3 Ways To Create Emotional Safe Spaces For Your Self-Care Journey
Words: Alex Elle
Visual: Erika Layne
Our wellness columnist Alex Elle explains how you can be proactive in your self-care practice through mental hygiene.
Mental hygiene is defined as the practice of maintaining and restoring mental health. Feeling safe while curating rituals of self-care that cater to being cognitively sound and stable has played a huge part in my adult life. As a teenager who struggled heavily with depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies, it wasn't until I had my daughter at 18 that I started to realize how sacred my mind and thoughts were.
While I was in and out of therapy for years prior, I couldn't manage to maintain my mental health. Healing always seemed temporary, and no one around me knew how to help. There always seemed to be a "this too shall pass" attitude from those around me. But my sadness wasn't passing: Even though so many people seem to believe it to be true, depression and mental instability doesn't just float away.
In the Black community, there is a trend of overlooking, minimizing, and ignoring mental health and the importance of addressing it. A lot of the perceptions about mental health in my life appeared to be generational and rooted in mistaken resilience and not wanting to look crazy or unfit. Fear and uncertainty from both internal and external influences have prevented a lot of healing from happening. However, there are so many of us ready and willing to heal despite the discomfort we will face along the way. I am no therapist, but I am a huge advocate for self-care starting from the inside out. Below are the top three things that helped me nurture my mind, address my depression and anxiety, and show up for myself and those around me.
We all deserve happiness and mental clarity, but we have to be proactive...
1. Find a licensed therapist that you trust and commit to the process.
Therapy for me was a way to show up for myself like no one else could. Even though they love me dearly, family members and friends could not give me what my therapist could. Having a neutral party in my life that wouldn't judge, question, or misunderstand how I was feeling was what I needed. Therapy gave me tools on addressing my pain, joys, failures, and successes. It also helped me learn how to unfold my trauma—some of which came from my upbringing and childhood—and address it head on.
2. Be present and love yourself through whatever resurfaces.
Addressing mental health—in my case, severe depression and social anxiety—was hard. I felt broken and unworthy of being fixed. Therapy helped with that, but so did a ritual of using self-affirming words and wholeheartedly diving into loving myself through the healing process. Which, to this day, isn't always an easy task. But when we can show up for ourselves even through dark moments with words that breathe life and encouragement over our feelings, we are then able to do the same for those around us. The journey of self-care can affect everyone in a beautiful way. One way I showed myself daily love was by writing self-affirming notes and keeping close them to me. Re-reading them when I needed a pick me up or a push—and genuinely embracing the fact that I was worthy of the love I so freely gave to others—really helped.
3. Create safe spaces in and out of therapy.
My biggest struggle was taking what my therapist gave me and using it outside of her office. The practice of creating safe spaces for my own well-being was a task. I had to learn to be mentally prepared to take on all the triggers I would face in the real world; safe spaces had to be built, honored, and enjoyed often. Personally, I started practicing yoga, both vinyasa and bikram. I also indulged in reflective journaling, meditative breathing, and using gemstones to help balance my mood.
When not in therapy, praying out loud to God and yogic chanting helped release a lot of tension. I surrounded myself with people who were like-minded and also on a journey of healing and self-care. When attempting to repair ourselves, mentally and physically, the company kept on and through the process is essential, and can ultimately dictate whether we fly or fail. I stayed away from things and people that I knew were triggering. Sometimes, now I’ll take walks or sit still in my peace corner at home when I start feeling overwhelmed and unsure. What I have learned on this journey is this: We can create our own versions of emotional safety wherever we choose. It’s all about finding what works for you and your mood.
I did not apologize for being unapologetically hands-on with my mental hygiene.
Although it took years of learning and unlearning what emotionally safety looked like to me, once I built spaces that I could run away to and heal in, life became easier. I took my therapist's advice, invested in journals to pour my heart into, accepted my truth instead of hiding from it, and I did not apologize for being unapologetically hands-on with my mental hygiene.
Mental health requires us to show up, be uncomfortable, and break down generational barriers that prevent the proper alleviation of repressed pain. No one can start our healing process for us, we have to trust in the fact we are fully capable of having full and fantastic lives. Depression and mental illness does not have to win, nor does it have to be hidden due to shame or negative societal labels. I couldn’t truly enjoy my life until I stopped being fearful of taking steps forward to mend my mind, body and spirit. The choice to put my healing first, despite any stigma or adversity that came from it, was the best decision I made for myself, daughter, and my future.
I’m currently on the hunt for a new therapist to assist me through a new stage of life: becoming a wife, blending families, and staying sane and in tune with myself (and husband) while doing so. We all deserve happiness and mental clarity, but we have to be proactive in taking the steps to arrive at our desired destination.
This post is a part of our Mental Health Awareness week. Read on for more stories that address mental health in the Black community.