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Emotional and Mental Health Skills Needed for Independence

Being independent means much more than being able to do your own laundry and making mac and cheese. Emotional and mental health skills are also needed for healthy independent living. These things do tend to get easier the older you get, but because they are skills, they are actually something you can actively practice and get better at no matter what your age is. However, starting earlier gives you a better foundation to build on. Emotional and mental health skills needed for independent living for emerging adults are the focus of this week’s blog.

What Are Emotional and Mental Health Skills?

This is a really broad topic, but it essentially means the things you do both externally (in the world) and internally (within yourself) that help to regulate your emotions and keep yourself healthy. This does not mean trying to become “perfect” at these skills with the goal of never feeling bad. First, that is impossible. And second, life would be so much less interesting if everyone were perfect and acted accordingly all the time. Part of emotional and mental health skills includes dealing with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings without suppressing them or willing them away. We’ll be focusing on some of the general and basic skills today, including:

  • Communication
  • Practical daily tasks
  • Managing emotions like:
    • Stress
    • Anxiety
    • Sadness
Communication as a mental health skill

Part of emotional and mental health skills is recognizing how you show up in the world and how people react to you. Communication is key! We hear that a lot, but communication goes beyond words. Take for example someone saying “Thank you” with a head nod versus someone saying “Thank you” with a sarcastic tone and an eyeroll. Same words, but they can make you feel completely different. Those “nonverbal communication skills” make a HUGE impact on how you are perceived by others. Sometimes people are unaware that they are rolling their eyes or that a slight scowl is on their face! 

Providing people (your kids, friends, etc.) feedback about how they are coming across (in constructive ways of course; no reason to be rude about it), will help them to recognize how they could be misunderstood or miss opportunities for connection, both personally and professionally. If you’re talking to a potential employer or someone you want to date and you appear uninterested, that may not work out so well for you!

Practical Daily Tasks

Responsibilities help young people transition more smoothly into independent living. Yes, this includes laundry, but even short small tasks likely need to be practiced. You got an email or notification that a routine doctor’s appointment needs to be scheduled? Great! Forward it to your young adult and encourage them to call the office themself. They might need you to prep them for what to say, but after a time or two they will figure it out on their own. Sometimes it may feel “easier” to a parent or caregiver to do these things for your young person or maybe in your mind doing these tasks is how you show you care. However, further down the line it may actually cause your young person greater anxiety if they all of a sudden have to interact with other people in ways that they never have before. 

Practice helps so that if and when your child inevitably gets sick or becomes lost either in a building or on the road (yes, this can still happen with smartphones), they will know what to do. When they have been taught problem solving, they won’t be as likely to panic and call you from 300 miles away. They are more likely to try figuring it out for themselves or asking someone around them for guidance.

Managing Mental Health 

Finally, managing mental health is a big one. When we’re kids, hopefully our parents help us regulate our own emotions by helping us find labels for what is going on, as well as providing healthy outlets and comfort. As we age, it is our job to begin to do this ourselves by becoming a little more self-reliant. This means: 

  • Engaging in a healthy lifestyle as a preventative strategy
    • Getting enough sleep
    • Healthy diet
    • Engaging in regular movement/exercise
    • Having healthy friendships and relationships—people you can really talk to
  • Identifying emotions
  • Having a range of healthy coping mechanisms instead of;
    • Bottling up emotions
    • Excessively sleeping
    • Drinking or using drugs to cover them up
    • Binge eating
    • Using sex or relationships as an escape
    • Extreme retail therapy, etc.

Stress management is absolutely needed as a life skill, especially for teens and emerging adults because they are likely juggling different aspects of life that they didn’t have to before. Not every stress management technique works for everyone, but here are some to consider:

  • Do not overcommit yourself (become comfortable with saying no)
  • Keep a REASONABLE to do list for yourself
  • Keep track of your schedule either on paper or via a device so you know where you need to be and when
  • Wake up early enough so you have enough time for transit
  • Schedule relaxing time and TAKE IT

Anxiety helps us to recognize something as important or dangerous, it can mobilize us to action. But too much of it isn’t good for us either. Here are some ways to help mitigate and prevent anxiety.

  • Plan ahead
  • Deep breathing
  • Recognizing a “part” of you is anxious. It does not define you.
  • Getting better at asking yourself the “whys” behind anxiety

Planning ahead is worth explaining further. If you are anxious about starting a new job, for example, it may be worth the time and gas money to make sure that you know exactly where you are supposed to go well before your first day. This goes for classes as well. Don’t study the campus map 5 minutes before a class is going to start. Set yourself up for success. Remember, avoiding the thing that makes you anxious actually does you no good. It actually builds up that thing, situation, or person in your mind as scarier. Facing situations that make us anxious in a safe way (planning, exposure in small bursts and manageable increments) helps us to lessen the power of anxiety.

Extra Support

Independence is hard, even for adults! Regardless of your age, if you feel like you would benefit from further emotional processing and mental health skills needed for independent living, make an appointment with an Angelus therapist today. You can begin your journey to independent living or hone your skills!