Original illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
If I had to guess, the money that should go to my therapist every month is instead handed to the Manhattan Realty Group, Con Edison of New York, and Time Warner Cable, promptly and punctually on the first and 15th. If I do manage to financially budget for some much-needed therapy, it then loses to my job, my social life, and even my Netflix habit for time on my calendar.
For others, the list of reasons to brush off our mental health is longer. Whether you have to pick up the kids after soccer practice or budget for a new mortgage payment, life can get in the way of managing your own emotional well-being. Visiting a doctor can become impractical, emotionally overwhelming, financially infeasible, or all three. This is despite the fact that 30 minutes of "me" time can be the difference between an emotional overload and a consistent night's sleep. Research even shows that simply verbalizing your feelings has a measured therapeutic effect in the brain, one that has the power to alleviate stress, anger, and sadness.
But, in the event that your life does become a whirlwind of sky-high rent payments and 13-hour workdays, there are ways to keep your mental health in check without spending any time or money. I spoke with Claire Maurer-Hogan, licensed professional counselor and founder of The Wellness Collective, about simple ways to keep anxiety at bay and own the narrative surrounding your mental health and wellness—even when life gets in the way.
As with a new job, a passion project, or a fitness goal, it's important to take a step back and assess the bigger picture when it comes to your emotional health. "Women function in so many capacities and roles in their lives that it becomes very common for them to experience anxiety and depression from time to time," said Maurer-Hogan, who went on to clarify that these feelings are the most frequent ailments outside of life-long conditions.
"When women do not feel like themselves for periods of around two to four weeks, it's important to take an inventory of what could be contributing to those feelings of sadness or anxiety," she explains. "Everything in emotional health is on a spectrum; it can be very mild to moderate to severe. Employing care when things are mild can keep things from escalating."
When trying to instill an emotional management system, it's best to understand, on a scientific level, exactly what's going on with your mind and body. Simply put, anxiety is a fear that appears as reality.
"Our brains have these wonderful systems to help keep us safe, one of which is our 'fight or flight' trigger. When something causes stress or fear, your brain tries to help by signaling a release of stress hormones [cortisol], which can result in a feeling of anxiety," said Maurer-Hogan.
This can happen when confronting new experiences, opportunities, or stressors—which your 20s and 30s are chock-full of. "Adulthood is challenging and thrilling, and while some mild anxiety keeps us moving forward, we don't want to let it get to a point where it feels paralyzing. When this happens, it's important that we help our brain understand that everything is okay."
Convincing your brain—and consequently yourself—to feel okay begins with practicing self-care, which includes "surrounding yourself with people who build you up, knowing who you are and treasuring it, and not being afraid to say no," explains Maurer-Hogan. "Taking care of your physical and emotional health, as well as knowing how and when to let yourself rest, is extremely important." These little things can help offset the stressors of everyday life that can eventually wear you down.
To repeat, practicing self-care requires regular maintenance of your brain and your body; doing so successfully can help keep anxiety at bay. For your brain, Maurer-Hogan suggests managing thought patterns that would lend themselves to anxious feelings. "Ask yourself, 'What evidence do I have to support that thought that brings me anxiety? Is it a rational thought, or an irrational thought?'" She also recommends supporting brain and neurotransmitter health through doctor-recommended supplements, like omega 3s, gamma-amino butyric acids, and magnesium.
As for the body, Maurer-Hogan emphasizes the importance of mindfulness, deep-breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation, a technique for monitoring muscle tension. "These baseline efforts can help keep anxiety in check, and also give you a beginner's toolbox if it starts to flare."
If you do end up in a negative headspace, try reclaiming ground from your fearful thoughts by mentally challenging them. "If you have difficulty in social situations, for example, your fear may tell you that you have nothing to contribute to a conversation," explains Maurer-Hogan. "In response, challenge that thought: 'I have plenty of things to talk about; I am smart and passionate about things that I care about. These truth- and logic-based thoughts will start to quiet the fear, and eventually your feelings will catch up.”
Want to take further ownership of your emotional well-being? Shop the books below, and tell us what helps you with self-therapy.