For the past 68 years, May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month to draw greater attention to and destigmatize behavioral health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults struggles with a mental issue each year. And up to 70 percent (yes, seventy!) of primary care visits are mental health related. These are huge numbers. Chances are you or someone you know is dealing with something related to their mental health.
Each of us plays a vital role in the mental wellness of those around us, whether we realize it or not. Yet it can be challenging to translate mental health “awareness” into our daily lives. There's a lot you can do -- and it's easier than you think.
1. TAKE A DIGITAL DETOX
Studies show that mental illness is more prevalent in the West than in other parts of the world. Some believe that due to our fast-paced and tech-focused lifestyle, we do not spend as much real, face-to-face time with friends. Social media puts added pressure to have glamorous, Instagram-worthy lives. That's a recipe for loneliness and self-esteem questions that can be detrimental to our mental health, causing fatigue, stress, and even depression.
Next time you're tempted to check Facebook, see what it feels like to take a break from technology -- even for an hour or an afternoon. Go on a hike, bake, or just take a walk with a friend. You might be pleasantly surprised at what a difference it makes to unplug and spend time #IRL.
2. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
More than half of Americans are concerned with their stress levels. A lot of the stress we feel is driven by regrets of the past or worries of the future. Meditation is a wonderful way to combat those unhealthy thoughts. Mindfulness -- or the practice of being present without judgement -- helps create space between you and the stress in your life. It teaches us to enjoy the moment with greater awareness.
Meditation has been proven to reduce stress and improve brain function. It's even been shown to slow signs of aging. There are numerous apps you can use to help you learn how to meditate (one of our faves is Calm). You can also use apps like Insight Timer for a relaxing background while you do a self-guided meditation. Even a 2-minute mindfulness break between meetings or classes can do wonders for your mood.
3. FIND YOUR OUTLET
Many activities that have been proven to help us destress and have various other mental benefits. For me, exercise is my go-to stress reliever. According to the Journal of Positive Psychology, people who frequently do creative activities felt more relaxed and happier in their everyday lives. Whether it’s exercising, creating, or some other hobby, finding your outlet gives you a productive way to cope. Many of these can be a fun activity to do with friends, a double bonus!
One idea we love is making a self-care package. Take an old shoebox, basket, whatever you have lying around and fill it with crafts you like, favorite movies, or coloring books -- whatever makes you happy. When you feel overwhelmed and need an outlet, take out your self-care package to help you take a break from everything else.
4. START A CONVERSATION
The biggest barrier to getting help is the ridiculous (and harmful!) stigma around mental health. Luckily, that stigma is starting to melt away, as more people embrace this important topic.
Each of us deals with stress or feelings of overwhelm from time to time. When we do, it can be tempting to isolate ourselves or continue the illusion of perfection with those around us. This actually serves to amplify our stress and has an unintended consequence of alienating those around us who may also be struggling.
We can all do our part to normalize behavioral health by talking about it. Being open about our own struggles reassures those close to us that what they are going through is normal. Practicing vulnerability also helps others to know you are a safe space if they need to talk. To the extent you feel comfortable, share what’s on your mind and the worries in your life. When others open up to you, listen and respond with empathy.
In addition to the altruistic reasons, sharing can have a real benefit for yourself as well. Connecting with others relieves our own stress. Social connections have been proven to increase levels of a hormone called oxytocin, which functions to decrease anxiety levels and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system's calming down responses.
5. HELP FRIENDS & FAMILY FIND RESOURCES
As a society, the historical silence around mental health has made it hard to know where to go for help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in the United States, nearly 60 percent of adults and 50 percent of youth struggling with a mental illness do not receive adequate care.
One way you can change this is by empowering those you care about you to seek help if they need it. Share this article and other tips you may find online that promote mental health. If you’re looking for more resources, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for regular updates and useful content (after your social media detox that is!).
If you think someone could benefit from talking to someone, don’t be afraid to talk about therapy -- either your own experiences or the concept as a whole -- and share reflect with friends and family. For people living in San Francisco, reflect helps reduce the overwhelm associated with finding a great therapist by personalizing the process and making therapy more affordable. If you are looking for a therapist for yourself, you can get started below.
Lastly, we’d love to hear how you incorporate wellness into your lives. Please comment below to share your tips with others. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but we hope you make mental health a daily and year-round part of your life -- and the lives of those you love.
Helpful tips for managing stress, incorporating mindfulness, and promoting a healthy lifestyle