What is mental health? It’s kind of one of those popular terms these days that people loosely understand is a good thing, and something we all “should” strive to have, and that generally we should support one another’s pursuit of it. But, if you actually had to define it, would you be able to?
Even I kind of struggled with a way to concisely define this-and it’s my profession! I want to pack in so many aspects of what it means, but also not be too overwhelming in that attempt. So, here it goes:
Mental health is the capacity of your mental state (day-to-day) to meet your needs, pursue your goals, and be in harmony with your environment, while simultaneously having the ability to appropriately cope with and overcome any obstacles that come your way.
Hmm. What do you make of that? I think another way of breaking it down is to say that good mental health is your ability to be kind to yourself and to others.
But since all of that is still kind of conceptual, let’s continue to break it down.
Mental health happens in your mind----your brain. And since our brain is connected to everything (how many mental tabs do you have open right now?), it means our mental health has multiple components, each which must be nurtured in a way specific to that component, in order for us to have good mental health.
I think this means we must take care of our 1) mind; 2) body; and 3) spirit.
Our mind: our mental house. What are we allowing to live there? Hopefully, positive thoughts. Naturally, negative thoughts visit sometimes. Normal; expected; and okay! These thoughts can be like pesky relatives that don’t know when to leave. Sometimes they may be a UPS driver there to deliver something you feel dumped with for quite some time. Or maybe they’re an annoying magazine seller and you say, “no thanks” and they turn around and leave. Negative thoughts and feelings are normal. And they each are different. But your mental house should also have supplies to clean out what we need to, when we need to. Sometimes, it’s just a counter wipe down. Sometimes, it’s a deep clean. Heck, maybe you need to hire it out! But good mental health generally means a house that has homeostasis; ability to get through your everyday life without interference in functioning; capability of moving forward in a comfortable manner; a place where you yourself feel welcome and calm being there.
Our body: The world our house dwells in. Therefore, we must care for that also. For if our bodies are not taken care of, our mind can become shaky, consumed by everything outside of us which prevents us from taking care of things inside of us. We need to know when our bodies need nourishment, challenge, or rest. We need to be aware of the toll we take on it because we need to depend on it for a long time. And when things are going right with our world, our house can get the attention it deserves.
Our spirit: essentially, the most ethereal part of us. So, to keep in step with my metaphor (is it too much?), our universe. Taking care of our spirit allows us to not only connect with our core essence, but also allows us to realize we are part of something bigger, without feeling like we are shrinking. I think nurturing our spirits, much like reflecting on a vast universe, reminds us of beauty, and there is hope and lifting of spirits in recognizing beauty.
Ok, now that we’ve outlined each component of mental health, let’s get to the meat of the situation, which is CARING for this mind-body-spirit trio.
To me, as a mental health professional, it is important to do at least one small thing a day for each of these components.
Then, I would recommend adding at least one bigger thing per week, to wrap things in a pretty bow and maintain harmony between the components. I made a short list below of actions for each component. If there’s something I missed that you think belongs on the list, add it and execute it!
And like I said earlier, maybe you need to hire it out for a while! Mental health sometimes needs outside resources to get realigned. Sometimes you need to call in the pros—maybe your doctor, maybe a therapist, maybe both. There’s no harm in having someone come organize with you/for you, and then once it’s “good to go”, you maintaining on your own. Healthy is healthy.
So, readers…on world mental health day, my gentle challenge is to ensure you are doing one action per component each day. Here’s my action list!
· Consciously have a kind thought about yourself-maybe even try writing it down!
· Consciously having gratitude about something-also try writing it down!
· Challenge your brain-do a crossword puzzle, sudoku, or learn something new! (Yes, this is different than the other actions on this list, but it revs the engine which is important.)
· Meditate (even if it’s just five minutes)
· Hydrate (We’ve all seen the meme “Humans are basically house plants with more complex emotions.)
· Move! Even if it’s just a few jumping jacks, a walk, or heck, even dancing in the kitchen!
· Play (a card game; tag; a sport; a board game—but something for your inner child!)
· Pray (can be any form of prayer, lifting up gratitude to the universe, etc)
· Laugh-I often go to a “humor” board on Pinterest and end up with tears from laughing so hard! Pull up funny videos on YouTube. Watch your favorite Netflix comedy special. But get in at least a giggle.
· Touch-I put this in spirit because I think it impacts the spirit, even though this is a physical action so could technically be for the body. But give an extra hug; lay next to someone; have your sister brush your hair. Be close to another human by having contact.
· Go into nature. Whether this is going for a walk or jog in a park; driving a bit and hiking in a bigger park; or even just putting bare feet on the grass—just find some green and revel in it.
· Do some sort of “indulgent” activity for yourself. And while indulgent can certainly mean a massage, manicure, or shopping trip, it does not always have to be something with a dollar sign attached. It could be soaking your feet, taking a bath, lighting the “good candle”. Or maybe it’s a small dollar sign: having a breakfast donut; buying yourself a bouquet of flowers; getting a new lipstick.
· Have a true, meaningful connection with another human. I know you’ve been at work all week, and/or running errands with your significant other, and/or raising your kids. So, what I mean here, is intentionally adding depth to a relationship in your life. Volunteer somewhere; spend time with a friend or call a friend who lives out of town; send a card to someone, even just to say hello.
Good luck, enjoy, and happy mental health-ing!