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Mental Health Matters

June 1st, 2020

Mental health is more than what happens inside our brains. It includes our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing, and it impacts everything from how we think about the world to what we feel and how we act. Mental health also is a big driver of the choices we make, how we respond to stress and the quality of our relationships with family, friends and co-workers.


When it comes to mental health, the mind-body connection is well documented but not fully understood. We do know the body is an amazing system that wants to feel better and heal itself, although it often needs to be nudged along on the right path. If you’re feeling frazzled or disconnected during uncertain times, try these simple tips that you can put into practice today.


1.     Get your body moving. A quick ride on a bike, a walk around the block or doing a minute of jumping jacks will give you an immediate energy boost. Getting your blood pumping 30 minutes on most days of the week is the best place to start when it comes to overall health. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression and feelings of a negative mood by releasing endorphins, or chemicals in the body that trigger positive feelings instead.


2.     Make sleep a priority.  An estimated 40 million Americans have some kind of sleep disorder like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or insomnia. So if you’re having a difficulty sleeping, you’re not alone. Along with weight gain and high blood pressure, inadequate or interrupted sleep is strongly connected with depression. It can be tempting to do all the things that make sleep difficult – like reading on your phone in bed, going to bed at different times every night or drinking caffeinated beverages late in the day. To get the recommended 7 to 8 hours a night that most adults need to be at their best, set your bedroom up for sleep success by keeping it cool and dark. Turn off all electronics at least one hour before bedtime and try to turn in and wake up at the same time every day. If you’ve haven’t slept well for a few nights in a row, a quick 15-minute power nap can boost your productivity, alertness and focus for the day. But don’t overdo the afternoon siesta. If taken too late in the day, a long nap can interrupt your nightly rest.


3.     Manage your stress. To the extent you can control, make stress relief a priority. Family and work expectations, a constant stream of news and never-ending email aren’t easy to overcome. But finding specific activities that lower your stress and help you relax is critical to a healthy body and mind. Some ideas include diving into a good book or magazine at the end of a long day , keeping your hands busy on a craft project or soaking in a hot tub of Epsom salts. Whether it’s a walk around the block or a phone call with a friend, find moments of joy and calm in whatever way works best for you.


4.     Spend time outside. Recent studies have shown that spending time in nature – as little as 20 minutes! – can improve your well-being. Although it’s easy to overlook simple things that make a real impact, being outdoors can calm your nerves and provide the time away from screens we all need to rest and recharge. Being outdoors or in the sun during the early morning hours can also help keep your circadian rhythm, or your internal body clock, in check. Done regularly, this will also help you fall asleep more easily.


5.     Try meditation. Meditation is an ancient practice that’s much more than just relaxing your mind. Its benefits are well documented, including reducing stress, enhancing your self-awareness and sharpened attention. Meditation boosts your focus, helping clear your mind of distractions and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. This practice is particularly helpful if you are experiencing feelings of helplessness or overwhelm that repeat in a loop in your mind. Because mindfulness meditation is about being in the present, the more time you spend meditating, the more easily you’ll be able to shut down the negative feelings and focus on the here and now.


6.     Put down your phone. With all that’s happening in our world, constant connection with the news cycle and political opinions can make even the healthiest brain feel overwhelmed. The average American spends nearly three hours on their smart phone every day, and we’re more attached to our devices than ever before thanks to working from home and social distancing recommendations. Smartphone addiction or compulsively checking your phone can have a negative impact on your sleep, fitness, relationships and mental health. To lessen your dependence on your phone, put your phone out of sight while working, remove apps that tempt you to check in frequently and stop using it as a timer or for your alarm clock.

You might also consider taking a social media break once a week. Spending time on other activities you enjoy – without the constant interruption of other expectations, opinions or sales pitches – will help you feel calmer and more connected to the real world and the people around you. And that is sure to help ease your mind and improve your mental health.



Need more support?

If what you’re feeling seems too big for you to handle alone, it’s time to seek help. Set an appointment with your primary care physician, who may connect you with a licensed counselor. Counseling doesn’t have to be a last resort – A counselor can help you better understand your mental health and how it impacts your thoughts and behavior.

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