Mary Madison, RN, RAC-CT, CDP
Clinical Consultant – Briggs Healthcare
I’m showcasing an article authored last week by Anita Everett, M.D. DFAPA, Director of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) that spoke to me when I read it. With all the chaos of the past 3+ years of the PHE, coupled with other threats to an individual’s mental health, Ms. Everett’s article provides sound advice as well as permission to focus on our mental health. Please read and share this – you’ll be glad you did.
It’s May and spring is officially here. Flowers are blooming. Kids are playing outside. Birds are chirping. For me, this time of year is often associated with growth, renewal, hope and positivity—a perfect time to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month and a perfect time to focus on our own mental health and wellness.
Self-care is essential for mental health and overall well-being. I am encouraged to see more and more people prioritizing their mental health, just as they would their physical health. We have seen professional athletes, actors and actresses, and other high-profile public figures putting their jobs on hold to put their mental health first. This is such a healthy and important step because by raising awareness and acceptance of mental health, we not only empower ourselves, but we also help remove stigma, enforce the message that it is okay to not be okay and encourage people to seek help when they need it.
When you take care of your mental health, your physical and emotional health improves; you become more resilient; and it makes it easier to find ways to manage life stressors in a healthy and positive way.
Here are just a few suggested strategies that you can use to maintain positive mental health. The key is to try them and see what works for you. Then put them into practice regularly.
- Enjoy the awesomeness of nature: Research indicates that being immersed in nature can help with mild depression and anxiety symptoms. For example, just going for a walk or a hike in a natural setting can help you manage these depression and anxiety symptoms. Consider setting a reminder for yourself to get up and get out! This will help you stick to your plan to get some fresh air and will also help you maintain positive mental health throughout your day.
- Connect with family or friends: This is another great way to reduce stress and even improve mental health. We are social beings and thrive on the connection, support, love, and belonging that friends, family, and our communities bring to us. Studies show that people who feel connected to others are less likely to feel anxiety or sadness, and often feel increased happiness.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as breathing exercises or guided meditation, can help manage stress and anxiety. Making time for mindful techniques, even just a few minutes at the end, or beginning, of your day can make a big difference.
- Extracurriculars: Join a book club, take a hobby related class, or enjoy live music with others.
- Spend time with your pets: Owning a pet can help to reduce stress and boost endorphins. Pet owners may socialize and connect with other pet owners or be outside more often – both great ways to improve or maintain positive mental health.
- Volunteer: Helping others and participating in community organizations can also be a positive boost. Many community organizations welcome volunteers.
- Sleep: Another critical piece to maintaining positive mental health is getting enough sleep. Set your sights on trying to sleep for however long you need to feel rested and recharged during the day.
- Join a support group: Reach out and connect with others who can share strategies for getting through challenging times.
- Eat right: Food can affect our mood. Avoid processed and sugary foods.
- Exercise: Spend time each day to walk, run, bike, or whatever you can do to move your body.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol and other substance use: Limiting the use of substances will improve your health and mental health.
- Practice self-gratitude: Being grateful for yourself, what you have, and the life around you, can promote positive thinking.
Focusing on self-care is important because we play a part in each other’s mental wellness. It’s up to each of us to be a lifeline, sharing in a commitment to care for ourselves and those around us. However, you cannot be of help to others if you are not taking good care of your own mental health. Think of it like the safety instructions we receive on an airplane. We are told to put on our own oxygen mask first before we can be of help to others. The same philosophy applies to taking care of our own needs, including mental health needs, before being able to be fully present, and supportive of others, in our lives.
When it comes to mental wellness, small actions can have a big impact. During Mental Health Awareness Month, do something kind for others: hold the door open for someone; give a compliment; pay someone else’s kindness forward. See how these small acts boost your mental health and have the added bonus of likely making a positive impact on others.
More importantly, check in on loved ones and ask them about how they’re doing. Talk to your kids about their mental health. We know that 1 in 5 kids are experiencing behavioral health issues, such as anxiety or depression, which was further exacerbated during the pandemic. If you notice that your children are struggling, reach out for help. Getting help during the early stages of mental illness, or at the first signs of mild behavioral health symptoms, can help those symptoms from developing into more serious conditions. In addition, getting help for yourself or your children could help your children develop healthy habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.
Remember, taking care of yourself is not selfish; it is necessary for you to be able to take care of others and lead a fulfilling life. By encouraging others to seek help, helping others access help or simply by being there for someone when they need us, we instill hope in ourselves and those around us.
So, make self-care a priority this May and beyond. Spread positivity. Be hopeful. Practice patience and kindness and empathy toward others. It may just make a life-changing difference.
All 2023 Mental Health Awareness Month resources can be found at Mental Health Awareness Month.