The other day I was reading my digital file on my doctor’s website with all the copies of the patient discharge instructions. You know, those papers that say stuff like the definition of what you have, how to take care of it at home, and when to follow up with your doctor. Well, it is actually in my official medical record that I have been diagnosed with stress. It is even in my husband’s medical record that his physicians have been concerned about me experiencing caregiver burnout.
So it is perfect timing that I recently attended a librarian conference that was talking about mental health. The Blossom Conference was a free 3-day virtual symposium sponsored by the National Library of Medicine. It was fascinating and so powerful. If you are wondering why librarians would need to talk about mental health, then you need to check out Fobazi Ettarh’s post on Vocational Awe and Librarianship. We do not spend our days reading books. While I no longer work with the public, in the past I have had to deal with vehicles crashing into the building, lightning knocking out the power, kids setting the trash cans on fire, weapons in the building, stalkers, and many many difficult conversations with patrons that would make you blush. Now librarians have to deal with the plumbing backing up due to syringes being flushed in the public restrooms, needing Narcan training, homeless or food poor patrons, and the list goes on. Librarianship is a social science, but we are not social workers. So be nice to your librarian, you really don’t know how many literal fires they have put out.
But that is not what I want to talk about in this post. While the conference may have been targeted at library staff, the ideas are universal. In fact, I have heard some of them from my therapist recently too…
Arianna Huffington talks a lot about the first one…Sleep! When we are sleep deprived, our stress levels increase. Not only that, but when we don’t get enough sleep it can inebriate us similar to being drunk. I have found my anxiety levels increase when I do not have a good night’s sleep.
Next up is Nutrition. I remember in elementary school, we had a saying on our bulletin board in the gym that “your body is your temple, treat it that way” (hey, it was the 80s). That really is true. If we are constantly fueling our bodies with junk, it is just like pouring sugar in the gas tank of a car. Eventually, we will break down. It is important to fuel our bodies with good healthy foods and everything in moderation. Skipping meals can also lead to increased stress.
Just as Elle Woods said, exercise gives you endorphins. Activity is just as important to our mental health as it is to our physical health. If exercise is not your thing, then start small and gradually work your way up. My husband’s doctor told him walking to the mailbox was a great way to start as long as each day he did a little more.
The next one has been really hard in the past year of social distancing…Personal Relationships. Connection is very important to your mental health and the people who make up your social circle can have both positive and negative effects. When things are stressful, it is important to have someone supporting you. Technology gets a bad rap sometimes when it comes to connecting to people, but it is all in how you use it. My circle is made up of a lot of family and friends who don’t live close to me. We talk more now than we did before and it is happening through our devices. Though we are all waiting for those days when we can freely see each other without a need for masks and six feet of distance.
During the pandemic, many people became bread bakers. I think I have at least three friends who have sourdough starters bubbling in their kitchens (some of them even have pet names!). This is actually a great way to combat stress. It is a form of little c creativity. Those are the everyday types of creativity that we do. Baking is the best known form of little c and you may have noticed that it became hard to find yeast during the height of the state lockdowns. People were stress baking!
I recently attended another library professional development session on creativity in libraries and the presenter talked about the idea of Urban Sketching. With Urban Sketching, you are creating a rough drawing of an everyday scene. It has a mindfulness quality to it as your brain relaxes as your hands do all the work. There are lots of books on the topic. Sketching does not have to be perfect so there is no pressure. It also helps to sharpen our skills of observation and problem solving. —I would also like to take this opportunity to recommend the web comic Spirit Fingers. The comic is about the connection formed between members who practice an art form known as croquis which are quick sketches of people with changing poses. So there is some overlap with the Urban Sketching concept. I find both concepts to be intriguing. The idea here is to share your work! I am thinking I might just share some of my art here to share that I practice the things I talk about. That demonic looking bunny posted above is one of my quick sketches. I have never been good at eyes…
Knitting and crochet are another great way to fight stress with creativity. I have always had a problem with meditation because of my anxiety. When I try to relax and focus on my breathing, I become bombarded with those runaway thoughts my brain makes up to fill the gaps. Our brains like to lie to us because the brain likes stories. So when it doesn’t have enough information, it will piece together what is know with what could be, even if it is not true…that is our picturing all those horrible scenarios that might never happen. I have found that my brain likes patterns. So instead of closing my eyes, I will count the tile pattern on the carpet or repeat patterns with my hands in the form of “purl one knit two”. I am not a big crocheter, but my dad taught me how to crochet a chain of yarn and it is something I used to do as a kid with my shoelaces or drawstrings of my hoodies as a way to relax. The repetition is very soothing.
Not that kind of doctor!
Remember that I am not a professional when it comes to mental health. This information is shared because it might help someone as it has helped me. If you feel like you or someone close to you is struggling with their mental health, please contact someone. Here are some resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
Crisis Text Line: Text 741-741
National Eating Disorder Association: 1-800-931-2237
National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-6264
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: 1-800-656- 4673