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Maintaining Mental Health: Tips and Thoughts from Marlborough’s Director of Counseling

Graphic by Eleanor ’21

Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? Having good mental health is not synonymous with being happy all the time, and we need to remember that. Having good mental health means that one has appropriate feelings at appropriate times, and that one develops an age-appropriate tolerance for emotional discomfort and even distress and functional coping skills. Reaching out for, and accepting, help when you need or want it is also a sign of good mental health. And during this unprecedented time, it makes sense to have some negative or unpleasant feelings. Even in the best of circumstances, uncertainty can make people very uncomfortable, worried or anxious. These feelings may be expressed in a number of ways. Is anyone feeling particularly irritable at times? That is a hallmark correlate of anxiety and sadness and some psychologists suggest that it may be one of your mind’s attempts to distract you from your sadness or anxiety by getting you annoyed. 

Regardless of how you are doing, Ms. Duggan and I are here for you and want to know how you are doing. Here are some things to remember to include in your day or week, and some suggestions on ways to do them:

  • Self-care: Make sure you are getting enough sleep (many of you are reporting getting more sleep than ever), eating good meals, drinking lots of water, and including in your day activities and relationships that uplift or restore you. You have many “selves” including physical, emotional, social, creative, coping and spiritual. Find ways to feed one or more of these selves every day!
  • Be kind to yourself: Self-compassion is related to self-care and mindfulness and is vital during this time of uncertainty. You may not be as “productive” as you would like or as you were, and that is OK. You may have times or days when you are just not feeling great, and while unpleasant, these times are OK too. Here are some resources to learn more about and practice self-compassion.
  • Mindfulness: As you have probably heard before, we are so lucky to have many resources right at Marlborough for establishing and maintaining a mindfulness practice. Like any other practice, mindfulness works best when you do it every day. Here are the school’s offerings. Or, you can use one of the many mindfulness apps, such as Smiling Mind, Calm, Ten Percent Happier, or Headspace, many of which offer a free trial period. Smiling Mind has also created a special program for use during quarantine.
  • Routines: Whether you think of yourself as someone who loves a routine or someone who craves novelty, having just about every part of your daily life changed is challenging on a physiological level. Humans and many other organisms tend to like routines, partially because they reduce the number of decisions we have to make in a given moment or day. Having our routines out of whack means that we have to do a great deal more thinking about everything we do, even the things that we used to be able to do “on autopilot.” This is the reason that many people report feeling really tired and lacking focus even though they are getting more sleep. Your mind is working much harder than usual just to get through the day. You can give your mind a break by establishing new routines, and by being patient with yourself as you adjust to them. Building a new routine is difficult and will probably take longer to feel truly routine than you think it will. But be patient and kind with yourself, and ask for help when you need it, and it can be done.
  • Connecting with others: This new way of being can be hard. Video chatting with your friends and drive-by birthday celebrations are not ideal. Some days you may not feel much like socializing. It is certainly OK to listen to your body, but be mindful of how many days you are feeling this way, and how much time during each day you are alone or feeling lonely. When you are in a lonely space, it can be very hard to reach out to someone, and this is the time you must reach out to someone. Consider reaching out to friends from Marlborough, friends or acquaintances from outside of school, a grandparent or other family member who would love to hear from you, teachers or coaches, Ms. Duggan or me. If you want to talk to someone you don’t know, Teen Line online is available and has message boards as well as receiving texts and email.
  • Giving to others: Perhaps paradoxically, research shows that giving to others can make us feel better when we are sad or lonely. You could offer to help a parent or sibling, plan a secret surprise for someone, or research ways to help people who are not in lockdown with you. Ms. Wright is also available to help you find ways to engage with the greater LA community, or you can check out Los Angeles Mutual Aid Society to give or receive help. 
  • Recreation: Are you reading, listening to, or watching anything you love? If so, I would love to hear about it! I am reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and loving it. I am also enjoying Fiona Apple’s new record, Fetch The Bolt Cutters as well as many old favorites. Have you found any workouts you love online or from the amazing array in our guide? Did you know that many art museums are offering free programs such as virtual tours and classes? One of my favorite “daily questions” is, “What beauty are you creating, curating, or inviting in?” Knitting, crochet, dance, music, collage, photography, film, creating memes, painting, sculpture, felting wool, drawing, tinkering, woodworking, comics, animal husbandry, and slime-making are all hobbies or passions I have known folks to enjoy.

My personal guiding principles for the duration of this pandemic are compassion, flexibility and generosity. I try to keep these values in mind during all of my interactions, and forgive myself when my initial instinct is unkind, rigid or ungenerous. For me, generosity includes giving other people the benefit of the doubt by intentionally interpreting the actions/words of others in the most positive way. It is hard to be compassionate, flexible, and generous when you are not feeling resourced yourself, so again, it is really important that I take good care of myself so that I can face this pandemic with compassion, flexibility and generosity. I am both proud and grateful to be a member of the Marlborough and Los Angeles communities and feel confident that these communities are strong and empathetic enough to get through this pandemic together, however long that may take.

I look forward to the time when we can all be together again on our beautiful campus. Until then, I am here to continue connecting with you virtually. Please let me know how you are doing!

Further reading: *Not meant to replace therapy

What Happens When You Give Others the Benefit of the Doubt

4-7-8 Breathing technique

Library Guides to ebooks 

10-Second Eye Exercise to Calm Your Mind

IG accounts that promote mental health 

How to Stop Feeling Helpless During Quarantine

Harvard Grad School of Ed: thinking around racial disparities in COVID19

Anti-Asian Racism and Covid19

Find Help with Mental Illness-NAMI

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

Toll-Free (English): 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 

Toll-Free (español): 1-888-628-9454

TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) 

Website (English): https://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Website (Español): https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/enespanol

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