Why does mental health matter? It influences your feelings, thoughts, and behavior daily. It affects your ability to overcome challenges, recover from hardships or setbacks, cope with stress, and build relationships. Having good mental health is more than simply the absence of a mental health illness or issue.
When you are emotionally and mentally well, it is far more profound than simply being free of anxiety, depression, or any other psychological issue. Instead of discussing mental health in terms of the absence of mental illness, we have to discuss the present's positive characteristics instead.
The Truth of Mental Health
If you are mentally healthy, you will feel content, you will laugh, have fun, feel a zest for life, cope with stress, bounce back after hardship, have a sense of purpose, be flexible, find the balance between work and play, and you will be able to build strong relationships. Moreover, you will have a measure of self-confidence and self-esteem.
Having positive mental health does not mean you won't experience difficulty. Life comes with disappointment, regardless of who you are. We all experience change and loss that can lead to stress, sadness, and anxiety. Just as a healthy person bounces back from a cold, a mentally healthy person will bounce back from stress and adversity. That's resilience.
There are coping tools to deal with difficult situations, and mentally healthy people can remain focused during the good and the bad.
So, why does it matter if you check in with yourself regularly? Regular check-ins allow you the opportunity to take notice of minor changes within you that may result in more significant issues down the line. When you are mentally healthy during good times, you will be able to stand up stronger when faced with bad circumstances.
Throughout a lifetime, most of us will experience hiccups in both our physical and mental well-being. Often, these are at their worst when we fail to check in to hear the messages our body is sending.
Your body is telling you that something is amiss. Instead of listening, you seek relief through emotional eating, drinking to excess, abusing substances, or indulging in any manner of self-destructive behaviors. You bottle it up and hope no one else notices. Or you give up and give in.
Instead, it would be best if you learned to read your red flags, recognize your triggers, and know how to manage the inevitable negativity that will come your way. You might feel great right now, even in the face of adversity, but the reality is the stronger you are now, the easier handling adversity will become.
For some reason, we have become convinced that acknowledging emotional or mental health issues is a sign of weakness. The reality of the matter is that it's a sign of strength to recognize that things aren't reasonable, and by doing so, you take the first step in overcoming the issue.
In addition to checking in with yourself often, you should aim to eat well, exercise often, have a consistent sleep pattern, and maintain strong social connections. All of this will feed into positive mental health and make it easier to protect it.
Moreover, maintaining solid social connections provides you with additional eyes who will notice you aren't quite yourself. Be open and honest with your friends and family about mental health, whether yours is strong or not. They will also benefit from open lines of communication as you never know whether they are struggling with their mental health, too.
By regularly checking in with yourself and by maintaining strong ties with others, you improve your mental health and encourage others to check in with themselves, too.
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Mental health is an important part of life – it affects how you feel about yourself, how well you do at work or school, and even how much fun you have in your free time. It’s also something that many people struggle with on their own without getting any help or support.
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Mindfulness is a practice that emphasizes awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations as a means of gaining more insight, increasing attention, improving concentration, and enhancing self-control, among many other benefits. The ultimate idea is that positive changes can be made to influence our attitudes and behaviors for the better via mindfulness producing improvements in these areas.
When it comes to situations and stimuli that can trigger fear and uncertainty, mindfulness can be a powerful tool in one’s arsenal to combat it. There are several specific ways mindfulness can promote mental health during times of fear and uncertainty, ultimately promoting overall wellness too.
Research shows that regularly practicing mindfulness can reduce stress. Since increased stress affects both short-term and long-term exposure to fear, reduction of stress is a valuable benefit. A 2010 study explored this by randomly assigning participants to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group and comparing this group against controls on self-reported measures of depression, anxiety, and psychopathology, and on neural reactivity as measured by fMRI after watching sad films.
Researchers concluded that the participants who experienced mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly less anxiety, depression, and somatic distress than the control group. Thus, this demonstrated that mindfulness meditation increased positive affect and decreased anxiety and negative affect (Davis & Hayes, 2012).
Mindfulness is also known to improve attention over time. This can be hugely beneficial when trying to cope with fear and uncertainty because one can use mindfulness to shift focus away from the source of the anxiety and towards something healthier and more positive. A 2009 study by Moore and Malinowski explored how mindfulness affected participants’ ability to focus attention and suppress distracting information.
In the study, a group of experienced mindfulness meditators was compared with a control group with no meditation experience. The conclusion was that the meditation group had significantly better performance on all measures of attention and had higher self-reported mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation practice and self-reported mindfulness were directly related to attentional functioning and cognitive flexibility (Davis & Hayes, 2012).
