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5 Ways to Prioritize Your Mental Health this Mental Health Awareness Month

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, and there’s no time to evaluate your psychological well-being like the present. Life can get hectic, and it’s smart to pause and check in with yourself to be sure that you’re in a happy place—and to reach out for support if not.  This month is also a great opportunity to spread awareness of the value of expert mental health treatment, like talk therapy and prescription medication. While society has come a long way in reducing the stigma around mental illness, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Let’s delve into the importance of taking good care of your mental health and explore some available resources when you’re not feeling your best.

Why is Mental Health Important?

W/hat is mental health anyway? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe mental health as, “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.” Mental health affects a broad range of aspects of the Self, including thoughts, feelings, behavior, and decision-making. Mental health influences every part of life, from sleep patterns to eating choices and interactions with other people. It even affects physical well-being—likewise, your physical well-being can affect your mental state. This means taking good care of your mind is one way to improve your physical health, and vice-versa.

psychologist hold hands of girl patient
Mental health affects a broad range of aspects of the Self. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

The CDC distinguishes between poor mental health and diagnosable mental illness. You may not have a serious mental health condition like clinical depression or generalized anxiety disorder, but you can still feel stressed, anxious, and irritable. On the other hand, you may live with a psychiatric disorder and lead a happy, healthy, and productive life. No one can control everything that affects their mental well-being (like a history of trauma, current stresses, and genetics), but everyone can take actionable steps to find ways to heal and become 1% better each day. Mental health profiles are as unique as each individual, but one thing applies to everyone: proper psychological and emotional self-care is necessary.

How Life Affects Our Mental Well-Being

So much can influence one’s mental health, from work, family, and social lives to dietary choices, sleeping habits, exercise routines, and stress reduction strategies. Even something as seemingly insignificant as your daily commute can affect your psychological well-being (especially if it’s terrible). Working for a toxic boss or sharing an office with obnoxious coworkers can make anyone feel stressed, grouchy, and discouraged. Skimping on sleep can cause or exacerbate issues like depression and anxiety.

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to eliminate every source of stress and irritation in life. That’s why knowing which mental health factors you can control is important. Here are some of the keys to taking good care of yourself:

  • Practice good sleep habits to ensure you get the rest you need each night. (This has been HUGE for me)
  • Eat a balanced diet and minimize your intake of sugary and salty snacks. Consuming Whole Foods is the key — not processed food.
  • Set personal limits on screen time usage and take periodic social media breaks.
  • Make time for simple mindfulness meditation or other relaxation techniques like the 4-7-8 breathing exercise.
  • Spend quality time with family and good friends. More importantly, surround yourself with people that make you feel good.

Of course, there are times when you shouldn’t try to handle everything life throws at you without help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you should know that reaching out for support from a professional is a brave and beneficial act. If you feel habitually sad, listless, grumpy, or unfocused, or don’t feel like yourself, it may be time to seek expert care. This doesn’t mean you’re crazy, weak, or ungrateful for all the good things in your life. Instead, it means that you care enough about yourself and all the good you bring to the world to ask for help from a doctor or therapist. Remember, vulnerability is a strength.

man having session with professional psychologist at mental health clinic
If you don’t feel like yourself, it may be time to seek expert care. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

If this is your first time seeking professional mental health care, you may feel overwhelmed and intimidated by finding a provider. You might ask your family doctor or general practitioner if they have any good referrals for you. A trusted family member or close friend may have a recommendation, or you could ask your spiritual or religious leader, if applicable. Are you feeling shy or need to practice social distancing for health and safety reasons? You might check out an online therapy service, like BetterHelp or Talkspace.  You can connect with a licensed therapist or other expert practitioners from the comfort of your home and enjoy more scheduling flexibility. And, thanks to these useful mental health apps, you can supplement your time with a therapist or psychiatrist with simple exercises at home or on the go. I’m obviously biased, but I’m really proud of the 1AND1 App. You can use it to build healthy habits and take action — two things that are important when trying to improve your mental health.

If you’re experiencing a mental health emergency, get help immediately by dialing 988. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day to assist you if you’re in immediate distress. If you’re in a bad place and think you may harm yourself, don’t wait—get the help you need!

How to Celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month

This Mental Health Awareness Month, spread the message about why mental health treatment and good self-care are important. It’s much easier now to talk about struggles with mental health than it was for people just ten years ago, but there is still a long way to go. You might post something about your favorite mental health app on your social media channels or share an article about mental wellness. Try checking in with your closest family members and friends to find out how they’re doing and encourage them to engage in good mental self-care habits. Or find someone in your life who engages in the same self-care practices you do (like yoga, jogging, or meditation) and make time to do them together regularly. Remember, acts of kindness do in fact, change the world.

Stop the Stigma: Why it’s important to talk about Mental Health | Heather Sarkis | TEDxGainesville

Look, life isn’t a breeze for anyone. We all experience periods of feeling stressed, anxious, and unmotivated. Remember that you bring so much good to the world and deserve to feel your best to reach your full potential. Always remember that you’re worthy of self-care, along with any professional help you may choose to ask for. Keep up the good work during Mental Health Awareness Month and all year long—you got this, and you’re not alone.