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Practices to achieve good mental health

As Mental Health Month draws to a close, I’ve found myself thinking about our society’s general attitudes towards the topic. It’s easy to turn a discussion on mental health into one about mental illness. In fact, I caught myself doing that very thing when I started to write this blog. Talking about mental illness is important, but in a lot of ways it can be much harder to define just what is good mental health.

It’s so often overlooked that Mental Health is just one facet of our overall health. They’re one and the same, really. And that’s why I really like that this year Mental Health America chose the slogan “Mind Your Health” for Mental Health Month.

So what kinds of things contribute to good mental health? Here are some things I’ve learned this month.

Stay connected – Social connections and support from others can actually ward off the effects that stress has on depression and anxiety. Even for introverts like myself, this is still possible and important. Being connected doesn’t always mean large social gatherings or parties. More intimate groups, one on one conversations, texting, email, and even social media are all helpful in staying connected to others and feeling supported by friends and family. Heck, with social media you can even find support from acquaintances or strangers.

Frankie says relax! – We all are guilty of letting this one slide. Rest and relaxation are a luxury, right? Between work, chasing after your kids, running a household, and occasionally remembering to feed yourself in addition to your family, we rarely make time to rest and relax. But it’s actually really important for our mental health. They say that chemicals like serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin help us relax. Things like human touch (massages anyone?) and petting your dog or cat can help release those chemicals. From personal experience I know if I spend just a few moments petting my dogs, I feel less anxious.

Catch some Zzzzz’s – Another that we all neglect. I’m guilty of putting sleep at the very bottom of my priorities each night. But a lack of good sleep can be so unhealthy. So make it a priority. Try to get 7 or 8 hours, keep the same routine (yes, even on weekends, UGH!) and unplug from all electronics at least an hour before bed to help yourself unwind. If in spite of that you still have trouble falling asleep, then maybe talk to your doctor about taking a melatonin supplement. It’s natural and non addictive, but it can still interact with any other medications you might be taking so talk to a professional before taking any supplements.

Break a sweat! – When I think about this tip I think of Legally Blonde. “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy!” It’s a silly quote in the movie but it’s actually true. The chemicals your body releases during exercise can help reduce stress, ward off anxiety, reduce depressed feelings, boost your self esteem, and improve the quality of your sleep. That’s just icing on the cake (is it wrong to mention cake right now? Oops.) when you consider that exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of any number of diseases.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet – Seriously, maybe try and forget I just mentioned cake. We can enjoy sweets and more sinful foods in moderation but in general a diet full of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats can make you up to 30% less likely to develop depression than a diet made up of lots of meats and dairy. Don’t skip meals, because this can lead to fatigue and a lack of focus. And drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated can improve your alertness and contribute to a better overall mood.

When possible, don’t overwhelm yourself – Again, easier said than done, right? One thing I’ve learned is to stop trying to remember everything and instead write it down. Keep a calendar, and build in space for downtime between tasks and events. I find that I just have to say “no” sometimes or turn down certain opportunities that sound like fun, but will actually turn out to be overwhelming if I pile it on an already busy week. We simply can’t do it all, and trying to pretend we can will only hurt us in the long run.

Thanks to Mental Health America for sharing some great information for Mental Health Month that I certainly found useful and I hope to be more disciplined in applying these to my own life. Do you have any tips or methods that you practice that benefit your mental health? Share them in the comments!

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Dana joined the iCarol team in 2013 after 12 years of direct service and administrative duties at a blended 2-1-1/crisis intervention/suicide prevention center. As the Communications and Social Media Manager at iCarol, you’ll find her presenting Webinars, Tweeting, Blogging, Facebooking, and producing other materials that aid helplines in their work.

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