On March 20, a week after the world shut down, I turned 20 years old.
Twenty is a loaded age. You feel simultaneously pressured to go a little crazy and to make sure you have a good credit score - two completely opposing ideas. Naturally, as I entered my 20s I had some semblance of a plan for my life. No exact career or anything, but I was supposed to be leaving for Chile in July to complete my Spanish major, and the rest kind of filled in from there.
Needless to say, I am not writing this from Chile. The small bit of security I had as I entered some of my most formative years - gone. Panic was a natural first response, and for someone who is genetically predisposed to overthink everything, anxiety followed closely. I didn’t want to think that there was anything wrong, and that is the root of the problem.
Recently I’ve noticed a natural, almost comedic objection to self-reflection. During quarantine it was pointed out many times on social media that most of us would rather make banana bread than think too hard about what’s going on in our lives.
Then with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement along with several other issues of social justice, came a new kind of distraction. This isn’t to say that any of those movements are distractions by any means, quite the opposite, they need to be addressed.
However, when large social media movements arise, so do things like “cancel culture,” and suddenly we aren’t even sure what exactly we are defending anymore, just that we’re doing it to be on the “right side of history.”
We are coming of age in an incredibly difficult time, a time in which growing up too quickly is relatively normal. I absolutely encourage everyone to speak up and act on issues that they are passionate about as early as possible, but when sustainable mental health practices aren’t taught or learned at an equally early age, we are left with a fear of self-reflection.
Even in an age where activism is seemingly the way of the world, we don’t always like to think that sometimes the lens needs to be turned on ourselves. All those times we tell share that it’s OK to not be OK, we don’t always realize that same advice applies to ourselves.
To avoid this and keep your mental health in check, it needs to be known that it’s OK to give yourself some time to breathe and to take some time off of social media, to check in with yourself.
Most importantly, if during that check-in you realize you’re feeling worse than you realized or even just a little off, you also acknowledge that feeling for what it is. Whether that’s anxiety or depression or some feeling that you don’t even have a name for, validate it.
When your Apple watch tells you to breathe for a minute, do it. If you don’t have an Apple watch, set a couple of your own reminders throughout the day.
Honestly, the power of a deep breath has been mind-blowing for me lately. Not only does it physically calm you down, but for those couple of seconds you can’t really think of anything else.
Taking a few deep breaths doesn’t require more than a minute of commitment and it’ll take your racing thoughts and slow them down just enough for you to sort through them, and to validate the ones that need attention.
The last thing that requires validation right now, is the world as a whole. It’s hard right now, and it probably won’t be easy again for a long time. Whether you’ve just turned 20 and you feel you’ve had the rockiest start to adulthood ever, or you’re 13 years old and this has made you grow up a bit too fast, remember that and give yourself grace.