It feels like it's been a bit. And when I look back, it actually has. The month of May is so dang busy. Between the end of the school year activities, after school sports and activities, birthdays (at least in our house), holidays, grad parties and ALL the things, it feels like our heads are always spinning. This time of the year, while fun, is incredibly stressful for so many of us. Which is why it feels right that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. So I wanted to check in with you. How are you? And I mean, how are you REALLY?
I think for many of us, it's much easier to brush off all of the chaos, busy, life struggles and obstacles by saying "I'm fine," when someone asks us how we're doing. But so much of the time that's not really the case. And for many of us, we busy ourselves to try to push down the feelings, emotions and numb how we're really feeling. But that can often lead to increased stress, which have huge impacts on our bodies.
Stress plays a large role on the state of our mental health, which can have long term health consequences. Stress is most definitely linked to poor health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease, heart failure, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and several mental health disorders. Anxiety being one of the most prevalent of those mental health disorders. And I’m seeing this every day in my practice and in our communities.
I think it’s also important to understand that some jobs or careers are more high stress than others, just by the nature of the roles, responsibilities and expectations. So often, those of us that work in high stress environments don’t see or acknowledge that. We wait for the really intense, often life-saving moments, to acknowledge the stress that our body and mind are under. We get so used to being involved in high intensity and high stress situations that it’s hard to recognize that a normal day for us still puts a lot more stress on the body than it should be under, which is often more stress than someone who doesn’t have the same job or role as we do. And that compounds over time, causing increased anxiety and stress, and eventually can lead to burn out. If this is you, know that our bodies and minds weren't meant to be under this much stress. Just because it feels like a normal day for you, doesn't mean our bodies are built to deal with it. Which is why it's that much more important to be intentional with slowing down and participating in stress relieving activities.
We all know what a long 3 years this has been and how every stressor has compounded on the last. It’s important that we’re paying attention to what our bodies and minds are telling us. Starting to recognize the cues our body and mind are giving us is vital if we are going to care for our mental health. Giving ourself grace when we can feel our emotions taking over, and making space for stillness and quiet can be incredibly helpful in caring for our minds.
So this week, in an effort to decrease your stress a bit, I’d like to encourage you to take a few minutes every day to practice mindfulness.
Sit up straight, but not stiffly, in a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
Place your hands in a balanced position and close your eyes.
Focus on your breathing, as you follow each breath in and out.
After 1 minute (or longer), gradually open your eyes and resume activities.
You can also practice mindfulness while on a walk, or while in nature. Pay attention to each step you take, noticing how many steps you take, the speed and the rate of your breath. Match your steps to your breath, but no need to rush. So often we speed through our days to get to the next thing, that we forget to pay attention to the moment we are in. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Some other stress relieving activities might include:
Connecting with others.
Trying a new activity.
Try a new way to relax, such as listening to music, exercise, meditation, dance or yoga.
Get creative and do something fun that you enjoy, like a new hobby.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Care for your spiritual health.
Make time to laugh.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Get a massage.
Whatever you choose to do, be intentional and make time for it every day. Your mental health matters. And you matter too.