Updated: Feb 8
Most people have probably heard the phrase, “You need to take care of your mental health.” The idea is all over social media, being reinforced in the workplace, and many memes have been created around the idea that everyone needs to take care of their mental health. While this is in fact true, you may have wondered, what exactly is mental health? What are mental health issues? What am I supposed to do to care for it? All important questions, and I’m here to help break down the logistics for you.
What Is It?
MentalHealth.gov shares that mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. This influences how we think/feel/act. How we are caring for our mental health needs can also help explain how we manage our stress level, our relationships with others, and decision-making in our lives. As we navigate through different areas of development, our mental health needs are also very important. There are some contributing factors that can increase mental health challenges, such as: biological (what we are born with), life experiences (trauma/abuse), and family history of mental health. To put it short and sweet, mental health has many layers to it, and our needs may change throughout our lives. We all need different things while navigating life, and many experiences (both good and bad) can also influence how we tend to those needs. Think of your mental health like a garden: the more you water it, the better it will grow. This helps us navigate through the hard times and roadblocks along the way. The more we understand what we need the easier this gets. Help Guide notes that when people are mentally healthy, they are better able to deal with stress, can find meaning in life and relationships, be flexible to adapt and learn new skills, have a work/life balance, maintain, and build up relationships, and experience self-confidence/self-esteem. All these things sound great right? But what if you don’t have all or even a few of these things?
What are Mental Health Issues?
This is a broad question to answer. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed by an entire list of what this means, so check out the World Health Organization, they break down the most common ones that people may be experiencing. If you are unsure and feel like you may be experiencing mental health issues, connecting with a trained professional can help assist you in more detailed information specifically catered to your needs. Listed below are some common signs of things you may be experiencing (list provided by MentalHealth.gov):
· Decrease/increase in appetite
· Feeling helpless/hopeless
· Body pains
· Can’t sleep (or sleeping too much)
· Feeling numb or not feeling like anything matters anymore
· Feeling like your mood is always up and down (worried, angry, scared, sad etc.)
· Racing thoughts (sometimes thoughts feel like they are on repeat or memories that keep popping up in your head)
· Fighting with family/friends/partners
· Using alcohol/drugs/smoking more frequently
· Thinking of harming yourself or others
· Not being able to manage daily tasks, caring for yourself/others, going to school or work
While you may relate to some, all the above, or none, this is just a sample of what people can experience (not everyone has the same intensity level). You may just notice that you aren’t feeling like yourself, feeling “stuck”, or maybe you just want to find ways to boost your mood and energy level. It can be hard to come up with different ideas (coping tools) to navigate this.
How Do I Care for My Mental Health?
Taking care of your mental health may seem hard to do if you are experiencing any of the things listed the above (or if you’ve tried different things and feel like nothing works). That’s ok! There is no wrong or right way to do this. You are unique and so are your needs! Self-care is a great place to start. Here are some simple things you can try incorporating to see if they help improve your mental health and well-being (list provided by National Institute of Mental Health):
· Exercise (helps boost mood and improve health)
· Eat regularly (healthy if possible), and stay hydrated (improves energy and focus)
· Sleep is a priority (try out a schedule and see if you’re getting enough or too little)
· Try a relaxing activity
· Set realistic goals/priorities (what is important right now versus what can wait. If you make a list and it seems too long or more overwhelming, it’s ok to say NO to the list or take on new tasks. Some days, you may just need rest and that is ok too!)
· Practice gratitude (helps remind us of what’s important)
· Focus on positivity (helps challenge that negative self-talk!)
· Stay connected (support is vital to our survival! Reach out to family/friends/partners to get that emotional support you need. If you feel like you are lacking in connection with others and need additional help, reaching out to a trained professional maybe helpful for you as well)
While tending to mental health looks different for everyone, the biggest takeaway is that you find what works best for you! Try old things or new things and see what sticks (remember, no wrong or right way to do this). If you are having a hard time coming up with new ideas, here’s a list that may be helpful to get started: 99 Coping Skills.