May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health refers to our overall psychological well being. There are practices we can adopt to elevate our mood, help support coping when things are stressful, and help us enjoy life more.

There are six keys to mental health:

• Make social connection a priority. Humans are social beings with emotional needs for relationships and positive connections to others. Tips for connecting to others: Call someone and arrange to meet up for coffee or lunch or a walk. Join social or special interest groups that meet on a regular basis. Greet others in your neighborhood or when you run errands. Volunteer.

• Stay active. Regular exercise or activity releases powerful chemicals in your body that lift your mood, relieve stress, improve memory, and help you sleep better. Tips for starting an exercise routine: Start by taking a walk. Aim for 30 min of activity on most days.

• Learn how to manage stress. Stress takes.a heavy toll on mental health. Stress management strategies can help you cope when things are difficult. Tips for stress management: Practice self care; including getting enough sleep, eat healthy foods, make time to do things you enjoy, spend time with supportive people, and do things that are relaxing.

• Eat a brain-healthy diet. There is increasing awareness that our diet affects the way we think and feel. Eating a wholesome diet low in sugar and rich in healthy fats, can give us more energy, improve sleep and mood, and help us look and feel our best.

• Get adequate sleep. Most adults should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep. To wind down, calm the mind and prepare for sleep, try taking a warm bath, listen to soothing music or sounds, or read by soft light. The Calm app is a great resource for relaxation and sleep.

• Find purpose and meaning in life through productive work, spending quality time with people, caring for a pet, volunteering, and through acts of kindness and service to others.

If you’ve made consistent efforts to improve your mental health and are having challenges, it may be time to seek professional help. Following these self-help steps can be beneficial but input from a caring professional can often motivate us to take better care of ourselves.

Your mental health influences how you think, feel, and behave in daily life. It also affects your ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships. Strong mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological problems. People who are mentally healthy have:

• A sense of contentment

• A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.

• The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity

• A sense of meaning and purpose, in activities and relationships

• The flexibility to learn new skills and adapt to change

• A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.

• The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships

• Self confidence and high self esteem.

These positive characteristics of mental health allow us to participate in life to the fullest through productive, meaningful activities and strong relationships.

Having solid mental health doesn’t mean you never go through bad times or experience emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. These are normal parts of life and can cause sadness, anxiety, and stress. But just as physically healthy people are better able to bounce back from illness or injury, people with strong mental health are better able to bounce back from adversity and stress

Anyone can suffer from mental health problems. This year alone, about 1 in 5 of us will suffer from a mental health disorder. The good news is: you don’t have to feel bad.

Shared by: Jan Ketterling, Psy.D. LP., Hope Unit, St. Francis Medical Center

Resource credit: Helpguide

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