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It’s Mental/ Emotional Health Week – 8 Ways to Improve Yours

Many people are still coming out of the Covid- Pandemic hangover and struggling in their day to day feeling and functioning as a result. While that is difficult, it is important to know if that describes you, you are not alone.

All the abrupt changes, uncertainties, unknowns, and fears about our own life and health, the life and health of loved ones and how Covid might affect you/ them, has caused anxiety to skyrocket.

This became a daily stressor for most.

People from all walks of life thrive with routines, predictability and stability. Virtually no one had that throughout the pandemic. Additionally, Covid is still with us. That can be triggering for many.

Many people lost a loved one to Covid, or Covid related complications, compounding their fears with grief.

If you are noticing a decline in your mental or emotional health and wellbeing, it is important to note that you don’t have to stay stuck there.

We have relatively new brain research to thank for that. Neuroplasticity says that you are not stuck with the brain you have! While drugs for things like depression and anxiety are available, there are also many other options available to you that can work just as well or better!

Please note- If your anxiety or depression feels crippling, and /or you are having suicidal thoughts Please reach out to your physician or a mental health professional Immediately!

In some cases meds may be a temporary option as you begin to heal by other means.

Below are some options that I as a mental health professional have seen to be incredibly effective in my own life and the lives of my clients. They involve your willingness to recognize that you have value and are worth spending the time (and making the choices) to get or stay well.

1. STRONG SOCIAL SUPPORT/ CONNECTIONS - While the other things we’ll include in this blog are important, having a network of family and /or friendship support is at the top of the list toward improving our health and wellbeing. We are if nothing else social creatures and we need the love and support of safe others. One of the big reasons for decline in our mental/emotional health during the pandemic was the isolation factor.

2. CREATE A SOLID PREDICTABLE SLEEP SCHEDULE- While there are many things we cannot control around sleep and the quality of sleep, there are many factors within our control including creating a good sleep routine, setting a bed time and wake up time and sticking to it, and allowing time before bed to dim the lights. Make some “rules” such as no hot topic conversations within 3 hours of bedtime. Sleeping in a cool dark room is also beneficial.

3. SHIFT YOUR DIET TOWARDS PLANT BASED/ CLEAN EATING- This does not mean 100% of your diet has to be this way. However, choosing foods that boost mood and brain function -good proteins like fish, eggs, lentils and beans, almond or peanut butter, are important as is plenty of organic greens, and berries. Ensure you are eating complex carbs like brown rice and quinoa, and stay away from highly processed, sugary, salty, foods that introduce junk like additives, bad fats, and preservatives, none of which are beneficial.

4. MOVE YOUR BODY DAILY – It is imperative for us all, and especially crucial for those struggling with mental/emotional health issues to be moving our bodies daily. Think about the ways you can engage in some kind of fitness that are also enjoyable. Think out of the box and be sure to factor in things you can do outdoors even in inclement weather ( walk with a raincoat and boots) and the things you can do at home or at a gym. This is an integral part of getting or staying mentally and emotionally well as it boosts neurochemicals to the brain. Think “runners high” with all those good endorphins that help us to feel better. Make a schedule that includes your fitness time. Even if you break up this time into 10 or 15 minute increments 2 or 3 times a day is still beneficial.

5. FIND AND LIVE YOUR PURPOSE/ PASSION- Some people find great satisfaction in their work, raising children or having a passion project on the side. These are the things that remind us that we matter, that we can positively impact the lives of others. Find purpose in your work, or even the mundane chores at home. Find the things that bring you joy and do them!

6. SUPERCHARGE YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE- Whatever your spiritual or religious beliefs are, don’t keep them on the sidelines. Rather, consider how to strengthen that spiritual upward relationship. If you believe in God, get your day going with a bible reading or short devotional time, even if it means waking up 10 minutes earlier. If you have a different religion or spiritual orientation, consider what practice you might engage in daily – whether prayer, meditation, reading a book- anything that helps you focus on the meaning and purpose of your faith.

7. KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL- The research is clear. Keeping a gratitude journal you write in daily for even 30 days can be quite a mood/ mental health boost. Even in the midst of trials and challenges we all have things to appreciate and be grateful for. Writing them down helps our brain shift from an overfocus on problems to an appreciation for what is good and meaningful in our lives.

8. LEARN TO QUESTION YOUR THOUGHTS- Our brain will believe a thought just because it pops in our mind, but that does not necessarily make it true or beneficial.

It is imperative that we ask ourselves – especially about our most difficult thoughts- is it true? Can I know with 100% certainty that my thought ( or fear) is true. Ask yourself what you notice when you think those thoughts- do they cause you to feel better or worse? Use a feeling word chart to begin to learn to expand your emotional vocabulary about how you are really feeling. Then consider ways to begin to write down/ think more accurate thoughts.

By taking these suggestions one at a time, you stand a good chance of beginning to improve your own health and wellbeing.

Sometimes we all need additional help and support. Consider seeing a mental health professional especially if you notice reoccurring thoughts that are getting in the way of how you feel and function, and/or if you know you need help with a distressing relationship, past trauma, or have the need to learn better coping skills.

There are counselors and health coaches on the Live Well Kitsap site. www.livewellkitsap.com/mind-your-health.

Additionally, there are mental health platforms out there so do your research. Psychology Today is also a great way to find a counselor or therapist.

You have this one life to live. You are worth the time and effort to begin to do the things that will help you feel and function to live your best life!

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