Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Mental health during the quarantine
I am privileged enough to still be working from home. My family and friends are safe at home and healthy. There's a lot to be grateful for right now.
Still, I can hold space and admit that it's a difficult time. I have days where all I want to do is stay in bed, and I actually do. It feels like my entire life is on hold, and that feels uncomfortable. I am more anxious than ever, too. All about COVID-19 is unpredictable, and I know the entire collective is feeling its effects. Almost 50% of US adults reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the virus. Coming from an upbringing where my mother was diagnosed with Bi-Polar when I was 5 years old and over the years made a turn for the worse, as she now has Schizophrenia. Mental health has always been a top priority for myself as I watched my Mom suffer with wrongful medications and some of the wrong care. As I now have more time to think while being in quarantine, I now want to raise complete awareness and reassure you all that what you're feeling, is likely what 8 out of 10 close family or friends are feeling. Everything we are experiencing right now (isolation, job loss, grief, and feelings of anxiety) – is linked to poor mental health outcomes. So, here we are. At the bare minimum, we have to accept that so much of COVID-19 is out of our control. We can choose to focus on what we can control. I'm sharing six things I'm doing to take care of myself and my mental health.
Keeping A Routine – This can be any routine you already had. It can be when you wake up every day to what you do on Sundays to when you workout. Although my sleep is all over the place, I have kept my skin and hair routine the same. I can still maintain some level of normalcy by continuing to do the things I was already doing.
Staying Connected – We are physically distancing, not socially distancing. I still FaceTime my mom every day, text, and try to do a "happy hour" with friends and family. I stay active on social media. This is all to say that we can remain connected in a lot of ways.
Working out – This is a big one for me. I don't play with my physical activity. I create a workout schedule on Sundays for the upcoming week. Right now, I am working out 3 to 5-days a week, and I started running. My workout schedule is flexible enough to allow my emotions to come to play. There are days I have a scheduled workout, but I wake up not feeling too good or just not up for working out, so I move it to the next day. Again, this allows flexibility but also gives me that time to just be in my sadness if that's how I feel.
Journaling – I wasn't journaling much last year, but I do think it has helped me a lot during this time. I found some journal prompts that have helped me heal from situations I felt wronged. Journaling, in general, has helped me clear my mind, be grateful for all I've achieved, and be in the present moment. Writing is healing for me.
Listening to music – I've been listening to so much R&B/Soul music lately. It soothes me. I light up a candle and play my favorite music, and my mood is instantly improved. I am also a firm believer in sound healing. It has helped me connect with myself on an intimate and personal level. I started creating playlists too and finding new artists. Music is truly therapy.
Cuddling – There are many health benefits for this one, including helping relieve stress and sleep better. When you cuddle, your body releases oxytocin, the "love" hormone, and you are instantly embraced with comfort and good-feels. I mentioned that I get to see my person every day, that means more cuddle time. Cuddling can be an incredibly peaceful activity. My second love language is physical touch, so I never turn down a cuddle session.
I encourage you to write 2-3 things that bring you joy. Take this time or whatever we have left of quarantine to explore new ways to take care of yourself, connect, and enjoy the simple things. It is a difficult time, so please feel all the feels, too. You are allowed to hurt, mourn, and cry during this time. Hold space for wherever you are right now. It is not an easy time, but together we will get through it.
Boundaries for your mental health
Boundaries are the limits we establish to protect ourselves and our mental health. They can be physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and even digital. Setting boundaries for your personal space, body, emotions, time, and energy are ways to help us maintain a healthy state of mind.
Some examples of boundaries are:
Deleting/muting people on social media
Being comfortable with kissing, but not in public
Needing some time for yourself after work, unbothered
Not answering emails on weekends
Only buying what's on your shopping list
Setting a time limit for how long you can chat on the phone
You do all of this to protect your well-being and promote self-love. Boundaries are not about changing someone else's behavior towards you, but it's more about the behaviors you allow yourself to interact with.
