Photo of Shani Tran by coastandcopper
By Mia Sherin, August 31, 2020
How can I balance mental and physical health? How can I be there for friends without draining myself? And how can I care for the world while also caring for myself? These are the questions that have been spinning through my mind recently, and I thought there was a good chance others have been wondering these things too. So I decided it was time to sit down with a mental health professional and try to find some clarity.
The wonderful Shani Tran is a licensed professional clinical counselor who I discovered from her incredible TikTok account, @TheShaniProject. She takes pride in empowering People of Color through therapy, inspiring people around mental health, and helping others own their stories, just as she had to learn how to own hers. I knew that with these missions in mind, she was the perfect person to help me navigate some of my unanswered questions.
To get a solid foundation, we started by chatting about some go-to mental health habits that anyone can incorporate into their routine during quarantine/the social distancing era. Her first and most emphasized suggestion? Ask yourself, “Who and where do you find support right now?” When physical contact is few and far between, it is easy to feel lonely and unheard. Shani stressed the importance of feeling supported, and going out of your way to do so. For those who are worried about asking to see friends, unsure what their boundaries are, Shani suggested, “If you feel like you need that physical connection or that physical energy, ask people, ‘I’m feeling like I really need to see someone, I’m wondering if you are okay meeting me in a public place, or what are you comfortable with?” Wearing a mask and social distancing is important, and doing so while also being supported by friends and family is totally possible.
Next crucial practice to get in the habit of? At least five minutes a day spent outside! Shani emphasized the importance of leaving the house even just to move your body, get fresh air, and see people from a safe and conscious distance (even just your neighbor walking their dog on the other side of the street!).
For her final mental health habit, Shani shared, “It’s important to process your thoughts.” As she explained to me, right now is a difficult time to be vulnerable, especially over Zoom when there is a screen blocking a certain level of intimacy. Not only are we uncomfortable opening up to others, but we often also feel uncomfortable when others open up to us. Shani advised that rather than bottling up these feelings without processing them, to instead acknowledge your feelings. Shani explained, “It’s so important that if you’re having those thoughts to say, ‘Hey I’m having a down day, I need to be vulnerable here.”
Of course, while COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s mental health in one way or another, it would be wrong to not also discuss the way that the Black Lives Matter content, or more specifically, the devastating murders of Black people at the hands of police officers, has likely had a profound impact on the mental health our community, specifically People of Color. Shani spoke about this topic and how specifically we can work to support the mental health of People of Color: “What is happening is I think is that White people are trying to navigate how to support and be an ally while also trying to find that fine line of ‘I don't want to harm you any more in the conversation.’” She encouraged active listening, being there for friends, and helping friends find resources to support their mental health and contribute to her mission of empowering POC through therapy.
Finally we arrived at my big question, the one that had been tugging at me the most: How can we balance repairing the world while repairing ourselves? To help answer this question, Shani compared my struggle to one she faces everyday as a therapist: “I’m a therapist, so it is my job to take care of other people’s mental health. That is what I do for a living. But at the same time, I have my own mental health. How do you take care of yourself and take care of the world? The first thing is, you cannot take care of the world if you do not take care of yourself. I cannot take care of my clients if I don’t take care of myself.”
You can take care of yourself by sleeping, eating well, checking in on your energy levels, and feeding your soul. You can take care of the world by taking action, having difficult conversations with family members, and knowing your role and playing it. But, as I learned from Shani, the former must come first. Through her helpful tips and wisdom, we can all take steps to tend to our mental health and build these tips into habits.