• Olivia Graham

Put on a Fresh Shirt

Mental health means something and looks different for every person. My relationship with mental health has changed both personally and professionally over the past few years. Environments, relationships, financial security, physical health and a number of other things factor into the mindset through which we approach each day. Speaking for myself, finding routines and getting into good patterns and habits is really helpful. This was my norm until we experienced an unprecedented global pandemic that shifted the way we all look at “normal” life and what that means. Even some of the healthiest, strongest and most agile professionals and organizations have struggled with adjusting in this period of uncertainty. For anyone who has struggled with mental health before, these adjustments might have seemed nearly impossible.

The agency I work for has always been a fully remote organization, so thankfully I was used to the fine line of work/life balance that comes with working from home. Not having to pivot in that way likely put me ahead of my contemporaries when finding my new professional normal. However, I still found myself affected by the changes occurring around me. Now that all of my friends were working from home in sweatsuits with less work than usual to do, because their employers were not equipped to make a perfectly seamless transition, I found my regular good habits slipping through the cracks. I was staying in my pajamas long into the morning, texting more during the day, I even had trouble paying attention in meetings.

Things came to a head when I noticed that I hadn’t changed my shirt in a full 24 hours. A deterioration of mental health can kind of creep up on you that way. You can feel fine for the most part – not noticing anything is wrong or out of whack. Then suddenly maybe a colleague mentions you seem tired or you catch yourself in the mirror and notice you don’t look as good as you thought you were feeling. What happens next is often the most overwhelming part, asking yourself “What do you need?” You may not have an answer, but asking is a step in the right direction.

What I needed to do for myself, was to put on a fresh shirt, so I did just that. This may seem trivial but when you are in a low spot and don’t know how to get yourself out, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Just do one good thing for yourself, and it will lead to more opportunities to lift yourself up. In an ideal or even ‘regularly functioning’ world, we have resources to reach out to such as friends, family, colleagues and mental health professionals. However, in this period of isolation, it is important to remember that you can be a resource for yourself as well.

When I put on a fresh shirt, it made sense to get out of my sweatpants too. I brushed my hair, put on a little makeup, even added earrings. I sat up a little straighter at my desk, and then closed the miscellaneous open tabs on my laptop. Things felt clean, and I had more motivation to continue “cleaning up” where I could than I had in weeks. Since then I have gotten dressed up for work every day and the difference in my work experience is night and day. Additionally, when my workday is over and I get to change into comfy clothes, my mind notices the shift. The act of changing out of my ‘work clothes’ triggers to my brain that it is time to unwind. Asking myself what I needed was the small act of self-care that led to lifting myself back up out of the quarantine rut I had fallen into.

Mental Health Awareness spans so much more than a month. Healthy habits are what we are relying on to get through this period of uncertainty. When the routines of daily life return to what we knew, give yourself the same care that you did these last few weeks. Be kind to yourself, and patient as well because your bad day might look very different from the next person’s. If you’re stuck and you don’t know where to start, go put on a fresh shirt.