By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.
If you watch any television at all, it’s likely you’ve seen those commercials about depression, the ones in which we see people walking around in a trance-like state yet feeling compelled to hold up a smile on a stick that masks how they’re really feeling as they go through their daily routines. The weight of battling with a mental illness like major depression can leave people feeling exhausted, panicked, anxious, overwhelmingly sad, lonely, lost, afraid, helpless, and hopeless. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five children or adults experiences a mental health condition each year, so it’s likely that you have been or will be affected, either directly or indirectly, at some point in your life.
Mental illnesses can have hereditary roots, be sparked by a trauma or a hostile environment, or be caused by a chemical imbalance. From the onset of symptoms, early detection, treatment, and support are key to restoration, recovery, and healing.
For over 65 years, May has been designated Mental Health Month by Mental Health America and its affiliates. This year’s theme, “Life with a Mental Illness,” calls for people who have experience with mental illness to share their stories in an effort to heighten awareness about what is often shrouded in silence. We can change the silence and stigma of mental illness. Please consider sharing what you’ve gone through on social media and tagging your posts #mentalillnessfeelslike. These stories help elevate empathy and garner acceptance of and support for the struggle for mental wellness. You can download the 2016 mental health month toolkit here and sign up for a mental health screening here if you or someone you know needs it.
If you are experiencing signs of mental illness right now, stop what you’re doing and call your family physician, a counselor, or a therapist for help. Nothing is more important at this moment than that phone call. No one should ever have to suffer in silence. There is no shame in asking for and accepting assistance through tough times. In fact, it shows strength and courage to admit that we can’t tackle mental illness alone.
The expression, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” leads us to the question: What, if anything, can be done proactively to help ensure greater mental health and well-being? While there is neither a one-size-fits-all antidote to mental illness, nor a way to guarantee that you won’t ever face a mental health challenge, there are proven practices that benefit the mind, body, and spirit that you can use for yourself and model for your students. Let’s take a look at what some of those are.
The brain is a muscle, and it’s either getting stronger or lying dormant. Choose from these suggested practices to sharpen minds, keep them engaged, and increase mental fitness.
- Complete crossword puzzles.
- Play word games like Scrabble.
- Put together jigsaw puzzles.
- Solve Sudoku puzzles.
- Balance the checkbook without a calculator.
- Renovate something.
- Start a new hobby.
- Read self-help or inspirational material.
- Join a book club and escape in novels for fun.
- Create with your hands: knit, crochet, needlepoint, or sew.
- Study a second (or third) language.
- Tap into your creative side with an art class.
- Do science experiments.
- Spend time in the kitchen cooking or baking.
- Journal by hand in words or illustrations.
- Travel to new places or revisit former vacation stops.
- Research your ancestry.
- Learn to play a musical instrument.
- Keep a growth mindset.
- Think optimistic thoughts.
Our bodies are made to move. As such, they need adequate fuel to stay the course and not risk running on empty. Consider these preventative measures for maintaining physical endurance and stamina.
- Drink the recommended amount of water.
- Eat foods from all of the food groups.
- Consider taking a multivitamin.
- Take nature hikes and soak up some sunshine.
- Power walk, run, amble, or stroll routinely.
- Join a sports team.
- Walk your dog.
- Ride your bike.
- Swim or do water resistance activities.
- Try dance lessons—Zumba, anyone?
- Sign up for a martial arts class.
- Take regular brain breaks at work.
- Treat yourself to a massage.
- Nap as needed.
- Take warm baths.
- Get plenty of sleep at night.
- Let those tear ducts open and enjoy a good cry.
- Brush your teeth regularly.
- Visit the eye doctor annually.
- Schedule annual wellness visits at the doctor.
We all have a spiritual side; it’s an equal third of the mind-body-spirit trio. But taking care of our spirits can be a little tricky because it can seem less tangible than the mind and body. Check out these intentional strategies to feed and nourish your spirit.
- Acknowledge all of your feelings.
- Express those feelings in healthy ways.
- Connect face-to-face with family and friends.
- Hang out with uplifting people.
- Nurture caring relationships.
- Allow for mistakes every day.
- Forgive and let go.
- Try yoga stretches or poses.
- Practice mindfulness.
- Work in the yard or garden.
- Decide on and make a list of your personal values.
- Write a vision and a mission statement.
- Show gratitude in all things.
- Treat yourself to motivational movies.
- Volunteer to give back and serve.
- Laugh often and out loud.
- Read and meditate on poetry or inspirational song lyrics.
- Designate a place for solitude and restoration.
- Attend a spiritual renewal retreat.
How many of these healthy habits are you already practicing? Which ones could you see easily adding to your mental-health arsenal?
There is no tried-and-true script for mental wellness, but one thing is certain: A healthy lifestyle that honors and celebrates the mind, body, and spirit offers an insurance policy for a healthier future that’s well worth your effort, time, and investment.
Currently in her 32nd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.
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