May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We often talk about mental health as though it is a separate issue from physical health. Our health care systems reinforce that belief, with mental health providers often occupying separate spaces from physical health providers. But, really, mental health is a component of whole person health. If we are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, or stress, those struggles manifest in our sleep, appetite, weight, substance use or cardiac health. As whole human beings, we need to tend to our whole self: mind, emotion & body. That is the path to optimum health.
Have you tended to your own mental health recently? While this question is critical for folks who are struggling with a serious mental health challenge, it is also important for people who don’t think of themselves as anxious or depressed. Daily life includes stressors, and having a solid mental health self-care routine is valuable for all of us. Don’t get scared away by the phrase “self-care.” I am not going to tell you that you need to meditate for an hour or head immediately to the nearest yoga class. Don’t get me wrong, both of those activities can have great mental health benefits, and I often recommend them to clients. But you can tend to your mental health without needing a full hour to invest.
To start nurturing your mental health, let’s explore some questions. What activities or relationships in your life do you look forward to participating in? Can you identify something that you do on a regular basis that reflects your core values? How often do you notice your breathing? How often do you slow down and take some deep, full breaths? Do you know what strategies you can turn to if you feel overwhelmed? Do you have a safe method to cope with big, intense feelings? Who do you talk to if you have had a rough day?
These questions are just a starting point in assessing your mental health self-care toolkit. If you had clear, accessible answers for most of the questions, your mental health foundation is probably pretty strong. If you found yourself struggling with these questions, then it might be time to invest in your mental health self-care. Two quick strategies for beginning that process are: to increase your awareness of your breath and to notice what’s going well in your life. Full breaths can remind your body to activate its natural de-stressing tools. Raising your awareness of things going well can help your brain build a more positive narrative of your life.
Mental health evolves throughout your life, and current life events can improve or challenge your mental health. If you are in a tough place, please don’t hesitate to reach out for support. There are so many qualified and caring folks out there, including me, who are ready to help in any way we can.
~ GUEST COLUMNIST ~
Ann Becker-Schutte, Ph.D.