Mental health is a topic that is near and dear to many people’s hearts, and with good reason. So as per the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults (52.9 million) has a mental illness. Whether it’s relentless anxiety, debilitating depression or a recurrent eating disorder, many of us live with a mental illness or personally know someone who does.
Since 1949, various businesses, organizations and individuals have come together in May to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month. The initiative, first started by the Mental Health America (MHA) organization, focuses on raising awareness about mental health and ending the stigma that often surrounds it.
May 31 marks the end of Mental Health Awareness Month. But given the last few years we’ve had and the importance of good mental health, 31 days just doesn’t seem long enough.
To keep the celebration going, we’ve rounded up a few ways to shine a light on mental health and take care of yourself all year long. Whether it’s practising mindfulness, de-stressing with a weighted throw blanket or donating to a good cause, there are easy steps you can get to prioritize your mental health and honor Mental Health Awareness Month beyond the month of May. Scroll on!
1. Start the day with positive daily affirmations.
Many people don’t realize that the content of our self-talk, good or bad, can have a key impact on how we feel about ourselves. Indeed, evidence suggests that using positive self-talk can greatly benefit mental health, performance and relationships, while negative self-talk can increase anxiety and decrease feelings of self-worth. To start your days off on a more positive note, stand in front of the mirror and repeat three to five positive affirmations — short, personal statements that are uplifting or supportive in tone. It may seem odd at first. Stick with it and eventually you’ll notice a dramatic improvement in your mental health.
2. Take regular breaks from social media
Spending too much time on social medium leaves many of us feeling lonely and depressed — but why? In the renowned words of former president Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When we passively scroll through social media, we’re bombarded with images of people living seemingly “perfect” lives. So the final result is that we feel like we’re missing out or don’t measure up. By taking normal breaks from social media, you can focus more on real-world activities and relationships that keep you in the present moment.
3. Relax with weighted products
Whether you struggle with occasional panic attacks or catastrophize nightly at 3 a.m., weighted products can be a game-changer for your sleep and mental health. Weighted products, such as the increasingly popular weighted blanket, deliver firm, deep pressure that activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system — the part of the central nervous system responsible for the “rest and digest” response. And when this system gets activated, your breathing and heart rate slow, and your body is flooded with feel-good hormones that help you relax.
Weighted blankets aren’t the only weighted products available. If you’re a frequent flyer, try a weighted eye mask to help you relax and block out light while you doze on the plane. For lounging around the residence, opt for a weighted robe.
4. Check in with friends and family
Do you have a coworker who is going through a hard time or a friend who has posting cryptic messages on social media lately? Consider giving them a call or pinging them to see how they’re doing. Don’t overthink it — a simple, “Hey, it’s been a while. How are you doing?” will suffice.
Checking in with friends is just as important for your mental health as theirs. After all, relationships are a two-way street! By keeping in touch with your friends, you can strengthen your relationships and ensure you must need someone to talk to when times get hard.
5. Find a physical activity you enjoy
There’s a reason why doctors and psychiatrists are constantly recommending daily exercise to their patients. Besides being important for overall health, exercise is a powerful stress reliever and an instant mood-booster.
Stay active by finding physical activities that make you excited to break a sweat. Better yet, find indoor or seasonal activities you enjoy. That way, you can look forward to staying active all year long, regardless of the weather.
6. Donate to a mental health organization
Mental health organizations like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America (MHA) do a world of good for people with mental illness, working to raise awareness of mental health probelms and increasing access to mental and behavioral services. Consider making a monthly donation to these groups to help support the amazing work they do! There are also many mental health organizations that advocate for specific groups — people like Black, Indigenous and/or people of color (BIPOC). For example, the Loveland Foundation ensures that Black women and girls have access to quality mental health care.
7. Spend more time outside
One of the simple ways to improve your overall mental health is to spend time outside, enjoying the fresh air. Spending time in parks, gardens and other green spaces comes with a host of mental health benefits, including lower anxiety and improved mood. Spending time in nature also helps you be more active, providing additional mental and physical health benefits.
8. Eat more whole foods
Whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and fish, contain a wealth of nutrients that support optimal brain function and, thus, mental health. In fact, there is mounting evidence that eating certain foods or following specific diet plans can help lower the risk of developing depression and other mental health disorders.
Conversely, junk food and overly-processed food lack the nutrients our bodies need for maintaining and promoting mental health. Eating these foods in excess is thought to trigger an inflammatory response that hampers neurotransmitter production and increases the risk of psychiatric disorders.
Mental Health Awareness Month coming close, but the importance of mental health is year-round. We hope you take inspiration from the ideas expressed above and continue to support mental health all year long!