May is Mental Health Awareness month. Even if you’re new to me and Mind Your Strength, you probably already know how incredibly important mental health is to me.
Mental health is a wide and varied subject, but Mental Health Awareness month really boils down to three main priorities:
- reducing the stigma surrounding mental health
- encouraging those suffering in silence to seek help, and
- promoting positive habits that can help improve mental health and overall wellness.
This post is all about prioritizing yourself! Whether you’re a parent, business owner, employee, child, sibling, or friend, you probably have people that depend on you in one way or another. And while those types of responsibilities can often be enjoyable or contribute to the overall makeup of our whole selves, it is also all too easy to get lost in serving others – and when this happens, our self-care is usually the FIRST thing to get pushed to the back burner!
The reality is, we cannot show up as our best selves for others when we’re not showing up as our best selves for ourselves. But it’s easier than you think! Here are some easy habits you can implement that will help you make yourself and your mental health a priority!
Start a Gratitude Journal
Keeping a gratitude journal is an incredibly easy habit to implement. Grab a notebook or journal dedicated just for gratitude. (You can even find some that are specially designed for this purpose!) Then, spend 5 minutes each morning and 5 minutes each evening writing down 3 things you are grateful for.
It is unbelievable how this small step can make a huge impact on your attitude and mindset for the day, and it also gives you an opportunity to take a minute to reflect on your accomplishments for each day!
Get Better Sleep
I know, I know….this one is easier said than done sometimes. As much as we all know we need sleep, stress can often cause the quality and duration of our sleep to go down. But there are a few things you can do to improve your sleep habits, and the quality of your zzz’s!
Try unplugging a few hours earlier at night. Grab a book. Take a long bath. Tidy up the house. Write down your goals for the next day (a personal favorite of mine). By unplugging from the constant stimulation of our phones and news stations, we produce both serotonin and dopamine receptors which help to combat anxiety/depression. Additionally, spending some screen-free time before bed will ease your wind-down, helping you fall asleep faster!
Your Diet Makes a Difference
I’ve talked about the value of focusing on nutrition, especially when it comes to navigating and acknowledging crappy feelings, in my Life on Hold: Coping with Coronavirus Precautions post a few weeks ago. Being stressed out or feeling emotions we often don’t feel comfortable with (sadness, anger, etc) can cause us to resort to binge eating or excessive drinking. The body and mind are looking for sources of comfort, but we often do more harm than good when we reach for the WRONG things in search for that comfort!
Get creative in the kitchen! Eat more leafy greens (which also increase our serotonin levels) and up the hydration! Aim to drink 8-10 glasses of water every day. It will help flush your system and let your brain know that we are not in flight or fight and it’s ok to put that brake pedal on.
Diet can be a tricky thing to master, but when done right comes with a plethora of benefits. There is no shortage of fad diets or blanket advice to look through, and you can certainly find helpful information and recipes on the web to get you started. However, if you have pre-existing health conditions or specific concerns, it’s always best to talk with a doctor or nutritionist.
Get Outside for some Vitamin D
Sunlight helps your body produce the vitamin D nutrient which is good for your bones, blood cells, and immune system. Exposure to sunlight is also thought to increase the brain’s release of serotonin which can boost your mood and help you feel both calm and focused. You don’t have to be sitting by the pool all day to reap the benefits – although that would be nice! – a 5-10 minute brisk walk in the sunshine will reinvigorate your mood and your energy! And since we mentioned a brisk walk…..
Move Your Body
Not only is regular exercise great for your physical health, but it can work wonders on your mental health, too. Regular exercise can have a positive impact on depression and anxiety, helps reduce stress, improve memory, improve sleep, and can boost your self-esteem and overall mood! A recent study done by Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes, or walking for one hour, per day could reduce depression by up to 26%.
Even a little bit of activity is better than nothing, so don’t think you have to get off the couch and head straight into a triathlon. Start small by implementing realistic habits that you can stick to. Remember, you won’t see results overnight, but once you do start seeing the difference, you’ll be motivated to continue!
When you socialize with others, you boost feelings of well-being while reducing feelings of depression. Social connections can also improve your mood, and some research shows it can even lower your risk of dementia! And for you introverts out there, don’t worry! This can be as simple as a cup of coffee with a friend, or a quick chat with the neighbor.
With life as we know it currently on pause and restrictions related to social-distancing in place, it might seem like your social life is on permanent hold. If you can’t meet face to face, pick up the phone and CALL (not text!) a friend or loved one, or hop on a Zoom or Google Hangouts video chat to get in some face time!
Talk with a Coach or Therapist
Having a spouse, significant other, or close friend that you feel comfortable enough to talk openly with is a beautiful thing, and it can absolutely impact your mental health in a positive way. Sure, you may get great advice from your BFF, but working with a coach or therapist takes “venting” to the next level! A coach can help you make deeply personal changes while increasing your understanding of yourself and others around you. They’re more likely to be able to help you identify negative patterns that could be holding you back, which can often hide in the blind spots of ourselves or our typical closest confidants.
Working with a professional will help you maximize your mental health efforts and reach your most cherished goals by guiding true, transformative change from the inside out!
If you are looking for additional ways to improve your mental health or to reach your goals, let’s set up a call to talk about taking your self-care to the next level!
Mind your strength,
Melanie Shmois, MSSA, LISW-S, is a licensed social worker, holding a Master’s Degree (MSSA) from Case Western Reserve University and a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. After spending 2 decades helping others achieve their mental and personal goals, Melanie worked with Master Coach Instructor, Brooke Castillo, and became a certified Life and Weight Coach through the Life Coach School.