May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Hooray! Mental health relates to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. We feel our mental health through the way we think, feel, and act, as well as how we handle stress and relate to others. Everyone at every age and stage of their life has mental health. Similar to how you have to maintain your physical health, mental health should be actively worked on as well. You eat fruits and vegetables and move your body for your physical health to feel good, and you should give that same care to your mental health as well. Here are some ways you can work to maintain your mental health.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again—everyone can benefit from therapy! You don’t have to wait for trauma or tragedy to happen before seeking out therapy. And when you do seek out therapy, it does not mean you’re broken or “crazy.” I like to think of therapy as a mental health check-up or physical for your brain. There are all different types of therapy, including online therapy, art therapy, talk therapy, or EMDR. If you’re interested in therapy, ask your primary care physician for a recommendation, go to your school’s counseling center if you’re a student, or look for therapists in your area on psychologytoday.com
Moving your body is not only good for your physical being, but it’s great for your mind. Light exercise or movement can help improve your mental health or offer a respite from anxious thoughts. Go for a 30-minute walk. Take a yoga class. Dance around your apartment. Getting out of your head and present in your body is great for clearing the mind and getting your heart rate up.
Food is like medicine. If you are feeding yourself fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, you’ll likely feel good mentally as well. Of course, comfort foods to help soothe us in times of distress are helpful and sometimes essential, but eating food that is healthy for your body can also help clear the mind. I notice that if I only eat bread, sugar, or junk food without any vegetables for a few days, I feel tired and slow. You can of course consult your doctor for more specific information on what foods might help lift your mood specifically, but overall incorporating fruits and veggies into your diet will help with your mental health as well.
Meditation and breathwork are proven to help regulate your nervous system and calm the mind. Meditation apps (my favorite is Headspace) offer guided meditations for an affordable price, but you can also look up guided meditations on YouTube for free. If you’re just getting started with meditation, I would recommend starting with guided ones, as the facilitator walks you through the various breathing techniques.
Without getting fully into guided meditations, simple breathing techniques throughout the day can also help ground you and regulate the nervous system. A box breath or four-part breath is commonly used to calm an anxious mind. To begin, imagine a box or rectangle in your mind’s eye. Starting at the bottom left corner of the box, inhale for four breaths, moving up to the top left-hand corner. Exhale for four breaths, moving across the box to the top right-hand corner. Inhale for four, moving down to the bottom right corner. Exhale for four, moving back to where you started. Repeat as many times as you need.
5. Reach out to a friend
Talking with friends and loved ones about our lives and our struggles is really good for our mental health. It reminds us that we’re not alone and that we have people that care about us.
If you are struggling with your mental health, there are resources available. You can visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), or call the national suicide prevention hotline (800-273-8255) in a time of need. If you are struggling with your mental health, you are not alone. Reach out.