Mental health. It may be something you don’t consider until you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious or overwhelmingly sad. You may even take it for granted. But May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which has been observed in the United States since 1949.
Mental Health America says, “Whether you realize it or not, mental health plays a big role in your overall well-being. When you’re mentally healthy, you are able to enjoy your life and the people in it, feel good about yourself, keep up good relationships, and deal with stress.”
Mental Health America offers 10 Tools to help you maintain wellness or feel stronger and more hopeful. These are the 10 Tools:
Connect with others
Research shows that when people feel connected to others, they are happier, less lonely, have better health, and live longer lives. Connecting with others can happen in person, on a call, or through electronic means and can include things like getting emotional support, perspective, advice, validation, and even concrete help.
Thinking negatively can drag us down and make us feel horrible. Keeping track of what we are grateful for and expressing gratitude helps us feel more positive about life. This doesn’t mean you ignore reality but it does mean you may have to search for the proverbial silver lining. Other ways to stay positive include sharing your good news with others and learning to savor moments.
Get physically active
We all know that exercise has a wealth of health benefits. It helps prevent heart disease and lowers your blood pressure. It lowers your risk for stroke, colon cancer, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Physical activity helps us sleep better and increases our energy levels. It also helps decrease your stress levels and helps us manage our weight by burning more calories. The Centers for Disease Control offers guidelines for the minimum amount of exercise you need to maintain good health. For adults, the starting point is 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each week and two days of muscle strengthening activity. (And we’ve written about the amount of physical activity children need every day in a previous blog.)
Did you know that some studies show that when you perform five acts of kindness each day, you can increase your happiness? Doing good and helping others makes us feel more connected to humanity, makes us feel needed and effective, makes us feel generous, and takes our minds off ourselves for a while. It can also add a sense of meaning and purpose to your life.
Helping others doesn’t have to take a huge time commitment. It can be a quick phone call or text checking in with the person, letting a car get in front of you while you’ll you’re driving, smiling at a stranger on the street, holding a door for someone, or asking an elderly neighbor if they need help with anything.
Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep means at least seven hours each night. Lack of or poor sleep has been connected to increased anxiety and depression, impaired memory, weight gain, increased likelihood of accidents, reduced immune system function, and increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
You can get better sleep by sticking to a consistent bedtime, avoiding caffeine late in the day, de-stressing yourself before bed (by shower or bath, reading, meditating, etc.), creating a sleep haven, and by working out early in the evening.
Create joy and satisfaction
Everyone derives joy from different things. Studies show that laughter promotes muscle relaxation, reduces anxiety, and may help your heart and lungs. But figure out what brings you joy. Is it a puppy? Painting? Writing poetry? Watching silly videos online? Movies? Listening to a particular podcast? Whatever your thing is, do it daily and welcome more joy and satisfaction, and much better mental health into your life.
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help reduce stress and boost your energy levels. Eating well means few to no processed foods in your diet, not skipping meals, not over-dieting or over-eating, and having a balanced diet full of a variety of foods.
Take care of your spirit
This means feeling connected to and honoring whatever it is you find meaningful and holy. Feeling connected to your own spirit and/or to a universal spirit may help with anxiety and even lessen aches and illnesses, according to some studies.
Deal better with hard times
Some ways to deal better with hard times is to journal or write things out. (Ever write an e-mail or letter than you have no intention of sending?) Or shift your thinking using the techniques of Brene Brown and asking yourself if the thoughts you have about what is going on is true, and if other viewpoints about the situation could also be true. This helps us shift our thinking and see solutions.
Get professional help if you need it
Mental health professionals can provide connection and listening ears, help you find plans to solve problems, help you change behaviors that may be holding you back, help you heal pains from the past, and help you build self-confidence and set goals. There is no stigma—only rewards—in getting the mental health help you need.
And if you’d like more information about specific mental health struggles, Ted.com has curated a playlist of 12 videos and titled it “The Struggle of Mental Health.”