Less Emotionally Reactive
Often, fear causes panic, poor judgment, and poor reasoning. This can cause people to respond to fear and uncertainty very emotionally without adequately thinking things through.
However, research on mindfulness meditation shows that it decreases emotional reactivity. In a study that looked at people with experience in mindfulness meditation, evidence revealed that mindfulness meditation helped people disengage from emotionally upsetting circumstance. It also allowed them to focus on cognitive tasks better than people who saw the same images but did not practice mindfulness meditation (Davis & Hayes, 2012).
The final conclusion was that the meditation helped participants respond more appropriately emotionally (i.e. calmly) when presented with an image that should have created an adverse emotional reaction like fear or stress.
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Rumination can be defined as deep or considered thought about something. While not necessarily bad, when faced with fear and uncertainty, ruminating on the situation or the issue can lead to mental and emotional distress. However, several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination. In one study by Chamber et. al. in 2008, participants who were new to meditation were asked to participate in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat.
Following the retreat, the meditation group reported significantly higher mindfulness and a decreased negative affect than a control group. They also experienced fewer depressive symptoms and less rumination (Davis & Hayes, 2012).
Ultimately, each of these positive impacts promotes mental health, especially during times of fear and uncertainty. When we are less stressed, less emotionally reactive, have better attention, and spend less time ruminating on fearful situations/stimuli, we are better positioned to make decisions, engage with others, and navigate through life with positivity.
Thus, finding ways to practice mindfulness via meditation and similar practices can prove to be a strong strategy for improving and maintaining mental health during times of fear and uncertainty.
Davis, & Hayes. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness? https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner
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Mindfulness can be achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. It's been shown to reduce stress levels and anxiety.
With mindfulness techniques such as meditation, you can learn how to live in the now - without regretting what happened yesterday or worrying about what will happen tomorrow. You'll be able to better cope with life's inevitable difficulties when they arise. And it doesn't cost anything!
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Maybe you’re unsure of where your next paycheck is coming from. Perhaps you’re in an at-risk population and know that developing COVID-19 could prove to be fatal. Or there’s a possibility that you’re struggling mentally with the loneliness resulting from social isolation.
The most important thing you can do while living in an uncertain and risky world is prioritizing and caring for your mental health. Let’s talk about six ways that you can do that.
Do things you enjoy
One of the best ways to keep your spirits up during a crisis is to do things that make you genuinely happy. That could mean binge-watching your favorite television sitcom, listening to your favorite songs, or even going for a leisurely drive along a scenic highway. Try to do something you love at least once a day. Then, experiment with new hobbies if you’re feeling adventurous.
Stay away from drugs and alcohol
You may feel bored, lonely, or stressed during the pandemic. That might make you want to turn to drugs and alcohol to either entertain yourself, relax, or escape the negative emotions you’re feeling.
Using substances for any of these reasons and especially at times of great adversity and emotional and mental upset makes you more likely to develop an addiction or an unhealthy coping strategy. For the sake of your mental health, it’s best to avoid drugs and alcohol at this time entirely.
Focus on your physical health
There’s a direct link between your mental health and your physical health, and one does not exist without the other. Therefore, you must prioritize a healthy diet, frequent exercise, and adequate sleep.
Each of these has the potential to improve your mood and reduce your current level of stress. Commit to a workout schedule (perhaps five days a week), eating a balanced diet (add as many colors as possible), and sleeping (try for 7-9 hours).
Find a way to cope
The best way to protect your mental health is by having a healthy coping mechanism to help you work through your emotions. Luckily, this is the perfect time to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Be sure to experiment with healthy methods, such as meditation, reading, deep breathing, exercising, or expressing yourself via art. The perfect coping strategy will ease your mind and reduce your stress.
Stick to a routine
At first, having a ton of free time was relieving. But at a certain point, you most likely lost your motivation and desire to stick to a schedule during your day-to-day life. Though a bit of freedom is great, your mental health should stick to some sort of routine schedule, especially during these trying times. Be sure to shower and change your clothes each morning, eat around the exact times each day, and create a work schedule that you can stick to. Consistency is key.
Stay in contact with loved ones
While you’re thankful to be physically healthy during this crisis, your social relationships have been negatively impacted. Not being able to spend time with your family and friends has led you to feel lonely and isolated.
To keep your relationships and improve your mental health, be sure to stay in contact with those most important to you. Schedule video calls with your best friends, and don’t let the physical distance deter your relationships.
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There’s a good chance that this pandemic will take a toll on your mental health in some way. But when your low mood or stress becomes debilitating, you might be better off making an appointment with a therapist or a counselor instead. Try the methods above first and give them time to work but know when to get professional help.
Mental health is a priority for most of us, but it's not always easy to
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