May Is Mental Health Awareness Month
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A Toolbox of Coping Techniques
Mental health is a continuum that everyone moves on throughout our lives, and just like physical health, there are steps we can take to improve our mental health and avert future challenges.
Self care is something we integrate into our routine to proactively support our mental health. This doesn’t need to be manicures and massages. While those are great treats, routine self care looks more like journaling, meditation, practicing gratitude, and yoga. Incorporating these practices daily can improve our mental health and reduce negative feelings like depression and anxiety.
Anxiety is a natural response to stressful situations. Anxiety becomes detrimental when it is persistent, excessive, or interferes with your daily functioning. Having a toolbox of coping techniques is a great way to assist in alleviating symptoms. Here are a few techniques to add to your box.
Focusing on your breath takes your mind off the anxious thought and slows your heart rate and breathing, helping you calm down.
The cognitive reframing technique helps you shift your thinking to view your situation from a different perspective.
Physical activity diverts your focus from your mind to your body and increases the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine.
Put together your toolbox to be ready for stressful situations or to be a tool for someone else experiencing a mental health issue.
Shattering the Stigma
The negative beliefs, stereotypes and attitudes, connected to mental illness can result in intolerance and prejudice against those who struggle with mental health issues. This stigma can result in reluctance to seek help or treatment.
Exterminating the shame, fear, and discrimination associated with mental health is a critical step in empowering individuals to reach out for the help they need. Research shows that knowing or having contact with someone with mental illness is one of the best ways to reduce the stigma. Individuals speaking out and sharing their stories can have a positive impact. Knowing someone that struggles with mental illness can make it less scary and more relatable.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a few suggestions for individuals to help reduce this stigma:
First, talk openly about mental health and remind people that words matter. Encourage equality between physical and mental illness. Remind people to treat someone with mental illness like they would treat someone with cancer.
Let’s start the conversation and normalize mental health treatment. Educate yourself and others by spreading factual information and experiences to flatten misperceptions and negative comments. You can find more information on NAMI.org, or through your healthcare provider.
Make a Difference
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a website devoted to specific calls to action. There are petitions to sign, places to share your stories of how mental health has affected you and your family, ways to influence policy makers and show support for more mental health in schools. Another section allows you to share information about how insurance coverage has helped with mental health treatments or challenges you’ve experienced.
Sharing this information arms the alliance with real stories from voters to advocate for consumer protections, encourage policy makers to invest in research for mental health conditions and reimagine the communities’ response to people experiencing a mental health crisis.
The last call to action I will mention is one we all can contribute to from personal experience. Covid-19 affected all of us. NAMI wants to collect your story or the stories of the children in your lives. I hope you will take action and become a part of building better lives for millions of Americans. Visit the NAMI/Get Involved to get started. Stop by the Extension Office or see below for a mental health coloring book to help open up the conversation surrounding mental health with your kids.
The ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity is a learned trait and takes practice. Being resilience is paramount to the ability to spring back, overcome disruptive life changes and positively function in an ever changing world.
Negative emotions narrow a person’s range of thoughts and limit choices, making them unable to see a path forward but experiencing positive emotions each day enhances your problem solving ability and increases resilience. By practicing healthy habits daily you can develop the confidence to know that you can handle whatever the future may bring.
Accentuate the positive, wake up each day and think about or journal all of the things you have to be grateful for. Research shows consciously practicing gratitude reduces stress and anxiety. Work on building and fostering healthy relationships, which will be a natural support system when life throws you a curveball. Learn to express your feelings in a healthy way and take the time to do something you enjoy. Practice being able to rest, recover and develop good energy. Learn to laugh, play and allow yourself to feel happy.
Awareness is a great step forward to making big changes. You can be a voice for so many that struggle with mental health. Help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health by opening up conversations within your support system and please reach out if you have questions or need resources.