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May is Mental Health Month - 6 Ways to Improve Yours!

It’s mental health month! For some of you it may go by unnoticed, whereas others of you know the importance of paying attention to your mental health. Perhaps you are someone who has struggled with anxiety, depression or you have a brain health issue like ADD. You may be on the Autism Spectrum which makes it harder to ignore your mental health.

Mental health can mean different things. In my Brain Health Training, we refer to mental health issues as brain health issues, as ultimately it is the quality of our brain function that truly determines the quality of our lives.

We all have brain challenges as well as strengths. You may have noticed that you are skilled at looking at options and consequences prior to making major decisions, (a function of your prefrontal cortex) but perhaps your handwriting is bad and you bump into things a lot (functions of your cerebellum).

Rarely do many of us pause to consider that we have parts of our brain that work really well which help us to live a great fulfilling life, and perhaps parts of our brain that do not function well.

This can occur due to genetics, sports injuries, falls, car accidents or other traumatic brain injury that can make life feel more challenging.

In addition to the health of our brain, we have other factors like the modeling and conditioning we grew up with, traumatic experiences, generational trauma, diet, sleep, social support, our spiritual and financial health, overall stress levels and more can all factor in to how well we are doing mentally.

Our environment; both external and internal, home and at work, also play an instrumental role in how well we feel and function mentally every day. If our EXTERNAL environment is filled with people and places that don’t feel safe, that is going to have a significant impact on our mental/emotional health over time.

If our internal environment is negative, critical, full of shame or blame, or our self talk is attacking and abusive, we are going to suffer mentally and emotionally.

Out of the many factors that go into our mental / emotional wellbeing, many of them are within our control.

Let’s take a closer look:

SAFE PEOPLE- We can orchestrate our life in such a way that we ensure that our friends, partners, and family are able to be safe (emotionally) people for us and if they are not, we make choices to either minimize contact or attempt to speak our truth including what we need that person to do differently to see if they are capable of being safe for us. Sadly, if we have attempted to speak truth and set boundaries and someone is not able to shift, we may need to eliminate contact if that relationship is hurting our mental and emotional wellbeing.

HEALTHY DIET- Many people do not realize that what they eat has a profound effect on their mental and emotional health. When we consume junk, we are likely to feel sluggish, experience brain fog, lack good coping skills etc. When we nourish our body and brain with healthy life- giving food, we are more apt to experience significant positive shifts in our mood, attitude, patience and ability to think clearly.

NURTURE YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE- Studies have shown that people who have a spiritual orientation that really means something to them, experience life differently. It is often one’s faith that people lean into during times of stress or challenge or uncertainty. Reconnect or reflect on your faith or spiritual beliefs. Nurture that relationship so that it has priority in your life.

HEALTHY SOCIAL SUPPORT- If you are married or partnered, it is important to remember that one single person cannot meet every need. If you are flying solo, you likely have already realized the importance of having a tribe or people outside of a romantic relationship that care about you and vice versa. Rich friendships make life sweeter, and they are great for our mental wellbeing. Make time to nurture your friendships.

ADEQUATE SLEEP- Sleep deprivation is incongruent with being mentally well. When we are lacking in sleep, especially chronically, we do not think as well and we are more likely to be critical, irritable, and experience brain fog. Additionally, 7-8 hours of shuteye gives us good blood flow to the brain, and less than six hours makes it harder to think, function or thrive.

MOVE YOUR BODY- Research confirms what many of us found out through experience. When we work out, lift weights, jog, walk, or do any physical fitness activity we generally feel better not only physically, but especially mentally and emotionally. Fitness – especially when we are doing something we enjoy- gives the pleasure center part of our brain a good endorphin hit – think July 4th fireworks going off in your brain. Daily fitness activities have shown to be in many instances just as effective as anti- depressants and can also help quell anxiety. Moving our body also allows for better blood flow to the brain which allows for optimal brain function. (Note- if you are trying to get off anti- depressant meds, please consult with your prescribing physician first to discuss options.)

Essentially, making a plan to tackle each one of these areas one at a time, can make a significant difference in the way you feel and function in your daily life.

We encourage you to find an A/E Buddy (accountability/encouragement buddy) that has similar goals to help improve your mental/emotional health one step at a time.

Additionally look to the Live Well Kitsap site to find counselors and life coaches who can come along side you on your quest to improve your health and wellbeing.

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