Om: I’ve just really started to realize how I have to refuse to create when I’m in a place of stress or tension or just feeling pulled in many directions. And so, if that means I’m not going to be able to do a certain project that I may have said I was going to do, I have to step away and honor that because then the project is inherently going to reflect that stress and that tension.
Roni Frank, co-founder of Talkspace: Since starting therapy, I have learned how to be more accepting of myself, and of others. I am now less judgmental and better at listening and understanding other people’s needs. My openness to others and to myself has allowed me to make choices that are less ego-driven. Being open-minded and flexible are key for creativity.
How did dealing with mental health motivate you to start your company?
LA: I was in graduate school, and I embodied tension on a spiritual level, and that led me to practice yoga. As soon as I started practicing it consistently, I started to get into that wellness on a mental level. It was was the beginning of my journey of discovering that, really, at the end of the day, I’m all that I need.
RF: My mental health journey keeps me close to Talkspace’s mission of expanding access to mental health care without the traditional barriers of stigma, cost and inconvenience.
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What does taking care of yourself look like for you?
Alisha Ramos, founder of Girls’ Night In: This changes up for me all the time. Right now, taking care of myself means making time and space to go to the gym and cooking at home. The last thing I do to take care of myself is not do work on the weekends. I break this rule every now and then ... but for the most part it helps me cool my brain off from the week.
Amber Discko, creator of the app Aloe Bud: Right now, taking care of myself means equipping myself with tools and methods that I know are going to help me get through the day. For example, I keep my medicine box on my bedside table for easy accessibility.
Ellen Forney, author of “Rock Steady”: A wide net of things. Some are deliberate and situational, like keeping a sleep chart if I’m having trouble with insomnia; some are just part of my regular routine, like taking my meds and doing yoga.
Ruthie Lindsey, speaker and stylist: Taking care of myself looks like being really intentional with my time and who I spend my free time with. I have to really be intentional to carve out time to take care of myself, or else my lifestyle and work are not sustainable.
Do you have a mantra, motto, affirmations or advice that really resonates with you?
AR: I have so many. Recently, I love “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” As a business owner, it can feel like you have do to a million things at once. But when it comes to self-care, sprinting is not an option. Taking it day by day is key and helps keep the anxiety at bay.
AD: Yes. “Do what you gotta do, kid” is an especially powerful and motivational phrase for me. It means that we believe in each other to do what we feel is right.
EF: Be kind to yourself. At the same time, have a sense of humor about yourself. Humor is especially helpful as a way to get some perspective and move on.
RL: Really the only mantra I say over and over is “you are so loved, you are so loved, you are so loved,” and I say it in my head for strangers constantly and I say it loud to all of my friends constantly.
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I asked all our contributors to send us recommendations for mental-health-related books, apps and podcasts. Here’s what they said:
If you need a good cry: Terrible, Thanks for Asking
When you want to understand yourself: The Hidden Brain
When you want advice on mental illness: Crazy; In Bed
When you want to challenge society: The Liturgists
If you’re struggling with grief: “Modern Loss” by Gabrielle Birkner and Rebecca Soffer
If you need a lighter read: “Dead People Suck” by Laurie Kilmartin
When you are being self-critical: “The Gift of Imperfections” by Brené Brown
When you want brutal honesty: “Rabbit" by Patricia Williams
If you want to explore relationships: “Mating in Captivity” by Esther Perel
When you need to hold yourself accountable: Moment
If you want to change your emotional coherence: Inner Balance
When you need to track your health: Clue
When you want to write down all your feelings: Day One