You may work out at the gym or at home three or four times per week.
You may have given up red meat, now consume more fruits and vegetables and reduced your intake of alcohol. You might take a walk at lunch time and choose to climb the stairs instead of taking an elevator, and you may park further away from the entrance to your destination. Clearly, you are making a conscious effort to become physically healthy. But what about your mental health? What are you doing to insure that you are strong and healthy mentally?
In 1949, Congress designated May as Mental Health Awareness Month in an effort to bring attention to mental health issues. Today, according to Mental Health America (www.mentalhealthamerica.net), a nonprofit advocacy and networking organization, one in four Americans have a diagnosable and treatable mental health condition.
During this month those of us in the counseling and personal coaching professions particularly emphasize the importance of nurturing your mental health with the same attention and vigilance that you give to your physical well being.
Mental health, which includes the condition of the structure and chemistry of the brain as well as its ability to process information and emotions, is a critical and important issue in the life of every person. When our mental state is healthy, and functioning properly, we are able to process information rationally which assists us in understanding and processing our emotions in order to make appropriate and positive life decisions and to live more happily.
For example, if you are mentally healthy you understand that if you lose your job as a result of company downsizing, it does not mean that your boss hates you or that you are incompetent. You are able to process the information — the "downsizing" — rationally. You are able to recognize and acknowledge the emotions you are experiencing, which most probably are anger and fear, but you are able to make a positive and appropriate life decision: to begin the search for another job and/or re-assess your career choice. You do not act out your emotions in a way that would hurt you or others.
If you are not a mentally healthy person — as the result of an abusive or dysfunctional family life, a brain chemistry problem, an unresolved traumatic past event or accumulated stress or emotional pain - you are more likely to handle life situations in a less positive way. You might be so angry and emotionally paralyzed that you are unable to overcome your feelings and move on.
What can you do to improve the state of your mental health? Here are some suggestions:
Do something about the stress in your life. If carving out some personal time for yourself seems overwhelming, a counselor or coach can help you put together a personalized stress management plan for you.
Learn to meditate or simply spend 30 minutes per day sitting in quiet.
Learn the stress-reducing benefits of yoga or tai chi and simply walking the beach.
Learn to communicate assertively, expressing your needs and feelings in a productive way.
Spend time with the friends and family members who delight in and celebrate the person that you are.
Keep learning — about anything that interests you.
Share your knowledge, time and wisdom with others in service to their needs.
Maintain your physical well-being through proper diet and exercise which most definitely enhance brain functioning and health.
Find to something to laugh about and be thankful for everyday.
If, however, you find that you are unable to take action, or even if you practice some of the above, yet still feel anxious, depressed, controlled by any form of addiction and are unable to make positive changes in your life, do not suffer in silence. Talk with the loving people in your life and seriously consider seeking professional help.
Based in Rockport, Life and Relationship Coach Susan Brit, M.Ed., a psychotherapist and former university director of career and counseling services, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship issues, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone 978 546-9431.