How to Protect Your Mental Health in 2020 and Beyond

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Hi! And welcome to the dumpster fire that is 2020.

So far, we have seen:

  • Catastrophic wildfires in Australia
  • A locust invasion across Africa that threatens food security 
  • One million people in Chinese concentration camps
  • A global health pandemic
  • A helicopter crash that killed 9 people, including Kobe and Gianna Bryant
  • Murder hornets coming to North America
  • Mass unemployment
  • Police brutality against protesters…protesting police brutality
  • Cannibal rats.

Just to name a few. And we’re not even halfway through the year.

Even if your personal life is going relatively well, these external events are a lot to contend with. And for a lot of you, your personal life isn’t going so well. Personal issues regarding relationships, money, family, school, work, and so on are still ever present ON TOP of the external events bombarding us from every angle. 

It’s completely understandable if you’ve lost sleep, feel anxious, and just want to tune out.

So what the hell are you supposed to do to protect your mental health?

Deactivate Social Media

Wild concept, I know. 

But if you really want to protect your mental health, purging your social media habits is a great start.

And here’s why.

Let’s talk about Twitter for a sec. It’s an absolute cesspool of shit flinging, and barely any (if at all) constructive discussions around race, politics, gender, and other social issues ever happen. And it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the mob mentality if you’re on the platform – that’s emotional contagion for you. 

Facebook is no better – here’s a gigantic list of criticisms against the platform.

If you truly want to change opinions, start with those around you. That family member who posts memes on Facebook about contentious social issues – try to engage with them in meaningful conversation. If a cousin says something racist or homophobic at a family gathering – now is your chance to speak with them face to face. You’ll be a lot more successful at potentially changing their opinion than if they were to be yelled at by @dickheadboobies on Twitter. 

Now let’s talk about Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. These platforms have become a monocultural popularity contest, so it’s no wonder why users feel more depressed, anxious, and lonely than non-users. If you don’t do the same dance, post the same travel pictures, and use the same filters, you won’t get noticed as much. And if you don’t get noticed, you don’t get as many likes and subconsciously feel deficient. How’s that for social connection?

Let’s move on to LinkedIn. There’s a bunch of ‘ninjas’, ‘rockstars’, and ‘wizards’ spewing their expertise on levering synergies in results-driven industries of disruptors. 

Sure, perhaps you may get the odd connection that will work out in your favour. But if all the wannabe influencers, useless recruiters, and ‘business owners’ that have a ‘billion dollar idea’ yet want you to work for free but offer stock options! are getting you down, it may be time to take a break from the platform.

Reddit, let’s move on to you. You used to be a place that people flocked to after Digg turned into an empty shell of listicles and pictures of ‘doggos’ (ugh). Now, listicles and obnoxious dog owners are the BEST of what you are. Especially since 2016, you’ve become a giant cringetopia clickbait factory to incite reactionary comments. 

And yes, there are subreddits. But stay for a while, and they’ll become a dogmatic echo chamber where you’ll be downvoted and argued with if you have a different attitude towards your hobby or interest than what’s popular opinion (also known as the hivemind).

Social media is no longer about social connection. And for many, it’s incredibly toxic to our mental health and well-being. So to heal your mental health, step away and find your balance again.

If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person.

If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house.

If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation.

If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.

Chinese proverb

Not ready to give up social media? At the very least, unfollow people who make you unhappy, turn off notifications on your phone, and set a definitive time restriction for yourself to wander down the dark rabbit hole that is social media.

Turn Off the News

Are you feeling anxious about the constant onslaught of news? Stressed about the barrage of never ending terrible events happening? There’s actually a term for this now called Headline Stress Disorder. While it’s not an official diagnosis, it’s very real for many of us who experience heart palpitations, chest tightness, and yes, insomnia, as a result of the 24 hour news cycle.

Worried you’ll feel guilty if you’re not an informed citizen? A lot of us feel like we’re socially irresponsible for not being glued to our phones and refreshing our feeds. But why is that? Why are you so hard on yourself that you have to know every nuance of every angle of every situation that makes the news? 

You are not a bad person for not staying on top of world events. In fact, you’ll be a more mentally healthy person if you turn off the news in favour of doing something you enjoy. And don’t worry, the most important news will make it to you somehow. If you really need to get your news fix, try an app like Feedly and ignore everything else.

Put Up Personal Boundaries

People come in all types of personalities, values, beliefs, and experiences. And sometimes, those things clash with your personality, values, beliefs, and experiences. That’s OK. That doesn’t make them a bad person, and it doesn’t make you a bad person for wanting to limit your time around them. Sometimes, we have to make a choice of who we spend time with, and that includes setting up hard limits on people we don’t connect with.

Can’t avoid someone you’re not particularly fond of because they’re a coworker, family member, or friend’s significant other? Stick to discussing neutral ideas and events. Sometimes, it’s futile to get into deeper topics. Because, as George Bernard Shaw said, 

“… never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

Put Up Time Boundaries

Protecting your mental health means putting up firm boundaries around everything to do with your time. Yes, we can’t control all of our time – we have work or school, chores, cooking, children to look after, and other obligations. And that’s ok – a lot of these things are actually enjoyable. If they’re not, for the love of all that is holy, think of some things you can implement immediately to make your life more bearable. 

If you say to yourself, ‘nothing can make this better’, you are overloaded and need to prioritise getting back to a healthy state of mind beyond protecting whatever mental health you have left. If that’s where you are, here’s a list of free courses that talk about happiness, work/life balance, motivation, and much more. 

