This is our third spring of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the stressors it brings or worsens. So, with May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s a good time to check in with ourselves.
- How am I doing?
- What could make me be a little kinder to myself?
- If I’m struggling, when should I seek help from a professional?
Even though these may seem like simple questions, they’re important to ask. Many of us struggle with mental health, so know that you’re not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIMH), 21 million adults in the United States had a major depressive episode in 2020. Over 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and about 7% of kids have anxiety issues.
Physical health and mental health are deeply intertwined. Similar to keeping up on your physical health, caring for your mental health can happen both at home and at the doctor’s office.
For this Mental Health Awareness month, we’re going to first look at the idea of self-care and explore ways to take better care of ourselves at home. Then, we’ll go over when you might want to consider seeking professional help for mental health issues.
What Is Self-Care?
You might be seeing the phrase “self-care” popping up often on social media or in news articles these days, especially since the pandemic began over two years ago. It’s not just a new buzzword — the history of self-care dates back more than 50 years.
The term has roots in the 1950s when the medical community considered self-care to be healthy actions that individual patients could undertake to help themselves, such as exercising.
Women’s rights and civil rights activists in the following decades brought the term into the mainstream, popularizing self-care as a way to make up for discrimination in the medical establishment, according to an article in Slate magazine.
Today, NIMH defines self-care simply as “taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health.”
This is a broad definition, but health experts have some practical tips for implementing self-care into your daily life.
Tips for Self-Care
Physical activity helps your mental health and stress levels, in addition to the many benefits it brings to the body. NIMH says that even just a half-hour of walking each day can be a mood-booster. And remember: If you can’t make the time for a larger chunk of exercise, smaller ones add up.
Make sure to get enough rest and keep a consistent sleep schedule, as best as you can. Be sure to reduce screen time before sleep — blue light from phones or computers can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
See your friends or call a family member if you can. Even joining a community group can help foster human connection that we all need to feel well.
Mental Health America says that good hygiene does more than reduce your chance of getting sick; it also helps you see yourself in a more positive light.
Feed Yourself Well
Eating healthy foods and staying hydrated help keep the mind in tip-top shape, as does cutting back on caffeine and avoiding alcohol.
Whether it’s taking time to read a book, watch a favorite show or work in your garden, make time to do something that brings you joy every day, if you can.
Find What Relaxes You
Meditation, breathing exercises, journaling — it’s important to make time for these healthy activities that calm us down.
Practice Positivity and Gratitude
Take time to think about what you’re thankful for in life and to challenge negative thoughts.
Learn to Say “No” and Prioritize
A valuable self-care skill is to learn how to decline new things to do when your plate is overfull. In addition, it’s important to prioritize tasks by what needs doing first and what can wait. Also be mindful of what you have done during the day, not what you couldn't finish.
When to Seek Help
While practicing self-care is important for maintaining and improving mental health, self-care alone isn’t enough for many of us.
Nearly 50 million American adults experienced a mental illness in 2019, according to a recent report from Mental Health America. That’s about 1 in 5 adults.
The National Institutes of Health recommend seeking professional help if you’re experiencing “severe or distressing” symptoms for two weeks or longer. Some of those symptoms include the following:
- Problems sleeping
- Appetite changes that affect your weight in unintended ways
- Struggling to get out of bed because of your mood
- Having a tough time concentrating
- Losing interest in things you typically enjoy
- Being unable to finish your daily tasks or responsibilities
There’s no need to wait until symptoms feel overwhelming. Contact your primary care provider about your concerns or read the NIMH Tips for Talking With Your Health Care Provider fact sheet for help on where to begin.
If you’re thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting text "HELLO" to 741741. Both services are free, confidential and available 24/7.
How Memorial Healthcare System Can Help
Memorial Behavioral Health Services has a wide range of mental health services for a variety of conditions from primary care to psychiatric treatment to substance use treatment. See our full list of services for more information.
There’s also a 24/7 Psychiatric Emergency Department at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, FL.