Think of your mental health as if it were part of the outside of your body, like an arm or leg. If you had an open wound, bruises, broken bone or a bad burn, you would get your injury treated. People would see your injury and know you were in pain.
Your mental health IS part of your body. The wounds don’t look like broken bones, but they still need to be treated. And preventing those mental broken bones is just as important as maintaining your physical health, yet it often gets overlooked.
Recognizing a Decline in Your Mental Health
We’re in the worst of a pandemic that is approaching the one year mark. The holidays are upon us with the extra stress of the pandemic. Daily life stressors are greater and your regular responsibilities can easily create a barrier to taking care of yourself when you need it most if you’re not watchful.
Recognizing when you are experiencing a decline in your mental health can be difficult. A bruised, bleeding and throbbing knee will send you running to the medicine cabinet for a bandage and a pain reliever. This is your body’s way of flashing neon lights and screaming that something is wrong. The signs of injury to our mental health are much more subtle and can also build over a longer period of time.
There is also the stigma that still exists around mental health. When faced with the happy highlight reels on social media and the persistence of society to ignore the importance of mental health, speaking up when you have a problem may be uncomfortable or embarrassing for some people.
Tips to Improve Daily Mental Health
Making your mental health a priority is the best way to help prevent a problem before it starts or get treatment when you need it because you’ll be able to recognize when something is wrong. You’re always going to have ups and downs emotionally, and that’s okay and normal.
However, there’s only so much stress a person can mentally handle before experiencing a decline that does not go away. Even with the limitations the COVID-19 pandemic presents, you still have many ways of keeping your mental well-being a priority.
Time and motivation are two barriers to this excellent way to keep your mental health in top form. The benefits of exercise extend well beyond the physical, making this one of the most important ways to stay healthy. Exercise helps your brain release endorphins, which are hormones that create a pleasurable feeling, minimize pain sensations and promote healing.
Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be similar to intense training for a triathlon. Find something you love – gardening, walking the dog, a dance class, yoga – and mix it up! When you like a physical activity, finding your motivation will be much easier. During the pandemic, many classes are offered in an online format, so you can stay safe at home while exercising.
If lack of motivation is still hard to overcome, start with just a small amount and add a little each day. Getting started is the hard part, but once you get going and start to feel better, getting exercise will become a healthy habit you enjoy.
2. Eat well / get the proper nutrition
The healthier your body is, the better you feel mentally and emotionally. If you need help finding the right foods, talk to your healthcare professional or a nutritionist. Or, check out ChooseMyPlate.org. This government guide to foods and healthy eating is excellent and comes in app form as well, so you can go mobile. They have also added a section on food planning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Get outside
The benefits of being outside are well documented and have been prescribed by physicians throughout history. Even in winter, take some time to enjoy being outdoors. The sun provides much-needed vitamin D for our bodies, which also plays a role in our mental well-being. Vitamin D deficiency is an issue for many people.
Nature is soothing and slows everything down, allowing a mental break in a stressful day. If the weather permits, take your work outside for a while. Do a phone call outside. Take a 10-minute walk. Or just sit and focus on the sights and sounds around you. The stimulation for your brain may be just the thing to give you a mental boost for the day.
Volunteering feels good emotionally because you know you are helping others. When we make positive changes in others’ lives, it has a great impact on our own. This is also an opportunity to connect with others in your community.
Being able to change a life, even in the smallest of ways, provides purpose. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities from the local to worldwide level. If you have trouble deciding, make a list of issues you are passionate about and start there. Something as simple as writing a note to someone each day to lift their spirits will lift your own as well.
5. Be kind to yourself
We all have a running mental chatter going on in our brain. Pay attention to the chatter. Is it negative in tone? Are you being hard on yourself? You may be surprised at what you “hear” when you are more mindful of your ongoing mental chatter. Change negative thoughts about yourself with purposeful positive ones. And give yourself a break!
6. Practice mindfulness and meditation
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware of what’s going on around us, our senses, and being present in any moment. Being mindful takes practice, especially to not be too reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
Research is proving that mindfulness and meditation bring many benefits to all ages. Whenever you focus on awareness of what you’re experiencing via your senses, your thoughts and your emotions, you’re being mindful. For example, you sit down to relax with a cup of tea. Feel the warmth of the mug in your hand. Feel the shape of the mug. Smell the tea. Focus on the taste as it hits your tongue.
Meditation provides many long-term benefits, including lower stress levels, coping with pain, improved mental focus, making stronger connections with others, and being kinder to ourselves. Mindful.org provides a basic beginner’s guide to meditation. However, there are many videos and apps that also walk you through meditation and mindfulness exercises. A quick Internet search will provide a wealth of resources to help you.
7. Try something new
Trying new things creates opportunities for our brain to make new pathways and stimulates our thinking. New things also create a sense of anticipation and excitement. Try a new recipe, a new hobby, art, writing, reading a new book or new magazine, the practice of bonsai, puzzles, games.
8. Be wary of social media
Although social media can provide a way of connecting with friends and family, especially during times of isolation, it can also create negative feelings. People tend to post only happy moments or staged pictures or what looks like a good time (they may be miserable, but smiling perfectly in that selfie). In teens, they may see friends hanging out and wonder why they weren’t invited. Other posts may incite anger or fear due to false information or just general arguing. Don’t mistake the world of social media for what you gain through true social time with friends and family.
9. Ask for help.
If none of these tips are helping and your mood is consistently low, you may be experiencing signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder. Asking for professional help is the first step to regaining your mental health. All serious mental health problems should be discussed with your doctor, who may refer you to a specialist. There is nothing shameful about needing help for a medical problem.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call 911 immediately or visit your local emergency services.
The ADHD, Mood & Behavior Center is always available to help you, whether providing resources or visits with an online psychiatrist or online therapist. Contact us with questions and concerns or to make an appointment.