by Kathi Szabo
If you follow me or Eclectic Well-Being, you know I believe that working out the mind is just as important as working out the body. Yet many will schedule time to go to the gym, take a yoga or Pilates class, go for a run, but we don’t make time to work out our mind. Why is that?
And why do we feel the need to keep it a secret if we seek therapy for our mental health, but we think nothing of letting people know we are in physical therapy? What’s up with that?
The Stigma of Mental Health
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it was started in 1949, 72 years ago. That’s a long time ago! One would think in 72 years mental health issues would no longer have any negative stigma and people would have a regular workout for their mind and ask for help whenever they needed.
But they don’t, and the stigma is still there.
One study found that 56% of respondents said they’d be uncomfortable talking to friends and family about their own mental health, and 84% say they’d be uncomfortable talking to their employer.
Why are we so ashamed to discuss the health of our mind?
One in five adults in the United States live with a mental illness. In 2018 that was 47.6 million. I’m sure with the pandemic that number has grown. Yet so many of us still refuse to get help or take preventative action because of the stigma society continues to put on it.
But what is Mental Health anyway?
Is it being happy all the time? No,it’s not. Happiness is state of being in the moment and it’s impossible to be purely happy 100% of the time.
Mental Health, in my opinion, is taking care of our mind, our thoughts, and our emotions so that we can live productive and engaging lives.
Physical Health is taking care of our bodies so that we can live longer and continue to do the things we enjoy doing. Mental Health should be no different. And like our physical health, we can take preventative actions as well as seek help when problems arise.
Let’s first talk about preventative actions.
Meditation is a workout for the mind. It helps to create and reinforce positive neural pathways, keeping our thoughts healthy.
What are neural pathways?
These are connections from one part of the brain to another. They send signals that then create thoughts and emotions. These become grooves in our brain that help us process what we are experiencing.
In many ways, these are very good things. For example, it allows us to remember how to ride a bike even if we haven’t been on one in years. How to open a door. How to tie our shoes.
But they can also reinforce negative thoughts. Such as an experience of a first husband staying out late and then find out he was having an affair, leading to believing the same about husband number 2 when he stays out late. We assume it’s the same thing, even though we have no evidence other than they are late, and our connection to that part of the brain, that memory. This is one I suffered with at the beginning of my marriage to Mark.
Meditation keeps us in the present moment, aware but unattached. This practice is self-directed neuroplasticity, changing our neural pathways. Meditation creates space to see things as they really are. To explore other possibilities and not jump to conclusions.
There are many forms of meditation and I promise you EVERYONE can meditate. There is no right or wrong way. Just like everyone can exercise, everyone can find some activity they enjoy and gives them a physical workout, there are also many ways one can meditate. If you are interested in learning more about Meditation as a Workout for the Mind, checkout our Mind Training 101.
Practicing Gratitude has significant mental health benefits. Studies have shown that when we acknowledge and are thankful for the positive things in our lives, we experience lower levels of stress and depression. We look at life through the lens of a glass half full rather than half empty.
These benefits aren’t just in the moment. They tend to last and improve our levels of happiness over time. When we express gratitude, we also are more comfortable expressing concerns, allowing us to problem solve rather than hold in our frustrations, allowing them to build up.
So how can you increase your practice of gratitude? Start and end each day with a moment of gratitude. If that’s too much, jump start your gratitude habit by publicly showing gratitude on social media or writing a letter of gratitude to someone you are thankful for having in your life. I jump start my gratitude every November in preparation for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, simply because there are no gifts, just family, food and gratitude.
Yes, play can be a preventative mental health activity. Play activates our creative brain. This helps us to imagine, to create new possibilities.
When we let our guard down, and simply spend time having fun for no reason, it helps stimulate new areas of the brain. Areas that may be dormant when we are working or in serious thought. Play actually helps us develop new cognitive skills that make us better problem solvers. And in today’s world this is critical as we navigate the uncertainty of climate, the economy, disease and more. (interested in Playing this summer? Check out our Explore 😎 Laugh 😎 Play program. It’s completely Free and a great way to reinforce a Growth Mindset!)
We can do all of the above and more to ensure a healthy mind, but even with preventative steps we can find ourselves in need of support. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Mental health issues are not the result of personal weakness. Mental health issues, just like physical health issues, can happen to anyone. And when they do, nothing should stop us from seeking treatment.
Depression seems to be the most common mental health issue facing our society. We all feel depressed at one time in our lives or another. For many, this feeling of hopelessness passes. But for others it is a constant thought pattern with no surrender. Those who suffer from depression have a persistent feeling of emptiness, loneliness, and despair. These feelings linger on, even at times when on the outside the person may seem ok.
Depression can be brought on by life events such as Postpartum Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Others we may not understand what brought it on. But whatever the cause, when symptoms persist, we must ask for help. If suicidal thoughts are present, help is crucial to find immediately.
Depression, just like many physical issues we are diagnosed with, can be treated with medication as well as therapy and sometimes both. When we are diagnosed with a physical issue, we don’t think twice of going to doctor, getting some medication and perhaps a script for physical therapy. Yet so many refuse, because of the stigma society has given mental health issues, to go for mental health therapy.
What can you do to promote Mental Healthiness?
We must change this stigma. We must continue to educate and promote mental health care, just as we do for our physical health.
- Take care of your mental health. Meditate. Practice gratitude. Make time for Play.
- Seek help if you need it. Be empowered to seek help, don’t feel shame. If you would tell a friend you went to the doctor for digestive tract issues, why wouldn’t you share you went to the doctor for a mental health issue? You are taking care of yourself and there is no shame in that.
- Educate yourself and know the facts
- Choose your words carefully – never make light of someone who is suffering or seeking help
- Offer support to those you see suffering
To learn more about mental health, please visit these websites. If we all take a stand, perhaps our children will no longer live with the stigma of caring for their Minds.