When you hear the word “health,” you probably think about eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and taking medications for any medical conditions you may have. But there’s an area of health that we don’t talk about as much, though it’s just as important to our overall wellbeing.
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Mental health is about our emotional, social, and psychological well-being. Our mental health affects how we feel and act in our everyday lives. It also impacts how we handle stress, make choices, and relate to everyone in our lives.
And just like it’s normal to sometimes get a cold or sprain your ankle, it’s normal to have times when you struggle with your mental health. In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced lockdowns across the globe, mental illness spiked along with it. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five U.S. adults had a mental illness that year and one in 15 experienced both a mental illness and a substance use disorder.
The truth is, due to mental health stigmas, we don’t talk about mental health as much as we do workout plans and calorie counts. And that can mean mental health struggles don’t get treated when they emerge. Luckily, getting treatment early has been shown to reduce the risk that symptoms will get more severe. And the good news is that you can make a focus on mental health part of the culture of your family so your children can learn to make healthy choices in their adult lives. Here are five ways you can do that.
We all have stress in our lives. And when we don’t handle it in a healthy way and let it fester, it can result in serious damage to our physical and mental health. Stress can cause:
- Aches and pains
- Chest pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Headaches, dizziness, or shaking
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension
- Stomach or digestive problems
- Weakened immune system
And that’s just the physical issues. Stress can also cause emotional and mental symptoms including:
- Anxiety or irritability
- Panic attacks
- Substance use disorders
- Eating disorders
- Compulsive gambling, shopping, or other behaviors
But stress is something we have control over. And one way to exercise that control is through mindfulness meditation. “Mindfulness” doesn’t have to mean sitting cross-legged on the floor with incense lit for an hour. At its core, mindfulness is just being aware of your surroundings. It just means carving out some time to sit and be with your thoughts and feelings without judging them, even if that’s just ten minutes with your coffee in the morning. And it’s shown to be effective at treating anxiety and other mood issues.
So, next time you’re stuck in traffic, try mindfulness to cope with the stress. Resist the urge to roll down your windows and yell at other drivers. Instead, turn down your radio and sit with your feelings. Notice the feeling of your steering wheel under your hands. Name each feeling you have as it comes up, but don’t let it take over. Just notice it and let it pass. Take a few deep breaths and relax. If it makes you feel calmer, share it with your family members for the next time they’re in a stressful situation.
Stop Negative Self Talk
Some of us try our hardest to be nice to everyone in our lives. But then we say things to ourselves we wouldn’t say to our worst enemies. Negative self-talk has been shown to worsen anxiety and depression and erode self-esteem.
The first step to stopping negative self-talk is to recognize it in yourself and your family. If you find yourself thinking thoughts like “I’ll never be able to do this,” pause and question that line of thought. Why do you think you can’t do it? Then, remind yourself of the times you succeeded at tasks that were difficult, even though they were new to you. Next, try to replace that negative thought with “I’ve never done this before. But it’s a great opportunity to try something new.” If you hear your family members speaking negatively about themselves, try the same method with them until they do it out of habit.
Exercise isn’t just good for losing weight or building muscle. It’s a key component of good mental health. When we move, our brain releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins that boost our mood. That’s why just 30 minutes of exercise three to five times a week has been shown to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. And it doesn’t have to be rigorous weightlifting or jogging. Find something you like doing that makes you move — from playing tennis to walking around the block — and get moving. You’ll feel better before you know it. And encourage your family to find fun ways to stay active, whether it’s a scavenger hunt or a family dance contest to your favorite radio station.
Be a Good Role Model
Some people think that counseling is only for people with severe mental illness. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Regular visits to a therapist can give you the tools you need to deal with stress, handle arguments with your spouse, children, or colleagues, and tackle any other adversity that comes your way in a healthy manner.
So if you see a therapist, share that with your children so they have an example that mental health is something you have to work at, just like physical fitness. And tell them about your struggles, whether it’s losing out on a promotion at work, or snapping at your spouse after a stressful commute. Tell them when you used the tools you learned effectively and when you didn’t. When you have a moment you’re not proud of, explain what you could have done differently. Seeing a parent being honest about how they overcome life’s challenges will help them follow your lead later in life.
If you or someone in your family could benefit from counseling, whether it’s for a serious illness or just to learn some better coping skills, don’t hesitate to get it. You wouldn’t sit and watch as your basement flooded before you called a plumber. Don’t put off getting professional help when it comes to something as important as your mental health, either. The sooner you act, the better the results will be for everyone involved.
Written by Patrick Bailey
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Mentalhealth.gov - What Is Mental Health?
Nami.org - 2020 : Mental Health by the Numbers
Sunshinebehavioralhealth.com - RECOVERY IN A QUIET AND WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT
Mentalhealthfirstaid.org - The Importance of Early Intervention for People Facing Mental Health Challenges
My.clevelandclinic.org - Stress
Mayoclinic.org - Mindfulness exercises
Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov - The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review
Healthdirect.gov.au - Self-talk
Newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org - Mayo Mindfulness: Overcoming negative self-talk
Mayoclinic.org - Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms
“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;”
Romans 12:10 (NKJV)