May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I think this is a good reminder for us all to pause and do a quick systems check-in.
We all know that the start of a new year is when most of us make plans to exercise more, eat healthier, etc. But by May, most of us have blown past those good intentions and are busy with life activities - work, school, family, church, etc. So, a reminder in May to check in on how those new year plans are holding up and even more specifically, how our mental health is holding up amid all of the activity, is a good thing.
Let me encourage you today, right now as you read this blog, to run through a checklist of sorts regarding your engagement in activities or choices that serve to improve your mental health. Such as:
Questions to ask
How’s your mental health?
Have you noticed any changes in your mood - feeling down, more anxious than usual, more irritable? Any changes in ability to concentrate, attention span, or remember things? If so, think back to see how long you might have experienced a change in mood or ability to focus. If it has been more than a couple of weeks, you might want to consider this an area for attention in the coming days and weeks and follow some of the suggestions offered later in this blog.
How’s your emotional health?
This one isn’t discussed as much, but it is definitely related to your mental health and overall wellbeing. Similar to mental health, ask yourself - have you noticed any changes in your emotional state such as being stressed more than usual, up and down emotions, or feeling numb with no emotional expression? If so, again think back to how long you may have experienced the changes and consider this an area to pay attention to in the coming days.
How’s your physical health?
Physical health and mental health can certainly be related. Ask yourself - have you noticed any changes in pain level, more fatigue, or weakness? Has your body felt more stressed or exhausted? Sometimes chronic medical conditions can exacerbate or cause mental health concerns. And sometimes it’s the other way around - chronic mental health concerns can exacerbate or cause what we might think of as medical concerns with our physical health. If this is an area that you’ve noticed changes, make a point to investigate these a little more in the coming days and weeks. The information below may also be helpful in improving your physical health.
Strategies to implement
Are you drinking enough water?
Water helps flush out toxins from our body and provides much-needed hydration for our brains. To know how much water your body needs, take your weight and divide it by 2. This number is how many ounces of water your body needs to perform at its best. Be cautious of drinking too much water though - this can be dangerous. Unless otherwise instructed by a physician, keep it under 100 ounces per day.
Are you exercising?
Aerobic exercise and lifting weights help to keep your body and mind strong. You do not have to be a marathon runner to reap the health benefits of exercise. Strive for 4-5 times per week of some type of activity to get your heart rate going. Walking is great, and when you combine that with being outdoors, you may have found the perfect combination for positive mental health! Recommendations of time vary, but I would suggest starting where you can and build up to 30-45 minutes each time you exercise, if possible. Lifting weights, even light weights with more repetitions, is also great for mind and body.
Are you eating healthy?
This one challenges everyone. To improve your mental, emotional, and physical health, recommendations are to eat more fruits and vegetables - with a stronger leaning toward vegetables. Add in small amounts of healthy protein throughout the day to help balance your blood sugar, help with focus and even out your moods. Avoid sugar and junk/processed foods as much as possible. I can almost guarantee you will feel a difference if you do.
Are you sleeping?
This one might seem like an awkward question to ask when considering your mental health, but research is helping us to understand more and more that sleep is vitally important to your mental health and overall wellbeing. Recommendations are to get between 7-8 hours per night of good quality rest, but some of us might need even a little more toward 9 hours. Make it a priority, or it won’t happen with our busy lives.
Do you have an emotional outlet?
There are many different outlets to express emotion, the important thing is to find one you like and stick with it for optimal health! Some ideas to promote positive expression of emotions include prayer, journaling, arts/crafts, music, being in nature, talking with a close friend, sports, and many more.
Last, but certainly not least, how’s your spiritual walk?
The Lord is our strength (Ex. 15:2; Psalm 28:7; Psalm 118:14; Is 12:2; Hab 3:19), a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9; Nah 1:7). But we only receive strength and help when we plug into the power source. Therefore, make prayer, meditation, scripture reading and memorization, church attendance and fellowship a significant part of your well-being strategy and plan.
If you walked through the check-in and found you might have a few areas of concern or places to monitor in the coming days, make a point to jot down some thoughts or notes on these items and then follow up as appropriate. This might mean making an appointment with your physician for a physical check-up, making an appointment with a counselor for a mental and emotional health check-up, or implementing the strategies suggested above as a place to start and see if your overall well-being improves.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss the findings from your mental health check-in, feel free to send me an email, and I’d be glad to offer you some feedback as you seek to improve your mental health and overall wellbeing!
Learn more about Counseling Services and the resources available at txb.org/counseling.
Katie Swafford is the director of Counseling Services.