May is one of my favorite times of the year largely because the weather where I live is (usually) beautiful. The sun is out, the temperatures are rising and the days just keep getting longer. It also means that I am typically spending more and more time outdoors, which is where I am happiest. I know that all of these things really do help my mental health, improve my mood and lift my outlook on life.
The issue of mental health and well-being is something I am very passionate about. If you are human, odds are that you have experienced one (or many) stressful and trying times in your life. While not all mental health issues can be resolved completely, there are many things that we can do to help improve our brain health and contribute to an overall better quality of life.
So, during the month of May (and beyond), I want to encourage you to make your mental health a priority. I urge you to take a more proactive approach to protecting and supporting your overall mental well-being. Here are just a few very easy steps that you can consider trying. There may be more than one thing here that could help you or a loved one:
- Talk with someone IN PERSON. Make a call, arrange a lunch, or set up a walk with someone you wish you could spend more time with. Reach out to a loved one who is a good listener.
- Spend more time outside. Just ten minutes of fresh air and sunshine can do a world of good.
- Put limits on your screen time. I realize that we all rely on screens for various reasons, but it’s becoming too common to reach for them when we have 2 minutes of wait time. Quit filling every single moment of your day with information.
- Write a letter or card to someone expressing your appreciation for them. It may be the start of a great conversation.
- Start walking and make exercise a priority. A little bit goes a long way. We don’t have to be running marathons for our brain to gain the benefits of moderate exercise.
- Set up some barriers around your work schedule. Is it really necessary to have your email on your phone? Did your boss tell you that you had to do that, or did you just decide to do that on your own? Most of us don’t have to be connected 24-7 and yet we are with no additional benefit.
- Start a journal. Reflecting on your day and getting your feelings out, even in writing, can be cathartic. It’s like a conversation with yourself.
- Volunteer. Giving your time to someone else lifts you both up. You never know what kind of common bond you may have with an older person, a veteran, or a child in need.
- Take a day off. Don’t be afraid to call it a mental health day.
If you are experiencing any signs and symptoms of mental health issues, don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend, family member, or professional. According to the American Psychiatric Association, if your are experiencing several of the following situations, it may be necessary to follow up with a mental health professional:
- Withdrawal or recent social isolation and loss of interest in others
- Drop in functioning at school, work or social activities, such as quitting something you have otherwise enjoyed, failing or having difficulty with otherwise familiar tasks
- Problems thinking including having trouble with concentration, struggling with memory or logical thought and speech issues that are hard to explain
- Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
- Apathy or loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity
- Feeling disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality
- Nervousness or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling
- Sleep changes including sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping
- Appetite changes including eating too much or having no appetite
- Decline in personal care
- Mood changes that involve rapid or dramatic shifts in feelings
- Illogical thinking including exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult
- Unusual behavior including odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior
I have to acknowledge that I am really inspired by the recent #oktosay campaign and encourage you to check it out. You can find many videos that open up the conversation around the importance of mental health. Also, I have a more exhaustive list of stress management techniques that may be worth checking out.
If you or a loved one are in need of help or experiencing a crisis call 911. The National Alliance on Mental Illness can get you started on finding support.