February 11, 2019

From Jessica Johnson, LCSW, and Ombria Cassadore

While working with Native teens as a therapist over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time chatting about self-care. We talk about how to set ourselves up for being able to cope well when things get rough. Recently, I talked with a few Native high school students at an annual health fair about how they take care of themselves, and here’s a bit of their insight.

Use Your Mind Creatively

Many youth to whom I spoke talked about the importance of having a creative outlet. “Drawing brings out my creative side. It lets me express myself. It’s a place I can go without worrying. It takes me to a whole other place,” says sophomore A.F.* Others use music, and having headphones and a way to play their own music is essential. “I like sad songs, because I don’t feel alone. I am not the only one going through these emotions. I am not the only one who is hurt,” says senior T.C. Other students talked about making their own music, whether it is carrying on traditions by drumming and singing honor songs, or creating beats and raps of their own. Technology plays a big role for most youth, and many channel their creativity by making memes and vines. But nature continues to be a place of calm for many. “I try to get outside as much as I can. I need the fresh air. I like to get up somewhere high, like climb a tree or the top of a hill or a flight of stairs. I like to be where I can get a different perspective,” noted one student.

Have a Routine

Though the youth I know cherish their freedom, most also recognized the need for them to have some healthy routines to help them stay centered. “Getting up on time every morning just starts me off right,” says junior T.V. Students discussed needing to “take care of yourself and the things around you. I realized that I just feel better when I’ve cleaned up my space and gotten my binders organized,” says one sophomore. Many also highlighted the importance of healthy eating, and everyone said, “SLEEP!”

*Students names are left out due to preference to remain anonymous.

High School Sophomore and Honors English Student Ombria Cassadore, who is an enrolled member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, shares her perspective on Wellness.

Keep Moving

For most people, exercise is a medicine for the common mental health challenges they face. Studies show that exercise can treat stress, anxiety, and depression. Exercise can be a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts. Since the body and mind are closely linked, the moment your body feels good so will your mind.

I couldn’t agree more. From experience, it really does help a lot. When I’m exercising, nothing is on my mind but being so determined to finish what I started. When I do finish, I’ll most likely have sweat stains. Taking a hot shower washes off everything, leaving my body feeling amazing and fresh, and putting me in the best kind of mood. When the soreness kicks in, well, to me that is the best part because it shows how hard I’ve worked. That makes me feel better about myself. That’s where wellness comes in.

Participate in Ceremony and Honor Elders

As a Native American, enrolled in the San Carlos Apache Tribe, I know that our ceremonies and traditions are very important because it’s what keeps us stronger as a community and holds us together. Without them we wouldn’t be who we are, strong independent warriors. What we do and who we are creates wellness for me. The stress, anxiety, and always being excessively anxious about everything leaves my body all at once when I’m in the position of taking part in a ceremony or just being there in general. Little things like that matter to me because of how it makes me feel afterwards.

Another reason why wellness has a part in our culture is the respect for the importance of family and the honoring of our elders. They pay attention, gaining knowledge and wisdom from being a child and becoming an elder, they are always watching and listening carefully to each ceremony and understanding its meaning. Whatever they learned from their past, the meanings of our traditions and why we do them, it is their job to pass down to our youth. Without them we wouldn’t know these certain things and it’s them just being here that brings me wellness.

Communicate with Others

To me, communication plays a big role in the human life. It’s what helps us understand one another and it’s also a start for healthy relationships with others. “A closed mouth does not get fed.” This quote made me understand how much communication is important to your mental health. When you open your mouth, you are also opening your heart.

I, myself, didn’t use communications at one point, but I was told, “If you let out what’s hurting you, it creates more room for positive thoughts and feelings.” Since then communication has made me a better person, because then I don’t feel alone. I’ve learned that I can relate to a lot of people and they understand what it’s like.

That’s where self-care comes in, being true to your emotions can’t help but make you feel better about yourself and self-care is definitely a part of wellness. Like they say, “Communication is key.”