116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Once a year at the end of October, or maybe more depending on your propensity for costume contests and dress up parties, millions of people across the country don masks, wigs and various outfits as they transform into, well, anything other than themselves. But while Halloween might represent the most obvious day of the year this happens, the reality is that most of us, whether intentionally or unknowingly, do the same throughout the year. And doing so plays a direct role in our mental health.
People often find themselves navigating multiple environments, surroundings or social settings, such as at home with their family, at work surrounded by co-workers, with peers in a place of worship, enjoying the company of others at a club or activity or any number of other situations. And in these circumstances, it is likely that each individual acts in a specific way, often according to certain sets of norms, expectations or in line with certain relationship dynamics. It makes sense that an individual talks to and interacts with her co-worker differently than her parents or his friends compared to his children.
However, whereas in past generations the difficulty might have been limited to minding the various ways in which we act with and speak to different people, individuals today are finding themselves living different versions of their own lives. No longer are masks and capes needed to change one’s identity once a year, we can simply rely on deceptive camera filters or seemingly benign social media posts to become someone else entirely in the eyes of our audience.
The challenge with this notion is that authenticity shares a close connection to mental health. Research has shown that living more authentically leads to greater mental and physical well-being, while living less authentically can cause psychological distress. Often, adults in particular, understand this while preaching to kids the importance of being themselves rather than what is cool or trendy, while unconsciously struggling themselves with exactly that.
That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t respect norms or social expectations, such as talking in a more professional way to someone at work than we would a close friend, or that there aren’t times we must do something we might prefer not to. It is, however, to say that we can and should find ways to live more authentically.
In doing so, it’s helpful to become aware of and consider your own core values, beliefs, preferences and tendencies. You might do so by simply giving conscious thought to the subject, journaling or talking with friends or a therapist. It is also necessary to challenge yourself and remain open to be challenged, which might mean your beliefs and preferences change over time as your frames of reference shift and your perspective broadens.
As you better understand your genuine self, you can make choices to live more authentically, such as choosing to start a new hobby, removing yourself from an unhealthy friendship, choosing not to follow the latest trend on social media or simply focusing on making small decisions throughout the day that align with your values like talking in your authentic voice, both literally and figuratively
Ultimately, taking steps to live more authentically at home, school, work, online, on social media and anywhere else will pay dividends in your mental and physical health.
So during this time of year when you might choose to participate in some innocent escapism, I invite you to also take a moment to consider ways in which you might be able to live more authentically throughout the year.
Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also works at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.