I'll admit that setting boundaries sound easy, but it can actually be very challenging. Sometimes it feels like you are hurting other people. But not doing it also hurts you.
We love our family and friends, and we want to be available whenever they need us. The reality is that you won't always be available mentally or physically, and that's okay. You are human and you have your problems to deal with also.
first, learn YOUR BOUNDARIES
A boundary can take time to discover. Sadly, most limitations become noticeable after they have been broken. Start by reflecting on what caused you discomfort or triggered you to react in an unhealthy way. Your body knows everything before your mind even registers it. How did your body react when something was said or in certain situations? Did you feel triggered, shamed, or did you think your decision was disregarded or just felt off? Acknowledge it and take note of what came to your mind after.
For example, you are invited to a birthday dinner, and you feel off about it. Once you arrive, you find out that someone you don't get along with is there, and you feel uncomfortable. That's a direct sign that a boundary has been crossed whether you knew that boundary existed or not. Another example is that you value your downtime after work, and you have made that clear to your partner. Still, when that time comes, they always ask you to help them with something. That's a direct disregard of your boundary and your needs.
Recognize when you are not in the right state of mind to lend a hand or allowing space for someone. Can you honestly play therapist after a stressful day? If you proceed to help, you are only creating a disservice to the person you are helping and yourself. A simple "I can't discuss this right now, can we talk about this tomorrow morning?" that would work.
When I started setting boundaries, I decided that I didn't need to experience the same discomfort repeatedly. We do not like to set limits often because of people-pleasing or wanting to be liked. But, setting boundaries was me deciding that my values, mental health, energy, and well-being were also important. It has helped build my self-esteem and agency. Most importantly, it has helped me have difficult conversations with others. These are conversations where I express my discomfort and where I am also the one that's being called out.
You can set boundaries, but do not forget that you might have also overstepped someone else's. As I said, limits are usually apparent after they've been crossed. Sometimes you will say or do something that will trigger someone else. If they make that clear to you, apologize and make an effort to correct that behavior. You can sense when you've crossed someone's boundary when they avoid eye contact or change the topic. They could also directly tell you that your behavior made them feel ashamed or uncomfortable. No one is perfect. Begin with forgiving yourself and listening and apologizing when someone says you have crossed their boundary.
then, start setting them
Setting boundaries is essential because no one knows what bothers you until you tell them. No one knows what your limits are until you tell them. The healthiest boundaries are flexible. They allow for discussions and parties involved to come to an understanding, and it is centered around respect and love. A rigid limit doesn't give space for anything to be discussed, its ultimatums, which ultimately lead to resentment.
I noticed that resentment started to build when I didn't address things that bothered me or when I didn't place boundaries, and when I said yes when I meant no. Some relationships were tainted because I didn't speak up, and I was afraid of asserting myself (again that people-pleasing). But, I can't expect someone to know how to treat me if I don't even know how to treat myself.
If something bothered you, initiate a conversation to discuss it and set that boundary. Remember to ask if someone is open to have the conversation and approach it with empathy. Permit yourself to feel guilty about setting boundaries, but let it pass. You are not meant to please people; focus on pleasing yourself. Remind yourself that you are doing it because you love yourself and care about the relationship. If someone is used to you always being there for them and you start setting boundaries, expect some resistance. This was major for me. People really couldn't believe I could ever say no. This was when I had to have a conversation about what I was no longer able to tolerate. You are allowed to change and evolve in your relationships too.
I have been labeled the "strong friend," the "therapist," and the one that is always there no matter what. These are labels that I take very seriously, but I also know that I have to take care of myself first to be this person for others. I need space and time to recharge. I am not on-call. I got my things to work through too. I need to be asked first. Ask me if I am in the right state of mind to help you before dumping things on me. Ask me first if I am open to discuss specific topics. Ask me if it's okay to touch my hair before touching it. Ask me, always ask me first.
