Mental Health is the state of your psychological well being. While the goal is for this to be a positive state without the presence of any mental disorders, it is unfortunately not always possible. One of the leading contributors to that fact is that we often ignore is our mental well being. Mental health or well being is a blanket term for a wide variety of things and those little things add up to create the overall state. Forgetting just one of those little things can start to lead to the degeneration of our mental health. It is our ability and willingness to enjoy life, cope with stressors, regulate emotions, maintains appropriate relationships, and build resilience. It does not necessarily always mean that there are no forms of mental illness or disorders, but that the person is able to manage the symptoms. In other words, it is a combination of your thinking, feelings, intelligence, functioning, and overall mental well being. And to make it even more important, it can impact your physical well being and health.
If mental health involves to much of ourselves and is so important, then why is it so often ignored? Maybe its because there is no every day measure of mental health. There are psychological testing options, but those are not sought out until significant problems or distress occur. In every day situations, you cannot simply look at someone and see their mental health. In some cases symptoms will become apparent, but most of the time they are invisible to the outside world and held internally. When there is something wrong medically or with your physical health, you can see the problem, making it stand out more and making it more of a priority to address. Negative impacts on our mental health can also be ignored because they are easy to dismiss as part of every day life. We are told that life is stressful and it is normal to feel tired, stressed, rushed, irritable, anxious, or even depressed. While we all do experience some of those things occasionally, consistent experiences are definitely not the norm and should be addressed as mental health needs. Finally, it is much easier to focus our energies externally. When everything outside of ourselves seems more important, it is easy to dismiss our own needs and well being.
This then becomes a problem when that all adds up and our overall mental health begins to decline. It generally starts as something small such as feeling tired or overwhelmed, and then continues to build and grow, changing from occasional feelings of being overwhelmed to occasional feelings of sadness or anxiety, to frequent tearfulness, to lashing out in anger, to frequent depression, and more. The more it grows the more out of control it becomes and our healthy foundation that we may have previously had begins to crumble. Eventually, if not addressed it becomes something we cannot fix on our own and we may need help from others or even a professional to step back and put all of the pieces back together. Unfortunately, we often don’t take these steps until it impacts our lives or those we love significantly because we just don’t take the time to take care of our mental health. So how do we become more aware of our own mental health and how do we make it a priority in order to maintain it?
We start with the basics. Recognizing and identifying what our mental health or current state of mind is and what has started to become a problem. This starts with a daily inventory of our mental state. When something goes wrong physically we notice an ache or pain, it is very similar when something goes wrong mentally. We may notice a physical sensation such as tiredness or an emotional symptoms such as increased irritability. Taking a daily inventory helps notice those moments where we just don’t feel, think, or react “right.” Daily mindfulness exercises can help increase your mental awareness as well as improve mental health by bringing your awareness into the present and reducing anxiety over the past or future. Journaling can also be a useful tool for evaluating mental health. Taking maybe 5-10 minutes a day to write a stream of consciousness can help bring awareness to how you are feeling or what you may be dealing with on a daily basis without even knowing it.
Taking this notion further, small daily steps to maintain your mental well being will start to rebuild that healthy foundation of your mental health. Unfortunately, you cannot always eliminate the factors that negatively impact mental health such as stress or conflict, but you can build a foundation to help you cope effectively with them. Taking care of yourself physically forms the bodily foundation which is always important to your mental health. Getting proper sleep, exercising, eating healthy, being social, and taking care of medical problems all help form the body or the shell for the mental health. Participating in activities that nourish your mental well being and soul keeps you strong and enriched, allowing you to face stressors more easily and begin to build that mental foundation for health. This means maintaining the activities that enrich you such as yoga, running, painting, playing a sport, watching movies, ect. even when it does not feel like life allows the time for it. Most importantly, when your mental health becomes something that you no longer feel you have control of or is negatively impacting other factors of your life, getting professional help is vital.