By MARTIE MAJOROS
You may have heard something about National Mental Health Awareness Month, but you didn’t give it much thought. This month, we encourage you to set aside time to think about your own mental health. We aren’t referring to chronic mental health disorders but rather to some of the more common forms of mental distress, such as depression, anxiety, and stress, that most of us experience at some point during our lifetime. This self-assessment includes taking stock of your physical health as well.
It’s widely recognized that mental health and physical health are related. The World Health Organization states, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Here are tips for taking care of your mental health, by taking care of your physical health.
• Take a hike – if your health permits and your doctor agrees. Regular exercise can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Take a relaxing walk through the woods. The Japanese call it ‘sinrin-yoku,” or “forest bathing,” and it is believed to have restorative powers, including decreasing blood pressure. If walking isn’t your thing, try another activity. Choose one that you enjoy, so you will be more likely to make it a regular habit.
• Get some sleep. Although experts recommend getting about seven hours of sleep per night, the amount of sleep each of us needs varies from person to person and at different stages in our life. However, if you are experiencing anxiety or depression, it may be difficult to get more than just a few hours of sleep a night, which can leave you feeling impatient, jittery, and unable to focus the next day, as well as unable to sleep the next night. To break this cycle, create some relaxing bed time habits. Listen to music, turnoff electronic devices and avoid caffeine before going to bed.
• Watch what you eat. A diet that includes large amounts of processed foods is more likely to lead to a greater risk for depression than a diet of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. A processed diet may also lead to other conditions, such as obesity and high blood pressure. So, the next time you reach for a snack, reach for something that will be good for your mind and your body.
• Avoid smoking. Many smokers believe that smoking helps to alleviate stress and anxiety. In fact, it does the opposite. It raises blood pressure, increases heart rate and increases anxiety and tension. Quitting will help reduce anxiety, depression and stress.
• Go easy on the alcohol. Although alcohol may seem to help people cope with anxiety or depression, it may have a negative impact and make the symptoms worse. In addition, when combined with certain prescribed medications, alcohol may have a harmful interaction or decrease the effectiveness of the drug.
• Reach out. Focus on relationships with family, friends and your community. Our connections to others and to something larger than ourselves help to reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation. Plus, when you’re going through a rough time, it’s helpful to have a network of supportive friends who can provide emotional support.
• Get real. How you connect with the people in your life is as important as the frequency of those connections. Choose face-to face interactions with friends and family members instead of relying on phone calls, emails and text messages. In numerous studies, participants who had regular, in-person contact with friends or family members reported fewer symptoms of depression than those who relied on the phone.
So, this month, give your mental health a boost. For starters, cook some healthy meals, schedule time with friends and take a hike. Your mind – and body – will thank you.
Howard Center improves the well-being of our community by helping people with mental health, substance use, intellectual disabilities, and autism needs. Help is here. www.howardcenter.org
Howard Center Community Education Series
Thursday, May 9, 6-9 p.m.
Main Street Landing Film House, Lake and College Streets, Burlington
Screening of the film “God Knows Where I Am”
Panel discussion to follow with moderator Sandy Steingard, M.D.
Free and open to the public.