Three Simple Ways to Promote Mental Wellness
Often, when we hear the phrase “mental health,” our mind turns immediately to mental illness. Yet, the truth is, just like all of us have physical health, we also have mental health. Those who have physical health challenges must still focus on their overall health. They may, for example, adopt an exercise regimen or eat more fruits and vegetables. Similarly, promoting our own mental health takes deliberate action – action that’s important for people who have mental illness, as well as those who don’t.
At PEP, it’s clear the last few years have taken a toll on both students and teachers. The pandemic has created challenges and long-lasting impacts that will take years of careful, deliberate work to overcome. Not only have counselors and educators at PEP faced their own challenges during this time, but they also see first-hand the impact of the trauma faced by our children and families. Because of this, PEP staff members are also at-risk for experiencing vicarious trauma.
That’s why this May for Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s more important than ever for us to take stock of actions we can take to stay mentally well. To support that effort, here a few easy ways that anyone can build resilience and boost their mental wellness.
You’ve probably heard the term “hangry.” A humorous combination of hungry and angry, “hangry” refers to the bad mood that sometimes accompanies hunger. When you’re feeling this way, it can be tempting to reach for sugary, high-calorie options but it’s important to understand that the sugar rush you may get, won’t have a long-lasting mood impact. You may even crash and feel worse than you did to start with!
Obviously, it’s smart to have snacks around to avoid the bad mood that can come with hunger, but did you know some of the foods you eat may have an even bigger role in supporting mental health? For example, fatty fish like salmon and albacore tuna are high in Omega-3s, a fatty acid that are linked to lower levels of depression. Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids, which increase blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation, and enhance brain health, which can help with mood regulation. Fermented foods, bananas, oats, berries, and nuts and seeds are also foods with compounds or nutrients that may enhance mental well-being.[i]
Plus, when you eat well, you may feel better physically, which is also helpful for your mental health.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Did you know that sufficient sleep facilitates the brain’s processing of emotional information? In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, a lack of sleep is especially harmful to the consolidation of positive emotional content, which can influence mood and emotional reactivity and is tied to mental health disorders and their severity. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep.[ii]
The Centers for Disease Control recommends several basics for good sleep hygiene.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Keep your bedroom quiet and dark and set it to a comfortable temperature.
- Remove electronic devices from the bedroom.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bed.[iii]
Just as we choose the food that fuels our body, we have choices about the content and environment that fuels our mind. In other words, another way to promote mental wellness, is by actively taking steps to surround yourself with positivity. Here are a few ways to up the positivity in your life.
- Limit your exposure to the news and social media.
- Seek out friends who provide encouragement and good advice.
- Build an emotional safe space. This can be a physical environment or a place in your mind. Think about the things you see, smell, taste, and hear that bring you joy. Surround yourself with these items or focus on memories of these things.
- Bolster resilience by using positive self-talk. Start your day with a series of positive statements about yourself, such as: I am ______. I am worth ______. I deserve ______.
A Much Larger Toolbox
Just like staying physically well requires taking certain deliberate measures, so too does staying mentally well. These practical and easy-to-implement steps are a few helpful components of enhancing mental health. It’s important to note, however, that as helpful as they may be, these tips are not the entire story when it comes to mental health – particularly for those who struggle with mental illness or those who are emotionally overwhelmed. Obviously, a robust plan for mental health is much more than a few helpful tools in a toolbox, such as the ones offered above.
If you are struggling with your mental health and need help, there are many places to go for assistance.
- The 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing (800)-273-8255.
- The Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County has a robust network of crisis services available that can help you figure out where to start.
- The Cuyahoga County Warmline, available at (440) 886-5950, is a 24/7 peer support line operated by Certified Peer Recovery Supporters. These individuals can offer simply to listen, provide telephone counseling, or offer referrals to community resources.
Mental Health Awareness Month is the perfect time to think about ways we can promote our own mental health. Our current reality, which is filled with a seemingly endless barrage of bad news, means intentionality in nurturing mental wellness is all the more important. Simple, concrete steps like eating well, practicing good sleep hygiene, and cultivating positivity can help create the stable foundation you need to boost your emotional state even in trying times.
Contributed by Kimberly Corrado, clinical associate, PEP Hopewell and Velva Gaston, behavioral support specialist, PEP Phoenix
[iii] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tips for Better Sleep. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html. Accessed May 25, 2022.