Learning to check-in with ourselves and each other

 In Mental Health, Voices of Young People

Two members of our first SAP Cohort, Abby and Elyse, got together to practice how to check-in on themselves and others, especially when life can feel overwhelming. Abby, 24, reached out with the idea initially, saying: “I have an idea for a blog. Something along the lines of: How it is important for us to know how we are feeling- physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually—yet it can be hard to put into words how to define those feelings.” We loved the idea and especially loved the idea of practicing this kind of exercise in a dialogue. Elyse, 16, joined her for this thoughtful and introspective back-and-forth. We love the way it sets up conversations we’ll be thinking about all year at Springtide: mental health, connection to others, a sense of purpose, how to manage pressure or stress, and more.

We hope you enjoy it! 

“How are you?” – How would you answer this kind of common question if you were being honest? 

A: It is really easy to answer this question by saying good—which wouldn’t be a complete lie most of the time—but to be more specific I would say that today has been overwhelming. 

E: I can understand that. Usually when people ask me, I just say I’m fine, but honestly, I’m also not doing great today. 

A: Did something specific happen today that caused you to feel that way? Or have you just been feeling that way lately? 

E: I’ve just been feeling sort of burnt out for a while now. I think there’s been a lot more pressure from school and it’s definitely starting to affect my mental health. 

A: I agree with feeling burnt out. I enjoy helping other people but when I start saying yes to too many things it doesn’t leave time for me to have personal time for myself. 

E: That’s exactly what I go through sometimes. I want to be able to take on so many projects, work and personally related, but realistically there’s only so much time in a day. 

A: When I am feeling well physically, mentally, and feel caught up on other things it is much easier to put more on my plate. However, I struggle with knowing what can be too much for me because sometimes I can be doing X, Y, and Z easily, when other times I will struggle with those three tasks. I need to do a better job checking in with myself and how I am actually feeling before I continue to plunge forward into my to-do list. 

E: Yeah, I definitely need to do better at checking in with myself. I always think I can handle more, but eventually all the tasks start to become too much. I need to recognize when I already have enough going on. Otherwise, my mental health just gets worse over time.  

A: What are ways that you can check in with yourself to see how you are doing? I know that it helps me to stop everything I am doing, close my eyes and just breathe or pray. It is so easy for me to jump into the day and get lost in the tasks, so when I remember I really enjoy doing 5 minutes of silent prayer in the morning to start my day on the right note.  

E: I like the idea of using prayer to reflect. Personally, I take a minute to ask myself if what I am doing is making me happy, or if there is an ultimate goal I am working towards. If the answer to both of those questions is no, then I figure out what I can drop in order to improve my mental health. I also find it helpful to take breaks from working by reading or spending time with my family. 

A: I have done something similar and asked myself, does this need to get done today, or at all? Then it helps to prioritize what stays on my to-do list or the goals that I keep. It is important to ask what the WHY is behind what I do so I know what I am working towards. I need to take more time to think instead of just moving like a robot throughout the day. I enjoy what I do. Most of the time I just go with the flow, grind through work, and enjoy my day. When I get off that beat it throws everything off. Nobody can expect to be in a happy mood all of the time even though I think we all desire that.  

E: That’s a really good point. It’s important to make sure you’re feeling fulfilled by your job and life in general, but it’s just as important to recognize that you won’t be happy every second of every day. It’s normal to feel sad or lost sometimes, even though those feelings may make us uncomfortable.  

A: That is exactly what I have been working on. I feel that it is so easy to describe how I feel when I am in an uplifting mood, and that is what people want to hear about, but when I am in an unpleasant mood it is hard to find words to describe those feelings. It also feels strange to answer “How are you?” with “I am feeling down” or “sad”. Some of my friends might not even know how to react to that.  

E: That’s why it can be hard to open up to people. You don’t know what they’re going to say. It’s really important to have a good support system of family and friends for that exact reason. I find it good for my well-being when I surround myself with people I trust and who I know can handle me being honest about my emotions; even when I’m not in a positive or happy mood.  

