Why protecting your mental health is so important right now

It's okay to create boundaries for the sake of your mental health, mama.

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This is an impossibly difficult time. It's been weeks and I still can't wrap my mind around it. My heart hurts. My body is confused. My hair… oh, my hair.

And my mind is tired. So, so tired.

I'm sure yours is, too.

There is this omnipresent worry, an overpowering desire to do and help, and a general state of confusion and overwhelm—and it's wreaking havoc on our mental health.

Mama, I want you to know that protecting your mental health is incredibly important right now, and it is okay to make that a priority.

It's okay if you need to lower the bar—in fact, you probably should.

At its core, lowering the bar means being gentle with yourself—giving yourself grace when you simply cannot.

Cannot cook a meal.

Cannot get through your child's schoolwork.

Cannot make that Zoom meeting.

This is completely uncharted territory. That means you get to set the rules (and then break them as you see fit). Adding pressure to be "perfect" into an already incredibly stressful time could break you, mama.

So pick a few things that feel really important, and simply let the rest go. This will pass, and there will be time to pick up the pieces in the future.

It's okay if every day is different.

If I've noticed one consistency among myself, my friends and family it's this: There is no consistency in a pandemic.

From day to day, even hour to hour, our emotional states seem to vacillate tremendously. Last night, I ate Girl Scout cookies in the bath (true story), did a face mask, meditated and generally felt pretty calm and together. This morning, I was a bit of a wreck.

My instinct is to try to change this. But Gloria Shepard, a mindfulness teacher I adore, always reminds me to try not to judge the feelings that come up within us. Just let them be, and send them love.

It's okay to look for joy.

Confession: My emotions have ebbed a lot over the last few weeks, and the times I have felt happy, I have also felt guilty. It is a real privilege to be able to sit on my couch and smile.

But I think that joy is okay—as long as there is also empathy and a desire and effort to help.

It's okay to watch videos that make me laugh.

It's okay to read heartwarming stories about people helping each other.

It's definitely okay to feel gratitude.

It's okay to establish radical boundaries.

This one is hard—very hard, especially amid isolation, when we so desperately crave a sense of connection. Under the guide of finding togetherness, our very real need for connection can lure us into some unhealthy places, though.

It is paramount to our mental wellbeing that we establish firm boundaries—and then stick to them. It's okay if you don't know what those boundaries should be yet. This is a new process for many of us. But over time, pay attention to how your body and your mind feel as you go about your day. After everything you do, ask yourself: Did that make me feel better, neutral, or worse?

Then, draw your boundaries from there.

Maybe that looks like limiting your time on social media to 20-minute sessions in the morning and afternoon.

Maybe it's not picking up the phone every time your well-intentioned but anxiety-inducing relative calls—call them once every few days instead.

Maybe it's not engaging in certain types of conversations.

Whatever it is, you are the boss of your boundaries, and they are non-negotiable.

Here's the thing. We are taught (especially as women) that boundaries are selfish; that the way to true joy is to please others. The truth, though, is that boundaries are incredibly un-selfish. In setting up clear boundaries that protect yourself, you are reserving your energy and superpower for the people and moments that need them the most (you being at the center of that).

If you need a little boost to your boundary setting, try this:

Plant your feet on the ground and take three deep breaths. Imagine a forcefield growing around you—maybe it's made of light. Maybe you imagine vines growing around you. Whatever the image is, envision a boundary that separates your internal energy from the energy around you.

Then, decide what gets to come in, and what hits the forcefield and falls to the ground.

It's okay to get help.

I have long subscribed to the belief that everyone should see a mental health provider from time to time, even if they don't have a mental health diagnosis. We see the dentist every six months. We get annual check-ups and pelvic exams. Why have we left our brains out of the mix?

A pandemic seems like a pretty good time to try this out.

If you already know a therapist, call them and see if they are offering virtual meetings. If not, there are many services that offer virtual mental health appointments. A few to try are Talk Space and Better Help.

Check-in with your insurance company, but many are covering telehealth services right now.

And remember that if you feel like hurting yourself or someone else, you can call 9-1-1 or go to the ER.

Remember, mama—it is not selfish to think of yourself right now. It's imperative.

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