7 Things You Can Do To Support Your Mental Health
As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, we spoke with a therapist to get tips on ways to stay well.
May 19, 2022 at 6:44 pm
Mental Health Awareness Month is often a time when we recognize certain mental health challenges and acknowledge ways to best support each other during crises. But it’s also a prime opportunity to give yourself a wellness tune-up and consider ways you can support your mental wellbeing in general.
Blavity sat down with Jennifer R. Jones, a licensed professional counselor who’s been in practice for 12 years, to get some deets on how you can best keep your mind healthy this month and beyond. Here are seven things you can do to support your mental health.
1. Move, eat, drink and sleep
While these items are natural to many people, Jones recommends the idea of utilizing them in a more mindful state.
“Our bodies and our minds are made to naturally move,” Jones told Blavity. “When we find ourselves fighting against the movement we find ourselves fighting against self-care. Movement allows you to be able to go in the direction of what creates reconnection with mind or body whether that is exercising, talking or even simply getting up from a place of stagnation. With movement comes growth and development. Movement also produces hormones that counter stress and anxiety. In the same way that our body is meant to naturally move, our body also needs a set amount of time to recover from that movement. Sleep is the way in which our body demands that rest time. The important thing to remember about sleep in regards to mental health and self-care is that we should create and maintain a sleep routine.”
Of course, the idea of eating and drinking as a form of self-care may give some people pause, but it’s not a suggestion to harm your body, but rather to nourish it.
“Eating and drinking provide our body with the healthy nutrients and fluids needed for us to do daily tasks. The nutrients release hormones our bodies need to keep the mind and body healthy, which is the basis of self-care. For mental health self-care in times of stress or anxiety, warm or soothing foods, such as warm tea or soups, help bring some calming effects. Understanding your relationship with food is a basic necessity of being able to understand how food becomes self-care rather than negative self-soothing. Good nutrition and an awareness of what your mind and body need allow you to have a better sense of what a healthy balance with food is for you. With that being said, we all find times that we need to positively self-soothe with our treat of choice, but when you are able to know the balance it does not become a harmful relationship.”
2. Practice positive self talk
Being kind to yourself is one of the purest forms of self-care, but it can be rather difficult to cater to yourself in this way. Jones said that everyone has an inner monologue that speaks throughout the day. The idea is to force that monologue to speak positively.
“That inner monologue is also called self-talk,” she said. “In supporting your mental health and self-care, it is important to tune into your self-talk to determine if it is revealing positive or negative thoughts, beliefs or ideas. Positive self-talk is simply restructuring thoughts, beliefs or ideas that are negative to produce a positive thought process and thereby improving your mental health.”
Jones said that to change the inner monologue’s narrative, one must first identify the negativity.
“In order to identify the negative self-talk, start by simply asking yourself throughout the day, ‘what is my inner monologue saying right now and is it positive or negative?'”
And if self-talk feels corny to you, try affirmations instead.
“The coolest way to give yourself positive self-talk dialogue is to utilize motivations, affirmations and ‘I am’ statements,” Jones said. “With technology today, we have resources that can locate and automatically provide these to us on a schedule that we set. Utilize those resources. After a period of time, you will look for those as they will become part of your positive mindset and self-care, and in time, you will find yourself saying them without thought.”
3. Talk about you — to yourself, a professional and a friend
Talking things out is a promising tool for most people, but it’s important to be mindful of who you are speaking to.
“Talking about yourself in the right environment and with the correct intention is helpful in being able to show who you are and grow in your own self-love as well as what you love,” Jones said. “Growing your personality in a healthy conversation about yourself is most beneficial when you are able to express who you are and what you love about yourself. Finding a healthy balance in how much you talk about yourself and how much you listen to others is a normal process of growth. You want a healthy amount of both. You also want to be aware of whom you are talking to and if they are there to have a positive conversation.”
It’s important to remember that talking to people you know can also come with an inherent bias, so if you need completely non-judgemental conversations, incorporating a mental health professional is recommended.
“As they say, everyone has an opinion especially if they feel like they know what’s best for you,” Jones said. “That is why it is advantageous to seek a professional when you are in need of mental balance to help with anxiety, stress, depression and daily life. Talking about yourself to a professional is a safe space to truly be open and honest without judgment. A professional is equipped with the knowledge and skills to help you navigate through struggles that may be simple or complex. It is my recommendation, though not necessary, to seek a therapist before you find yourself in the struggles of life so a good fit, healthy rapport and a baseline are established.”
4. Set realistic boundaries and stand on them
Boundary setting is a very real issue for many people, whether it’s at work or home, so Jones recommends you practice boundary setting by starting within.
“Setting a boundary of what you will do for your own self-care and then standing on that boundary to have consistency will make you stronger in being able to maintain boundaries with others,” she said. “When setting boundaries, it is important to identify what is yours and what is not. If it is yours, then being able to own it and set a boundary of what is OK with you and what is not will be most beneficial. Once you determine the two sides of the boundary, you will be better equipped to set the boundary line.”
No one is exempt from your boundaries.
“Boundaries are yours and based on what you want, not based on what someone else wants. It is important to communicate what is OK and what is not OK with you in the situation and then give clarity on where the boundary is for yourself.”
If you’re worried about hurting someone’s feelings, Jones says communication is key to avoiding that issue.
“When a boundary is set, it is important to communicate it to those who the boundary will most affect. If you see an area to set a boundary, it is likely that you feel the need to set that because someone is often leaving you feeling frustrated. For example, if someone is constantly late and you find yourself waiting 30 minutes for lunch and then not enjoying your lunch with them because you are frustrated, you should determine what is OK with you. Then, you communicate the boundary through conversation that is not a directive of what you do not want them to do but rather what you will do from this point. So that would look like, ‘I really enjoy the idea of an enjoyable lunch with you. I want you to know that from this point I will allow myself to wait for 10 minutes and then we can reschedule.'”
5. Own your stuff — the good and the bad
The idea of owning your s**t is not new, but did you also know it’s important to own your good things, too?
“The thought behind owning your own stuff is to build you and your self-love,” Jones said. “The idea of owning your good stuff is appreciating and acknowledging the positive in your life, the things you are doing well and the areas in which you see things working in a positive way for you. The idea of owning your bad stuff is knowing that there are areas in which you would like to grow or areas that are not working for you. When you do not allow yourself to own your bad stuff, you can become grounded in habits that do not allow you to pat yourself on the back and the negative self-talk grows out of this. When we blame others, we tend to push it aside and not see a need for our change. We then experience things that repeat negativity, which becomes mentally draining to one’s self-worth.”
6. Control only what you can control
For people who struggle with letting go, the idea of controlling only what you can control can be anxiety-inducing, but it doesn’t have to be.
“Most often when people struggle with control, it is because they are trying to control things which are not theirs to control. We want someone to do, think or act in a manner that we want, rather than structuring what we control around what someone else controls,” Jones said.
She said that people can only truly control their own thoughts, actions and reactions.
“Control is the idea of making things happen in the way we want,” she said. “In certain areas, control becomes a draining cycle we can get stuck in because some things are not ours to control. Identifying what is yours and what is not yours will more easily define what you can have in the way you want. Control often is a zone of safety for people. People often feel safer when in control because they feel more certain of the outcome.”
7. Value yourself
“To value yourself is to know that you are worthy of respect, love, happiness and success,” Jones said.
The idea is to practice recognizing that you are capable and to acknowledge your strengths. And, in valuing yourself, control also comes into play.
“In supporting your own mental health, it is best to know that in most situations there is something you control. This better allows people to let things flow knowing that no matter what the situation is, they have the control over how they think, act and react to the situation.”
While there are certainly plenty of healthy ways to keep yourself mentally sound, these seven tools can give you a great launching pad to good mental health.