The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines the term mental health as “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being which affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices”. It is important to note that we often use the terms “poor mental health” and “mental illness” to mean the same thing when in fact they are two separate terms. Poor mental health simply means that the individual is experiencing challenges to his/her mental well-being or mental health (i.e., difficulty handling or making social connections, difficulty problem solving, difficulty understanding the world, and difficulty handling stress). Mental illness is a condition that affects the individual’s thinking, feeling, mood or behavior (CDC). It is quite common for the individual to experience poor mental health and not be clinically diagnosed with a mental illness. Similarly, the individual diagnosed with mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being (CDC).
All too often we leave behind our mental health focusing only on the physical, spiritual, and financial aspects, when our physical, spiritual, financial, and mental health are all equally important for our collective health. The CDC acknowledges that our mental health is an essential part of our overall health and well-being. Our mental health is not static, it changes as we grow and experience life, good or bad. Our ability to cope and accept what is occurring around us is impacted by our environment, our financial status, our health, our world view, the demands placed on us be it our employment, our family, our church, our school, and our selves. And vice versa.
Taking care of our mental health is not just a fleeting or one-time experience, it is a daily journey into self-love and fully understanding this beautiful creation that God made. Make no mistake, we all experience fear, stress, and anxiety. It is a part of our natural built-in, protective defense mechanism; it is how we know when to respond to dangerous and troubling situations. Yet stress, fear, and anxiety often become debilitating preventing the individual from interacting with others, communicating effectively, eating, sleeping, experiencing close and lasting relationships, maintaining a social and active lifestyle, and eroding away at physical, financial, and spiritual health.
There are practical ways and small adjustments we can make to protect our mental health and let 2021 be a year is which we embody greater self-care.
1. Turn off the television. The news regarding COVID-19 and the devastation it has caused to our lives have not changed significantly. For peace of mind, to rest your eyes and ears, to bring a sense of equilibrium and decrease your worry and fear, you are doing yourself a lot of good when you turn of the television.
2. Mask up and go outside for a walk. For those of you who can, get out the house and take a brisk walk or stroll around your block or nearby park. That brief release or expenditure of energy breaks up restlessness, boredom, and listlessness. It is also a great way to begin an exercise routine and invest in your physical health.
3. Set a time to spend time with God this could at night before bed, in the morning before your household gets moving. It can be logging in everyday at noon to participate in our Zoom at Noon call. Connecting with God is essential.
4. Staying connected with family and friends is also essential. Create that safe space where you can check in with your children, best friend, pastor, church sister or brother, therapist, primary care physician or parent. This can mean taking a walk to the park and getting on the phone, sending a text message, creating a day or segment of time to read books and play family friendly games.
5. With the help of your health care team make small changes to your diet and the way you eat. A balanced diet greatly improves the mood and physical health.
6. Do not self-diagnose. It is extremely easy to Google every medical condition, and believe it or not you will recognize a symptom or two, a pattern of behavior, similarities in the way you feel and think. This does not justify and lead to you having whatever condition you searched. It only increases anxiety and stress and leads to nervous breakdowns and paranoia. Best practice, consult with your medical team and let them do the work of diagnosing.
7. If you are on medication do not stop taking your medication. You will have good days and bad days. We all react to medication differently. Your course of treatment was designed for you so do not stop taking your medication, certainly do not share your medication, and do not take medication belonging to someone else. Seek medical advice from your treatment provider regarding all medication changes.
8. Do not self-medicate or begin your own medication regimen.
a. Living a healthy lifestyle is essential to mental health and understanding chemical reactions that are produced by the wrong combination of medications and supplements is something we are all not well-versed in and trained to recognize. It is also understandable of the need to return to a naturopathic lifestyle. However, before beginning any medication regimen consult a medical doctor.
b. Consuming any amount or form of alcohol, starting a daily diet of coffee every morning, smoking or daily consumption of illegal substances are not going to improve your mental health. In fact, research points to these lifestyle choices as factors that greatly increases the likelihood of poor mental health and leading to mental illness.
9. Do not mix your medications unless directed and properly informed of the risks and benefits by your medical team and treatment professionals. This can be a recipe disaster and possible overdose – unknowingly overwhelming your system with toxins and counteracting medications.
10. Do not reduce or increase your medication dosage. Your treatment professional provided you a dosage based on your history, age, weight, symptomatology, behavior, reaction to medication, and other antecedents. If you are not responding to a particular medication, begin a journal regarding your medication intake and your response to the medication. Take that journal with you and speak to the prescribing doctor about your concerns, they alone can advise you on changing or adjusting your medication. Do not take it into your own hands.
11. Stay hydrated. Drink water daily. Proper hydration reduces hunger, keeps you from entering dehydration fatigue, and keeps you alert and focused.
12. Exercise. Whether you are a pro at the gym, a beginner, using home videos on social media or can only do light forms of movement from a seated position. Staying active is important.
13. If you are in treatment or attending any form of self-help groups continue with your groups and therapy sessions.
14. Help is available. Do not hide behind I do not have anyone to talk to.)
* Speak to your primary care physician, your local pastor, your therapist or simply dial 311 for help.
* Connect with NYC Well by dialing 1-888.692-9355, texting “WELL” or 65173 to chat or going to the NYC Well website to chat with someone right away.
* Connect with Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800.985-5990.
* Connect with National Suicide Prevention at 1-800.273-8255 or visit Suicide Prevention Lifeline to talk with someone today.
* Connect with National Sexual Assault at 1-800.656-4673 or RAINN to chat with someone.
* Connect with National Domestic Violence at 1-800.799-7233 or text LOVEIS or 27522 to talk to someone.
* Connect with National Child Abuse for texting and calls at 1-800.422-4453.
* Connect with Veteran’s Crisis Line at 1-800.273-8255 or text 8388255 to talk to someone.
* Connect with SAMHSA’s National Hotline at 1-800.662-4357.
15. Get enough sleep. Let your bed be a place of rest and not overrun by devices and books. I know your bedroom may be the only place that you can find peace and quiet to get work done when space is limited, and everyone is at home. Just do not use your bed for working purposes you will find it difficult to break from this habit.
16. Separate work and home life. COVID-19 brought home and work together in ways we did not imagine but the separation of the two is still important. Your work time is purely for work. Once you have clocked out, leave the work desk alone and turn your attention on you, your household, and what is needed to help you prepare for a new day.
17. Just like you created a morning routine, create a bedtime routine. If you have not guessed by now, developing a personal routine is important to good mental health.
18. Create a playlist of music or inspiration messages that soothes and calm the mind. Play it while driving, while walking, while doing laundry, while cooking, or as part of your morning or nighttime routine.
19. Inspiration on your wall, mirror, or refrigerator. Post on a list or scripture or quotes to keep you motivated and inspired.
20. Do not lose hope, do not despair, and do not get stuck in negative thinking. Take time in the day to look in the mirror and repeat positive affirmations. Start a journal, if you like writing or drawing, start a project. Change does not happen overnight. One day at a time. Small increments of victory.
Remember, “coping with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.