Part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle involves taking care of your mental health. “Simply defined, I’d say mental health is about achieving healthy emotional, behavioral and cognitive functioning,” said Deborah Serani, Psy.D., psychologist and award-winning author of “Sometimes When I’m Sad.”
Addressing the Mental Health Stigma
Maintaining physical and mental wellness are vital for overall health. “In fact, they are intricately bound within each other. Poor mental health has been shown to be detrimental to physical health, and deficient physical health can lead to mental health problems,” Serani said.
However, each is not equally understood. While physical conditions often lend themselves to understanding and acceptance, mental health still faces stigma. Fortunately, efforts from organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are shifting the way the world views mental health, giving hope and support to those living with mental illness.
“I believe science and technology have helped take the stigma from mental health being viewed as a character flaw to its rightful place as a real, neurological set of disorders. More attention is being paid to mental wellness in the workplace and schools, as well as communities and homes,” Serani said.
Pandemic Takes a Toll on Mental Health
According to a recent study by The Hartford, nearly half of U.S. workers surveyed reported their anxiety level has increased since the pandemic began.
The study also found that younger Millennials/Generation Z, households with children and those with a household income of less than $50,000 are among the most stressed.
“Global catastrophes have long worsened the mental and physical states of children and adults over the course of history. And most often, these disasters negatively impact those with low income, living alone or who have limitations to resources,” said Serani.
The Hartford’s research also found that the top factors contributing to stress levels are:
- Work/life balance
- Saving money for the future
- Living paycheck to paycheck
While a mental health professional is best qualified to help diagnose and treat mental health conditions and symptoms, the following are ways you can nourish your mental health in different aspects of your life.
Boost Your Mental Health at Home
Spending more time at home during the pandemic can be a reminder of all the stressors at home, such as cleaning, meal-planning and paying bills.
60% of adults stated that money is a significant source of stress.
To ease anxiety about stressors at home, consider the following.
Dedicate a Day to Finances
Ellen R. Delap, a professional organizer, suggests assigning one day of the week to deal with bills. “I call it Financial Friday. You don’t have to think about money, taxes, or anything financial all week because you have Friday to do the work and dive deep into the details. It also gives you all the time you need around this responsibility.
You can assign this as the single task you are responsible for that day,” said Delap. If you have small children, arranging this time during naps or after they go to bed once a week can help ensure you stay on track.
Tackle Chores Together
A team approach to knocking out chores is the way to go, says Delap. “Two family members are assigned a job together, or everyone does the same responsibility simultaneously. When everyone is responsible, you are modeling teamwork as a family. Everyone feels a part of the solution,” she said.
For example, hold a laundry day when everyone puts away clothes at the same time for 20 minutes or a cleaning “power hour” when everyone takes on a job, such as vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms or washing floors.
Meal Plan with Meaning
Because more meals are eaten at home, Delap says people may experience “cooking fatigue.” She suggests batch cooking by doubling a recipe, using a protein multiple times a week, or grilling several proteins on the weekend. “By batching, you are using less effort with greater efficiency,” Delap said.
Stocking up on pantry items such as pasta, tuna, and grains that are easy to store can also bring relief. Sharing preparation and cooking duties with family members can help too. “Partner with your kids to be junior chefs. Help them become a master chef at a special dish,” said Delap.
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.“ -LOU HOLTZ
Boost Your Mental Health at Work
The APA reports that 64% of adults state that work is a personal source of stress.
For many, “work” is no longer a physical place that you can leave behind at 5 p.m. With more people now working remotely in the United States, many made the switch quickly without a chance to really consider how they’d manage their work stress with their home responsibilities.
To manage work stress, consider the following.
Track Your Stressors
Writing down when you become stressed at work and how you react to it is one way to cope with work-related stress. The APA suggests tracking your thoughts, feelings and information about the environment, as well as what you did in response to the situation.
Mindfulness can help identify what stress is impacting you and if there is a pattern to the day, the time, the people involved, and more, says Serani.
