One of the first meetings I had here at LYF was an “LYF Retreat” which included some time for meditation. I used to say I couldn’t meditate, because I always felt like I was doing something wrong, so I would give up before I could make any progress. However, this time I had someone guiding the meditation (Monica) and she instructed us to put one hand over our heart and to listen to our heartbeat. For the first time, I saw some progress with meditation.
After a few minutes of getting into the flow of slow breaths, she asked us to think of our happy place. I thought about my room at first because I spend a lot of time here, but it wasn’t truly a “happy” place; it was just a comfortable place. I began to ask myself where it was that I felt happy and comfortable and immediately thought of Cuba. As I sat there listening to my heart and controlling my breaths, in my mind I was waking up the sound of clucking chickens and laughs from a family that had already awoken at dawn.
Monica then asked us to think of someone who madethis our happy place; she told us to hug them and tell them something we wish they could hear. In my mind, I walked outside the bedroom to hug my grandmother and tell her how much I missed her. I remember this moment so fondly because it wasn’t until Monica asked us to think of our happy place that I even realized I missed my home so much.
Connecting Our Mental Health to Our Environment
I moved here at a very young age, and part of growing up in a foreign country is accepting that, at some point, you will have assimilated so much that your home country will begin to feel foreign too. I’ve always been very proud of my roots so this was a difficult process for me. I may have gone a bit too far with accepting a bicultural identity when I began to invalidate my feeling of belonging with the place I’ve always considered home.
Allowing myself to miss Cuba no matter how much I’ve grown beyond its borders helped me understand so much more about myself, because I recognized the longing to be at home with my extended family never really goes away. Being mindful of this has helped me navigate my self-care in times when I’ve felt drained and completely unmotivated. I think the biggest thing I was missing out on by invalidating this part of my identity was the sense of renewal I get when I do something that makes me feel closer to home.
Any change in location can give us a sense of renewal and more often than not we tend to underestimate how much our environment can hold us down. This is why we’re advised to change our designated workroom, or even why we long to get away on a beach vacation for a few days (or camping in a forest, whatever is your preference). In my last blog, I focused on how we can achieve renewal by changing our routine since it’s usually our routines that lead us to feel stuck. However, one of the best ways to even motivate myself to begin those changes is by changing my physical environment first.
It may seem obvious why a change in environment can make us feel renewed but simply being aware of how much it affects us mentally will allow us to be mindful of how we change it, making it even more effective. When we’re feeling homesick, all we want is to go back home, so when we finally do go home we get a feeling of satisfaction along with a sense of renewal. In the same way, mindfulness can provide the same satisfaction when we change our environment in more subtle ways.
Of course, I can’t just take a six-hour flight back every time I miss home, so I do have to be creative with how I can feel closer to home in other ways. This LYF Retreat only happened in January and–if I’m being honest–I haven’t done much to make myself feel closer to home. However, a change in location can help renew and inspire us even if it isn’t necessarily making us closer to home; maybe it’s filling a different void. I’ve made a list of some things that work for me, with hopes that you can take something away to make your environment serve you too:
1. Keep an item around you that reminds you of home. Okay, this one’s pretty obvious, but remember, I want you to be mindful of what you do to better your environment! Personally, I like to wear little bracelets and earrings I’ve bought in Cuba, because they’re a constant reminder that I take pieces of home with me, and I have not abandoned it entirely.
2. Invest in your physical, current home. If you’re a homebody like me, and you consider your home, or bedroom, to be your recharging space then I really hope you’ve put in some effort to make this the best recharging space possible. You deserve to love and enjoy your space so don’t be afraid to be a little picky about even small things. I think the biggest changes I made in my bedroom were removing my closet doors and getting different lights (a bright light for when I’m doing work and dim fairy lights for my migraine days). Of course, I have little pieces of Cuba scattered around my bedroom as well.
3. Do an activity you normally associate with home. This can be any small thing, perhaps even a habit, that you recognize you only do when you’re back home. Remember mindfulness; mindfulness is the difference between me making coffee because I’m tired, and me making coffee as a way to remind myself and my family that we’ve brought our culture with us all this way.
4. Find ways to stay connected. One of the few things we can be grateful to social media for is how incredibly easy it is to stay connected. I remember being excited when I saw more of my family back home joining different social media apps. It was also a nice reminder to be mindful that I use social media with the intention of staying connected with the people I actually care to stay connected to. I still have a long road ahead of me to develop a healthier relationship with social media, but that’s a story for another time.
5. Clean your room, please. I say this mostly as a note to myself, because I currently have last week’s laundry sitting on “the chair” in my room. For me, a cluttered space is a cluttered mind, and I know many others feel this way too, so don’t be afraid to sacrifice some time that you meant to dedicate to other tasks to organizing your room instead.
What Will You Do?
Those are just a few things I have noticed that help me better my current environment in the times between my visits back home, or toward the end of the semester when I’m drained from the constant work and routine. If you intend to better your environment in other ways, unrelated to feeling closer to home, then I recommend you check out this article I found that gives a more in-depth explanation of the psychology behind why our environment affects our mental health so much. It may help provide some guidance and spark creativity with how you can change your own space.
So, how will you change your space? Think of the one place in the world where you wish you could be right now, and ask yourself how you can make your space resemble it just a little bit more. Think of what makes you happy and cozy, and add it to your space. Take control! It may not seem like it but so much of our environment is actually in our control. How will you control it for the better?
About the Author
Born in Cuba and raised in Las Vegas, Cesia is a junior at UNLV pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in History with a concentration in Latin American history and a minor in French. Outside of her school interests, she finds herself particularly interested in astrology and travel plans. While she hopes to stay in the field of history, she is passionate about mental health and hopes to help others through her writing for us here at LYF.