I can’t believe it’s already June. Where has the time gone this year? As much as I would love to highlight the moments that have been great thus far, I can’t do so without admitting that May was one of the roughest months I’ve had — emotionally and mentally. It’s been over a decade since I’ve experienced grief, and grief is a different journey when you’re in your 30’s. I lingered between feeling like I should know how to handle this because I’m older and what the f*ck am I supposed to do? How do I support myself? How do I support my loved ones through this time? How am I supposed to continue working with such a huge lack of motivation? Going through a rollercoaster of emotions led me to realize that I need a mental wellness toolkit. Something I can rely on for any type of situation, that would be specifically catered to my needs, and something that will help (not fix) how I was feeling. But how do I put this together and what do I put in it?
Some Googling led me to the National Institutes of Health’s website, where they created an emotional wellness toolkit. A lot of their suggestions aligned with me so I started here, then looked back on previous rough situations and tried to trace back what I did that helped me feel better.
Each mental wellness toolkit will look different, as everyone handles stress differently. Feel free to pick and choose from my toolkit, and use it as a reference to put together your very own. Adjust as needed and change it up whenever you feel necessary, as our own wants and needs will change over time. This toolkit is your go-to, a thing you can pick from with activities/items that will help lift your spirits. It is not a fix-all solution, as healing is a journey and that timeline is completely up to you. There is no rush, there is no pressure. Take what you need and understand that there is no right way to handling your emotions.
Keep a Journal
I lost my first dog in the 10th grade. Lucky was around 12 years old, my best friend, and the one I specifically chose out to take home with me when I first laid eyes on him. He was the best dog ever. One night, the backyard gate was accidentally left open by a relative, and both Lucky and our other dog, Bingo, ran out. We had no idea until a loud banging came from our front door. I opened it to find a child frantically asking me if I had two dogs. I was confused and answered “yes”, and she replied, “one of them got hit by a car.” I remember my heart dropping and I rushed to put on shoes, ran outside in my pajamas, and stopped just a few feet short of Lucky. I saw a man bent over, the driver of the car, stroking Lucky and looking back at me, saying “he just ran out and I didn’t see him, I’m so sorry.” I started crying hysterically and ran back home screaming to my parents that Lucky had been hit. They ran outside and handled the situation. I never got to properly say goodbye, as my parents had him picked up the next morning. This still pains me today, as I’m crying writing this. Note: Bingo came back home safely with no injuries but I know he truly missed his friend.
My parents, being typical Asian parents, went about the next few days as if nothing happened. I, on the other hand, being told growing up that crying was not acceptable, had to act like I was okay at school. What helped me tremendously during this time was journaling. I brought my journal to school with me and journaled whatever I was feeling and thinking at lunch, after school while I waited to get picked up, and at home when I thought about Lucky. Having a safe space that was for my eyes only was extremely helpful especially since I was an introvert so I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it either. Releasing your feelings through pen and paper (or even typing) allows you to release the pent-up emotions that would otherwise sit and stew, potentially causing a mental breakdown later on unexpectedly.
There was a decade in my life where all I knew was the hustle and grind. All I did was stack my schedule, keep myself busy, allow myself to be booked, and thrived off the fact that I was being “productive". From the age of 16 to 26, all I wanted to do was go, go, go. I worked a full-time job, I picked up part-time jobs, I had side gigs, I went to college full-time along with all this, and then when I graduated, I replaced that free time with hobbies. Needless to say, I did not sleep much nor was I home often. My apartments were a place for me to change and sleep, and I always ate out. Looking back, I think I actually suffered from high functioning anxiety.
When you’re young, you hardly ever think that you need sleep because your excitement to want to do more takes over. But then I started calling in sick more than a few times a month when I worked corporate. I started feeling super stressed and burnt out when doing the smallest tasks. I was always exhausted after a trip, and kept wondering what’s the point of a vacation if you always come back worse? It was because even on vacation, I was not resting. I was trying to fit all these activities into just a few hours on these trips and then coming back to a fully packed schedule because I didn’t want to have FOMO or say “no” to people. I say this lasted a decade, but realistically, I didn’t value sleep until last year where all I had was time and was able to start sleeping 8+ hours a night. What a freaking difference this made in my life.
Not only was I feeling more refreshed, my mood swings decreased, my anxiety lowered, and despite being in lockdown, I was feeling OK about everything. I wasn’t traveling, I wasn’t constantly on-the-go, and I was fine with it — for the first time in my life. Now, I cannot function at my best if I do not get at least 8 hours of sleep and I prioritize that over anything else. Trust me when I say, the more you rest, the more you actually make because your best ideas come from a well rested mind.
Move Your Body - Work Out, Go Out in Nature, Rollerskate
You know how they say the sun is good for you? They aren’t lying. The best thing I ever started implementing in my life is exercise and being in nature more. With almost everything being closed last year, I found myself itching to do something active. I was getting more sleep, which meant I had more energy to utilize but on what? KSOLE and I started hiking weekly, and after a 3-month hiatus, I went back to my private trainer (which were 1-on-1 sessions and completely safe).
Moving your body literally will change your mood instantly. Instead of focusing on what’s frustrating you, you’re forced to focus on the hiking trail and then you get sucked into the beautiful scenery around you. Instead of getting in your head, you have to focus on your posture when lifting and actively count how many reps you’re doing. By the time you’re done with whatever activity it is, you’ll feel much better and will be in a better headspace. Of course, working out and hiking are just a couple of suggestions and things I prefer to do, but anything that requires you to move your body will give you the same results.
