A Realistic Way to Set Goals for Mental Health

It’s after the new year, just about that time where people drop their resolutions. It may be hard to keep up with what you set out for yourself if the resolution is too big, too vague, too strict, or without a plan. But maybe you’re still going strong. Go you! And if not, that’s ok.

I don’t set a resolution in January, but throughout the year, I set goals with month-long deadlines. It really depends on where I wish to be with something, if it will cost me money, and how long I think it will take. For example, if I want to take a course in the summer, I look up the cost, note the start and end date, and save up the appropriate amount. Very simple example.

Sometimes, things don’t go as planned, but that’s all right. Still, if you think this way of structuring goals is a good idea, here are some examples geared toward managing your mental health that you can make:

  • Start therapy on March 2, once a month. Cost: $100/month.
  • Write a daily log of my feelings for a year.
  • Save $80 for anxiety management workshop on July 1.

For me, big goals don’t have deadlines. That’s important for me because it reduces stress around meeting that goal at a certain time, and eliminates the possibility of disappointment if it isn’t met. It also gives me the proper time to transform and heal because life is not a race. But also, sometimes it’s just a life-long lifestyle change I want to make. Here are some examples (inspired by my own):

  • Go to Reiki 2x/month and do inner child work in between. (Specific but no deadline)
  • Manage stress with exercise. (Lifestyle change)
  • Watch the sunrise every morning before work. (Lifestyle change)

So, I hope this gave you some clear ideas of how you can manage your mental health in an achievable way! Don’t let the new year be a reason to start something you really want to do; begin anytime!

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Dear POC: We Get Depressed Too

*I was inspired by a part in the interview I did with Anna from Repsychl about mental health. My interview is part of a series on her blog, please check it out!

When I was in the 11th grade, my father told me that during his meeting with the school principals, they suggested I see a counselor. My father refused. He said I didn’t need to speak to anyone about my problems because I am African, and Africans don’t get depressed. Africans don’t get depressed because, despite a post-colonial history of poverty and war, Africans manage to find happiness at the end of the day, my father said.

I was a little upset; it was a new school, and I didn’t know what to make of how I was feeling. I didn’t know much about depression but I did think I had experienced it as a 13-year-old angry little girl, upset over the passing of a loved one and feeling misunderstood her entire childhood. But every day of my 16-year-old life, I woke up feeling meek and totally empty. Sometimes, I’d wake up so angry, barely a word would come out of my mouth the entire day at school. No friends: people weren’t interested and neither was I. There was a false rumor about me going around, too. So, yes, I would have liked to have somebody to trust at school. But I believed my father’s opinion and denied my emotions.

My father is a wonderful man, he just could not relate. My immigrant parents have been through a lot. They left their origin country by boat to the neighboring Angola, where they fled a war and came to Canada. My mother was sick all of my life, and today here I am, scathed but healed. Anyway, I do understand where my father is coming from. Despite economic shifts due to colonialism and government corruption, and ancestral trauma, Africans have never lost the aspect of community in our nations. There is a communal state of mind where people share with one another, help raise each other’s children, among other things. When we are sick or have experienced trauma, friends and family are there for us until we get better. You are never alone. African immigrants have carried this state of mind with them in the communities we’ve found in the west. But they are far from being perfect communities, and it doesn’t mean that Africans don’t get affected by problems. Poverty, trauma and the like… it’s complicated. Plus, we have to factor in other issues that the individual is personally going through, maybe secretly due to cultural taboos. Even if you can stand up on your own two feet again, negative emotions can creep up at any time.

I used to feel ashamed and selfish about being depressed. Here, in Canada, I have so many opportunities and great healthcare. But I no longer feel that way. I’m also in a much better place now after seeking a lot of help. I had to train myself to believe that my experiences and emotions were valid, especially if physical imbalances may contribute to mental illness. Here, in the West, black communities and other POC communities still carry a taboo around mental health issues, but I believe that’s starting to break down slowly. My hope is that more people of color become open to the fact that the state of your overall health depends on how you feel inside just as much as your physical health. Wherever you live in the world, that place comes with its own set of issues which affect everyone. And I don’t even know what you have had to deal with at home. How you feel, you know, it’s completely valid.

I like to adopt the practice of helping someone out until they can get back on their feet, and including others to do the same because a lot of the time, a depressed person will feel alone and like they don’t want to bother anybody. It hasn’t always worked out in my experience, though, for a few reasons: one time the person kept rejecting my hand, while another person was too individualist and just believed they were alone in this no matter what. Despite these two instances, there were more breakthroughs. There are many people who can appreciate and benefit from having people around them. This doesn’t have to be for when your friend or loved one is ill; you could be there for a new mom, a new immigrant, whomever! Try it, and see what happens.

How to Make The Best Out of Therapy

If we attend therapy, how can we help ourselves get the best out of it? Here are some methods:

Listening with an open heart.

Take it in. Take it ALL in! Silencing our thoughts; not thinking about a reply until we’ve (briefly) considered what the therapist has just said.

Thinking about a detailed answer before responding.

For example, if asked, “how long have you felt this way?” it wouldn’t be helpful to reply with a vague answer that beats around the bush, such as, “Well, I’ve been this way for a very long time.” This answer provides a shield, keeping us from opening up to someone. Personally, I feel my chest tightening and my back curling when I’m asked a personal question like this.  But being as specific as possible, like thinking about approximately what age our symptoms started to appear, after which incident or phase, and how frequent our symptoms have been since then. So, a better answer is: “I remember feeling upset very often as a child, probably around 10 years old. I just started distancing myself from friends and family. I remember being bullied by a few kids at school because of my weight.” The professional with whom you’re working can then ask you more questions that will uncover the reason behind your emotions and behaviors.

Recording sessions with permission.

Asking to record an audio version of  sessions on our phone or bringing a notebook. The best counselors/therapists don’t let us leave without session notes that further treatment. We can write them ourselves or ask for a copy of notes and strategies discussed during the appointment.

Suggesting homework if none is given.

This applies to when your therapist/counselor is helping you achieve something, or getting you to do something you used to love doing again. We can ask if they have any suggestions on how to get back into the groove of things. Self-development happens mostly outside of therapy.

Keeping session notes where we can see them.

Single sheets of paper can be hung on the wall of our bedroom, office, a private space, or a closet. We can also keep them in a folder or binder on the desk, or next to bed. The point is for our notes to be easily accessible. We may review them a few times a week, once a day, or whenever we need to.

Maybe it’s not the right fit.

We may explain our issues to a therapist and all they say is something like, “What do you think you can do about that?” or, “You tell me what to do about that.” I’ve even gotten, “So how can I help you?” and that can be frustrating. I mean, we don’t go to therapy to have someone help us think, and we certainly don’t go in knowing exactly how the therapist can help us. But we go to gain someone else’s (positive) perspective on our matters and to gain new ideas on how to deal. So, if we have no idea what we think we can do for ourselves, or how they can help us, we must kindly reply that we don’t know, which is the reason we’re seeking help.

If we don’t feel a connection, or if talk therapy no longer works, then it’s best to seek help from someone who specializes in the exact area we need healing. For example, the help of an eating disorder specialist for disordered eating, an intuitive counselor if we are interested in developing intuition, a pastoral therapist if Christian faith is important to us. Even a life coach! The goal is just to find someone who understands where you’re coming from.