May is Mental Health Awareness Month: 5 Ways to Keep a Healthy Mind During Trying Times
Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States has been recognized every year in May since in 1949. It was originally started by the National Association for Mental Health, now known as Mental Health America. “Mental Health Awareness Month” is used interchangeably with “Mental Health Month,” and the goals are to raise awareness about mental illness, offer screenings, and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues so more people will get tested and seek treatment.
Why is Mental Health Awareness Month Necessary?
Being human means there will undoubtedly be times of sadness, grief, tension, and stress. It is inescapable. Everyone should understand there is absolutely no shame in struggling with poor mental health. This is why it’s so important during Mental Health Awareness Month in May to foster understanding and educate people about the prevalence of mental illnesses. Poor mental health is far more common than most people realize. Knowing that we are not alone in our struggles can be reassuring, since a hallmark of depression and other mental health conditions is feeling isolated or alone. Nearly 47 million adults in the U.S., around one in five people, live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020 may be a particularly difficult year for the mental health of many millions more than usual. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a section of their website dedicated to coping with the Coronavirus. Not only is there the fear of contracting the disease and getting sick as some states try to gradually return to normal, but there is the added mental stress of social isolation that comes with “stay at home” orders that many people are still living under. This Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s more important than ever to stay grounded in good in habits and keep an open ear for anyone else in need.
Here are 5 Ways to Keep a Healthy Mind During Mental Health Awareness Month
1. Keep a Regular Routine
Keeping a regular routine may sound simple, but as many people are at home right now or out of work because of the pandemic, it’s easy for some people to fall into an unproductive rut. Try basic things at first, like managing regular sleep practices, as well as going to bed and rising at the same time each day. Making the bed as soon as you wake up will offer a sense of accomplishment and a victory to begin each day. Write a schedule for each day, making sure to include time for relaxation, but also listing activities that make you feel productive and beneficial. Staying consistent and feeling useful is certainly an important key for safeguarding a healthy mind.
2. Exercise and Stay Active
It can be a challenge to exercise and stay active without access to a gym or an ability to go to the park or our favorite hiking trail. There are other ways, though, to keep active. Don’t be afraid of moving the furniture around to make more room for a free online workout. If cardio isn’t your thing, try limbering up with some yoga instruction. Even a little bit of consistent exercise will do wonders for our mental health. If at all possible, get outside for at least 20 minutes or more each day, even if it’s only in the back yard. Fresh air can have a positive impact, and a dose of Vitamin D from the sun is good for the immune system. Natural Vitamin D from sunlight also increases the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin to improve mood and ward off depression.
3. Connect With Other People
If possible, stay in touch with family and friends by doing videoconferences on either the computer or a smartphone. There are also excellent tele-health resources for people who feel that they may need some counseling. If video conferencing is not something you can comfortably manage, simply talking on the phone can keep us feeling more connected and less isolated. In addition to the healthy benefits of connecting with others, knowing that friends and family members are safe and healthy will reduce the stress and anxiety of wondering how they are doing.
4. Be Willing to Help Others
Being able and willing to help others can take many different forms. It may be that a friend is struggling and needs to talk about what they are going through. Be an open and nonjudgmental sounding board for them. As some cities and states slowly lift stay-at-home orders and “open back up,” there are still vulnerable communities like the elderly that will need assistance. Take the opportunity to check-in with people and see if you can provide help in any way, while wearing a mask and keeping a safe a healthy “social distance” from them. Helping others triggers the mesolimbic system in the brain and promotes feelings of reward and releases neurotransmitters that make us happy.
5. Maintain a Healthy Diet
Feeling physically energetic is a fixture of good mental health. It’s easy to slip into the habit of eating more salty and sugary processed snacks than actual healthy meals. Go out of your way to cook balanced meals in healthy proportions and avoid drinking too much alcohol, which negatively affects sleep and leads to a decline in mental health. Eating fruits and vegetables might not provide the initial satisfaction that we feel from heavy comfort foods, but the good effects last much longer without the sluggish crash that arrives shortly after eating. It’s okay to cheat every once in a while as long as it’s in moderation and doesn’t become an unhealthy habit.
Reach Out During Mental Health Month
If you feel like your mental health has been lagging, use Mental Health Awareness Month in May to launch a whole new set of lifestyle choices that will benefit you not just during this trying time, but in everyday life. For others who may be struggling, this is an ideal time to reach out and let them know you are available to help in any way you can. Sometimes merely being a comforting ear for them to speak with can make a huge difference in helping others get through difficult times. Simply listening to them might be just the prescription they need. Use the following Mental Health Awareness Month hashtags in social media to make it easier for others to follow along: #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth #MentalHealthMonth #EndTheStigma #BreakTheStigma
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