May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. It is a topic that is much more widely discussed these days, than it was when I was growing up. Thankfully, we live in a time where there are numerous resources to empower each of us in becoming more mindful of our own mental health and well-being.
Because awareness on mental health is so important, I decided to reach out to practitioners and friends to learn more about how they approach the subject of mental health.
First, what is “mental health” exactly?
Mental health Defined
The Center for Disease Control concludes that mental health “includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same. “A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.”
In terms of our overall well-being and health, mental and physical health are equally important components. For example, the CDC states that depression increases the risk for many types of physical health problems.
So, the more we understand how to address factors that impact our well-being, the greater our quality of life. Just like we care for our physical health, we can also care for our mental health.
But what does caring for our own mental well-being look like?
A Return to Nature
I decided to call upon my esteemed friend, Patty Purpur de Vries. Patty is the former Director of Stanford University’s “BeWell” program, and is now Caretaker of the Land, Lifestyle Coach and Team Energizer for LivingWell USA, which she founded.
Patty’s message on mental well-being is centered on the idea of returning to nature:
“Biophilia (a desire or tendency to commune with nature), is the idea that our being loves and craves the natural world. When we separate ourselves from the earth we suffer. We have spent most of our existence in harmony and in respect for nature until about 200 years ago as ‘progress’. Just 2 hours a week in nature can reverse our symptoms and move us closer to our natural state of wellbeing. As John Muir said “Climb the mountains to get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow through you as sunshine flows into the trees.
The good news is that we don’t need to climb a mountain to feel the sunshine and benefits of the great outdoors. In nature, we can find our authentic being free from the judgements of the human experience. Time in nature reminds us of our value, our power, and our purpose, which is ultimately to care for our world, all of its inhabitants and its future.”
Not only is a reconnection to nature a key contributor to improving mental health, but so is the connections we make in our social life.
Making social Connections
Hansa Pankhania, Author, Executive Coach and founder of AUM Consultancy in the UK, provides a useful mental health tip: “Research shows that people with a strong support network have higher levels of mental and physical wellbeing”. Hansa explains some common causes of loneliness and presents a simple five step model to help her readers build a thriving social support network. The aim is to show that taking steps can have many other related benefits.
Seema Bhatia, Ayurvedic, Mind, Body, and Soul Coach, recommends the following:
“Spend time with your loved ones, learn to be tuned in and really listen and talk about your feelings. Keep moving – yoga, nature walks, breathing, stay hydrated and experience prana rich foods.”
Mental health “hygiene” can improve mood and decrease stress according to Stanford Medicine’s Scope blog.Dr. Hui Qi Tong, shares how dedicating a few minutes each morning on mental health “hygiene” – meditation, stretching or walking – creates positive behaviors by incorporating mindfulness. But Tong says just about any activity can qualify, as long as you are paying attention to what you are doing while you perform the task.
In fact, even brushing your teeth can become part of mental health hygiene when practiced with deliberation.
“Mindfully brushing the teeth is actually part of the home practice assignments for the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program,” Tong said. “In the program, group members are asked to carry out these seemingly trivial, often overlooked routines intentionally, rather than on auto-pilot as we usually do.”
So, improving our mental health and well-being is in large part about tuning into to the world around us, whether it be nature, cultivating our social networks, maintaining healthy physical activities and deliberately paying attention to even the simplest of activities (i.e., tuning out the numerous distractions that haunt us each day).
How do you seek to improve your mental health? Well, I decided to take a simple survey which asked contributors to share the number one way that they practice mental health.
Mental Wellness Flash Survey
Here they are in order from highest to lowest numbers of people who practice the same:
Practicing yoga, “keeps you going all day”.
Connecting with friends, “very cathartic”.
Practicing mindfulness by the beach.
Pranayama. “Slows me down and works fast”.
Swimming in the ocean.
Pottery and painting.
“Me Time”, scheduled weekly into the calendar.
Adopt a pet.
Dance, as I am doing housework.
Tapping Technique, using Tapping Solutions by Nick Ortner.
Boxing, to help with focusing as well as releasing unforeseen tension in body and thoughts.
Listening to my favorite music.
My approach to becoming more mentally fit involves being realistic, practicing open-mindedness and gratitude. Reading, praying, memorizing scripture and journaling help improve memory, keep our brains healthy, improves focus, communication skills, and aids sleep.
I try to learn new skills as much as I possibly can. Yes, even testing my knowledge of new programs on my laptop. I find this motivating and, not to mention, an instant boost to self-esteem and self-love!
Yet, the most beneficial improvements to my mental wellness involves being with others.
Breathing & Bloodflow
This morning I met with Sky Bardoniqi, Founder of Imperial Hair Concept in Luxembourg. Sky is passionate about self-care. So, I decided to ask him how he cares for his mental well-being.
Cryotherapy, also known as “cold hydrotherapy”, is something that Sky practices daily. He says this stimulates endorphins to help combat stress, anxiety, and depression. An ultimate form of mindfulness focused on breathing. It supports immunity and delivers an energy boost.
Whilst we were chatting, Sky noticed I was a little tense and suggested I treat myself to a head massage and hair masque. Convinced that it would help relieve stress and reduce tension, I settled in for the special treatment. Pressure applied specific points on my neck and head instantly soothed my migraine, increasing the blood flow to the brain.
The masque applied was relaxing and I sensed that improved blood circulation meant better absorption of nutrients and essential oils for improved hair growth and sound sleep!
Thank you Sky and Kaltrina, for the community meeting, educational conversations, and a relaxing treatment.
The point being that we also find well-being in the company of those who show seva: selfless care and attention to others. And I needed that sort of care especially now.
As I began working on this article, I learned of a close family member who has been diagnosed with “Progressive Supranuclear Palsy”, a late-onset degenerative disease for which there is no cure at the present time.
I am deeply saddened by the news. It highlights the need for even greater awareness about mental health.
But it also highlights a need for those directly affected by diseases and conditions that impact mental well-being; both the patient as well as their loved ones who take the role of care givers. Whilst family members serving as caregivers provide the patient with constant familiarity and well-being as well as companionship to the patient, they too struggle with grief.
What can we do? We can support families with food-to-go gifts, small errands, books, notes, words of encouragement and reaching out. Have conversations about Palliative Care or Hospice Care. Be available and ready to listen to those who are silently suffering.
There is so much more we can do today to improve our mental well-being. Let’s celebrate improvements in our health, while we spread awareness about mental health.
Wishing all my readers great mental health and happiness!
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