6 Small Changes That Improve My Mental Health
Whether you’re someone who knows me in real life, a regular reader of my blog who has never met me, or someone who is reading my writing for the first time, I need you to know this: I am not a calm, patient zen person. I am an impatient, stressed out, quick-paced city slicker who is constantly frustrated with all the day to day struggles I face. And I have in the last few years been on a path to clarity and maturity. I feel myself improving with every passing year in so many regards from the state of my career, my home, my ability to accomplish tasks…but one thing I keep having to remind myself to improve on all the time is my mental health.
From living in a bustling expensive city that is experiencing a lot of complicated political issues, to being bombarded with information via social media and the internet every single day, I sometimes feel like my head is about to explode. And I’m sure you can relate. We live in complicated times. The state of the country - heck, the world - is insane right now, climate change is on everyone’s mind, and information - positive or negative, but mostly negative - is spreading faster than ever. So how can we combat that? I’ve come up with a few ways in my day, and I’d like to share them with you. This is not me telling you that you should do exactly what I’m doing and that it will yield us each the same results; Everyone is different and the only one-size-fits-all solution to improving mental health is breathing deeply. But I hope that this can help you assess what is bothering you day to day, so that you can solve them in the way that’s best for you.
1. Switching UP MY Commute
Living in the city, I’ve relied on several modes of transportation to commute. Whether it be walking, the dreaded Muni bus, the dreaded Muni train, or the dreaded BART (wow this city has a lot of transportation issues,) most MOTs can get old or toxic after a while. And that’s why I’m a big advocate for switching things up on your commute to help you stay sane. I know this isn’t necessarily applicable to every person, but I find that if you can, you should every once in a while.
For example, when I used to walk to class every day from my apartment off campus, I’d try taking different routes around the blocks and buildings to get there so that I could see different corners of the neighborhood and campus and my mind wouldn’t turn to absolute mush as I went into autopilot 30 minutes a day. When I lived downtown, I switched from taking BART to work, to the Muni bus. The downside was that it took longer and was less reliable, but I got to avoid running into scary drug dealers and seeing heroin needles on the floor of the BART station. I know that’s an extreme example, but it did wonders for my mental health to assess what was bothering me on my commute and remove them, in order to do myself an enormous favor.
Varying up your commute could mean driving a backroad with pretty fields around it, going to and leaving work earlier or later in the day to avoid the traffic or stuffy subway trains, changing which bus routes you take, or even adding fun stops to pick up coffee along the way so that you can see a different neighborhood or give yourself something to look forward to. It’s good to stimulate the mind every once in a while, as well as rid yourself of the woes of commuting that bring you down before or after a long day of work.
2. Making Reservations/Joining Waitlists
Something that was driving Steven and me up the wall was waiting outside of restaurants. Whether it was waiting in long lines for brunch, or standing outside popular ramen joints for an hour waiting for our names to be called (or at least for a seat to open up on the bench.) Unfortunately San Francisco is really into their kitschy eateries and hype-culture foodie pictures. And to a certain extent, we are too. So getting a table at some of our favorite restaurants was becoming an absolute nightmare.
So we have decided to take it upon ourselves to plan our weekends ahead of time and make reservations at our favorite joints. We get to pick the time that works for our schedules, and we spend less time shivering outside. Not every restaurant allows for reservations, but for those that do, you’ll be thankful you gave them a shot. Also, more and more restaurants are using the Yelp Waitlist, where you join a waitlist based on how many tables are ahead of you and attempt to arrive at the restaurant during your window. Little decisions like that can be a lifesaver so that you don’t have to choose between sanity and good food as often.
3. Blocking Ads
Something else that was taking up too much space in my head every day was the number of ads I was being forced to see. From social media apps, to every article I read on the internet, to YouTube (which I use all day every day,) it was becoming overwhelming. I made a tally of how many advertisements I see a day (in life and on the internet,) and I averaged about 124 a day. Sometimes I’d see so many ads, that I’d forget what video I was watching or what article I had clicked on. And that cannot be good for my mental health.
So Steven and I signed up with YouTube Premium, and I downloaded Adblocker on my laptop and phone. While Adblocker is not fool-proof and YouTube Premium is another expense to our month, these decisions eliminated about 70-80% of the ads I was seeing every day. That’s so much mental space and energy I now have back to pay attention to not only the content I’m interested in, but actually important things going on in my life.
4. Unsubscribing from Email Lists
I don’t know about you (maybe I’m just a dinosaur who needs to get with the times) but I am an email queen. I use email for writing notes to myself, for sending memos and reminders to the people in my life, for keeping up with the sales going on with my favorite stores and brands, and for tracking my spending. And all of that time spent looking through my emails means that I am constantly seeing what emails I’m being bombarded with that the spam folder ends up missing - and it’s a lot.
Something I think we forget constantly is that our email addresses are floating around to different companies, and we are being signed up against our will for email subscriptions at all hours of the day. When you use your email address to sign up for a free app on your phone, give permission for a game on Facebook to have access to your info, enter a giveaway on Instagram, or get a simple discount on something, your information is often being passed around or sold to other companies. And while in most cases it won’t get your bank hacked or anything serious like that, it almost always signs you up with emails you didn’t ask for. And if that round-about spam is affecting your productivity, your ability to access the important emails, or clouding your brain with advertisements, I suggest going through and purging your emails hardcore. I started out small by using Gmail filters to bulk delete every email from the spam perpetrators, and then unsubscribing from their email newsletters. And when the prompt inevitably asks you why you’re unsubscribing, always hit the button that says “I didn’t sign up for these emails” so they have that for their metrics. And while you’re at it, go ahead and unsubscribe from the email listings you did sign up for that you no longer read. If you’re no longer interested in the brand or product, why have it clutter up your inbox? Make it easier to see that inner-office memo, that funny hedgehog video from your loved one or that shoe sale discount code you’ve actually been looking forward to.
