May is Mental Health Awareness Month!
One thing the pandemic of the last couple of years has proven to us is that mental health is at the core of our well-being. So many struggle with mental health challenges that providers are overwhelmed and burning out with compassion fatigue. Our world is under a mental health crisis. We have seen an immense increase in talking about the struggle of mental health, and this is WONDERFUL!
We are finally challenging the stigma of mental health, in part because societally we’ve all suffered the last few years and we KNOW it is real from our lived experience. This is in fact the first step to mental wellness - AWARENESS.
Next comes ACCEPTANCE. Then ACTION.
Our awareness of mental health struggles during the pandemic has brought along with it acceptance and this is remarkable because when we can openly talk about mental health, our mental health IMPROVES. And yes, it does mean more than doing “self-care.”
Acceptance of the imperative to cultivate good mental health, as part of being human, opens up new wellness opportunities. Our self-awareness regarding how our own mental health impacts us, and the fostering of actionable steps to improve our mental health, moves us towards healing.
Managing our mental health is all about taking ACTION in your daily life. It is practicing the necessary habits and skills daily that leads us towards wellness. We explore what habits and routines are most beneficial for your mental wellness below.
SLEEP does a body and brain good! We are all sleep-deprived frequently due to high-stress levels, financial concerns, overworking, and burnout in careers and in parenting. Sleep, however, is where REPAIR happens. Our body naturally strives to clean up and repair cells in our body and brain ONLY when we sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following hours of sleep per night:
Age Recommended Sleep
Children 3-5 years 10-13 hours
Children 6-13 years 9-11 hours
Teenagers 14-17 years 8-10 hours
Adults 18-64 years 7-9 hours
Adults 65+ years 7-8 hours
When you do not get the minimum amount of sleep for your age, or get the quality of sleep needed, it can influence your outlook on life, your energy level, and your emotions. Individuals who do not get enough sleep have greater levels of depression and anxiety. If you find yourself sleeping too much or too little on a regular basis, it may be time to seek help from a professional.
Getting enough SLEEP is the number one factor for healthy living and whole-body wellness.
FOOD IS FUEL! There is a lot of information circling around about the research of what to eat, what not to eat, and “superfoods.” When it comes to eating and mental health, there are a few things to be aware of.
Eat breakfast! There is no easier way to set your day off track than by skipping breakfast, which leads to fatigue and irritability. Your body needs breakfast to jumpstart your metabolism and your brain needs nutrients (specifically protein) in the morning to learn, socialize, and create new memories.
Sugary drinks and caffeine should be limited, especially if you are prone to anxiety or panic attacks, as these substances can increase anxiety symptoms.
Diets that rely primarily on high-fat dairy, and fried, refined, and sugary foods have been linked to not only weight gain and diabetes, but increased rates of depression.
Eat a diet that relies on fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and unsaturated fats (like olive oil), and you will receive needed vitamins and lower your risk for depression.
Cook your meals. Fast food and meals on the go, lead to mindless eating and poor habits of eating whatever is around versus what your body needs to FEEL good. You are more likely to eat better food if you are taking the time to make it.
Drink WATER. Many of us stopped drinking the necessary water our bodies need due to mask-wearing and then getting out of the habit of having a water bottle nearby. We all need to drink more water. Dehydration of even 3% starts a decline in our mental functioning - brain fog.
BODIES NEED MOVEMENT! Movement regulates and grounds us. Exercise is any movement that uses your muscles and expends energy. Join a gym, take a yoga class, go for a walk around the neighborhood, tend your garden, or play tag with your children.
Our bodies need at least 30 minutes of movement a day to improve our quality of life. Health benefits from regular exercise include: stress relief, improvement in mood, increased energy and stamina, improved sleep, increase mental alertness, better endurance, weight reduction, and increased interest in sex.
Stress management entails moving THROUGH the stress cycle which means we must MOVE our bodies and release the energy of the stress. The easiest way to do this is through MOVEMENT. If you don’t, stress remains in your body resulting in illness and poor functioning.
