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7 Tips To Help Improve Mental Health By Megan Johnson McCullough

Improve Mental Health

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Your Mental Health

The mind and body are one in the same when it comes to your mental health. Our thoughts are like seeds, in that we get to decide what grows. However, the type of gardener we are with those thoughts can perpetuate the onset of an array of emotions that practically control our well-being.

Our thoughts dictate our actions, and our actions or lack thereof can dictate our emotions. Mental health is not something to be brushed aside, and COVID 19 certainly highlighted the importance of our mental health when we were forced to be confronted with isolation and going without distractions.

Yet, we learned a lesson. We learned that being distracted is exactly what we are, and we distract ourselves from our mental health. We find ways to avoid, ignore, or overshadow what is really going on upstairs in our heads. Mental health is not something you visibly see, but if you could take a picture that captures your mental health, what would it actually look like?? Sunshine and rainbows, clouds and rain, a rollercoaster, a maze with someone lost in it…? It is a confrontational question we do not want to be asked.

When someone asks us, “How are you?” or, “How have you been?”. Typically, responses start with, “O.K.”, “I’m good”, “fine”, “not too bad”. Brief and quickly we just politely respond because telling someone how we really feel opens up Pandora’s Box.

Another social norm we practice around our friends and family is only talking about problems or what is wrong, drama in our lives. It is as if talking about problems makes us more relatable to others and lets the audience give their input so good conversation takes place. But….why don’t we ever start with what has been great? We might say, “I had some dental work done and I really feel so much better about my smile”, but instead we say, “Ugh. I had to spend a bunch of money at the dentist this week and miss work because of it”.

Why don’t we start with, “I’m going to break up with him/her because they aren’t making me feel good”? Instead, we go on and on about all the reasons we should break up with someone. We need validation that everyone has problems, and those problems are what we share, not victories and triumphs. In fact, when we go see a therapist, we talk about problems, not necessarily what is good. Aren’t we somehow setting ourselves up for negativity?

Private topic

Mental health is often considered a private topic. Not everyone likes to share about this topic, seeing it as a character flaw, a lack of ability, a disability, a weakness, or something that no one else can ever understand. Yet, we should talk about it more because when we do share, we find that there are many people who can relate or are experiencing these feelings themselves. Keeping mental health under wraps does not do any good.

It does not mean we have to shout from the rooftops about our mind’s troubles, but we can admit that our minds are working for us 24/7 and sometimes mal functioning takes place. Just like technology, sometimes we need a factory reset or an upgrade. Just like a car, we need a tune up. Guess what? That is okay and that is completely normal.

6 Types of Mental Illnesses

Types of Mental Illnesses
Your mental health is important throughout all stages of life from childhood to senior years. You are stuck with you. As we go through life, mental health can be affected by genetic factors, family history, or events that have happened in our lives. The key is realizing our own personal potential. We change over time, and this mean our mental health changes over time too. Some mental health issues can be short lived while others can be chronic. Some of these disorders are also called illnesses. There are several types.

  • Anxiety disorders: A person might carry a sense of fear or dread. Rapid heartbeat and sweating are common panic-type symptoms. When these feelings start to interfere with daily life, that is when a person needs to seek help.
  • Mood disorders: A person might feel persistently extremely sad or extremely happy. Emotions seem to peak and fall. These fluctuations can be hard to live with. Some people can be diagnosed as bi-polar.
  • Addiction disorders: Common examples would be drugs and alcohol. However, these can also be called impulse disorders because the urge to do something becomes so strong and persistent.
  • Psychotic disorders: These affect thinking and overall awareness. A person might have hallucinations or delusions. They might see images or sounds or hear voices. Some people are diagnosed as schizophrenic.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD): The person might perform constant rituals or routines that become obsessions. When not able to do them, the person becomes compulsively worried about this. An example might be someone who constantly washes their hands due to germs.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Objects or situations can stir up emotional turmoil for persons who have experienced traumatic or terrifying events. These might include sexual assault or witnessing a death.
  • Eating disorders: The person has problems associated with food such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. Due to these issues, the person has trouble with daily life and may have poor health due to poor nutrition.

Mental health disorders are more common than we think, but not something that is always talked about or even addressed. People can be aware that they feel a certain way or have problems no one else seems to relate to, but we keep mental health on a personal level.

