To increase awareness of mental health issues and inspire support of mental health, October 10 has been designated World Mental Health Day. Our mental health—our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing—is critical to realizing a fulfilling and healthy life. Yet how often do you think about your mental health?
For many of us, the answer is not much at all. In fact, we often think about everything but our mental health. “When thinking about prioritizing their days, people think about work tasks, meals, and to-do lists,” says Michele Kerulis, a therapist and professor of counseling at Counseling@Northwestern.
“But mental health is health. It’s impossible to have one without the other,” says Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, a Michigan-based couples financial therapist and coach, as well as author of “The Financial Anxiety Solution.” Mental health affects how we feel physically, how we focus at work, how we show up as partners and parents, and so much more.
Prioritizing your mental health doesn’t require sweeping changes. Small actions can make a big impact. Try these four ways to boost your well-being:
1. Practice Daily Check-Ins
Bryan-Podvin suggests checking in with yourself at the start of the day and at the end of the day. For example, in the mornings, she asks herself: “How am I feeling? What am I grateful for?” At night, she considers: “What went well today? What didn’t? What am I proud of that I did today? How can I improve?”
Another option is to use the Notes app on your phone and record your thoughts, says Stephanie Dobbin, a relationship and group psychotherapist in Rochester, N.Y. “You don’t have to be in major distress to do this—anytime you’re bored, waiting in line, or even feeling slightly annoyed, get in the habit of checking in with yourself,” she says.
If you find that you’re feeling stressed or upset, say something soothing to yourself, Bryan-Podvin suggests, such as, “This is temporary; it’ll pass.” Healthy activities, such as guided meditation and walking, and taking positive action, like delegating an overwhelming task, can be helpful as well.
2. Consider Your Mental and Physical Connection
The body and mind are inextricably linked, says Dobbins. “When certain physical needs are ignored or overlooked, there can be an impact on mental health,” she says.
For example, some people become more irritable and anxious when they don’t exercise. A lack of sleep also can negatively affect mental health. So knowing yourself and how your body works is critical to managing mental health.
Dobbin also recommends paying attention to how medication, food, substances, and different behaviors affect your mood, both for better and worse. You then can use these patterns and associations to inform self-care practices.
3. Reassess Your Boundaries
Boundaries help us protect our mental, emotional, and physical health. But many of us find it hard—or impossible—to say no, especially if we struggle with people-pleasing behavior, says Dobbin.
“People pleasing is a pattern that usually develops in childhood and is actually a way of protecting ourselves from having bad feelings, like guilt, anxiety, or shame,” Dobbins says. “It’s a way of trying to control the perceptions others have of us and can be self-destructive when we lose track of our own desires and needs.”
When making decisions about requests, ask yourself: Will taking on this extra project create needless stress, or will it become a meaningful challenge? Will helping this person boost my anxiety? Am I making this choice because I genuinely want to, or because I’m yearning for approval?
Remind yourself that saying “no” to someone or something is saying “yes” to yourself. You are creating the space and time to improve your mental health, says Bryan-Podvin.
One strategy that can be helpful at times, notes Dobbins, is to pair your no with something you can and truly want to say yes to: “I can’t spend the night at your place this weekend, but I’d love to see you for dinner.”
4. Put Fun on the Calendar
“It is so important to experience joy and pleasure,” says Kerulis. She suggests scheduling a fun activity at least once a week to help you unwind. This could be anything from reading to golfing to watching a local little league game to having lunch with your partner. Think about something you enjoy—and prioritize it by actually writing it in your planner.
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