If I asked the average person in the US what routines and practices they implement in their life to take care of their physical health, something tells me at least 3 out of 4 people would have some answers. Even if they aren’t considered to be at their healthiest, most people can at least share general ideas of steps to take towards improving their physical health. If I asked the same questions, and replaced physical health with mental health, I’m not too confident that one would be able to share information as quickly or thoroughly.
With so much information about mental health and major mental illnesses available to the masses, why is the topic of mental health still not integrated into our thought process about general health management? It seems that mental health becomes a trending topic when an atrocity is exposed in the public eye, e.g. a mass shooting, a suicide or substance induced death of a public figure, and then gently fades from peoples’ attention until the next time. Because mental illness (not mental health) becomes a circumstantial topic, I presume it can only be understandable why mental health is a back thought, but it is a personal focus of mine, to change that.
Well, what is mental health? Mental health is a general term to describe the state of the brains’ functioning in relation to our thoughts and emotions. When the functioning is impaired, there is a result of thought and emotional dysfunction, to the point that our baseline perceptions and feelings are altered. There is an experience that compromises our daily functioning. When the impairment significantly effects the way someone lives, at that point, they may become diagnosable, and have a mental illness.
Mental health should be discussed just as openly and comfortably as physical health. Mental illness should be normalized just as much as physical illness. Its not taboo to discuss cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure, but many feel the need to have censored conversations about depression, anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder. There tends to be a big fuss around a revealing of someone's mental health status as if they are revealing to the world that they aren’t straight. Just like someone’s sexuality, someone’s health status, mental or physical, is not who someone is, it’s a layer of their life experience.
In looking at mental health, its’ important to think about preventative measures, as opposed to just seeking understanding of what causes crisis or an illness. Understanding mindfulness and how we can all find practices that work for us, can allow us to manage our mental health much better.
Mindfulness is the intentional practice of bringing awareness to the body and mind. We practice mindfulness by engaging in activities that slow down our physiological and mental processes, so that we can be present, experience elevated consciousness, and have a sense of calm.
So to help you manage your mental health, here are some great, mindfulness practices:
Mediation gets a bad wrap from those who don’t understand it. There are many types of meditation and can be practiced with different intentions. In its most simplified form, mediation, is sitting or laying still so that you can bring your awareness to the moment, accompanied with steady controlled breathing. In meditation, you become aware of your thoughts, your breathing, heart rate, and sensations to the body. The goal is stillness and you can build up a mediation practice to be whatever you want it to be. Research has found that those who meditate not only experience lower stress, but also, more regulated eating, better sleeping patterns, and improved concentration.
Taking time to be still and focus in writing, brings your attention to what you’re thinking and feeling. Often times, mental and emotional breakdowns occur because of issues around processing our life experiences. Just like meditation, you need to make time to write and create a practice around it. Nowadays, people feel the need to vent on social media, just so they feel acknowledged, but taking time to vent in your own private space, can be just as satisfying. Writing also gives you a snapshot into your own thought processes and emotional state.
Intentional Breathing Exercising
The most centering practice and tool we can use for our minds and bodies is controlled breathing. The magic number is 6. Taking a deep, slow and controlled 6 second inhalation, followed by a 6 second exhalation such the same creates a powerful state of homeostasis in the body. Your breath is always with you; therefore, you can practice intentional breathing throughout the duration of any day, not just when someone frustrates you or you feel stressed.
Grounding walk in nature
If you live in a major city, life is busy, and you most often don’t pay very much attention to what’s going on around you. That’s why taking a walk in nature, allows you to bring your awareness to simple things in front and around you, like the size, shape and color of trees and foliage; the activity of insects or small animals; and the sounds or smells around you. Also, because the natural moves much slower than us, your brain can slow down the processing of intense stimuli.
De-plugging from Intense Environments and Stimuli
Constantly being around loud noise as a result from people, machines, etc. is more than what the human brain and body was really built for. We push ourselves to watch, listen to and be around more than we really need to. The attachment that most first world citizens have to their phone has made a major impact on the evolution of the brain. Our ability to concentrate, retain information, and process information has completely been altered. Therefore, de-plugging from our normal, is necessary so slow every everything down, and strengthen our mental functioning.
Other activities include any creative expression like drawing, painting, knitting, etc., listening to music that resembles nature, listening to “meditation” or “Zen” music, listening binaural beats, sitting in silence, and engaging in a low impact-centering activity like yoga, Pilates or Qigong.
Mental health is about stabilization, therefor living a life that allows you to center movement in your mind, body and spirit, is what you need.