I added rollerskating to my toolkit last October, and refer to it as my form of therapy, as it allows me to express creativity as well. There’s nothing better than a skate session and then grabbing boba after (at least for me, lol).
Okay, so who else is guilty of becoming a plant mom or dad during the pandemic? Similar to how exercise and nature give you that boost you need, so do plants. Healthline wrote an article on easy houseplants to have based on your mental health needs, and Psychology Today has an article about plants that enhance your mental and emotional health too.
Plants literally saved my sanity during the lockdown. Thankful that the nurseries in LA are mostly outdoors, as they quickly became my weekly go-to whenever I needed to just go out somewhere. My first 5 plants died, and the Capricorn in me was frustrated that I wasn’t excelling in plant care. Plants taught me patience, especially with their care. They taught me to enjoy the present moment. I couldn’t rush their growth so instead, I learned to admire their current state of beauty. It allowed me to escape, as I turned our home office and dining area into a little jungle. Taking care of plants allowed me to reduce my stress by focusing on them. Whenever I had a rough day, I turned to my plants and check each one to see what they might need. With 50 plants now, that can actually take a while which allows me to decompress and the majority of the time, I forget what even stressed me out.
You don’t need a lot of plants to help your mental wellness, just a couple to start out but I’m warning you, it gets addicting!
Establish Firm Boundaries & Practicing Them
I was a “yes person” and people pleaser most of my life, which led me to my lack of sleep and not even exercising for years prior because I never had any time for myself. While I knew I had a problem, I refused to change it, and only started establishing my boundaries in the last two years.
When you’re in an industry that values how many likes, comments, how your photos look, etc., it is extremely hard to NOT care. Worrying about whether not answering that DM will make you look or allowing yourself to overextend too often. It wasn’t until I went to therapy that I recognized that I had very poor boundaries or lack of, to be honest. I have to admit that even after my therapist told me I needed to establish them, I had a hard time really knowing how. Nedra Webb has a great book about boundaries that I’ve been reading, and I love it so much that I gave them to my friends and some people in my community. I’ve drawn the line at what I know I’m capable of and what I am allowing to be a part of, and it’s been a sanity saver. After all, we cannot truly help others if we cannot take care of ourselves first so don’t feel guilty for prioritizing you. It’s not an option, it’s mandatory for your well-being.
Indulge in that Self-Care Activity or Routine (Treat Yourself!)
If you think establishing boundaries and learning that sleep was important was hard for me, let me tell you that it wasn’t as hard as learning to accept that I can indulge in my self-care routine. As a person who gave to everyone else most of her life, whether it was to the corporate world, to my friends or family, I never put myself first. Therefore, I never set any money or time aside for activities that involved me. I really thought that getting my nails done was a waste of time and that didn’t understand why I would ever need to get a massage. If you asked me 10 years ago what I liked to do to treat myself, my answer was “get boba.” That’s it. I didn’t think I deserved to indulge because I wasn’t “successful enough.” I couldn’t spend money on myself because I thought it was a “waste of money”.
Listen, I’m here to tell you that all these lies I told myself are the biggest lies you can ever tell yourself. They are holding you back from receiving and ultimately, affect your own self-perception. If you don’t think you deserve nice things, why would the universe even give them to you? You do not have to come up with a whole ass story about why you deserve the day at the salon. You do because you do. You don’t have to work 62 hours a week just to justify that massage. You don’t have to explain why you’re so stressed to your friends, which is why you need to go on this trip. You deserve to indulge because you are worthy. That’s it.
For those weeks where shit is crazy and I need to escape for a few hours, I book myself a 90-minute massage. If I’m really in deep, I look up a staycation or a quick getaway for a couple of nights and I block it out in my calendar. I notify my manager that I’m going to be gone, I turn off notifications and my phone stays on silent. These are things that help me to reset. Resetting looks different for everyone so whatever it is that you need to do, do it. Indulge. Enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty. Your mental health is above everything else, including your friend’s feelings. Honestly, if they’re really your friends though, they’ll get it.
Take that bath. Take an extra hour for that skincare routine. Book a float session. Maybe a sound bath meditation? However you do your self-care activity or routine, make sure you are doing it for yourself and no one else.
Surround Yourself with Love
A lot of the above can be done alone, but there are times where I just need to be around others because it makes me feel better that way.
When I’m feeling a type of way, and I don’t feel like doing any of the above, then I’ll start texting a few friends to see who’s available. We don’t have to go out anywhere crazy or do much, simply getting coffee or going for a drive together will help me. Even hopping on a Facetime call can do wonders for my mood and the best part is, you do not have to talk about what’s wrong. Find friends that will just allow you to be, who won’t try to fix you, and will just be there for you.
Not everyone wants to be around others when they’re not their best, and that’s okay too. Just know that you are never alone and that whatever you are going through, is part of the journey to getting to where you need to be. Do not make permanent decisions based on temporary situations.
I hope you found this helpful and that you have some ideas on how you want to create your mental wellness toolkit! If you need any further suggestions or help, don’t hesitate to reach out via DM on my Instagram.
Take care and know that healing is a journey, and there is no timeline or right way to heal.