1. Seek out and learn about your mental health
First things first - get a baseline. My advice here is, to be honest with yourself.
Take the time to understand yourself. Feel free to tune out the world while you go through this process.
Some people are naturally introspective and have identified unhealthy patterns in their lives. The key is not to ignore these patterns. Don’t beat yourself up as you come to understand yourself. After all, even your challenges have helped you to become who you are today.
It is important to remember, however, that our mental health is ultimately our responsibility. Therefore, we should all take the necessary steps, be honest with ourselves, and look deeper into potential mental health challenges to show up as our best selves every day.
There may be something clinically wrong with you. This is nothing to be ashamed of. If diseases like depression, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and/or bipolar run in your family, educate yourself on the symptoms and get the help you need.
2. Find a great support system.
While your mental health is ultimately your responsibility, getting to a better state is not something you must do or should do on your own.
Identify the people you can most confide in and tell them about what you are going through. I cannot stress enough that these people should be rooting for you. The last thing you need is someone gossiping behind your back or shaming you for how you actually feel.
A good way to identify these types is the way they have responded to you in similar situations. For example, do they just want to provide a quick fix to your issue or do they make your concerns feel unvalidated or diminished? This kind of person will undoubtedly fail as a support system because they want to use your pain as an opportunity to show how much wisdom they have rather than simply hearing and uplifting you the way you require at that moment.
3. Start a gratitude journal.
This is probably one of the most overlooked techniques for improving your mental health. The truth is, we are all lacking something in our lives. When we focus on what we are lacking, it makes it nearly impossible to appreciate our blessings.
Being for West Africa, my parents always reminded me of people back home who were so much less fortunate than I was. I have carried this mentality with me to remind myself of all of the lotteries that I have won in life - my health, my beautiful wife, healthy boys, a job that provides, and people that love me.
The fact you woke up today and can read this blog in and of itself is a blessing. To be afforded the ability to apply any of these suggestions tells me that you have so much to be grateful for.
4. Create a fitness goal
The key is not to boil the ocean. Try not to bite off more than you can chew to only be disappointed if you cannot keep up with a routine. Think of a couple of simple exercises that you can start with, like walking or a few push-ups a day. Even with those, start small and allow yourself to build strength incrementally.
Trust me. I have learned this the hard way.
Last year I did some weight training with a friend who had been in the Marines after not having been in the gym for some time. Long story short, I suffered a muscle injury and my kidneys almost shut down because I tried going too hard.
Now, I am exercising at my own pace with something that I enjoy. While it may not sound like a downgrade, Brazilian Jui Jitsu is now my main squeeze. I've committed to attending twice a week and I've been feeling great as a result.
Know your body and start small but do something.
5. Practice forgiveness.
Start with yourself.
Forgive yourself for the ways you let yourself down and even for the ways you are going to let yourself down. Forgive yourself for the people in your life that you have hurt or taken for granted.
We all know how harshly we can judge ourselves. Do not allow unforgiveness of self to cripple you from embracing each new day with new mercy and grace.
As you forgive yourself, you will grow in your capacity to forgive others. We are all human and we will all fail in some way at some time. Give yourself and others the space to evolve beyond the hurt you/they may have caused.
6. Drop the word “should.”
There's always someone who thinks they know what you should be doing. The average man wears a lot of hats - father, boo, coach, doctor, etc. You know what your responsibilities are, but are you showing up as your best self for the various spheres of your life.
This may sound like some Star Wars bull, but “let go.” Let go and just be. Fill your cup before you fill anyone else’s (yes, even employer’s). You’ve got one life to live with a limited time on this Earth.
At any given moment, many of us can pinpoint something that we “should” be doing which makes us feel guilty when we want to take time for ourselves. They can keep that shame, bruh.
7. Schedule a therapy session with a culturally competent therapist
Unshackle yourself from the bonds of cultural taboo and get some help if you need it.
Growing up in a West African home, therapy was often viewed as a “white person remedy”. Within the black community, we often try to diminish the trauma we’ve faced in our lives. We downplay our experiences even though they inform our interpersonal relationships and our relationships with ourselves.
There is an abundance of resources available. Check out a few of our favorites below: