May is Mental Health Month

Self-care isn’t vanity; it’s sanity

Mental health—our ability to feel good about ourselves, our relationships, and our prospects—is essential to our emotional, social, and psychological well-being. It’s also essential to our longevity and physical health—because mental health includes our ability to handle stress, make wise choices, maintain our motivation, and even to keep on living! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression, for example, increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

I have been talking and writing about the effects of Cultural Stress—the 24-hour stress of modern living—on our mental health ever since the widespread dissemination of the smart phone. But in the last few years, our collective mental health has faced an even greater challenge: the Covid-19 pandemic.

A report released in March 2022 by the World Health Organization, documented the extent of the impact: the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a massive, 25% global increase in anxiety and depression. Social isolation was, of course, a major explanation. We humans are social creatures and isolation is one of our most painful experiences. (Hence, the dread of solitary confinement.)

In addition to social isolation and its attendant loneliness, the pandemic also disrupted work and finances, school, sports, religious, cultural, and entertainment opportunities, and even our hopes for the future. Many of us began to question the point of planning—anything—because the future appeared so uncertain. Added to these sources of anxiety were fear of infection, suffering, and the possibility of death for oneself and loved ones, exhaustion among healthcare and other essential workers, and the impossibility of getting close-knit support from others when we needed it most.

Young people have been especially impacted by pandemic-related social isolation. College, careers, sports, dating and group activities, and planning for the future were all put on hold at the very developmental moment that they were essential to establishing their independence as adults. As a result, the WHO report shows that young people also were disproportionally at risk of suicidal and self-harming behaviors.

Here are some of the ways young people expressed their hopelessness:

“You think you want to die, but in reality you just want to be saved.”

“I feel like I’m dead, but I’m not able to die.”

“I feel like I want to disappear, but what I really want is to be found.”

Although it’s true that everyone will experience anxiety, sorrow, and grief at some point in their lives, it’s important that these emotions not become chronic. This is why intervention on behalf of mental wellness is such a top priority of mine.

It’s time to take action if your symptoms include (from

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little for days at a time
  • Pulling away from the people and activities you usually enjoy
  • Having little or no energy as a chronic condition
  • Feeling as if nothing matters for days on end
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless for extended periods of time
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Having persistent unpleasant thoughts and memories you can’t get rid of
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking about harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school

No doubt we all have experienced some—or even all—of these symptoms on occasion. The time to be concerned is when they become your daily experience. That’s when you need to intervene.

Here are 10 tips for feeling better:

  1. Get outside: nature can work wonders! Blue skies, puffy white clouds, sunshine, vitamin D, negative ions (which have a positive effect), expansive views, sunrises, sunsets, And even city life can include sky, sunshine, parks, birds, trees, flowers, and more.
  2. Get moving: Exercise helps to restore your sense of self; it reminds you of your own strength, power, and ability to move. It literally moves the stagnant energy of listlessness.
  3. Get connected: Make a date with friends, even if you don’t feel like it. Other people’s energy can change your energy; positive energy is infectious! Better still, make it a trifecta: get physical and connected outside, with a walk on the beach, in the park, or a hike in the hills.
  4. Get mindful: Start and end the day with a few moments of reflection—reading affirmations or other inspirational materials, journaling, appreciating the good things that happened, the beauty you experienced, the relationships you cherished. Appreciation appreciates. Gratitude for the good helps to counterbalance the negative.
  5. Get enough sleep: It’s hard to look on the bright side when you’re exhausted. Vigorous exercise during the day will help you sleep well at night. If you’re still having difficulty, try a warm bath before bedtime, put some lavender oil on your pillow, or a lavender-stuffed pillow on your eyes, have a soothing nightcap of warm milk and turmeric, chamomile tea, or, if it’s legal in your state, try some CBD cream or magnesium lotion. (Both have calming, sleep-inducing properties, particularly for those who are anxious.)
  6. Get nourished: Anxiety is stressful; your body needs fuel to counteract its effects. Emphasize a water-rich diet of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, embryonic foods (such as beans, eggs, seeds, and nuts), whole grains, lean meats, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Take a multivitamin to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs.
  7. Get in touch with your passion: Or maybe it’s time to fall in love with a new one! It’s hard to feel motivated or inspired when you’re depressed. The activities that once drew you no longer have the same appeal. In fact, nothing may look good—in which case, you’re free to try anything! Who knows? You might fall in love with birdwatching, bread-making, or basketry. The important thing is to connect with something that excites you about getting up in the morning. For me, it’s my painting!
  8. Get helpful: Volunteer your time to help a neighbor, a nonprofit, or even a stranger in need. Your support doesn’t have to major: holding a door, carrying a package, watching their child so they can get to the gym. The benefits will be mutual, because lifting another’s mood is the quickest way to lift your own!
  9. Get help: Seeking professional support for mental health problems is as important as seeing a doctor for physical ailments. Self-care isn’t vanity; it’s sanity!
  10. Get original: Perhaps none of these things appeal to you; perhaps your treatment plan will be unique to you. That would make sense, as there is no one identical to you—even your identical twin! Honor yourself by tuning into your interior landscape and following the guidance of your own heart. Just don’t be afraid to reach out to others and ask for help if your symptoms don’t improve.

This May, as spring blooms in the northern hemisphere, Covid-19 restrictions continue to ease, days become warmer and longer, take this opportunity to boost your mental health. Your body will thank you, as well!

#ModernWellness #ConqueringCulturalStress

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider, who should also be consulted with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.


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