The following are the latest statistics listed by the National Institutes of Health Disorders which is part of the National Institutes of Health

  • Mental health disorders account for several top causes of disability in the U.S., specifically major depression, manic depression (bipolar disorder), schizophrenia, and OCD.
  • 26% of Americans 18 and older (1 in 4 adults) are diagnosed and suffer from a mental health disorder each year.
  • Many mental illnesses can co-occur, particularly depressive illnesses with substance abuse and/or anxiety.
  • 9.5% of Americans 18 and over suffer from depression each year.
  • Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than men.
  • Men and women are equally likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
  • Mid-20s is the most common age depression and/or bi-polar disorder develops.
  • Most suicides occur with people who have a mental disorder, particularly depression or substance abuse.
  • Four times the number of men commit suicide compared to women, but women attempt suicide more often than men.
  • Caucasian men over age 85 in the U.S. are at the highest risk for suicide.
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for ages 15 to 24.
  • 1% of Americans have schizophrenia.
  • Schizophrenia starts to show signs in men during their early 20s. In women, Schizophrenia in women starts to show signs during early 20s or 30s.
  • 18% of people ages 18- 54 are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder each year. These include panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia).
  • Panic disorder develops during late adolescence or during early adulthood.
  • The first symptoms of OCD usually start during childhood or adolescence.
  • OCD is common to occur among people who have problems with substance abuse, depressive, or eating disorders.

7 Tips to consider

1. Get help

Mental health issues
This may not be easy for everyone, in fact, admitting that we need help can feel like defeat. Sometimes mental health issues are actually genetic or no fault of our own. They are simply the way we are wired and sometimes we need a little re-wiring to make our minds function more clearly or efficiently.

Help comes in all different forms. It can start by just confiding in someone close to you or it can be going to see a doctor. It can be in the forms of groups or workshops. Now it can even be done over the phone or virtually. Help is readily available, but we might not be readily ready to get help. This is because getting help first requires admitting that there is a circumstance in our life that needs help.

We can no longer deny this. Once we are honest and truthful, we can then say we need to take action to get help. This can put us in a vulnerable position. We do not ever like to admit that we need help; it is human nature. Yet, we learn over and over again that when we take on too much and then don’t get help, we end up putting ourselves in a compromising position.

Getting help is a form of change that asks ourselves to get out of our comfort zones. There are stages of readiness to change that are part of the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (TTM).

Change actually starts with precontemplation where we may not even be aware we are in need of change or in need of help. Then we become aware (contemplation) and think about getting help and start to picture what life could be like if we did in fact do then. Next, we are in preparation to change so we think about how we would go about doing that.

We then take the action which could be making the call or going to the place that offers help. We need to maintain the actions we have taken. We do not just get help and then say we are cured. We do, however, reach a point where termination is in place. This means we are loaded with the right tools to keep up this quality of life. This takes time, but the first step is getting help.

Mental health disorders are more common than we think and the ability to change the course of how they can affect our lives is a more common problem than we think too. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH, 2016), the most common reasons people don’t get help are because of one or more of the following (http://davidsusman.com/2018/04/12/the-top-reasons-why-people-dont-receive-needed-mental-health-services/):

Reason Percent
Can’t afford it 37.2%
Thought didn’t need treatment and work it out themselves 31%
Didn’t know where to go for help 26%
Didn’t have time 21.7%
Negative social stigmas by community 12.6%
Health insurance doesn’t cover it 11.9%
Concerned about taking medicine or being put in a place for treatment 11.9%
Didn’t feel needed treatment at that time 11.9%
Didn’t want to interfere with job 11.7%
Concerned about confidentiality 11%
Didn’t think treatment would help 10%
Didn’t want other to know 9.1%
Health insurance doesn’t cover medications 8.8%
No transportation or too inconvenient to go 3.8%

2. Stop making excuses

We have to be real and honest with ourselves. We can use our shortcomings or troubles as excuses that hinder or halt us from experiencing quality of life. We hold back, say the word “can’t” too much, and tell ourselves there is something wrong with us. We can say we are depressed so we cannot get out of bed.

We can say we are too angry and anxious and cannot sleep so we are tired all the time. We can say we can’t focus or pay attention, so school is too hard, or work is too much. Excuses are a form of denial when it comes to mental health.

We can be sad, mad, bored, or hyper, and still live life. We have to realize that we can enjoy life more if we take ownership of our mental health and instead of saying “can’t” say, “I’m going to do this anyways.” I might be depressed but I can still get out of bed because I am needed at work, my kids need my help, and I need to take care of myself.

