Nostalgia, Hope, and Mindfulness for Mental Health Balance
Welcome to my first blog post!
This is an introduction to a three-part series on mental health balance with a focus on nostalgia, mindfulness, and hope. While powerful on their own, they can work wonders for mental health when implemented together. I’ll go into more detail with each, but this article will provide a solid foundation for how to integrate them all on limited time.
While working my sexual assault advocacy job, I reached a point of exhaustion in every sense of the word. You can see my about me for the circumstances that led me to starting this blog here.
Being on call for 24 hours straight, ten days out of the month can do that to you. Employment was scarce where I lived, and even that job was coveted despite its unreasonable conditions.
I lived in a mental fog, in survival mode with no sense of past, present, or future. Making time for self-care seemed out of reach, but I needed to make some profound life changes for my mental and physical health.
Fast forward to my current status as a Master’s of Social Work student, there are specific mindset techniques that I’ve implemented for myself to help reduce stress and keep things in perspective. This is where the mental health balance of nostalgia, mindfulness, and hope has helped me immensely.
Nostalgia is not just the overly large Furbie collection sitting in your parents’ attic. It can be that NSYNC song you’d only know if you bought the album and let it repeatedly play (yes, it’s Space Cowboy, and I will sing it loudly alone in my car whenever I hear it — thank you). Or it could be the smell of pine needles from the Christmas tree your family cut down and decorated each year. Whatever your slice of nostalgia is, it is a powerful tool for improving mental health (departing from when it was considered a mental health disorder). At its core, nostalgia is time travel, sans machine, that can take you to joyous, light, or comforting moments from your past.
Hope is critical to mental health balance and a potent force in facilitating resilience. It is the belief that life will improve despite significant or minor setbacks. Hope is seeing the hiking trail’s end after being caught in a torrential downpour or returning to the calming space of your home after a day at work when you couldn’t do anything right.
Mindfulness has been having its moment in recent years and is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit. Another way I see it is “being present.” Whatever the phrasing, it’s a state natural to us in our youth. Popping bubbles and gleefully giggling, standing in the sunlight with eyes closed, or seeing the ocean for the first time. It’s also not just mumbo jumbo; it’s evidence-based! (making my MSW student heart sing). This article is an excellent introduction to mindfulness.
While it can benefit those who tend to live in their head, it’s only a piece of the puzzle. Don’t get me wrong, I like mindfulness. True story, I took a meditation course where I essentially watched a woman close her eyes for six hours, but I digress.
Being present in the form of meditation can have various benefits, from reducing stress and rumination and decreasing emotional reactivity. In addition, it can increase empathy and compassion and generally lead to a better quality of life for mental health professionals.
But, sometimes, I need to really get into my feelings.
And other times, I need to know my feelings will get better.
A Quick Disclaimer
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that many people do not have the luxury of achieving mental health balance or living a balanced life because they are trying to survive. I would also like to recognize that sometimes investments don’t pay off, whether that’s finances, relationships, or education. There is a degree of randomness to life where one person may hit the lottery while another gets struck by lightning. Although you’re more likely to get struck by lightning statistically.
A Reminder About Others’ Mental Health Balance…
So when looking at others’ experiences, remember that sometimes it’s not about how hard you work but sheer dumb luck. And while this can be troublesome, unfair, or even flat-out terrible at times, I hope you can revel in the fortune you have and appreciate all that you possess while also aiming at greater goals. Take comfort in knowing the hard times are temporary, and there are steps you can take to achieve balance in your life–even for working moms.
Achieving balance will look different for everyone, and things can get better no matter where you are in your journey. This is for myself included since I am consistently aiming to balance the scales of my life.
So, where to start for mental health balance?
- Make a self-care calendar. These can be things that are literally seconds long. I try and do something self-care related every day.
- Pick quality of activity over quantity of time doing it. (Trust me, I’m a working mom in school and a realist. I know finding the time can be tricky).
- Pick activities that incorporate a combination of nostalgia, mindfulness, and hope. For example, when I’ve recently felt like absolute garbage after a long work day, I plan a Halloween movie night at home surrounded by my spooky yet fashionable decor, and I’m transported to the Halloween seasons of yore. I can smell the crisp air I felt while trick-or-treating, feel my heart race briefly at a good scare from the comfort of my home, where I thankfully feel safe, and even smell the delicious yet oft-heckled pumpkin spice from the coffee in my kitchen.
- Give yourself grace. Throughout my professional years, I’ve learned that we can be our harshest critics, especially more empathetic, sensitive individuals drawn to helping professions.
- Sometimes all you need is to reframe your perspective. I had the opportunity to write about how I implemented this practice in my social work field placement, which is my first published work, with hopefully more pieces to come.
If you’ve found this space on the internet, I invite you to come back to check-in, learn new things, laugh, and hopefully see that you can build a more balanced life that you enjoy.
What are some self-care practices you’ve done that help you achieve mental health balance in your life? Leave a comment below to connect with me and fellow Sand Boxers!