When my Thanksgiving break plans were cancelled, I was crushed. The weeks of school hardly felt purposeful when they no longer led up to anything. It felt like there was nothing to look forward to. Although, of course, I recognized my immense privilege to be healthy and be with my family for Thanksgiving, waves of irritability and sadness still came over me. I noticed that those types of days would come, that sense of hopelessness, without warning and with seemingly random triggers.
So I found small things to look forward to. On Monday, I told myself I would make my favorite homemade cookies, on Tuesday I would have a holiday movie night, and on Wednesday I would drive myself to the bookstore. Suddenly, I had plans for myself I was actually excited about. Even though it wasn’t the break I had been hoping for, I ended up having a great time.
There are things I had to learn early this year when the uncertainty settled in. When I was feeling down, I needed to find those go-to things that would make me feel better. Activities that gave me hope. Right now, it’s difficult to make plans or even to feel certain about the future. So as much as you can, do what you can to get back that glimmer of hope and excitement.
In the notes app on my phone, there is a constantly growing document called the “Feeling Gross List.” For me, feeling “gross,” means a lot of things. Sad, irritated, unproductive, or just that bad feeling you don’t understand but can’t quite seem to shake. As the weeks passed, I added activities that I knew made me feel better when I was feeling those things.
A more fancy term for this type of list is what I like to call a, “mental health first aid kit”. Just like a first aid kit for your physical health, this first aid kit is a place to store all the tools you might need on a day when you’re just feeling off. Here are some ideas that are on my list.
- Read outside/in the backyard
- Go on a walk
- Watch an old movie
- Make hot tea
- Organize my room
- Call my cousins
- Write a card to a friend
- Bake cookies
- Drive to a store
For a more complete toolbox, you could also add go-to phrases or techniques for dealing with anxiety, for example. For me, I like to picture a big red stop sign in my head when I’m having overwhelming thoughts or repeat the phrase, “It’s all in your head” to myself.
I love the thought of this idea being something widespread– that people can use on a daily basis. It’s a way to teach people that mental health is important and normal, and that it’s okay to have bad days. The most crucial part is that these tools are all specific to you. Self-awareness is so important right now, so figuring out what works for you specifically will be key. I’m always adding new things to my list and taking things out that don’t necessarily work anymore. Remember, it’s all up to you!
In the end, just remember that you’re not alone in these feelings. It might surprise you to realize the amount of people who are going through the same thing as you! And always remember, it’s the little things.