This year, healthcare professionals around the world celebrate World Mental Health Day on Tuesday, October 10th. As a busy mom with multiple professional responsibilities, I’m especially passionate about this topic. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how you choose to spend your time—mental health should always be a priority. Here, I’ll talk a little more about what it means to be mentally healthy and the challenges you might face in trying to maintain good mental wellness. This year, let’s make it a point to end the stigma associated with seeking professional help for mental illnesses and take better care of ourselves!
World Mental Health Day: Mental Health Awareness
What exactly does mental health entail—and why does the world need a World Mental Health Day? Mental health encompasses your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects your mood, your personal relationships, the way you react to everyday situations, and your ability to meet life’s challenges. Many factors can contribute to good or poor mental health, including your genetics, your formative years and past experiences, your physical wellness, and your current circumstances, to name a few. If depression and anxiety run in your family, for example, you may be more susceptible to them yourself. (Note that this doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily inherit your parents’ or grandparents’ exact mental health problems.)
Even if you haven’t experienced them yourself, you’re probably familiar with common mental health conditions, like major depressive disorder (MDD), social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and eating disorders. You may also know about mental illnesses that stem from specific events or time periods, like perinatal/postpartum depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. Other important mental health topics include antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Most of these conditions will not improve without expert professional care. That’s why it’s so important to be able to talk about your own mental well-being without fear of stigma, shame, or other social and professional repercussions.
Why is Mental Health Important?
Even if you’ve never experienced a significant period of mental illness, you probably already understand how important it is to maintain good mental health. If you know what it’s like to feel stressed out by school, your job, or your family life, you have some idea of what it’s like to feel mentally unwell. When you’re not feeling your best, you may find it difficult or even impossible to perform the functions of your job or enjoy good relationships with your family and friends. Poor mental health can lead you to make bad choices, like binging on alcoholic drinks or comfort foods that make you feel sluggish. You likely won’t enjoy the best sleep of your life when you’re not feeling mentally healthy, which can, in turn, make you feel even worse. And while exercise is a wonderful way to help kick-start a better mood, feeling mentally unwell can tank your motivation to hit the gym or head out for a run. Poor mental health can become a vicious cycle: You’re not motivated to take good care of yourself, and so you let your good daily habits slide. Then you feel even worse, and you’re even less motivated to engage in self-care practices.
Additionally, your mental health plays an important role in your physical well-being. Depression, for example, has been linked to a number of serious conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Likewise, if you’re suffering from a serious physical illness or injury, you may experience a decline in your overall mental wellness. Taking the best possible care of your mind is taking the best possible care of your body, and vice-versa. Now let’s check out some smart self-care tips for mental health.
How to Take Care of Your Mental Health
You’ve probably heard of “taking a mental health day” at work to give yourself some time to rest, relax, and decompress. Here are some other actionable steps to help you improve and maintain your mental well-being.
Check-in With Your Eating Habits
It’s so tempting to snack your way through a party-size bag of chips and a package of cookies when you’re feeling down—but resist the temptation as much as you can. A balanced and nutritious diet of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats is much better for your brain (and body). Be mindful of your caffeine and alcohol consumption, and enjoy sugary treats in moderation. But if you do fall off the healthy-eating bandwagon, cut yourself some slack and remember that we all need a splurge now and then.
Make Time for Exercise
I know that when I feel stressed or depressed, 99% of me want to sit on the couch. The other 1% knows that going for a brisk walk would be a better choice. When I can listen to that 1% and summon the willpower to get up and move, I never end up regretting it. Exercise is an important means of caring for your mental health. You don’t have to run a marathon or sign up for an intense training regimen to enjoy the benefits of exercise, either. Go for a fifteen-minute walk at lunch, try riding your bike to work or the store, or make time for some gentle yoga before bed.
Spend Time in Nature
Speaking of that quick walk, spending time in nature has many mental health benefits. And don’t worry—you don’t have to go full Boy or Girl Scout to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Go for a quick walk or jog, plan hiking or fishing, or try moving your work-from-home station to your deck or yard.
Reach Out to Loved Ones
Your relationships with loved ones play an important role in your mental well-being. When you maintain healthy connections to family and friends, you can better manage your anxiety, depression, and stress. So call your mom or dad, text an old friend you’ve been missing, or ask your favorite coworker to meet you for lunch. Even a few minutes of lively conversation can lift your spirits.
Ask for Help
I can’t possibly emphasize this enough: There is zero shame in seeking professional help for your mental well-being. It doesn’t make you weak, and it doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Some mental health conditions simply won’t resolve without expert care, whether that’s through talk therapy, prescription medication, or a professionally-moderated support group. It’s okay for you to need those things and to take advantage of them to get well. You deserve to feel secure, balanced, and happy.
I’m glad there’s a World Mental Health Day to spread awareness of the importance of mental health. But going forward, let’s make it every day. Taking care of your mind is taking care of you.
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