We can say we have anger issues, but we can breathe, avoid situations that make us feel this way, and decide that no problem is worth losing sleep over. We can feel hyper but still get our work done and stay on task by accommodating these circumstances by working short spurts or standing up and pacing a little here and there to keep occupied.

You see, you CAN, you just have to do it the way that works for you. We have this idea that if we do not do things like everyone else then we are not normal and not being normal is not okay. However, what or who defines normal? Other than the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Health), which does diagnose mental health disorders, we cannot measure ourselves up to being normal so much that we use excuses to live our lives as best we can.

There can be a negative stigma when it comes to mental illness. It is a difficult concept for people to understand or have empathy for when they have not experienced this type of living. This is especially true for persons who hold a negative stigma towards persons who have addiction problems.

People think change is easy or might say there is something wrong with you. They make the person seem like they are broken and need to be fixed. They make the person feel like they are different, strange, or even use the term “crazy”.

This is a reason people do not get help. The world is not always kind to others who do not meet social norms. However, the more the topics are discussed and the more people who seek help, the more getting help can be normalized and the more de-stigmatized the concept can get.

3. Personal community

Personal community
Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, who you surround yourself with and have in your personal community or circle truly has an impact on your mental health. It makes sense. Unhealthy relationships would of course lead to unhealthy mental health. Spending more time in messy relationships versus ones that are uplifting or make us smile and laugh, is wasting our quality of lifetime.

It’s understandable that breakups are hard, being lonely is hard, and avoiding confrontation is easier. People stay married because it is more convenient. They sleep in separate beds and act like roommates. We stay friends with people who always let us down. We let family treat us poorly because they are family.

It would be nice to meet new people and spend time with people who actually are invested in our relationship with them, but we stay waiting for their text, call, or email, and then make an excuse as to why it took so long for them to respond or contact us. When we make excuses for other people, we are also making excuses for our mental health to accept less than we deserve. Other than family or sometimes co-workers, we can decide who gets to be part of our mental health. We have to stop settling, take the easy route, and start choosing people who choose you even at your worst. Choose people who want you to have quality of life.

4. Pay attention to warning signs

When you start to sense that life is getting unmanageable, too stressful, or let’s just say…. too hard, pay attention to these feelings. We tend to ignore them. In the business world, they say it takes 7 points of contact before a person will call you, sign up with you, buy your product, or whatever the service might be. If we put off our mental health 7 times longer, that is 7 times the risk for unhappiness and poor quality of life.

We tend to delay and stay stuck in the contemplation stage of could, should, or possibly. If you have no energy, if you are irritable, if you are sad more often than not, if you can’t seem to stop worrying, then nothing will change if nothing changes. Warning signs come in forms and sometimes a friend, co-worker, or family member might tip-toe around the subject and try to hint to you that you do not seem like yourself. Warning means that the red light is coming, so again, we should not wait to seek a better quality of life.

5. Self-care

Personal care
The hustle and bustle of life with all the responsibilities and feelings of limited time in our days can leave us forgetting to take care of ourselves. This in turn can impact mental health because when we go, go, go, we suddenly can crash and burn from going too hard for too long. This happens mentally and physically. It can burn out either way.
When you are not being conscious of eating healthy, exercising, personal care you enjoy such as getting your nails done or hair done, or even having a moment to go get a massage, you are putting yourself on hold. No one likes waiting on hold. It is a form of telling yourself that you do not come first. One might think this sounds selfish, that your kids or spouse should come first. However, a better you, especially in terms of mental health, is a better you for others.

Read More: How to Enhance Your Life through the Power of Self-Care

6. Growth

Life provides learning lessons on a daily basis. How we respond, react, and move forward from them is what matters. Repeating mistakes is not conducive to our mental health. The last two stages of the TTM require growth which are maintenance and termination. This requires a sense of maturity that we recognize the warning signs, do not put ourselves in situations that compromise our mental health, and say “no” to anyone or anything that threatens the quality of our mental health.

Easier said than done especially if it requires confrontation or speaking up for ourselves. In today’s world, mental health can also be better ensured when we actually have real conversations with people. Sometimes we need to have an attitude of gratitude and be thankful for the temporary people we had in our lives who have taught us permanent lessons.

That could be in a positive or negative manner. You might have had a teacher or coach that you learned really great tools from, and they were only in your life for that school year or season, and you are permanently grateful for the time spent and lessons learned from them. However, we also learn from the negative people in our lives who came and went.