Sleep 

Wow, a website called Cure Chronic Insomnia is recommending you get some sleep?

You’re probably thinking, thanks for the hot tip. I would sleep if I could.

I hear you. I started this website because I had chronic insomnia for years. While I no longer have chronic insomnia, I still get bouts of acute insomnia (a few days or weeks of interrupted sleep). It happens when I don’t protect my mental health.

It can turn into an endless cycle. You lose sleep when you don’t protect your mental health. But to protect your mental health you need sleep. 

But alas, the egg really did come before the chicken. And you do need to start protecting your mental health by first prioritising sleep.

What does this mean? It means you might have to rework your evening schedule to watch less TV, or spend less time on your phone to allow for more ‘wind down’ time. Dim the lights, read a book, meditate, or do whatever helps you actively destress (not passively like watching TV or scrolling through your phone). It means good sleep hygiene (dark, cooler, and uncluttered room). It means getting out of bed when you can’t sleep so you don’t (or continue to) associate your bed with stress.

Get Moving

Cue another pikachu face. Look, we all know that moving our bodies helps literally everything. It helps our sleep patterns, muscles, brain function, blood flow, mood, and more. But this time, if you really want to protect your mental health, get moving. This doesn’t mean you have to deadlift your max weight or do a crazy HIIT workout. Go for a walk around the block. Take your bike out for a leisurely spin. Do some light stretching. Garden. Walk to the store and get your favourite ice cream and savour the hell out of that ice cream. Bonus – you get ice cream. Anything to get you moving will help your mental state.

Engage In Your Inferior Function

If this will sound a bit hippy dippy, it’s because it is. But hey, if you want to protect your mental health, it’s worth a shot.

Ever hear of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory (MBTI)? If not, it’s a test that divides people into 16 personality types. You are either introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, a thinker or feeler, and a judger or perceiver. It’s based on Carl Jung’s The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. However, it was never vetted by the psychoanalyst. It’s also not a very good idea to use the MBTI as the sole source of defining yourself or choosing a career. But I digress.

Still, the MBTI can offer some perspective on how your brain operates. For example, I’m an INFJ and find the descriptions suit me to a T. It’s not all of who I am, but it is interesting to know there’s a ‘framework’ for my thought process.

The really interesting thing to note is the functional stack of your personality type. Here’s how PersonalityJunkie.com explains it:

Each personality type prefers to use four of the eight functions first described by Jung. These four functions comprise a type’s “functional stack.” The relative strength of preference for these four functions is expressed in the following manner: dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior.

Dominant Function

Your type’s signature strength.

Auxiliary Function

Sidekick to the dominant function.

Tertiary Function

Relatively unconscious / undifferentiated.

Inferior Function

Least conscious / accessible.

So for me, my functional stack as an INFJ is:

Dominant: Introverted Intuition (Ni)

Auxiliary: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)

Tertiary:  Introverted Thinking (Ti)

Inferior:  Extraverted Sensing (Se)

I have a theory (and yes, it’s just based on personal experience) that we have to engage with our inferior function in a constructive way if we are feeling overwhelmed. For example, my inferior function is extraverted sensing, which is engaging with your five senses. When I’m mentally exhausted or overwhelmed, I tend to engage with my Se in a destructive way (drinking, over-indulging, shopping). But I feel a lot better when I engage in my senses in a constructive way that makes sense for me. For example, I love hiking and playing the violin. Both are very sensory experiences, and both are truly healing.

To take the MBTI test, here are a few sources:

https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

https://personalityjunkie.com/

https://www.truity.com/test/type-finder-personality-test-new

To find your functional stack, including your inferior function, Personality Junkie seems to have the best write ups on the subject. To learn more about inferior functions in general, take a look here.

Do a Brain Dump

Sometimes, what we feel anxious about feels like a nondescript static in our heads. If someone were to ask us what we’re stressed about, you might be inclined to say “EVERYTHING”. But even if it feels like a jumbled mess, there are particular thorns in your side and you need to pluck them out sometimes.

So open a Google Doc, and start writing. Don’t edit as you go. Just write. Write what you are feeling. Sad, angry, anxious, stressed, hurt, frustrated, uncertain. Name it, and expand on it. Why are you feeling what you feel? Let it flow. You are safe from judgement here – no one ever has to read what you wrote. Just getting it off your chest can feel like a big weight being lifted. 

Get Outside Your Head

Easier said than done. But there’s two methods that can really help: savouring and reframing.

To savour something, truly appreciate what is in front of you. If it’s a meal, really savour it. Don’t look at your phone. Eat with someone, and talk about the subtleties of the food. Savour how awesome it smells and how beautiful it looks. If you’re outside, look at the vibrancy of the colours around you. Listen to the birds and the rustling of the leaves. Literally stop and smell the flowers. If you have children, listen to them and appreciate the wonder in their eyes. Or how they do something that is so uniquely them.

To reframe, try this: think of your life situation now. All of your relationships, work, hobbies, values, interests, and beliefs. Create a clear picture of who you are, at this very moment.

A series of decisions over the years have led you to this point. Maybe you chose one job over another, moved to a certain city, traveled to a certain country. Now think – if you didn’t do that thing, where would you be now? Who would you have not met? How did this shape the person you are today? 

Reframing will at the very least take you out of your current frame of mind and help you appreciate where you are, and maybe, remind you that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

What do you do to protect your mental health? Comment below!


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