I want to start off this post by posing the question, when was the last time you checked in on yourself?

Not your mother, not your distant cousin nor your best friend from elementary school. I don’t mean like a physical checkup you get at the doctor’s office either. I’m talking about your own mental well-being.

2020 has been one rollercoaster of a year and every month a new headline takes over the national news cycle.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic, the tail end of a national quarantine, the surge of social activism, to go along with the current laughable state of government, the blatant racism still present in our society, the fear national media outlets induce on viewers, the petty arguments about returning to sports and the constant feeling we are on the verge of a race war (did I miss anything?), all that can disrupt our mental well-being.

It can be a lot to take in and process emotionally for any human. Add into the equation that many of us live very fast-paced lives and have more than a couple commitments we spend a lot of energy on, it’s easy to forget we need to spend time on ourselves too.

While I may not be a mental health expert, I do understand the importance of being able to address the issue. There’s no cookie-cutter formula on how to improve your mental health; it is different for everybody. What may work for some might harm others.

That being said, I will share with you ways that I check in with myself and practice self-care just for the purpose of getting the conversation started. These practices may not work for you, but I hope this gets the ball rolling for you to discover your own forms of self-care.

Forms of Art

I recently described art to a friend as the vehicle that adds color to our lives. Whether it’s music, painting, crocheting, film, theater, etc. these mediums of art allows us to tap into a very different state of mind. We can escape the “black and white” from our world and let our imaginations run wild.

At the beginning of quarantine, I bought myself a few blank canvases to help pass the time. I never really attempted to paint before but I had always wanted to give it a shot.

Here is one of the many paintings I was able to get done with the extra free time. I’m no Pablo Picasso, but I have learned in my brief experience it is more freeing to attack a blank canvas without a plan or idea in mind. Watch some Bob Ross videos and let your creativity do its’ thing.

I’m also big into graffing and I use to enjoy making art with sharpies as a kid. Somewhere along the way, however, I stopped. I recently decided to pick it up again and was even able to incorporate it at my work as an activity for the kids.

Less on the creative side and more on the appreciation side, I love listening to the lyrics in music. I try to listen to as many storytellers as I can and when I find an album or song that hits, I leave it on repeat.

I love my fair share of upbeat songs that I can turn up to, sure. But when I can indulge on a particular album where the artist portrays an in-depth story with his or her lyrics, that gets me going.

Here are some albums I’ve really enjoyed the past few years with some top-notch storytelling: There You Have It by Reason, Organic by Casey Veggies, Redemption by Jay Rock, The Lost Boy by YBN Cordae, Eve by Rapsody, Beyond Bulletproof by Mozzy, 4 Your Eyez Only by J Cole and All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ by Joey Bada$$ just to name a few.

I know we often prefer to listen to singles and throw the tracks we do like from an album on a playlist, but I encourage you to listen to an album in its’ entirety. Whether its an artist you already know of or someone you’ve never listened to, enjoy the ride with no skips. It may give you a greater appreciation for an artists’ music.

Of course, we can’t forget about TV shows, movies and documentaries as forms of art either. I typically don’t get to watch a whole lot of shows or movies simply because I tend to overload my schedule. During quarantine, however, I realized the importance of being able to relax and binge-watch a TV show or watch a documentary.

You may have to do some digging, but I feel like there are shows for everybody out there no matter what your interests may be. Recently, I finished watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and I am making my way through Netflix’s Hip-Hop Evolution documentary. I have also enjoyed All-American, Snowfall, Atlanta and Dave just to name a few others.

Exercise to Clear the Mind

I’ll leave this one fairly short because I feel like this is common knowledge to most, but exercise has so many benefits for the human body. Not just physically, but exercise provides mental and spiritual advantages as well.

There are countless amount of ways to exercise; everything from walks around the block, yoga, CrossFit, hiking, swimming, mountain biking, playing sports and much more. Sure, quarantine presents somewhat of a challenge for certain exercises, but there are still ways to get a workout in at home without equipment.

Yoga became a part of my daily routine during quarantine and it has helped me become more flexible and more in tune with my body’s movements. I had gone to a handful of yoga sessions sporadically the past couple years but now that I’ve developed a more stable routine, I have noticed spiritual growth as well. My favorite yoga instructor on Youtube is Yoga with Kassandra because she keeps a relatively slow pace, incorporates words of affirmation and explains her movements thoroughly, but there are plenty of others to choose from if she’s not your cup of tea.

I began riding my bike a lot too during the quarantine. Biking is a lot easier on the joints than running and is a great form of cardio. Plus, there is something super relaxing about riding through the streets on two wheels.

Expressing Your Emotions

I can speak from experience, while bottling up emotions may seem like a quick easy solution, it’s only a short-term answer. Eventually those emotions become too much to contain in that bottle and you may act out on those emotions in an unhealthy manner.

One thing I’ve done to help cope with any overwhelming waves of emotion is writing things in a journal. As a kid, I used to think it was cheesy to keep a diary but I’ve learned there is a lot of benefits to writing your thoughts onto paper. Not every entry is the same; some days I organize my thoughts into a short poem, other days I write in paragraph format.

I know writing isn’t for everybody, but there are other ways you can journal without picking up a pencil and paper. You can use the voice memos app on your phone and record audio of you expressing your emotions. If you have a comfortable amount of space on your phone, you can do the same thing but record it on video too.

Calling a close friend, family member or someone who you can relate too may do the trick as well. Sometimes we overestimate how comforting is to talk to someone who is willing to lend an ear without judgement.

Let’s say you don’t have a way with words; there are still other forms of art you can use to express your emotions. Maybe sketching out your feelings with a pencil or colored pens in a sketch book is more of your thing. Maybe using crayons and colored pencils to fill the page with the colors you are feeling that day is what works best. Experiment with these methods or variations of until you find something that works best for you.

Final Thoughts

2020 has been a wild roller coaster of events for most people and that is out of our control. But what is in our control is how we react to such events. Self-care is more than just a trendy caption to your social media post, it can change your attitude on life.

Like I mentioned earlier, the strategies I use to practice self-care may not work for you, however, I hope this inspires you to try different methods. Remember, you can’t give the best version of yourself to any political movement, protest, romantic relationship, job, side hustle, etc without taking care of your mental health first.

Final piece of advice I’ll leave you with: learning the best practices of self-care for yourself is an ongoing project. What may work for you one month, may not work the following month. It is ever-changing as you grow older.

Before quarantine, I had developed a very solid routine but I had to tweak it some when everything closed down and I had more time on my hands. Recently, I had to tweak it again when I went back to working two jobs and became more active in helping out my community.

But like the great Bruce Lee once said, “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”