For mental health, we don’t want to hold onto anger or these negatives emotions this person or people brought out in us. Instead, we want to say thank you for teaching me I deserve better, I won’t let that happen again, and/or I am worth being happy. These mental health lessons test our patience, forgiveness, and understanding, but in the long run, we grow from them, and quality of life improves from moving forward from them and not looking back.

7. Daily self help

There are little things that can add up to also improve mental health. These include the following:

1. Walk tall: Go through life with your head up and chest up. Do not walk with your head down and look unapproachable. Breathe in the fresh air and stand with good posture.

2. Avoid alcohol and drugs: These give a false sense of mood enhancement, sometimes masking problems and making them temporarily go away. However, this can lead to chronic use.

3. Get 10 minutes of sunshine: We all need vitamin D. Enjoy the fresh air and let the warmth of the sun warm your thoughts and boost your energy.

4. Eat every 3-4 hours: Keeping blood sugar stable helps keep your mood and energy levels stable too. Crashing and burning from lack of food can be avoided but you have to be mindful and properly tune into your nutrition.

5. Exercise: This is a natural mood boosting activity that makes you feel good about doing something good for yourself. You can relieve stress too.

6. Keep a journal: Sometimes letting our emotions, thoughts, and opinions out on paper can help us understand them better. This is a form of self-communication.

7. Make time for your hobbies: If you like making puzzle, knitting, reading, watching T.V., whatever it might be, make time for this.

8. Get enough sleep: A sleep deprived mind does not think clearly. Decisions and choices become compromised. Unnecessarily staying up late should be adjusted.

9. Unplug for 30 minutes: Step away from your cell phone and technology to just let your mind act on its own. We are over stimulating and multitasking far too much.

10. Wake up with plenty of preparation time: A rushed morning routine starts the day stressfully. No one likes when the alarm goes off, so make it more of a gradual process rather than having to rush to get up and go. Let your day begin with a good morning routine so you can enter the day on a positive note on time and maybe even ahead of schedule versus running late or behind.

Take the first step then 2 weeks

Mental health issues can be helped and improved. It is a matter of taking the first step to do so. Admittingly, that is the hardest step. Then it’s all about staying in that positive position. Mental health issues can be cyclical. It is common for a person to get help, take medications, think they are totally fine and better, then more or less relapse into feeling bad. They stop taking their medications and eventually the imbalances strike again.

The people that truly care about us want to be happy and healthy, so we need to get help when we need to get help and stop being concerned about what others think or even judging ourselves harshly. Sometimes we have to understand that it’s okay not to be okay, but not for too long. The two week rule is really good to see if the feelings pass or subside. The two week rule is good to let yourself adjust to possible medications you have been prescribed to help.

Give your mental health two weeks to adjust and if not, then change is needed and help for that change needs to take place.

We need to realize that good mental health is not a want in life, rather, it is a need in life. You need to have a sound state of mind. As members of society, we are told that we want to make the world better for future generations and those to come.

We say we want our kids to have better than what we have, but if we do not start taking action on society’s mental health situation, then the problems associated with it will only continue to hurt our world. What I mean by this is to think of the troubles associated with gun violence, bullying, racism, everything that has currently rocked society on a level we never anticipated. Mental health is strongly rooted in these problems.

People are being pushed over the edge in their own minds and seek retaliation on others. People are reaching breaking points that could have been avoided. The resources are out there. Tell a friend or loved one if you have concerns about their mental health. Believe it or not, they may be so deep in their own mental health issues, they are not even aware.

Your mind is your temple and the home you live in. Do not keep it messy or unattended to. You can hoard negativity. You can let mold be in the walls of your thoughts. You can let your mind spin on a hamster wheel.

Eventually, your mind will produce warning signs. Eventually, your mind is going to let you know it is now or never and it does not want to live with poor mental health any longer. Mental health is the greatest wealth we can have. Peace of mind is absolutely priceless. Count your blessings in your life instead of what is lacking or what you want versus what you need. Take care of you.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. The content on our website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or therapy. You should NEVER disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking treatment due to something you have read on our website and we will not be held responsible for any adverse health condition or injury that occurs as a result of doing so.
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Megan Johnson McCullough

Bodybuilder, Author, and Fitness Model

Megan Johnson McCullough is the owner of Every BODY’s Fit, fitness studio in Oceanside CA. She is an NASM Ma...

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