Mental health issues are not new. However, since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed around the country through the media and special events. Now, conversations about mental health have become more mainstream and much less taboo than ever before. Let’s continue the discussions with advice and tips from authors and experts from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and experience:
Breathe and Focus on Your Feet. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and panic attacks, I know how much mental health can be a vicious circle: you start thinking about what’s triggering you, it’s hard to stop, and that makes everything worse. As cliché as it sounds, breathing really does help. If you focus on your breathing every now and again during the day, it can help center you in the moment and about what you’re doing, instead of focusing on the past, the future, or other stressors.
If you’re not a fan of intentional breathing, you can also ground yourself in other ways, like by taking a moment to focus on the feel of your body in the world: close your eyes and focus on what your feet feel, then your calves, then move all the way up to your head. I find it refreshing, and it takes less than a minute, so it shouldn’t hurt your time management too much.
It's okay NOT to be okay. THAT holds true whether we've got the flu, or we've broken a bone or we've been diagnosed with cancer...just as it's also true when we find ourselves depressed, or overwhelmed, or diagnosed with a mental disorder such as schizophrenia. When it comes to a physical ailment, we as individuals and as a society seem to acknowledge and show compassion for the person and their illness, whatever it may be. But when our health issues are associated with the mind or with our emotions, we're not nearly as empathetic -- to others and to ourselves. People experiencing mental health issues and/or who are caring for loved ones with a mental health condition, more often than not keep it hidden. The stigma and shame that comes with NOT being okay mentally or emotionally make us fear reaching out and asking for help. But we are NOT alone, and it's okay NOT to be okay. Suffering in silence is never the answer, and it is what threatens to make us even more ill and to lengthen our road to recovery. Embrace the fact that as human beings, it's perfectly normal to get sick at times -- physically, mentally, emotionally -- and that the only real issue is to not give ourselves or others the care needed and deserved.
When it comes to a physical ailment, we as individuals and as a society seem to acknowledge and show compassion for the person and their illness, whatever it may be. But when our health issues are associated with the mind or with our emotions, we're not nearly as empathetic -- to others and to ourselves
Take good care of yourself and your loved ones. Everyone needs to care for their mental health, regardless of whether they have a diagnosed condition or not. Like a healthy body, a healthy mind can guide us through a long, productive, and joyful life. If you are feeling anxious or sad, even if it’s temporary, first realize that it is normal, and there’s no shame in it. If it’s persistent, seek the help of a professional. There are people ready to listen and ready to help.
If you love a person with mental illness, don’t constantly dismiss their feelings or worries with pat positivity. Even if their feelings seem irrational, they’re very real to your loved one. Listen to them and ask questions without judgment. If possible, depending on the situation, show them (not just tell them) that things will be okay. Loving a person with mental illness can sometimes be frustrating or overwhelming, and you need support as well. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has resources both for your loved one
and for yourself
Think Positive. Like anything else, positive thinking is something you learn over time. To be happier, you have to train your brain to think positive.
Pay attention to kids. Young children express mental health issues through their behavior. If your child is not sleeping well, not listening repeatedly, not eating well, overeating, withdrawn, crying frequently, hyperactive, talk with your pediatrician. These children need help in expressing their feelings and these behaviors can often be improved with therapeutic intervention. A good therapist for a young child must have skills that include play therapy.
Ask, ask, ask for help. Reaching out is the golden rule of mental health. Whether it's a direct call to therapists, hotlines, or trusted friends and family, asking for help is the first step in breaking the cycle of depression. Getting to the point of hopelessness and/or the emptiness that comes with feeling "nothing" is a major sign that depression is in play. It can be scary to verbalize to others that you're hurting and need help! Be direct, honest, and keep it short, if needed. When I got to that point, I said to my dad, "I think I need help." Those five little words got the ball rolling. Here's what I did next...
Know your options & find a therapist:
Therapy is much more readily available today than ever before. The social stigma of mental health is also dissipating, and replaced with something better: Taking care of our mental health means STRENGTH, not weakness. (Finally!) Better still, many insurance companies cover therapy sessions. Also, some therapists have sliding scale payment options to suit a variety of incomes & budgets. When it came time for me to find a therapist, I needed both a sliding scale payment plan and a nearby therapist. On Psychology Today,
there is a "Find a Therapist" link where you can search by zip code, insurance coverage, pay scales, and the specialties of each therapist. Using these tools led me to the right match. Better still, it left me feeling empowered that I was doing something to take care of my mental health. If those steps seem too overwhelming, I encourage you to ask a friend or loved one to help you search. By knowing your options, you're one step closer. You got this!
Taking care of our mental health means STRENGTH, not weakness.
Walk this way. Take a walk alone (if safe) with no input - no music, no podcast, no phone, no calls, etc. Just you and the pavement and your thoughts. It's a great way to clear your head and exercise your body. Just breathe and walk. It's taken me some time but I have now forced myself into the habit of walking a mile in the morning before I start, a mile after lunch to restart my brain, and a mile at the end of the day to wrap things up. My creativity has risen and my stress has lowered considerably. Stop saying you "don't have the time." You do and you'll be better for it in so many ways.
Make sure you're sleeping enough, but not too much. Getting your day going and your brain focused in a way you can manage, at a minimum, is my first step each day. This is more difficult when I'm dealing with things that trigger my mental health issues, but it's all the more necessary. A morning routine helps; mine is brewing coffee, reading the news, and a few push-ups before showering, getting dressed, and starting my workday.
Identify triggers and step away. Identify the things that cause your mental health to deteriorate and try your best to prevent them from occurring at once. This isn't always an option, but sometimes the things causing your problems are parts of your life you can step away from, even if only a little bit.
In a nutshell (no pun intended), pay attention, get help, and be gentle with yourself and others.