Physical health connects to our mental well-being. Poor physical health can lead to an increase in mental health symptoms, such as depression, and poor mental health can lead to increased physical health problems, such as heart attacks. They are always LINKED.
BE CONNECTED! Humans need human connection to survive. We can not live without other human connections; we are hard-wired for it. Loneliness and social isolation is linked to higher rates of depression and low self-esteem. Without connection we decline in all areas of life, particularly our mental health as relationships are key to wellness.
HAVE A SUPPORT SYSTEM! Who are the people you can call at any time in the day or night and you know that they will be there for you? It could be a friend, a partner, or a family member. We all need a support system or someone to be there for us when we are feeling overwhelmed and stressed. If you haven’t done this in awhile, don’t be embarrassed your friend will be happy to hear your voice. Call them!
REST & PLAY! Humans require times of play to be creative, rejuvenate, learn, and be curious. Play for adults is often a forgotten component of daily life. We have forgotten to have gratitude and value our PLAY-time.
Play builds the brain’s resiliency and provides natural hormones to the brain to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Can you think of the last time you had fun? Was it doing your hobby? Going for a walk or hike? Was it dancing? Play is defined as actions that bring us joy or contentment. So how do you get your play on?
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is not just about meditation. It is striving to achieve an awareness of self and calm, even when in tumultuous emotions and painful body states. This can be done with simple honest reflection, deep breathing and grounding exercises, yoga, coloring exercise, are talking a walk through nature, and much more. Taking a moment each day to reflect on and be present within your body will provide you guidance on what actionable steps may be necessary for you to achieve a more relaxed, less stressed state.
KNOW YOUR BRAIN! Our brains have chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. Billions of these neurotransmitters work to keep our brains functioning, and they affect our physical and psychological functions, such as heart rate, sleep, appetite, mood, and fear/panic responses. Neurotransmitters play a major role in our everyday lives. Just as our brain communicates with our body, our body communicates with our brain.
That is why people cannot simply *think* their way out of anxiety and depression.
After the last couple of years, the level of stress and length of the pandemic impacted everyone differently. Even mental health professionals have struggled during this time, and WE KNOW what to do. The pandemic proves the need for mental well-being is just as important as physical, which means sometimes you can be doing everything right and your depression and/or anxiety can still not be managed without outside help including medications.
Medications are used to supplement our natural neurotransmitters and provide an improved baseline of functioning. Your primary care provider can support you in what medication may work best for you and your symptoms. It doesn’t make you weak to support your mental and physical health by having medication support; it means you are brave and care about yourself and well being. The pandemic was no joke and you deserve to live life and have wellness- do what it takes to achieve health in both brain and body.
We have to keep our body fueled, moving, hydrated, well-rested, possibly medicated, curious, and engaged with other humans. And sometimes, we need to seek help when we are feeling stuck in our bodies and/or our brains.
We all experience life stressors like the pandemic, physical health issues, financial stress, career stress, familial stress, grief/loss, relationship challenges, social challenges, marriage, children, feeling isolated, divorce, sleep disturbances, anxiety/panic, and ongoing feelings of sadness or helplessness. These are all common reasons why individuals might seek professional help. It is important that when you are seeking help you know what to look for. Seeking out a trained professional with state licensure is key, as their training and education is more extensive for assessing life challenges, mental health, and need for further medical intervention if needed. These are not areas addressed by life coaches, which is not a regulated profession. It can seem less intimidating to see a life coach; however, doing so only perpetuates the stigma that our mental health is somehow less important than our physical health. Seeking the appropriate specialist ensures your health needs are being met most effectively.
Your whole body wellness is the goal for mental health professionals. Stress is real and it challenges your well-being. Seek out assessment and treatment proactively and when your life is not on the path you desire. Live life with wellness.
For more information:
National Suicide Prevention/Crisis line: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text line: Text HOME to 741741
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