May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The month of May gives people and organizations an opportunity to shine a light on awareness around mental health and the added impact of stigma that surrounds mental health issues. This article focuses on resources available to anyone who may be struggling as well as some ideas that may help folks improve or maintain our mental health. Please note that I am neither a Dr. or a mental health expert, and I am writing this from my own personal perspective and life experience. This is not intended to be received or used as medical advice but as basic information that you may or may not find helpful.
1. What is the difference between surviving and thriving?
- During prolonged times of stress, we may find ourselves living in “survival mode.” This way of being can be a result of being worn down over time from seemingly never ending challenges thrown at us by life and in some cases it can be a matter of learned behaviors that develop into habits. Some of the signs that you may be living in survival mode are:
- Feeling an overwhelming sense of lacking rather than recognizing abundance. This lacking could be related to specific things such as family support or it could be multiple things like financial resources, family support, basic needs being met, sense of belonging or anything that a person may deem as a need in life to achieve happiness.
- Choosing the path of least resistance when making decisions. Oftentimes, choosing the path of least resistance is about choosing the easiest over the best. That being said, the easiest path may be the best if the alternative is not being able to move forward at all. Having an awareness of our choices and the reasons behind them can be key in developing a goal for future choices where we may be able to build up to making the best choice rather than the easiest.
- Blaming others for circumstances. Interpersonal relationships can be very complex and during times of prolonged stress it can be convenient to blame others around us for the circumstances of our lives or situations we may find ourselves in. Recognizing how our own individual choices play a part in each situation is crucial in making change and moving ahead. If we allow ourselves to feel helpless, taking the opinion that things just “happen to us” then we are giving up any personal responsibility to fix or change the situation.
- Reacting rather than responding. While reacting is a form of response, reacting often comes from a place of being emotionally charged and is done in haste while response can be more mindful and planned to achieve a more thought out outcome. Hastily reacting may seem to give a momentary sense of relief from built up stress and emotion but oftentimes will result in raising feelings of tension, stress and even feelings of failure on the part of the person reacting.
- Fearing failure rather than recognizing it as an opportunity to learn. Somehow, failure has become something that is viewed as being highly negative, particularly when it comes to adults. As children it is expected that any ability will be developed through a process of trial, error and practice. No child is expected to know how to accomplish tasks perfectly, without instruction and practice. Without reason, we seem to lose sight of this as we age. Fear of failure can essentially leave us feeling stuck because we would rather not try something new than face the possibility that we may fail along the way.
- Feelings of not being true to oneself or being inauthentic. Whenever we experience prolonged periods of stress we may find that we lose sight of our genuine self. In an effort to carry on our day to day lives we might feel it necessary to hide how we are feeling either to preserve appearances or to reduce other people’s discomfort. We may lower expectations or compromise on values to avoid adding conflict to an already stressful environment. Unfortunately, while suppressing our emotions and/or compromising our core values may temporarily work, the long term consequences will do much more harm than good.
In contrast, thriving not only involves practicing the opposite of the factors listed above but also in practicing visualizing possibilities rather than limitations. Thriving involves finding purpose, setting intensions and taking action each day in the choices made toward becoming the best version of yourself. It means practicing mindfulness in each moment and recognizing failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. To learn more about practicing mindfulness visit www.helpguide.org
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”
2. 10 things to do when life feels a bit heavy or has you feeling down.
- As children we often find ourselves wishing or wanting to “grow up” only to find that being an adult is really not all we thought it would be. In fact, we may find that the responsibility of “adulting” can be downright exhausting and we long for the days when we were little and could be more carefree. We put tremendous expectations on ourselves and one another to not be childish! What is wrong with being childish on occasion though? Here are a few things children do that adults could benefit from continuing to do no matter what age.
- Be playful. Ride the cart, run through the sprinkler, slide down that hill, have a water fight, dance like no one is watching, swing on the swing…
- Take a nap. Ideally getting a good night’s sleep each night would be a great goal. That being said, an occasional nap can be a fantastic way to recharge and reset your mood.
- Laugh as loudly as you’d like. If you have ever heard a child laugh with delight, then you have experienced the sound of pure joy. Laughter is actually proven to reduce stress and tension. It also stimulates your organs and muscles and increases your intake of oxygen (according to the Mayo Clinic).
- Be physically active. Work out those wiggles/feelings of restless energy or that dreaded “afternoon slump” by moving your body. Being physically active does not mean that you have to go to the gym or participate in organized sports (unless that’s your thing). It simply involves moving your body in whatever way feels good to you.
- Marvel at the beauty of the natural world. There is nothing like watching a child experience something in nature for the first time except allowing yourself to continue to feel that same awe in adulthood.
- Be creative in expressing yourself. Painting, coloring, drawing, sculpting, writing short stories, poetry, music, crafting, cosplay and dance can all be great ways to express your emotions and can help process emotions you may not be able to communicate otherwise.
- Accept being cared for. Children do not typically see an adult’s effort to care for them as being a treat or a weakness on their part but as adults we sometimes have difficulty asking for or accepting the care of others.
- Practicing gratitude. We always encourage children to say please and thank you and to be grateful for all that they have been given but as adults we often focus on what we don’t have but want or need. Take a moment each day to look around you and identify three things you feel grateful for.
- Seek out uplifting experiences. These uplifting experiences can either be things you see directly around you or experience for yourself or they can be experiences you seek out through reading or in media/movies. Experiencing uplifting experiences directly or indirectly can give you an increased sense of hopefulness.
- Have a treat. While food is fuel and it is important to have a healthy relationship with food part of that can be occasionally indulging in something you view as delicious. That does not have to mean eating foods that are “bad for you” it simply means eating something that you truly enjoy and may not have frequently.
3. Some of my favorite “indulgent treats”!
- Everyone’s idea of indulgent treats will look a little different. Treats do not have to be things that are unhealthy. Mine are a combination of nostalgic foods, texture combinations I really enjoy, not so sweet sweets and a semi- frozen flavor bomb.
Classic PB&J Dark Chocolate Garden Tomato on Whole Grain English Muffin Frozen Fruit Smoothie
- For a great guide on making fruit smoothies, check out the link below from our friends at Cooking Matters! https://cookingmatters.org/sites/cookingmatters.org/files/MakeYourOwnFruitSmoothies.pdf
4. Resources available!
- Mental health is complex and symptoms are often not easily managed with simple changes to daily habits. They may oftentimes need further evaluation and treatment guided by a health professional. It is usually best to check with a personal health services provider for more information related to each individual person’s specific symptoms. If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health here are some other resources available to Maine residents.
- VA Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 (press #1) or text 838255
- Intentional Warm Line 1-866-771-9276
- The Trevor Project for LGBTQ youth 1-866-488-7386
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line 741741
- 211 Maine information/resources by text, call or email
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