8 ways to protect your mental health
Destigmatizing mental illness is crucial in effectively treating mental health concerns in the same manner as addressing physical health concerns. The deeper the discussion becomes — and the more openly we can discuss therapy and mental illness — the higher we prioritize taking care of our mental health.
Deciding to invest in self-care can seem scary, complicated or expensive, but protecting your mental health against overwhelming issues such as unresolved grief, depression or anxiety can improve your quality of life.
Glenn Scott, LCSW, works to destigmatize mental health issues in his position as director of the Youth Partial Hospital Program at Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center. Scott offers eight ways to help protect your mental health, and in turn, your overall health.
Have real conversations
Maintaining a support system of people who provide positivity can be vital in keeping a happy, healthy mind. This might also mean cutting out unhealthy or toxic relationships. Instead of withdrawing from others, be deliberate about staying in communication with the positive people in your life. “Isolation can be unhealthy, but connecting with others deeply and honestly can boost your overall well-being,” Scott says.
Snap back into the moment
One powerful way to de-escalate if you are losing control is to focus on the physical things that surround you. When stress and anxiety are taking over, Scott says one of the best techniques to snap back to the moment is to count five things for each of your senses, making yourself aware of your surroundings and distracting you from the stressors. “Start with touch. Identify five things you currently feel: the fabric of your chair, the floor beneath your feet, the clothes on your back, etc. Go through this with touch, sound, sight, smell and taste.”
Clear your mind by getting your blood flowing. Walking is a great exercise that helps to improve your mental health, especially for those without a regular workout routine, Scott says. “When you exercise you release endorphins in the brain that help to improve your mood.” Exercise also helps with sleep and can lead to improving other areas of your physical health as well.
Take a mental health day when you need it
Mental health can affect physical health, but mental health days are not always given the same merit as physical sick days. Much like with the flu, a person cannot merely “get over” mental health issues like depression or anxiety. To perform at your best, you have to take care of your whole self, Scott says. “Caring for your overall health includes caring for your mental health.”
Get help, even if you think what you're dealing with isn't “bad enough”
We all need help from time to time, and there’s strength in asking for a hand when we need it. Scott says a therapist or counselor can help to identify counterproductive thought and emotional patterns. They can also help process grief, depression or anxiety.
Set small goals
While it’s good to have big ambitions, it can be damaging to have goals that are so large that they’re are unrealistic. The feeling of achievement after accomplishing a goal can give you feelings of control over your life, as well as help focus your long-term direction. “The sense of purpose achievements bring can strengthen your mind and give you a feeling of peace,” Scott says.
Go off the grid
It can be challenging to stay calm when things in life feel hectic. Seek out activities where you can leave your phone/computer at home, away from the 24/7 news and television. Spending time in nature, or with a class or support group, somewhere away from the daily grind can provide perspective on what is important. Stepping back from the stresses may help you feel calm and enhance the effects of therapy, Scott says.
Get serious about laughter
They say laughter is the best medicine, but the reason behind that is no joke. Laughter can improve one’s quality of life mentally, emotionally, socially and physically. Laughter reduces stress hormones, lowers blood pressure and improves a person’s mood, according to studies done at Loma Linda University Health. Scott says he believes that laughter, and humor in general, can be a positive coping skill and can significantly improve your mental health.