Mental illnesses — including depression and anxiety — are among the most common health conditions in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 50 percent of our population will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.
Although many people are familiar with physical ways to take care of their health, mental health or emotional health — while equally important — is sometimes ignored.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and can make contributions to his or her community.”
Making our mental health a priority can boost our ability to be resilient and elevate our overall well-being. In short, our emotional state matters.
The mind-body connection
The mind and body work together for overall wellness. For example, prolonged stress can increase cortisol in the brain, which weakens the immune system and increases the risk of getting sick. Compromised mental health can also contribute to more serious health issues such as heart disease, obesity, stroke, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Likewise, physical health conditions can sometimes increase the risk of mental illness.
Raise your mental health awareness
Caring for mental health begins with personal awareness. Many factors can impact mental health. One of the most common of these factors is stress. While stress is part of life and can help with productivity and accomplishment, prolonged exposure to stress can lead to increased symptoms and lack of self-care.
The following symptoms are commonly linked to prolonged or elevated stress:
• Sleep disruption
• Feeling anxious, worried or depressed
• Increased irritability
• Changes in appetite
• Difficulty concentrating
• Decrease in activity level and/or social connection
Ideas for self-care
Although we can’t control the stressors or events that occur in our lives, we do have a choice of how we react, care for ourselves and manage our mental health through such events.
Investment in self-care enriches coping skills, energy level, sense of well-being and the ability to create balance. It can be helpful to think in terms of “fine tuning” or adjusting lifestyle to include the following:
• Managing time with purpose and intention. Prioritize needs, unplug from devices when possible and schedule downtime to maintain the ability to decompress from the stress of life.
• Choose healthy behaviors, including getting enough sleep, exercising and eating well. Avoid alcohol and drugs and get help for substance abuse issues.
• Practice relaxation through deep breathing, meditation (even 5-10 minutes to start or end the day can help) or being in nature.
• Find ways to validate and care for your emotions (journaling, spending time with supportive friends, helpful self-talk).
• Include activities that bring joy and fun.
Asking for help: A key component of self-care
For many people, self-care adjustments for enhanced mental health are possible and empowering. But if you have symptoms of mental health distress, and those symptoms persist despite lifestyle changes, further assessment is advised and available. Speak to your primary care provider and/or consider seeking support from a therapist.
Asking for help when needed is a sign of strength and reinforces self-care and overall well-being.
Angela Nugent is a licensed mental health counselor. She has worked for MultiCare for 24 years. She continues to provide therapy services while also managing primary care behavioral health integration and general counseling services, two behavioral health outpatient programs within MultiCare.
MultiCare Health System is a not-for-profit health care organization with more than 18,000 employees, providers and volunteers. Learn more about MultiCare’s Behavioral Health programs and services: https://www.multicare.org/behavioral-health-programs/.