5. Being Honest About Topics I Don’t Want to Discuss
With all of the incredibly distressing things going on in today’s world and how quickly the entire country receives and processes news, it can get very overwhelming to keep up with all of the current events and determine your personal feelings and stances on them.
And not only do I have to hear what every news outlet and reporter thinks about a subject, but I am constantly being bombarded with what celebrities (who live in their own fantasy world) and every single person around me feels on a certain topic. And while I definitely think it’s a really good thing to get the public’s opinion or a specific demographic’s opinion on certain topics, - so that you’re not only listening to what the big wigs at CBS or The Wall Street Journal have to say - hearing people constantly talk about a subject I’ve already heard about 12 times that day, and demanding me to tell them my every thought on the situation was not healthy for me personally.
While it’s great that some people are so well-researched, confident and articulate in how they feel about politics, not everyone is, or feels comfortable speaking about ultra complex or distressing topics every hour of the day. And no matter how many good things happen in a day or how many issues a country or humanity as a whole solves, there will always be awful or unfair things happening all over the world to talk and stress about. So no one should feel obligated to never be happy or calm until every problem is fixed. That’s just setting yourself up for a life of misery.
I am registered to vote (in fact, I’m serving jury duty soon,) I read articles and watch videos from multiple news outlets so that I can decide for myself what I think on a subject instead of being told what to think by one outlet, and I talk with the people I feel comfortable talking about the topics with (I even engage in healthy debates when I feel it’s necessary.) Other than that, I am not obligated to tell everyone my opinions on every subject; Even if I agree with them completely. And I should be allowed to be honest and tell people that, so I can put that mental and emotional energy to better use in other facets of my life.
6. Deleting The Facebook App
The way in which people use Facebook has changed drastically since my high school days, to say the least. It used to be a place where people shared their mundane thoughts like funny commute stories, or what the birthday cupcakes someone at the office had bought for them looked like. And in the past, I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know acquaintances and classmates on a deeper level through it. But now when I log on, it’s just the same current events and articles being shared, ridiculous Tasty recipes and 5 Minute Crafts lifehacks no one I know will ever try out, and - no joke - every negative, nasty or cruel thought everyone I know has recently had.
Every single day, I witnessed people I knew getting into fights about the president, the rights and wrongs of parenthood, morality, religion, mental health, anything you can imagine. Any time someone had a negative or cruel thought, they were bombarding everyone in their lives with it, and everyone was fighting back. It felt like every day, people were cursing out each other and deleting people as friends because they disagreed about a topic. In some ways it showed me the ugly true colors of people that I otherwise wouldn’t have found out about. But sometimes people were arguing and destroying relationships over the most minute things. I felt I couldn’t even post without getting bombarded with criticism or being told I had the wrong opinion and needed to police myself accordingly.
This all just cemented what I’ve known all my life: Nobody’s perfect, everyone’s going to disagree with you about something, and everyone has issues. So even though some people deleted me, I didn’t delete anyone during this time period who offended, angered or irritated me. Since no one on my feed ever threatened the safety of any individual or group of people, I just made the decision to leave everyone alone instead of fighting them or erasing them from my memory. Not saying that’s going to be the right choice for everyone, but it was the right one for me. I felt that if I was going to delete everyone I had disagreements with, I might as well delete my account, because everyone in the world is going to disagree with you on something you care about. Even the people closest to me who I love the most don’t always see eye to eye on things with me. So instead of going on a deleting spree, I had to start unfollowing or temporarily snoozing people who were only adding negativity and hatred to my feed and clouding my mind every day. And I had to start hiding my posts from individuals I knew would only try to start a fight with me. That was the decision I made in order to maintain a good rapport with people, but also not sign myself up to be bombarded with hatred in my feed every day.
And the truth is, after I did that, my Facebook feed was dead. I was left with only cat videos, life hacks, Ellen interviews, and graduation/marriage/baby announcements. I was no longer able to get to know the people I’ve met along the way in life because Facebook was no longer the place for that. It became the place for people to vent their frustrations and debate. And it’s a free country - they can do what they want. But I decided that that wasn’t what I was on Facebook for. So I deleted the app. I still maintain my account and message people from the past to check in with them, I still log on every once in a while to congratulate people on their marriages, children and professional accomplishments, and I still sometimes post San Francisco current events that I don’t think are receiving enough coverage. But I do not check the app and communicate on it like I used to. And my life is so much better for it.
Because of the Facebook shift, people have migrated to Instagram to share the fun things going on in their lives. I follow my family members, close friends, old co-workers and friends who live far away, so that I can see their fun vacations and accomplishments in the post feed, as well as their day to day goings on in their stores. And I have fun interacting with them, from long DMs to just sending a clapping or laughing emoji to their story. It’s made social media so much more enjoyable and has helped me to better maintain my relationships with people.
I hope that this is helpful to anyone out there hoping to regain some of their mental energy and add some positivity or lightness to their day-to-day. While we can’t always avoid what’s annoying or negative in life, we deserve to help ourselves to some mental clarity. Until we meet again!