This blog post is dedicated to World Mental Health Day, October 10th.
World mental health day was established only 9 short years ago. The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) released the theme for 2022 as ‘make mental health for all a global priority’. A priority, especially because it’s a huge necessity for all.
Awareness and recognition of the importance of mental health is on the rise. As is newer research around more effective ways to treat symptoms of mental suffering via neuroscience.
Let’s first dig into this concept of mental health. What is it, anyway?
Mental health incorporates our psychological, emotional and social well-being, influencing how we act, feel and think. Mental health is important throughout each stage of life. Our mental health determines how we cope and feel safe, how we connect with ourselves, others and our surroundings, as well as a balance between the mind and body.
The brain is an incredible organ that can generally be defined as an integrated and complex information processing system that generates thoughts, emotions, and behavior (Wojtalik, Eack, Smith, Keshavan).
The mental health field is drastically shifting in a positive way. Neuroscience research is exploring other ways to help people with mental health. Indeed, many mental health conditions are now understood to involve numerous aspects of the brain and to follow a neurodevelopmental trajectory (Wojtalik, Eack, Smith, Keshavan).
I am going to make a big claim here and I promise to back it up with a personal story…
There isn’t physical health without mental health.
If there is one thing that we should try and work on first, it’s our mental health. When we go through tragedy or loss, it is our mind that helps us process, cope, think critically, make proper decisions for ourselves and sort out our emotions.
In 2019, when I was laying in a hospital bed with multiple injuries head to toe, my entire body was forced to surrender to the inability to do much of anything. But what I did have was my mind. A mind trying to process the many different challenges. The mental gymnastics of, ‘how will these heal properly when there are upper and lower body injuries’? I had a choice right there… to continue the negative spiral or take another path.
Glimpses of the unknown, frustration and fear surfaced, but what quickly overtook those thoughts were hope, patience and resilience.
What could my mind do during these bed ridden months to follow? My mind could learn, my eyes could see and my ears could listen–gratitude.
It was my mental and emotional health that carried me along this continuous journey because the injuries didn’t stop there nor will they, which was something I had to face–acceptance.
This personal story is coming from someone who lived and lives for being physically active. I grew up playing numerous sports. Exercise was also a fun outlet and a strong interest that my father and I shared around the intricacies of the muscular system of the body. So, if staying active means I get injured or a little bit dizzy along the way, it’s worth it.
One of the ways that I have been better able to manage the moments of rest is reminding myself of my mental health toolbox. What could I do in my stillness? First I would ask myself, has the injury limited my upper and/or lower body?
Then, I choose my tools. Anything from:
- Meditation or visualization
- Subtle movement to keep the blood flowing
- Random drone videos of scenic places around the world
- Documentaries and audiobooks on the topics that I’m most interested in
- Physical therapy exercises to keep the other parts of the body stable
- *Frequent reminders that the present moment is always temporary*
Create a list of your own tools so when you are placed in another challenging situation, you can focus on healing and then be able to effortlessly refer to your toolbox.
Where do you think the motivation to be physically healthy due to lifestyle and exercise comes from? Where do you think a lack of motivation comes from?
The stability of our mental health.
Something is going on that is hindering our belief in the importance of taking care of ourselves. There is fear stopping us and an imminent danger. If our mental state isn't balanced enough, we can’t even get to the other aspects of life.
…the brain is also known to be “plastic.” Studies of neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to adapt and change—suggest that the adult human brain has a remarkable capacity for strengthening and generating new neuronal connections to enhance daily functioning. Such findings have generated renewed therapeutic optimism for the possibility of greater recovery from mental health conditions…Thus, social workers have begun to integrate cognitive neuroscience methods into their research to understand and enhance the efficacy of their interventions (Wojtalik, Eack, Smith, Keshavan).
With new research and evidence coming to the surface, what can we do on our own to continuously support our mental health?
One of the best ways is by regulating our nervous system.
Here are a few ways to regulate your nervous system:
1. Try this exercise.
The next time you’re sitting alone in a room, identify a few different objects around you (i.e. lamp, TV, candle, a rock, a plant, a painting, etc.) Begin at one of the objects on either the left or right side of the room. Then slowly scan each object, but pause and really observe what you see for each. Focus on the texture and color of the item and give it enough of your attention. When you’ve observed the object for a few seconds, slowly drag your eyes onto the object next to it in the room. Repeat this process until you start feeling ease, relaxation and a reset in your body.
A good indication that your nervous system is dysregulated is if it’s challenging to work slowly through this exercise. Do your best to slow it down.
I can’t emphasize the importance of breathwork enough, as it has numerous benefits, like increasing blood circulation, reducing PTSD and feelings of trauma, improving mood and self-esteem, reducing stress and anxiety.
A few breathing exercises include:
- Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing
- Box breathing or four-square breathing
- Alternate nostril breathing or Nodi Shodhana
3. Surround yourself with a positive and compassionate environment.
This includes the old and new people and loved ones in your life, pets, and the content you indulge in through technology. The reality is, we can’t monitor every little thing we come in contact with, but we can start by choosing a healthy environment, knowing that life and it’s turbulence will have it’s way with us every so often.
Starting with just one of these exercises for about five minutes each day can improve our mental health, leading us to joy, gratitude and positive changes.
Our mental health impacts all areas of our lives. Imagine your potential in your day-to-day life just by taking the time to focus on ways to improve your mental clarity, stability and awareness.__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Wojtalik JA, Eack SM, Smith MJ, Keshavan MS. Using Cognitive Neuroscience to Improve Mental Health Treatment: A Comprehensive Review. J Soc Social Work Res. 2018 Summer;9(2):223-260. doi: 10.1086/697566. Epub 2018 Apr 27. PMID: 30505392; PMCID: PMC6258037.
Macy Cassera is a life coach and freelance writer who helps others rebuild after loss and change so they can create a fulfilling and authentic life full of purpose. To get in touch with Macy, please send her an email or send a message through her official website or Instagram.