Treat Yourself Right

As zoos, there are always issues we have to deal with. Antis, laws against our sexuality, loneliness, the fear of losing our loved ones, the list could go on. No matter what issues we are struggling with, there is always something that’s going to have a huge effect on how well we’re able to keep our head up. And this is our mental health.

Often I think a lot of zoos forget how important it is to take care of their mental hygiene. But with all the stress that we are exposed to, it really matters to pay attention to our mental health, and not just ignore it. I have definitely struggled with this before, and I think the experience taught me a lot. For everyone out there dealing with this, I would like to give you some advice on how to take better care of your mental health. But before I start I have to say: These are all methods that I use. So I can’t guarantee that they will really help everyone. However, I hope to be able to provide some inspiration and aid to all of you. If you face more severe mental health issues, or are in a crisis, please seek professional help as best you can. But for some lighter day to day good practices, read on.

Time for you:

I believe that mental health starts with you in the real world. Which is why I think it’s important to step back from all the online hustle and bustle and take some time for yourself. Read a good book, go outside, try some arts and crafts for fun, watch your favourite series, write in a notebook… There is so much you can miss in the real world if you only focus on being online. The short-lived rush of happy hormones you can experience on Twitter, Instagram and other social media is nothing compared to having real life experiences. Try not to be available all the time and you will see that your mood really improves. If you’re online a lot, ask yourself why you’re doing it.

It’s often the case that we don’t really want to deal with our own worries and fears, so we like to look for distractions. I don’t take myself out of that either. Up to a certain point, such behaviour is not bad at all. After all, we all need a break from our thoughts. However, it’s something completely different if we constantly seek time out and barely ever occupy ourselves with ourselves. Because only when we deal with ourselves can we experience our inner needs and what is really good for us. Yes, I know that this is not such an easy process, and that you might discover sides of yourself that you don’t like to see. But it is important. And I am not just saying this. It took me years of therapy to realise the importance of facing my inner self. And no, there is no easier way. But have hope. All the hard work will pay off later, and it is never too late to take time for yourself and ask yourself: What do I actually need?

What also helps me a lot is meditating. It’s not for everyone, but it has always helped me a lot. Relaxation is really important and part of good mental hygiene. People who are more relaxed don’t have as much stress in their everyday life and their mental health is not as strained as that of a person who is constantly stressed. And if you are now asking yourself: How am I supposed to do that? Then I can tell you that you don’t have to worry about that. There are thousands of guided meditations on YouTube that you can try out. And if it doesn’t work right away with meditation, then you don’t have to worry. Everyone needs time to get involved in something like this. Especially if you’ve never done it before. And if you find that meditation isn’t for you, that’s alright as well. Maybe your meditation is curling up with a good book, putting on your favorite album, or going for a long walk. Whatever your peaceful place is, the important part is that you give yourself time to exist there.

In the online world:

Now here we are in the online world. So, what can you do to take care of your mental hygiene here as well? As a zoo who loves to be on social media, I know that there are a lot of antis (or just a small number of very loud ones) on the internet. And that’s why I have a piece of advice for you, which most of you, it seems to me, still find very difficult. Block them. You don’t have to put up with this crap, believe me. I myself used to think things like “But then I’m the weakling” or “Maybe I can change this person’s mind.” But believe me when I tell you that there is nothing weak about banning someone from your social media presence who is just a troll anyway and intends to do you harm. And most antis out there don’t really want to have a serious conversation with you either. Remember, it is not your job to explain to someone who obviously wants to harm you why this behaviour is wrong. By blocking an anti, you also take away some of their reach. If you wish to help our community, you can do so in other ways that don’t involve going head to head with bigots. For example, you could write an article here or foster positive vibes with your local zoo friends, if you have them.

And since we’re on the subject of antis, we can also talk about platforms made specifically for zoos and their allies. Yes, these exist. ZooCommunity is a very good example. I myself have not been active on this forum for very long, but so far I have only had good experiences. The people who spend time there know how to engage in polite discourse with each other. And the mods seem to be really great.

One other thing you should refrain from doing if you have a public zoo account is looking for your account. When I had a public one, I made that mistake all too often. Yes, there are always people out there saying crap about you, but honestly, you don’t need to do that to yourself. If an anti crosses your path, block them. It’s easier said than done, but the energy and time you don’t waste on an anti can be used for things you enjoy. In the time that you might be arguing with an anti, you could be listening to an episode of ZooTT or watching a music video by Zipwok. Do things that are good for you. Believe me, antis are not worth wasting your time.

And now a short conclusion to all that I have written here:

It is certainly not always easy to maintain good mental hygiene, but it is important. Because only then can you live a long and fulfilled life. And yes, we as a community still have a lot ahead of us, a lot of things we have to face. And that is precisely why it is so important to take good care of our souls. Because we need each other. Every single person is important for us. No matter whether loud and proud or quiet and rather insecure.

Article written by Amira (March 2023)

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