AMK Counseling

Why is it so hard to take care of our mental health? 

by: Abbie Kelley

This is a difficult question to tackle.  In the 15+ years I have been working in mental health this has proven to be a complicated topic.  In my experience there seem to be many compounding factors:

  1. We live in a hyper paced world where we have immediacy and convenience at our fingertips.  This is helpful when we are trying to juggle the 100+ things we need to do, but it has conditioned us to want immediate results in most, if not all, areas of our life. Taking care of your mental health takes time and commitment.  Immediate results are unlikely. This can feel very discouraging.
  2. Which leads to the fact that our mental health is difficult to measure, it cannot be tracked so easily.  So if we are not seeing instant, consistent results we lose interest.  And often, we turn to something else that provides instant relief even if it is not good for us in the long-term i.e. food, alcohol, overworking, escaping behaviors, distractions… the list goes on and on.
  3. We’re busy! We have a lot of other things going on and a lot of other people to take care of. The reality is that other things demand our time and attention, so our own self-care is one of the first things to go to the wayside. It’s easy to put on the back burner and we are happy to do it because self-care isn’t necessarily “fun” work.
  4. We choose “familiar” and confuse it with “comfortable.”  The reality is, our mental health typically degrades at a slow pace so we start to confuse familiarity with comfort. Once we have been in a slow decline we forget what it feels like to feel “better” and forget the benefits of taking care of ourselves since they become distant memories. We think we are comfortable, when in reality we are anything but comfortable; we have just learned to tolerate that discomfort and accept it as our baseline.
  5. There is no clear, prescribed route to take.  “Wellness” particularly when it comes to mental health, is so different for each person.  This means that there is no “right” answer or straight path to take to achieve wellness.  This can be discouraging.  We want to be told what to do, but no one can tell us how to achieve mental wellness, we need to work to find that on our own. This can make it difficult to know where to start.  


I point all these out not to discourage you from trying! Instead I want to help normalize that this isn’t a “you” problem, rather we see these patterns over and over again.  When you know what you are up against, it makes it easier to understand where to go.  


I firmly believe that we are all doing the best we can and that continues to be my mantra. Please be gentle on yourself and curious as you continue to expand on your own mental health.


Starting to take care of your mental health is important.  We can’t just do it when we “need” to or when crisis hits.  Think about it, we go to wellness visits with our doctors to make sure our health is staying on track. How about you apply that same mindset to your mental health? In what ways are you regularly checking in to make sure you are doing well? I challenge you to do something everyday for your mental health.  Whether that is going on a walk, eating lunch without working, talking to a friend, praying, meditating, journaling… it can take 5 min as long as it recharges you.  My next challenge is to check in monthly with yourself more formally.  Spend 15-20 minutes to really evaluate how you are doing.  That means STOP everything else and schedule 15-20 intentional minutes to slow your brain and check in.  If you are brave, you can also recruit people who know you well to help give feedback 


If it turns out that you’re not quite where you want to be with your mental health, identify some changes.  This doesn’t always mean you need to find a therapist (although a good therapist in your back pocket can be life changing!).  Maybe you need a different sleep routine, maybe you need to explore your dietary choices, connect with your spirituality, make time for meaningful connections, insert more physical activity in your life etc.  The bottom line is that you need to actually check-in and listen to yourself in order to know what to do next.  


All too often we ignore the cues our emotions or body gives us. STOP THAT! We are the best tool we have in keeping ourselves healthy.  Make daily and monthly check-ins.  It’s the best thing you can do for yourself.  And then actually listen to what you are telling yourself. Make a small, meaningful lifestyle change and then add from there. Making small sustainable changes towards wellness can make a big difference.


Last thing stopping us from taking care of our mental health:

  1. It can be difficult to find the right therapist.  If this is the route you decide to take (I’m biased but TOTALLY believe in therapy) an initial connection does not always happen on the first try.  That’s ok.  If it doesn’t work with the first therapist, try again.  This is a personal decision; find someone you connect with. Start looking for a therapist before you “need” one, because this will allow you to find the right one and prevent crisis. 


*Insider tip: mental health professionals struggle with taking care of our mental health too. In fact, this topic is part of an ongoing conversation we all have with each other.  We are constantly exploring how to take care of ourselves and practice what we preach. Just because you “know” something doesn’t mean you can always put it into action. It is an ongoing lifestyle and mindset that needs to be maintained. Cut yourself some slack.


Journal Prompts:

-How has my body been feeling lately? What have my emotions been telling me?

-What gets in the way of taking care of my mental health?

-How can I regularly “check-in” with myself?

-What is one small thing that I could do everyday for my mental health?


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