For years, the term “mental health” has felt taboo. It's conjured up the feeling of something
being “wrong”, which seems so silly because every one of us experiences things that challenge our mental health every.single.day. As a society, we have gotten to a point where we understand that attending to our mental health isn’t taboo, rather - it’s a requirement.
The pandemic of COVID-19 has tested everyone’s mental stability and there’s good and bad to that. The bad part is the whole situation sucks. It’s very draining and frustrating and causes a lot of stress and anxiety. We are used to living a life where we have an idea what the next day, week, or month might look like, and now we can’t be sure what the future looks like. Plus, COVID has us living in a state of fear. Not knowing what is or isn’t safe. Between a lack of control and constant fear, we are being tested. The good part is, each and every one of us has been forced to grow and adapt to this “new normal”, which will leave us all better prepared for future mental challenges.
So, let’s get started by asking, What is mental health?
WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH?
According to mentalhealth.gov,
“Mental health includes our emotional and social well-being.
It affects how we think, how we feel, and how we act.”
That’s pretty heavy. Thankfully we have evolved to recognize the need to take care of our mental health, but how do we do that? For starters, it’s easier to understand how our mental health has been tested.
Due to COVID, our mental health has largely been tested by uncertainty; the uncertainty of not knowing what to do to keep you and your family safe, the uncertainty of how the virus is transmitted, the uncertainty around whether to hug your loved ones... the list goes on and on. WE HAVE BEEN TESTED!
Just take a moment to appreciate how well you’ve been adapting. This pandemic is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, and you are still here fighting for another day! Because of this whole, challenging life experience you and your mental health are stronger and better prepared to deal with mental health challenges in the future. It might be the uncertainty of a future promotion or the sale of a new home. Maybe it’s dealing with the stress of juggling kids schedules and your own work and social schedule. One thing is for certain, life is full of challenges. The more you overcome, the more capable you become.
HOW TO CARE FOR MENTAL HEALTH
Now you understand that mental health is important and how it is being tested, so let’s explore some actions you can take to improve your mental health.
To start, you need to turn up the volume on your awareness. What does that mean, exactly? Instead of rushing around until you feel so overwhelmed that you want to scream, SLOW DOWN! Check-in with yourself periodically throughout the day and observe how you’ve been feeling and acting. If you notice you’ve been rude or harsh or judgmental, that’s a good sign that your mental health is being tested. Start here:
Set a two-minute timer.
Take deep breaths, counting to six on both the inhale and exhale.
See how you feel.
Managing our stress is a huge factor that affects our mental health. Who can honestly say they were the best version of themselves when they were stressed? Remember, mental health affects how we feel, how we think, and how we act. Simply managing our stress is something we have control of that can improve our overall mental health.
When we “turn up the volume on our awareness,” we’re paying attention to our stress. A major result of COVID is the loss of connection. We live in a fortunate time of instant messaging and video chat, but nothing replaces being together in person. Human beings are social beings. We need human interaction to feel complete because it feeds our sense of belonging. Nurturing your social connections is a HUGE way to take care of your mental health, but these days there are tons of concerns and anxieties around being social due to the pandemic. But the answer isn’t to avoid them, the answer is to talk about them!
Start small. Connect with a couple of members of your family or really close friends. Have an open and honest conversation about what each of you has been doing for the last two weeks to make sure you all feel safe, and discuss what each of you is comfortable with. Be smart: do some research into how the virus is transmitted because this is not the time to judge others and their fears or beliefs. This is the time for respect and understanding, and the only person who can judge your safety or comfort level is YOU.
Work within your comfort zone but be creative! Having this conversation before a meeting will ease everyone’s anxieties and provide a trusting environment for you to connect with others and care for your mental health.
Taking care of your body is another way to care for your mental health. Physical activity will leave you feeling accomplished! Making sure you get enough sleep allows your brain and body the time they need to rest and decompress so you can take on another day. We all know how lack of sleep affects us, and it’s even more important now thanks to all the extra stress and anxiety.
Make sure you drink enough water; this will help your body do what it needs to do. Let’s face it, the last thing you need is for something inside you to start giving you a problem. Hydration is extremely important for maintaining your body’s functions. Without proper hydration we can suffer urinary issues, blood pressure complications, gastrointestinal issues, temperature regulation abnormalities to name a few.
Eat a balanced diet. Now, it’s common knowledge that our bodies respond better to healthy food, but if we never have a “treat” we feel deprived and then we binge. So, your goal should be to make 80% healthy food choices and 20% more of a treat. We have one vessel on this earth - our body. When it is taken care of, it doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain itself, requiring less mental energy, resulting in much less stress on the body and mind.
Have you ever heard someone ask, “Does it fill your cup?” What they’re wondering is, what actions replenish your mental, emotional, or physical energy? This is a great question to ask yourself because it’s the easiest way to monitor your mental health. If something doesn’t replenish your mental, emotional, or physical energy, then it is draining it.
Simple daily actions like staying positive or helping others fill most peoples’ cup. Expressing love and affection to the people who have been in your life can fill your cup. You’ve heard time and time again, “We’re in this together” (I know, it’s a little annoying at this point) but it’s true! All of us are dealing with similar stressors, and all of us need to spend more time taking care of our mental health because it’s being challenged more than ever. Reaching out to coworkers or family members to simply say “I love you” and “You’re doing a great job” will not only make them feel better, but it’ll make you feel good too.
IT’S YOUR DECISION
In a time where our sense of control is challenged, we need to focus on what we can control. Taking care of our mindset and our mental health is the best form of control we have. We get to decide each and every day how we’re going to let certain situations affect us. We get to decide how we want to spend our free time.
So, turn auto-pilot off and turn your Awareness Volume up. Don’t let this be a time where you look back and feel disappointed with who you were. Choose today to take control back. Reach out for connections and don’t be afraid to have a tough conversation, take care of your body, manage your stress, and best of all, SHARE THE LOVE! You don’t need to climb a mountain or tackle all of this in one day. Decide on a simple single action and choose TODAY to start nurturing your mental health. You got this.