Finally, continue to reinforce them
They overstepped once, that's their bad. They overstepped twice, that's my bad. Reinforcing your boundaries comes with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and your agency will only continue to grow. Be assertive. Take your limits seriously. If you don't, neither would them. You can tell your friend, "I am available to chat for an hour today," and reinforce that boundary when you've reached an hour. You can also remind someone that you don't like spoilers. Therefore, you can't discuss the show yet or reminding someone that you are not comfortable lending your books, money, clothes, etc. This is reinforcing your boundaries.
The hardest thing about setting boundaries is understanding that you can't be everything to everybody all the time. But, know you are only hurting yourself when you ignore your discomfort. Setting boundaries with someone does not mean you do not care about them or do not love them. In actuality, it benefits your relationships because you can show up in a better way to provide quality advice and support.
You don't have to be an expert at boundary setting right away. I know even I let some things slide that I know I shouldn't. As I said, setting boundaries comes with practice and the constant reminder that 1) I love my relationships and that 2) I am doing this for my mental health and my well-being.
SEXUAL SELF-CARE is...
Scheduling a wellness visit – Every woman should be having this visit once a year. This visit is similar to a regular doctor's appointment. You will be asked about your sexual history, and they might do a breast exam, pap test, pelvic exam, and/or a pregnancy test. Get tested for STIs and HIV, and screened for several cancers. The point is to stay up to date with your visits and receive treatment if necessary.
Defining your boundaries – Identify your physical and sexual limits by taking note of your wants, needs, and hard / soft limitations. You will learn many of these by exploring your body. Setting boundaries will require some practice, but you can start by placing them in a small setting (i.e., saying no to a kiss after a date). Initiate a conversation with your partner(s) about this, no matter how awkward it may feel. These conversations will help to create an environment where your boundaries known and upheld. If it's important to you, it would, hopefully, be vital to them too. Don't forget to give and get consent.
Accountability – Hold yourself and others accountable to your boundaries and your expectations. When you hold yourself accountable, you do what is necessary, even if it's complicated. I want to focus on the One-Key question, a staple in women's reproductive health care. Yes, let's go there. If you are sexually active, you can discuss this question with a friend or your partner and answer honestly. The question is, "Would you like to become pregnant in the next year?" How you respond determines the next steps you need to take. If the answer is yes, consider building your wellness pregnancy plan. You can start by regulating your menstrual cycle, taking prenatal vitamins, and taking a close look at your current diet. If your answer is no, consider getting on a birth-control method (plenty out there) and becoming stricter about practicing safe sex. If your answer is "I'll be okay either way," think about how you would like to proceed if you were told you are pregnant and explore possible scenarios. If your answer is "I'm unsure," start learning more about why that is and what in your life is driving the ambivalence. If you are already holding yourself accountable, go sis, and pat yourself in the back!
Educating yourself – One of the main points of practicing sexual self-care is to be prepared. Many states refuse to provide essential health services and often take away access to healthcare, birth control, and abortion from low-income and women of color. This was recently shown in the Supreme Court ruling on contraceptive coverage that will affect about 126,000 women. Educate yourself on pregnancy, contraceptive care, and regulations in your state. Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, I highly encourage you to educate yourself on abortion policies too. Many women do not know the laws surrounding abortion until they are faced with that decision. Share what you learn with other women and make a plan. Our rights are always being stripped, and the best thing we can do right now is to educate ourselves to advocate for ourselves.
Sexual self-care is a lot more things, and it looks different for everyone. Self-care can be fun and easy, but that's not always where the real work is achieved. You'll have to make decisions about your body that can be uncomfortable, confusing, and sometimes trauma-induced. Unpacking your sexual beliefs, experiences, and answering those tough questions will make way for healing. Most importantly, it'll get you to a place where you can make decisions about your body with ease.
Below are some journal prompts to elicit thoughts and conversations regarding your sexual wellness.
How do I feel in my body today? What do I love about my body?
What stories do I tell myself about my sexual energy and experiences?
How can I nurture my sensual and sexual side and sexual relationships?
Hold space for wherever you are in your sexual journey. Remember, no matter what, your body is your home. Explore it and be prepared to make decisions for it.