Understanding how to care for and manage my mental health has been a decade long journey that is still ongoing. Throughout this journey, so many of the things I’ve learned have come out of conversations with other people who are learning how to manage their mental health. So, in the spirit of sharing is caring, I thought I would share the number one way I manage my mental health: I have a whole (metaphorical) toolbox full of tools that I can pull out when I need them.

That’s right, the one way I manage my mental health is by having a lot of tools on standby.

Before I continue, I want to caveat that I am not a mental health professional. I am a content writer who loves a metaphor and who navigates managing ADHD and anxiety on top of caring for my general mental health and wellbeing.

Imagine a toolbox. It is large, purple and has definitely seen better days. There is a sticker on the side of the toolbox that says, “Just Breathe”, because I always need to remember to breathe... and because my favorite movie is the 1998 classic Ever After. This toolbox is custom, personal, and stuffed to the brim with tools and techniques that I’ve collected over the past decade.

I like to think of my mental health as something that needs regular maintenance, hence the toolbox. However, that maintenance does not always look the same. Sometimes I’m needing to face some anxiety head on. Sometimes, I’m having to figure out why I’m having a particularly hard time focusing on a task. Sometimes, there is nothing that needs attention, but I know that even when I’m feeling great my mental health still needs to be cared for.

Let me give you a more specific example. A few weeks ago, I woke up feeling anxious. This happens on occasion, it’s just part of being me. Usually when this happens, I pull the “Let’s Nancy Drew this Anxiety” questionnaire out of my toolbox. This questionnaire contains questions like:

  • Did something happen recently that could have sparked anxiety?
  • Do you have something coming up that is making you anxious?

On that morning, I couldn’t think of anything that was causing me to feel anxious other than the fact that I’d listened to an audiobook the night before that featured a haunted motel and a murder mystery. That probably wasn’t the best idea and may have caused the anxiety. That morning, I couldn’t exactly forget the book, and since there wasn’t anything I could address to alleviate the anxious feeling, I had to pull out some other tools. Let’s imagine that these tools were in the toolbox, grouped in a bag labeled “Self-Soothing is Cool”. Inside this bag is a collection of things I enjoy doing that also help reduce anxiety. Since it was early in the morning and I needed to get to work, I pulled out the only tool I could really use in that moment: the song “We Built this City” by Starship. No, I don’t know why that song helps with my anxiety. It just does.

So, I put on “We Built this City” and started getting ready for the day. Did my anxiety magically disappear? No. However, I was able to soothe it enough to go about my day. Granted, I had to pull a few more tools out of the box throughout the day to help, but that’s okay. That’s why the toolbox exists.

The reason I love the idea of a mental health toolbox is that it can be different for everyone. Some of the tools I have in my toolbox might work for someone else or they might not. I could look in someone else’s toolbox and be utterly confused, because what works for that person would not work for me. There are a lot of techniques and tools that can help someone manage their mental health: breathing techniques, therapy, self-soothing, sensory tools, medication, etc. No one person needs the same tools. I love my chaotic purple mental health toolbox. It has been with me through a lot, and it magically never runs out of room, even though I’m always stuffing more tools inside. There are things I cannot change about my mental health. I cannot change the fact that I have ADHD or anxiety, and I can’t change the fact that those things dictate how I must approach managing my mental health. However, I can make sure that I have the tools that I know work for me ready when I need them.

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