Mental Health Awareness Month

May is mental health awareness month.  It’s a time to pause and ask yourself, “how am I caring for myself?” Self care is important for good mental health and your mental health impacts everything from success and happiness in your relationships to the way you perform at work and school.  Focusing on your mental health is vital to your overall wellbeing and should be a daily endeavor.

So how?  Look at taking care of your mental health through moments in solitude and time connecting with others.  You need both.

Turning off our brains from a task filled day requires a bit of solitude. That means putting the phone away, turning the news and social media off, and putting the to-dos out of your mind. You may feel you don’t have time for any self care, but I bet you have 15 minutes.  Create 15-minute vacations.   Crank your favorite tunes in the car, sing and maybe even do some car dancing.  Listen to the comedy channel.  Go for a 15 minute walk.  Light a candle and take a warm bath.  Meditate. Sit in a quiet corner or get under the covers and read a book for pleasure.  Try having your morning coffee or tea while sitting in silence looking out the window at the sunrise or scenery. Creating space for a mere 15 minutes out of your day in solitude to quiet your mind will have positive mental health benefits.

We also need connection with others as a source of coping and self care.  Connectedness is key to our wellbeing.  Humans are meant to rely on one another, be in community with one another, feel valued and cared for.  To have a sense of belonging. A recent major report from the Surgeon General on the loneliness epidemic that we are currently facing, proposed social connection in schools, the workplace, and at home can be a major source of healing.

Find a mental health ally.  Someone who is a source of support.  That support can look like,  “I had a hard day and need a hug.” or “Let’s go for a walk”  or “Can we play a game of cards?” And some of the time it might be “I need to talk.”  Your mental health ally could be a parent, a friend, a sister, a brother, a spouse, or a significant other.  Someone you have no hesitation to reach out to when you aren’t doing well.  Someone you don’t have to hold back in sharing how you are really doing.  Because talking about your thoughts, feelings, and how you are really doing is taking care of your mental health.    Create those safe connections at home and in your social circles.  They can be meaningful sources of coping and self care resulting in a positive impact on your mental health.

So please take time in solitude and time connecting with others.  You need both. You can consciously create your own balance.


When Gratitude Gets in the Way of Feeling

Gratitude is a wonderful tool. Of course it’s absolutely beneficial to feel grateful, thankful, and appreciative for all the blessings in your life. Grateful for the positive people in your life… your good fortune. It fills you up with all good feels. It brings about optimism, confidence, comfort, even safety at times. It positively impacts your mental and physical health.

Gratitude can help you feel balanced in the midst of a difficult day. It helps feel like you’re on solid ground. When the negative is pulling you down, you can balance it out with something positive about you or something in your life. It can slow you down and help you have more patience in times of frustration.

There are studies that show gratitude can help us move through difficult moments and situations in our life. If we’re faced with something difficult, we can focus on gratitude which helps us see it’s not all bad. We look to the silver linings.

Gratitude can also be a positive influence in our personal relationships. According to a study that was done by the American Psychology Association, “gratitude was associated with more stable marital satisfaction when both partners were high in gratitude.”

And it doesn’t stop there. According to Dr. Camille Preston, CEO of AIM Leadership, “Gratitude builds engagement and trust, increases retention and results in higher quality work.”

The benefits of gratitude seem endless.

BUT–and it’s an important but–sometimes gratitude gets in the way of truly dealing with a situation and the feelings that come up for us. We can skip over how we feel about something and go straight to being grateful for something else. This is where gratitude can get in the way of feeling all those uncomfortable, difficult emotions. We end up ignoring them which can lead us down a path where we discount how we feel. These difficult feelings pile up and eventually leave us feeling overwhelmed at some point. Then the gratitude can become powerless.

Something we used to use daily isn’t working for us. It can be scary and oftentimes leave us feeling a little hopeless. The wonderful tool we used to feel better isn’t working anymore. We question what that means for us. We can really get ourselves in trouble and be left with feelings of despair.

I see this all the time with my clients. A client will mention being upset about something or someone and then jump quickly to, “but it’s ok. It’s not that bad I have a great life.”  Or “I know others have it so much worse than me. I shouldn’t complain.” It takes me asking, what about the hard feelings you’re dealing with? You’re skipping over them. Can we focus there for a few minutes?

I usually see glimmers of guilt. A lot of “I shouldn’t be upset, I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t.” Just because something you’re struggling with feels like it isn’t as difficult as what someone else is struggling with, doesn’t discount yours. Your difficulty is real and deserves attention. I’m going to say it again so it sinks in: your struggles are your struggles, regardless of anyone else, and they deserve attention.

Gratitude is a great thing to feel and we should never lose sight of what we are grateful for in our lives. NEVER!  We just don’t want to end up ignoring other things we might be feeling. Skipping over the true and real feelings we are having will eventually catch up to us. Dealing with them can be hard, but it is so worth it in the end. It helps us understand ourselves and maneuver in our relationships truly knowing how other’s actions impact us.

Don’t ever lose sight of gratitude for the wonderful parts of you and your life. Just don’t use gratitude to skip over feelings and avoid dealing with real situations that you face.

mental health support

Ask, Listen, Do

When someone is struggling with their mental health, such as depression, anxiety, and or suicidal thoughts, they can feel very alone. If you have never had thoughts of suicide or dealt with depression and anxiety it might be hard to imagine what they are going through and challenging to know what to do.

We live in a world where we are told that we have to have it all figured out. For a person struggling, these ideals only add shame to the already complicated emotions and confusing thoughts they are experiencing. Feelings of shame can push them further into silence creating a barrier to reaching out for needed help.

One person being there and showing they care can really make a difference. Sometimes we know something might be wrong with someone but our own fears and uncomfortableness of knowing what to say and do can get in the way. By putting our own fears aside and asking, we are letting them know they can safely share their current reality. Sharing brings relief for the person knowing they aren’t in it all alone.

Here is something I created from the perspective of the person suffering from thoughts of suicide or just struggling in general. I hope this gives you an idea of how you can be supportive; simply ask, listen, do, and how meaningful it can be for the person struggling.

  • When you ask me, I feel seen
  • If you sense something is wrong with me, there probably is
  • When you’re afraid to talk to me, you’re telling me what I’m feeling is too scary for you to hear
  • I am probably going to say, “I’m okay” but please push past that and just ask me, “what’s going on?”
  • Ask me, if I’ve thought about ending my life
  • Ask me, if I’m having thoughts of suicide
  • You won’t be putting the thought in my head
  • Be fearless to ask me
  • When you listen to me, I feel less alone
  • It helps when you let me share how I am feeling with you
  • When you don’t try to solve it, I feel better
  • When you can listen without judgment; I know you really hear me
  • Be fearless to listen to me
  • When you take action, I know you care
  • You may not need to do anything, but ask and listen to me
  • Reassure me I’m not burden
  • Look out for me and don’t be surprised if I struggle again in the future
  • You may need to call a professional or the suicide hotline with me to get help
  • I know you can be that person for me