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“Here are three ways you can combat your anxiety.”
“Do these five things to improve your romantic relationship today.”
“Try these morning routines to alleviate depression.”
“Take this two-minute quiz to see if you’re a narcissist.”
We are bombarded on a daily basis with taglines such as these so that we can rapidly check off the bulleted list of what ails us, mentally. If we just follow these several ingredient recipes, we will—in no time—have a nourishing meal of mental well-being in front of us.
Ask and receive. Punch the card. Check the box. Done!
Unfortunately, facing one’s mental health issues, especially after the pervasive and enduring trauma of COVID-19 that we’ve faced as a nation over the past year, is not an exercise of “rinse and repeat” that can be broken down into bite-sized interventions that promise quick relief. If it worked that way, I wouldn’t have a job, and these headlines wouldn’t exist.
I’m a licensed professional counselor, and I’m here to confess that I’ve been a contributor to content that is shared along these lines, but I would like to blow the whistle on just how seriously we should actually take this approach to mental health. While I appreciate what contributions such as this offer to my business and brand reputation (which is why—inside scoop—many therapists will offer to be quoted in these kinds of articles), with the growing trend in a fast-content approach to mental health, I find myself worried that the healing that is often a slow, painful, yet transformative process is being too neatly packaged as something formulaic in recipe. It lacks nuance and relies too heavily on the “user” to “do these three things” to achieve a “better life.”
True healing comes from a therapeutic process that is collaborative and affirming, and it’s not something that can be broken down into fragments of what, between humans, is an amorphous and dynamic exchange of energy between two people. Growth can, at times, be tediously slow. But that’s part of the magic.
Many of the people I work with in therapy are (rather desperately) trying to recover from the hustle culture and burnout in which they’ve spent years trying to fast-track their entire lives. For many, what we’ve collectively experienced these past 18 months has called into question our purpose and made us acutely aware of long-ignored or glossed over mental health struggles. Many of my clients have aced their way through prestigious universities and skyrocketed through one promotion after the next, all while demanding the same bulleted approach to their mental health, which has left them exhausted, depleted, and often, numb to the moments of joy that pass them by.
They search for the next “find healing now” solution to living life for too long in overdrive, something that the human body simply wasn’t meant to withstand. The process of slowing down and turning inward that therapy affords in itself is restorative, if only we can calm that inner urge to reach for the next quick fix approach and settle instead for a tortoise’s pace that is far different than something with which we are comfortable.
Rest and healing, though desperately desired, can feel terribly awkward to a body that is accustomed to fast-forward speed only.
Mental health information has never been so accessible and prolific, and as a mental health provider, I am grateful for that. The fact that, as a country, we can acknowledge that “everyone is not okay” has freed those with mental health issues to speak more openly about their struggles.
But when it comes to the actual work to be done to achieve mental wellness, please don’t shortchange yourself by relying on the fast-pass option of reading and internalizing a few tips. It can be counterproductive, shame-inducing when it doesn’t work, and there’s simply no easy way to sidestep the committed and consistent practice that is making one’s mental health a daily priority.