As a Licensed Behavior Specialist, I truly recognize and believe in the power of Mental Health Awareness. So often we diminish the effects the information overload, emotional turmoil, and physical stress put on us daily. We don’t recognize the damage until we are too far in and can’t pull ourselves out. You’ve been there, right?
Coming from a background in Psychology, I understand why there is such a stigma against the need for Mental Health solutions in our homes, schools, the workplace, etc. The world of psychology, the study of the human mind as it translates to, is shrouded in nuances, ambiguity, and too many schools of thought to keep up with. It would be confusing for anyone outside of the realm of study to comprehend.
But aside from all that, Mental Health Matters! And…it is for EVERYONE!
Before we jump in, let me clarify the difference between Mental Health and Mental Illness, as I think people often misinterpret one term for the other. Mental Health, as defined by the World Health Organization is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community.” Mental Illness, on the other hand, is associated with “distress and/or problems functioning in social, work, or family activities.” Mental Illness involves uncharacteristic or outlandish changes in emotion, thinking, behavior, or a combination of the three and even more so, Mental Illness is common, regardless of how uncomfortable talking about it may be.
So with the notion of Mental Illness being common, how do we buffer our lives to ensure that we strive to maintain positive Mental Health? Well, I’m glad you asked!
First, let’s identify our protective factors and risk factors, respectively.
Protective Factors include things like:
1. Having basic needs met (food, clothing, shelter)
2. Being physically fit
3. Feeling a sense of belonging
4. Spending time with people you enjoy
Risk Factors, on the other hand, include:
1. Childhood trauma
2. Traumatic life experiences
3. Substance Abuse dependency
4. Having a Parent or Family Member with Mental Illness
See the difference? One has the ability to protect us from Mental Illness, whereas the other puts us at risk. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. I’m sure if you took some time to write down every protective factor and every risk factor you could think of (even those out of your control), you’d have a much longer list and an even better picture of what composes your life. Oh hey, you’d like to do that now. Okay, great! Let’s give it a go - I’ll wait 😊
The next step, (after compiling your Protective Factors and Risk Factors list), is to identify the areas in your life that support positive Mental Health. If you have very few or none at all, this is the time to build those areas! Support for positive Mental Health looks like building resiliency; maintaining or improving physical health; managing, expressing, and using emotions appropriately; developing healthy coping methods; sustaining worthwhile relationships, and evolving into an optimistic thinker (those who see life as a journey not a destination).
To be frank, you probably won’t be able to increase the impact of these areas on your overall life and health in one instant. That would be wonderful, but it’s not very realistic. It takes time to build resolve that will last! Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Pompeii was surely buried by one volcanic eruption…Let’s not allow the eruptions in life to completely bury us.
There are things you can implement right now, at this very stage of your life, that will positively impact your Mental Health and lower your chances of developing Mental Illness. Again, not an exhaustive list, but these are great starters!
1. Develop Healthy Eating Habits
Whether you chose to become a Vegan, Vegetarian, or an all-out Carnivore, vegetables, fruit, and lots of waters should be staples in your daily eating habits. Healthy eating is not a quick fix or one-way approach, it’s a habit that you have to build upon daily. You must develop the habits now that your future self will thank you for.
2. Get Active. Be Active. Stay Active.
Physical Activity is one of life’s greatest pleasures. There are so many people who don’t have the opportunity to use their limbs as freely as they’d like. If you wake up each day with the ability to move physically, even with minor aches and pains (join the club), then I implore you to get more active in your daily life. Find activities that fit into your current schedule (walking, bike riding, YouTube fitness videos, etc.) and as you build tenacity, add more and more fitness-like things into your life. Trust me – the benefits are far reaching!
3. Get Quality Sleep
As a chronic non-consistent sleeper, I can’t tell you the number of times I have been awake for periods of 24 hours straight, attempting to work through delirium…it’s not a pretty sight at all! Over the years, I have learned to listen to my body. It would be ideal to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. On the nights (well actually, early mornings) when I wake up at 3, 4, or 5 am, I typically go to my reading nook, pray, meditate, or journal. Lately, I’ve been using those wee hours to prep blog posts. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is ideal for us all – but for those of us who can only get a few hours of quality sleep, find ways to utilize those non-sleeping hours effectively.
4. Complete a Life Inventory
Take time to seriously review what matters to you and then celebrate that over and over again! This may include spending uninterrupted time with family members, visiting distant relatives or friends, taking long drives, participating in spiritual practices, sipping a hot cup of tea as you watch the sunrise (one of my favorites), etc. Whatever it is, be bold about it, don’t settle, and then exploit the heck out of it! Do it constantly and consistently. For example, I have the most limited eating habits of any adult I know, but I absolutely LOVE going out to eat with family and friends. It’s something about the atmosphere, the belly laughs, the story-telling, the food of course, and just the experience overall. I do that quite often because it brings me great joy and is an important part of my life. Find yours!
5. Build and Enjoy Healthy Relationships
Relationships that provide support, encouragement, love, respect, and make you feel valued are necessary in life! Honestly, relationships have the ability to be a source of strength or stress. This includes a spouse, romantic partner, family members, friends, children, co-workers, etc. We each have a number of relationships that we manage on a day to day basis and yes, a certain level of conflict is to be expected in those relationships. However, if maintaining a relationship with someone causes you to feel anything less than what’s listed above or forces you to behave ways that are uncharacteristic or misaligned with your life inventory, then the relationship is not worth it. Repeat after me: I am worthy. I am loved. I deserve happiness. I will not settle.
Developing and maintaining positive Mental Health does not just affect you – it impacts every person you come in contact with and has the ability to alter the trajectory of their own life.
How profound is that?
Do you see why we can’t take this stuff lightly?!
Statistics show that 1 in 5 people will experience a Mental Illness at some point in their lifetime. I’d like to say that I wholeheartedly believe the tools above, in combination with consistent Psychotherapy sessions (i.e. a Therapist, Mental Health Worker, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, etc.), provide the framework for a fulfilled life and allow us to experience all that is available to us. And when challenges come, and yes, they will come, you will have the arsenal to handle them!
So now, go! Take charge of your Mental Health! And remember, it is truly for EVERYONE!
*Written by Donielle I. Turner, MS (Licensed Behavior Specialist) *