“It can also assess your stress-related responses. Are they healthy? Are they maladaptive? The more you detail your stressful experiences, the more you can streamline target-reducing interventions,” she said.
While many people continue to work from home during the pandemic, doing so can blur the lines between personal time and work. The APA recommends setting boundaries, such as times to avoid checking work email or answering phone calls.
“Long ago, working and time away from work were distinct experiences, and as such, a greater sense of well-being and quality of life was reported. Now more than ever, it’s vital when you work to separate your work time from your relaxing time,” said Serani. She suggests having a definite start and stop time for work and putting away all technology at least two hours before bedtime.
Talk to Your Boss
Because health and work productivity are connected, the APA points out that employers have an incentive to establish an environment conducive for your well-being.
Talk with your boss about ways to manage your stressors, which might include improving your own skills and clarifying expectations, but may also include wellness resources your employer can provide, such as revising your workspace or “creating workshops to educate and address the importance of mental health at work and at home,” said Serani.
“The more I want to get something done the less I call it work.“ -RICHARD BACH
Boost Your Mental Health In Your Relationships
More than one-fifth of adults in the United States say they often or always feel lonely, feel that they lack companionship, feel left out, or feel isolated from others.
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation in partnership with The Economist.
Additionally, respondents stated that their loneliness had a negative impact on various aspects of their life, such as personal relationships and their physical health.
“One of the biggest risk factors for developing a mental health disorder is the lack of social connection. Human beings are social creatures, and we need to be connected to others. So, to create a quality of life that is healthy, make it a point to connect to friends, family and loved ones,” said Serani.
To strengthen relationships with people in your life, Mental Health America (MHA) suggests the following.
Stay in Touch
Relationships require nurturing and attention. To keep connections going, MHA recommends making a list of the people you want to stay in touch with and marking down a time on your calendar to contact them regularly.
“While we tend to reach out to others during a birthday or holiday, it’s the other ordinary days that are just as important. Consider setting things up so you and your friends and family have time to see, hear, and share with one another,” said Serani.
Listen and Express Your Feelings
Feeling heard, respected and understood can create solid connections. One way to let someone know you care is by repeating what they shared with you, notes MHA. Also, letting them know you appreciate them goes a long way. You can express your sentiments verbally, with a text or note, or with a physical gesture like a hug or kiss with those you live with during the pandemic.
“Practicing gratitude daily is a valuable activity. Make it a point to express your needs to others, and to also share your appreciation for your friends and loved ones,” said Serani.
When a friend or family member makes you feel unsafe, lowers your self-esteem or draws you into unhealthy habits, know when to set boundaries or end the relationship.
“Self-care is an art…We learn it over time as children, and it deepens as we become adults. It requires us to identify what our needs, likes and dislikes are, and how to balance them when we’re stressed. When it comes to taking care of yourself and your needs, making sure you don’t let others abuse, hurt or put you in toxic situations begins with setting boundaries. Saying no, limiting communication or healthy avoiding techniques that help,” said Serani.
If you or a loved one lives with mental illness, NAMI suggests ways to maintain a healthy relationship.
“We can improve our relationships with others by leaps and bounds if we become encouragers instead of critics.” – JOYCE MEYER
Taking care of your mental health involves caring for your mind, body and relationships at home and work. As we all go through difficult times, share these tips and let others know they are not alone; there is help available.
Find out what support is available in your community:
(M-F 10 a.m to 6 p.m. ET) call 800-950-NAMI (6264) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
CRISIS TEXT LINE – Connect to a trained crisis counselor 24/7 by texting NAMI to 741-741
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE – Get immediate help for you or someone you know: 800-273-TALK (8255)
This informational material shall not be considered medical or health advice. You should always consult your health care provider before changing your diet or starting a new exercise regimen. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for any decisions related to your medical or health care. Consult with your health care provider, nutritionist, or other health professional before making any decisions that may impact your health and well-being.