Before you start reading, I want you to take a moment. Check in on yourself. See how you are feeling right now. In an ideal world, you’re feeling nothing short of amazing. However, the more likely scenario is that you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, tired, and unmotivated. I want you to know that you are not alone; 91% of Gen Z reported often feeling signs of stress, which is a number we can certainly work on minimizing.
What issues are Gen Z dealing with?
A common feeling among Gen Z may be that of powerlessness. It’s difficult to be happy each time you turn on the news and witness a political scandal, the perilous future that climate change will cause, or a mass shooting. I always thought that the only way your mental health mattered was if you had an official label given to you by a psychiatrist, but I realize now that it is significantly more layered. Constant feelings of exhaustion, a lack of motivation, enormous amounts of stress, binge eating or an inability to sleep are all factors that indicate mental health issues. A lot of teens mistakenly attribute all of these issues as a part of normal life, but these can be manifestations of mental health illnesses such as anxiety or depression.
Why does mental health matter?
The essay due tomorrow and the math assignment you dread are an ever-present factor in the back of your mind. Nonetheless, your mental health matters. For all of my life, I thought I was just being “extra.” I believed that since I looked fine on the surface, I was. Upon reflection, it was difficult for me to fall asleep. I was constantly napping. I did all of my work in the period right before it was due. I was angry, all the time. I could begin to lay out statistics for you now on how all these factors were negatively impacting me, but instead I’ll say this simple thing: you don’t have to force yourself to deal with the feelings that I was experiencing.
How can you improve your mental health?
Before I give these tips, I want you all to know that mental health is not something that you can magically fix. This is a journey and a fight. I have been on this journey for a few months now, and some days I just can’t handle it, and that is ok. My hope is that after reading this, you realize that you are also worth the fight. You are worth the fight every day because the feelings of happiness and of loving your life cannot be underestimated or under appreciated. As corny as this sounds, those hard days are what allow you to appreciate the amazing moments. I now feel excited to live and excited to wake up, which is something I had never really felt before. I hope one day you get to the point where it is just a little bit easier than the day before, and one day you will be practicing the following advice without giving it a second thought.
- If you take even one piece of this advice, I hope it is this one. SLEEP. I can wholeheartedly say that this is one of the most important things you can do to work on your mental health. Think about it: how can you actively work on changing your mindset if your entire mind and body aren’t properly fueled by rest? Personally, sleep is the biggest reason that pushed me to begin this journey of working on my mental health. I used to get around 5 hours of sleep a day (a number I imagine isn’t unique to me) and everything just seemed so dark in a way; it was like I was doing the motions but not actually living my life. I know now that getting 9+ hrs of sleep now is the only way I have the energy to be productive, meditate, and just do what I need to for myself. Sleep is a priority and, though this may be difficult to accept, more important than any school assignment. If you are well-rested, you are less likely to procrastinate, so you won’t need to make a choice between work or sleep.
- Setting a schedule for yourself is an amazing way to make sure that you don’t procrastinate. Procrastination is caused by you avoiding those negative feelings of doing an assignment, which is why you put it off. By breaking down the work you need to do, you realize that it’s not as bad or scary as you imagine,
- Mindfulness and Meditation are two effective ways of learning how to manage your thoughts. A lot of us go through the day being controlled by our thoughts, while these techniques teach you how to simply observe them. This is also one of the most notable changes that helped to transform my mental health because it helped me realize that thoughts were just thoughts, and I am the one that used to give them so much power. I cannot overemphasize how much I recommend adopting this practice, if only for ten minutes, every day.
- This is one that I am still working on, but the food you eat has a MAJOR impact on how you feel. Eating excessive sugars and junk food can make you feel drained and tired while eating fruits and veggies make you feel good. I’m not going to preach eating veggies (that would be extremely hypocritical of me), but just eating a few fruits or veggies every day can really transform how you feel.
- Be kind to yourself. Something that has really helped me is connecting to the pure little girl inside of me who was so fascinated by life. I would never call her ugly or tell her she is annoying, so why am I doing that to myself. Shifting my thinking to treating myself like this little girl has really helped me to get in touch with who I am at my core, and it’s helped me be kind to myself. I won’t lie, this mental health journey is hard. But knowing that you are doing it for someone else (just yourself but younger) is a great way to realize that this is 100% worth it.
- The last thing I want to mention is therapy. I know there is a lot of stigma surrounding therapy, but it is probably one of the best things you can do. Having that professional helping you and just having that person to talk to can really make a difference in your life. Please never feel ashamed of taking your mental health into your own hands and actually doing something to get better.
The last thing I want to tell you is that it is worth it. I wish that I could go back and tell my younger self that it gets better; because it does. I don’t want you to think that being happy depends on outside forces because it doesn’t. I am happier than I have ever been, while living through a global pandemic and entire country that is divided. It is worth starting this fight because you will be able to see how genuinely beautiful both the world and you are. So please, dream big, take that first step and fight.
Kayla Bello is a rising sophomore at Fort Lauderdale High School who is passionate about creating equality whether that is environmental, food, racial, or voting equality. She is an active member of Speech and Debate, as well as many environmental organizations. Kayla is also a Youth Council leader for Fuel Up to Play 60 where she leads students across the country, and works to solve many social issues such as food inequality. She wants to create systemic change by working with businesses and nonprofits to help people around the world. Outside of school Kayla loves to bike, run, and find any opportunity to watch the sunset on a lake or the ocean. She recognizes that Gen-Z is the first generation to have the privilege of widespread access to technology, and with that this generation can make real lasting change. She wants to leverage the immense amount of power this generation holds in order to truly make a difference.