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Embracing your emotional self without judgment has never been so beautiful.

If you're gonna get real, this is a great way to do it.

Who can deny the release and relief of a good cry? Go on, admit it. I won't tell anyone.

Yet many of us (and often men in particular) are culturally shamed away from showing the kind of vulnerability or softness — in other words, our mushy side.

That's exactly why we need artist Lora Mathis' series "Radical Softness." It's a celebration of the mushier side of life and a challenge to our culture that places stoic maleness on a pedestal.



Image via Lora Mathis, used with permission.

The images are an ongoing series of beautiful, saturated florals, with pointed, smart, and incisive statements superimposed on vases, journals, and walls.

But what exactly is radical softness?

"Radical softness is the idea that sharing your emotions is a political move and a tactic against a society which prioritizes a lack of emotions," Lora said.

Go on.

"Our society equates toughness to being guarded and devoid of feelings. It writes off emotional reactions, especially those of femmes, as over-dramatic and invalid. I was sick of feeling weak for being emotional and struggling."

Image via Lora Mathis, used with permission.

I first found Lora's work on Tumblr, where over 2,500 people have liked or shared her work. Lora also has a popular Etsy store called staysoft, where she presents her empowering, sensitive, and fierce art.

"The work is meant to show that strength doesn't have to mean swallowing your emotions. There's strength in healing and vulnerability. There's power in softness."


Image via Lora Mathis, used with permission.

She's right.

There's so much power in softness. By showing that side of ourselves, we humans can be reminded of our own humanity. I'm not saying that means we should all cry all the time ... but if we do, there's nothing wrong with it.


Image via Lora Mathis, used with permission.

"Strength does not have to mean turning off how you feel and being guarded," Lora said.

"It can be sharing yourself openly," she added. "It can be putting energy into healing. It can be documenting your vulnerability in order to make others feel less alone. It can be refusing to be sorry for how you feel."

Image via Lora Mathis, used with permission.

If you think about it, not crying, emoting, or showing your feelings at all is oppressive to everyone. It's tough on the person who feels like they can't show their feelings, and it's tough on their family and friends left forever wondering, "What's going on in there?"

Lora's art is meant to answer that question and provide prompts for others as they heal and express themselves, just as she does.

"The statements pop into my head as I think about my healing process," Lora said. "My instinct when I break down is to beat myself up for reacting that way."

"The phrases act as personal reminders me that it is OK to have a hard time and cry and be soft," she explained.

And Lora's not stopping there. Aside from her Etsy shop, she's working on an art piece on "Radical Softness" for a traveling show this winter and spring through Alt Space in Brooklyn.

Image via Lora Mathis, used with permission.

Though, as Lora said, she creates her work to "process [her] feelings and heal," the more her art spreads, the more she hears from people it has touched.

"When others reach out to tell me how my work has affected them, it proves that work is bigger than the feelings that inspired it."

May every semi-emotionally-repressed person please notice just how much love there is out there for you, your tears, and your humanity.

I'm sharing this in case there's someone who needs to know that.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

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If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Mom and stepmom become best friends and hope to inspire more togetherness

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Tiffany Paskas and Megan Stortz, aka the Moms of Tampa, weren’t always the best friends that they are now. The unique story of how they became that way is catching a lot of positive attention and shining a light on how we might rethink co-parenting dynamics after divorce.

Stortz and her ex-husband Mike (married now to Paskas) share custody of their 11-year old son, Michael. At first, like many moms and stepmoms, Stortz and Paskas never spoke to one another.

Paskas explained to local NBC affiliate WFLA, “We just didn’t know it was okay to talk. We were under the impression, being children of divorce, that the ex and the new never intermingle, so it was like, best to stay away. So that’s kind of how we dealt with the first four years.”
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Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

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