Mental Health Month

 
 
National Mental Health Month
This year’s theme for Mental Health Month is Pathways to Wellness. The focus is on strategies that we can put into practice to help each of us achieve wellness. Wellness is more than the absence of disease. We have wellness when we reach a balance between our emotional, physical, spiritual, relational and mental health.

In this age of instant communication, financial uncertainty, and global unrest it is not surprising when we experience high levels of stress. Add to that the stress from meeting the demands and trials of daily life, it is not surprising that many of us feel overwhelmed. There is a strong body of literature that suggests steps that we can take to protect our well-being, build resiliency and impart a sense of self worth so we can better handle life’s challenges. These steps can be simple such as following a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, practicing relaxation, and getting plenty of rest to help protect our health and emotional well-being.

May is a great time for each of us to take stock of our own well-being and to decide what steps we can take to start, or further our journey toward wellness. Using strategies which promote resiliency and strengthen mental health will lead to improvements in our mind, body and spirit. Each of us is at a unique place in this journey so the steps we take will also be unique to us. Do you want to commit to exercising more? Or drinking or smoking less? Or going on a retreat with a loved one to reinvigorate the relationship? Or take mindfulness classes for stress relief? 

Remember to start slowly and build upon your successes. Making meaningful changes to your lifestyle takes time but every positive change you make is meaningful. We will be providing weekly tips during the month of May to remind you of things you can do as you follow your own path to wellness. What path will you follow? 
Weekly Tip 1 
Setting goals for your journey 

A successful journey starts with a plan. Once you decide on a path to further your own wellness consider writing down your plan by writing up 2 or 3 goals for your self-care. Using the following acronym will assist you in successfully meeting your goals.

SMART

  • Specific—Identify a simple, clear objective for what you want to accomplish. Your goal should answer the questions of what, when, where, why, how much and how often.
  • Measurable—Quantify your goal. I will become more healthy is a very vague goal. How will you know when you achieve your goal? A measurable goal might be to take a brisk 15-minute walk at least once a day/four days a week, or write in a journal for 10 minutes each work day?
  • Achievable—Each goal should be something you can see yourself accomplishing. For example, one would not be able to complete a marathon by the end of this summer. A more achievable goal might be to train for and complete a 10K run by the end of August.
  • Realistic—Find a quiet, comfortable spot to sit and relax. Then, starting at either your feet tightly clench your toes for 5 seconds followed by 10 seconds of relaxation. Next, work your way up your body to your ankles, to your calves, etc. until you reach your head. Tense and release each part of your body. Remember to keep breathing slowly and consistently.
  • Time limited—Give yourself a time frame. This time frame will help keep you motivated by adding a sense of urgency. Start with a short term goal such as three months. At the end of the three months you can evaluate your level of success. At that point you can decide on any changes you want to make to your goal to keep you moving forward on your journey toward wellness.

Once you come up with two or three goals, it’s important to write them down. This will help make your goals more tangible. Sharing your goals with a supportive friend or loved one can provide a sense of accountability in working to meet your goals.   

Weekly Tip 2
Self-Care and Compassion Fatigue

For most of us who work with victims of trauma, abuse, and neglect, compassion is key.

Compassion is one of the main reasons most of us entered the field of Behavioral Health. We truly care about the people with whom we work. This compassion which motivates us to help others also has a cost—we tend to take on the pain and suffering which we experience vicariously through the lives of the people we serve. In this field, we are tasked with a very difficult responsibility—to demonstrate compassion and yet maintain healthy professional boundaries. Compassion fatigue happens as we either join others in their despair or we cut ourselves off from our empathic feelings. Anger, exhaustion, and apathy are symptoms of compassion fatigue.

