Mental Health awareness has been on the rise over the last 20 years. It’s a buzz word in the news when catastrophe strikes. People wonder about the “mental health” of victims and perpetrators. Millennials will say things to their employer like “I need a mental health day” and schools accommodate for various mental health issues that can hinder a child’s learning in the traditional classroom setting. Just what is “mental health” and how can we keep ours on the up and up?
A quick google search of “mental health” will quickly lead you to DSM5 mental health disorders. While those lists can be helpful, they miss a big part of the picture of humanity.
Here are a few other definitions:
According to Medilexicon’s medical dictionary, mental health is:
“Emotional, behavioral, and social maturity or normality; the absence of a mental or behavioral disorder; a state of psychological well-being in which one has achieved a satisfactory integration of one’s instinctual drives acceptable to both oneself and one’s social milieu; an appropriate balance of love, work, and leisure pursuits.”
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), mental health is:
“… a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
So essentially, to be “mentally healthy” in our “mental health” … I hope I’m not the only one laughing… means our human parts are working “normally” and allow us to interact with the world around us in a “normal” manner and thrive. Sounds good… sign me up!
So what can we do to be mentally healthy? Here are ten quick ways to focus on and improve your mental health. We will start off with what I like to call “The BIG 3.” If we can do the big 3 well it makes doing the rest of the items on the list a little easier and will improve your mental health overall, even if you’re struggling with a mental illness.
1. Improve your diet.
Mom was right when she said you are what you eat. When we eat better we feel better. Appetite disturbance is common among mental health disorders, and in some cases can aid in the elimination of the disorder. Cutting out or cutting down things like sugar and processed foods can lead to improved mood and an increase in energy. Adding more vegetables to our diet can aid in better cognitive functioning.
2. Get a good night sleep.
Our body needs sleep to repair us from our day, build muscle, and recharge our systems to meet the new day. A good night sleep will increase our ability to pay attention, process information, and deal with the stressors of the day.
Our bodies were made to move. Sedentary lifestyles have become the new “smoking” causing many body ailments. When we move our bodies our minds respond favorably. We don’t just increase our blood flow to our muscles. We can see on brain scans, an increase in blood flow to our brains after exercise! This is good news. More blood to our thinking/feeling organ means more raw potential to perform at our best.
4. Spend quality time with loved ones.
It’s been said that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s relationship. Humans have built-in systems that are devoted to relational interactions. We are made to be in community. When we isolate ourselves we lose the love and support others can give us. There’s nothing like a well-timed hug, kind word, or knowing there’s someone you can go to whenever you have a need. We spread the love and psychological burdens around. Many hands make light work.
5. Have meaningful spiritual experiences.
AA discusses spirituality being a part of the initial steps back to sanity. One of the key things an active faith aids in is guarding our hearts and minds against shame. A spiritual/religious/faith engagement is one of the few things that does rest on self-talk or our own abilities. It rests on a loving God who graciously gives us a new identity. Brene Brown has spent a career researching shame and its ill effects. She links much of our psychological wellbeing to the presence or absence of shame.
6. Tell the truth.
A recent psychology star, named Jordan Peterson, describes telling the truth as the place where we can look at each other and have the best conditions for a productive conversation or healing experience (paraphrased). Being honest with ourselves and the world around us aids in: problem-solving, healthy relationships, and has the potential to lower overall stress and worry.
7. Learn communication skills.
Emotional intelligence grows as we age and can be improved rather quickly. Learning assertive communications skills, conflict resolution skills, and empathy will drastically improve your relational satisfaction and others relational satisfaction with you.
8. Ask for help.
In my experience this tends to be harder for men. Not seeking help at the right time or prolonging issues by not discussing them can be devastating. Men can suffer from preventable medical conditions becoming untreatable and/or the loss of a relationship. Therapists discuss couples waiting too long to get help and as a result they are seen as “difficult” cases. Asking for help in a timely manner not only gets you out of hot water, it gives the helper an opportunity to care for you.
9. Avoid using drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol to manage your problems.
Dealing with stress and life issues by turning to substances increases your risk for substance abuse and addiction. Instead, learn stress-reducing techniques and coping skills for when life gets tough and you want it to be better. In addictions counseling part of the work is people learning how to meet the need they have in the moment (in a healthy way) and create the life they would like to live.
10. Do new things.
Our brain responds well to novelty. Novelty can break up the day-to-day routine, and put a little excitement in your life. Take time to go watch the sunset instead of taking the fast way home, do a hike you’ve never done before, or watch a movie from the B list and make fun of it with your friends.
We all have the opportunity to make choices to improve our mental health. It’s worth the effort, YOU are worth the effort.
Which of the above steps will you take today? If you need help taking action on improving your mental health we encourage you to connect to a counselor today.