We have heard the saying “There is no health without mental health,” but what does that mean practically? We all experience mental and emotional challenges in one form or another. Stress is an unavoidable reality of the human condition. It can be related to our work, our relationships, our health, and many other factors. Just as we try to eat well and exercise to maintain our physical well-being, so must we nurture our emotional health.
Often, we ignore signs that our mental health needs attention. We become “too comfortable” with feeling uncomfortable. In other words, we become resigned about feeling anxious, depressed, irritable, or any number of difficult emotions. As if that is just our usual reality and we need to accept it.
Here are some significant signs that your mental health needs attention and some steps you can take to improve and maintain your emotional well-being.
Signs Our mental health needs attention
If you are concerned about your mental health or that of a loved one there are some red flags to look out for. According to mentalhealth.gov here are some common signs to be aware of:
- Eating or sleeping too much or not enough
- Avoiding people and activities you usually enjoy
- Low energy
- Experiencing unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Drinking more frequently as a means to escape
- Feeling unusually forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, confused, or fearful
- Arguing more with family and friends
- Experiencing severe mood swings
- Intrusive thoughts you can’t shut off
- Inability to perform daily tasks or care for others
- Consistent anxiety or Panic attacks
Some of these signs may occur due to a difficult life situation such as losing a job, getting a worrisome health diagnosis, or going through a divorce. Other times there doesn’t seem to be an apparent reason; you just don’t feel like yourself. Often just changing some of our daily habits and self-care routines can make a noticeable difference.
Ways to improve your mental health
There are many adjustments you can make in your daily life that can have a positive impact on your mental health. Here are some tips to consider!
Connect with others- It is essential to nurture your relationships. Human beings need each other for comfort and companionship. Reach out to a trusted friend to share your feelings or simply to enjoy some relaxing time together to have fun and catch up.
Practice mindfulness- Mindfulness, or learning to focus on the present moment can help regulate any anxiety or racing, repetitive thoughts you are experiencing. There are many simple mindfulness practices you can try such as deep breathing or pleasant visualization.
Journaling- Putting your thoughts on paper can be very therapeutic. This process can help you clarify things in your own mind. You can also jot down things you are grateful for, your family, your pets, your cozy bed, or anything that sparks joy. Doing so can help you focus on all the things that are going well in your life.
Stay active- Make time to unplug and get moving. Exercise and activity can benefit both your physical and emotional well-being. Walk, dance, ride your bike, or plant a garden. There are many free classes to choose from online, from yoga to Zumba and everything in between.
Engage your mind- This can be especially true if you are out of work or retired. Mental stimulation is a life-long need. Consider taking a class, volunteering, or picking up a new hobby that awakens your creative side.
Stick to a daily routine- Being aimless can be a recipe for depression. Rise at the same time each day, get dressed, and have a daily to-do list. Even tidying up the house, doing simple errands, or walking the dog can make you feel productive and lift your spirits.
Eat healthy- Stock the fridge with lots of fresh fruits and veggies. Include some healthy protein. Food fuels energy so be sure to have three daily meals and a snack in between. Drink lots of water. While we all love an occasional treat try to limit sugar.
Enjoy the great outdoors- Taking a walk to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature can nourish the soul. There is beauty in every season whether it be birds chirping in the summer or snow shimmering in the winter. Just a few minutes outside every day is very rejuvenating.
Nurture yourself- Take a relaxing bath, enjoy a soothing cup of tea, read an inspirational book or watch a heartwarming movie. Show yourself the same self-compassion you offer your loved ones and let go of perfectionism. Never feel guilty about setting boundaries for “me time”.
Get adequate rest/ sleep- Sleep is essential to our physical and mental health. It improves our immune function, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, maintains brain function, and improves our mood. It is best to go to bed at the same time each night. And it can help to wind down prior to bedtime with a restful activity such as reading, journaling, or taking a bath. (Try to avoid electronic devices before bed.)
Talk to a professional- If you try these strategies and still feel like your mental health is struggling, consider reaching out to a qualified therapist. They can work with you to identify distorted thoughts and unproductive behaviors. A therapist can also help you develop coping skills and set new goals. The right therapist will provide a safe, non-judgmental space to share your thoughts and feelings, which is the first step toward healing and growth.
Helping others- This is a win-win endeavor. In addition to bringing joy to someone else, you are taking your mind off your worries and putting things in perspective. From checking in on an elderly neighbor to volunteering at a food cupboard, senior living community, or local school there is a multitude of possibilities.
“Protecting our mental health is easier than you might think. We can all do it every day, and with simple activities that help us feel OK, we’re better able to cope with life.” my colleague Dr. Natanya Wachtel, said to me recently. “It’s like brushing your teeth daily – important in preventing problems. It’s the same for our mental health. It can also be something that you actually look forward to. That’s the best part.”
As I mentioned earlier stress is an unavoidable reality in all our lives. We all experience ebbs and flows. So it is important to have a self-care toolkit. Sometimes those simple modifications in our daily habits such as proper rest, nutrition, physical activity, and connecting with others can have a major positive impact.
While there are many things we can do to ease depression, anxiety, isolation, and other mental health challenges, there are times when we need to reach out for professional help. There is no need to suffer in silence when therapy can provide the tools you need to get joy back in your life. Remember your mental health is just as important as your physical well-being!
Licensed Psychotherapist, Mental Health Consultant& Certified Coach.