We combat compassion fatigue by using self-care to replenish our emotional resources and refresh our objectivity. Here are some tips for self-care:

  • Develop a resiliency plan. Write up a plan of three activities directed at nourishing your soul—anything which relaxes or revitalizes you. Focus on activities which you can do at work during breaks or at lunch.
  • Develop a resiliency plan. Write up a plan of three activities directed at nourishing your soul—anything which relaxes or revitalizes you. Focus on activities which you can do at work during breaks or at lunch.
  • Engage in positive lifestyle practices. Tend to your “whole-person” needs such as routine exercise, healthy diet, reading a great book, spending quality time with loved ones, taking time for fun, etc. Leave work at work and enjoy your personal time.
  • Practice emotional mindfulness. Pay attention to your own emotional states. Perform a feeling inventory. Are you experiencing thought or feelings which are troubling you? Actively engage in clinical supervision, team meeting, or regular therapeutic process to work through such feelings to ensure your own emotional health.
  • Develop and adhere to a self-care plan. Write down a specific plan of three things you can do when start to feel overwhelmed. Examples include:
    1. Practice self-care
    2. Achieve balance in work, play and rest
    3. And remember, modeling behaviors which promote behavioral health is important to the people we serve
Weekly Tip 3
Relaxation and Stress Relief  

All of us experience stress—it is difficult to avoid with our hectic lifestyles and competing demands. Even the experts agree, some stress can be good for you—it helps you focus and gives you motivation to act. Too much stress, however, is harmful to your mind and your body. One of the best ways to deal with stress is through relaxation. In order to effectively deal with stress you must activate your body’s natural relaxation response. This level of relaxation can be achieved in a little as 5 minutes through some simple practices.

No single relaxation technique is best for everyone. Although experts might say the right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind to elicit the relaxation response, we say you SHOULD schedule your life around this important activity – incorporate it into your daily routine. Alternating or combining different techniques will keep you motivated and provide you with the best results.

Finding the technique which works best for you is part of the fun. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Meditate: Not necessarily with the usual mantras. You can take a walk, crochet, draw, paint—any activity which keeps you focused in the here and now rather than on everything else going on.
  • Mindfulness: The intent of mindfulness is to focus on the present moment rather than on your stress. Find a comfortable position sitting at your desk. Sit and experience your senses—the sounds around you, any smells in the air, the feel of your chair against your body, the rhythm of your breathing. Stay in the moment.
  • Virtual Relaxation: Having problems quieting your mind as you try to meditate or practice mindfulness? Try creating a pleasant, peaceful scene in your mind. Picture a place you have experienced or would like to visit which you associate with being content and relaxed. Put yourself into that place in your mind. Beaches, rivers, pools or the forest are great places to start. The more realistic you are able to make your dreamscape the more relaxation you will feel.
  • Progressive Relaxation: Find a quiet, comfortable spot to sit and relax. Then, starting at either your feet tightly clench your toes for 5 seconds followed by 10 seconds of relaxation. Next, work your way up your body to your ankles, to your calves, etc. until you reach your head. Tense and release each part of your body. Remember to keep breathing slowly and consistently.
  • Try Self-Massage: Give yourself 5 minute massage. Try a neck and shoulder massage. Rub your temples with your fingertips. Work on the areas where you feel the most tension.

More relaxation techniques can be found online at:

Weekly Tip 4
Nutrition

One frequently overlooked protective factor in maintaining mental health is good nutrition. Are you interested in improving your eating habits? There are many trustworthy internet sites which can help you plan a healthier diet. One such site is HELPGUIDE.ORG.

What are some tips for improving your diet?

  1. Make Gradual Changes
    Start slow and make changes over time. Drastic changes will set you up for cheating on your diet or giving up altogether. Making small changes and allowing them to become habit will increase your chances of maintaining the progress you make.
  2. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
    Instead of counting calories and measuring portion sizes, focus on color, variety, and freshness. Nutritionists recommend eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. You will find higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in deeply colored fruits and vegetables. Each provides unique benefits so variety is important.
  3. Eating is a Social Experience
    Eating with others encourages and models healthier eating habits. Eating alone encourages the mindless consumption of food. The social aspects of eating with others help you to take time to enjoy your food. Rushing through meals lessens the pleasure of the taste and textures of your food.
  4. Moderation is the Key
    Don’t think of any foods as being taboo. Doing so focuses your attention on that food and can result in cravings. Eat smaller portions. When you are eating out consider sharing an order with friend. Or order an appetizer instead of a main course. At home, use smaller plates and larger forks and limiting your portions to a moderate amount. If you are still hungry after your meal you can fill up with leafy green vegetables or fresh fruit.

As with any journey in our lives the most important thing is taking the first step. Examine your eating habits and decide on a positive change you want to make—maybe eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, or not super sizing your next order. Every change you make to improve your diet matters. 

County of Orange Health Care Agency
Behavioral Health Services