A: Having that support system is key. Holding all the emotions I have inside just makes me frustrated and short-tempered. Being able to call a friend and letting them know I need to talk gets so much off my chest. I feel like a good first step is to figure out generally what I am feeling. Then know what person in my support system I can go to to talk about this. One of my friends gave me a feelings chart to help navigate my emotions and that has been really helpful for me, as well as increased my vocabulary :)  

E: That’s a really great idea. Being able to recognize what I’m feeling is the first step I take to find a solution to my problems and improve my mental health.   

A: Voicing it out loud or writing in my journal helps put things into perspective and like you said, work towards finding a solution to my problems. If a negative feeling is recurring it is important to get to the root of the problem, even when facing those emotions are scary. That is where our friends and family can be there to support us or to be with us if we need further help from a counselor. 

E: I think journaling, prayer, and other forms of reflection are important for understanding our own mental health better, but I agree with you that we should also be able to rely on others to help us. When people support each other, everyone benefits from it. 

A: Do you think your physical health affects your mental health? 

E: For sure. I think the worse my mental health gets the less sleep I get. Then, I get distracted and forget to drink water. Overall, it creates a cycle where my mental health is getting worse because I’m tired or dehydrated, and since my mental health is bad it’s harder to improve my physical health. What about you? Do you also feel like your mental health impacts your physical health?  

A: I agree with a lot of what you said. I think it starts with the basics: getting enough food and drink, sleep, and then making sure we are getting enough exercise because exercising gives off good endorphins that make us feel good. For me, working out consistently really helps me work out the stress in my body. The gym I go to has a really good community as well that encourages me and makes for a great atmosphere to go to because let’s be real it is hard to get up in the morning to workout consistently. Having accountability really helps. I have come to realize that even though working out is good for me, sometimes sleep trumps my workouts. If I am not recharged, I will not be able to put a full effort into my workout, my work, or my day. 

E: I fully agree. Exercise is of course very important, but sometimes you need to prioritize something else, and sleep should always be a top priority because it is essential to our mental and physical wellbeing. I think that’s something a lot of people need to recognize because society in general tends to prioritize working hard over resting, which is really dangerous since it leads to chronic sleep deprivation, and further harms people’s mental health. 

A: Yes, I am one of those people that needs to realize the importance of sleep! Heck, rest is so important that, in my faith tradition, even God took the seventh day to rest after creating the world.  

E: Exactly, I think everyone could benefit from recognizing that sleeping doesn’t make them lazy or weak. Taking a break from working is vital and it’s what we are naturally supposed to do.  

A: When you take a break or slow down is there anything you like to do that helps you recharge- meditate, pray, read…? 

E: I like to read or write my own stories. It helps me relax and it makes me happy. Do you have any other practices like that? 

A: I enjoy journaling which I usually do during my prayer time to wrap up my day. Prayer is a big part for me to be able to turn to and let all my emotions out to God. I also enjoy reading or doing crafts in the evenings to wind down from the day. 

E: I think it’s great to have hobbies or routines like those. They really go a long way to improve mental health. Especially after a particularly hard day.  

A: Overall when it comes to mental health it is important to find a good support system that is willing to listen to any emotion you may be feeling and help you face the pressures of the world. I think something I could work on is checking in with myself more often. Taking time to think about how I am doing and ask if what I am doing is helping me work towards my goal or my WHY in life. No emotion that I feel is wrong, it is just learning how to process them and to encourage others to do the same by finding ways to unwind or hobbies we enjoy so that we can all find joy in our lives. 

E: I think I need to work on identifying when I have too much going on in work and school, and when that is starting to damage my mental health. Also, I need to be able to rely on other people to talk through what I am feeling because without the support the anger or sadness is just going to build up until it gets even worse. Taking breaks is another way to make sure that doesn’t happen, and a good way to make sure my breaks are beneficial is by doing hobbies that help me feel fulfilled. 

A: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today about mental health. It really helped me to express my feelings, which in turn will help me talk to others about theirs.

Elyse is a 2021 Springtide Ambassador who loves reading, writing, and spending time with family and friends. She pays attention to her mental health by noticing her sleeping habits, how much water she’s drinking, if she’s remembering to eat—and most of all, by reminding herself she can’t do everything, all the time.  

Abby is also a 2021 Springtide Ambassador who loves being of service to others and depends on working out, spending time in community, and praying to help her feel recharged or centered when she notices that she’s starting to feel overwhelmed.  

Photo by Kevin Laminto

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