May is Mental Health Awareness Month

With May being National Mental Health Month, we want to acknowledge the reality of how millions of Americans are affected by mental illness, and that they are not alone. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, which is why we need to pay attention to how they are interconnected in order to care for ourselves and break the stigma.

Highlighted below are a variety of tips and resources that can help us take extra care during difficult times.

First off, What is Mental Illness?

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

For more detailed information about what mental illness looks like, click here. 

NAMI, also known as National Alliance on Mental Health, is an excellent organization that focuses on educating communities and providing individuals with the information they need in order to seek help for mental illness. Click here to read their mission statement and see how education & advocacy is making a difference.

What Can We Do? 

Taking care of ourselves on a daily basis can be challenging, which is why even little changes can make all the difference. One thing we can do is consider our eating habits. Since our physical health impacts our mental wellbeing, here are some mood boosting foods that can help rejuvenate our overall health:

1. Cold Water Fatty Fish – Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential fats that you must obtain through your diet because your body can’t produce them on its own. Salmon, Albacore Tuna, Mackerel, Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds, & Walnuts! Omega 3 supplements are a great alternative as well.

2. Fermented Foods – like kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut, have been linked to improve gut health and mood.

3. Oats – They’re an excellent source of fiber, providing 8 grams in a single raw cup (81 grams).  You can enjoy them in many forms, such as overnight oats, oatmeal, muesli, and granola.

4. Berries – pack a wide range of antioxidants and phenolic compounds, which play a key role in combatting oxidative stress — an imbalance of harmful compounds in your body.

5. Beans & Lentils – They’re an excellent source of B vitamins, which help improve mood by increasing levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), all of which are important for regulating mood

For more mood boosting foods, click here

Hydration is Key: drinking enough water throughout your day can make a big difference! Healthy hydration can increase brain activity, increase energy, flush out toxins & maintain regular body functions.

Try Supplements: If your regular diet doesn’t consist of all the nutrients your body needs (due to allergies or preference), try adding supplements that help with mood and maintain healthy nutrient levels. Some examples may include B-Complex, L-Theanine, Magnesium, and KavaMake sure to talk to your doctor or health professional before adding supplements to your diet.

Practice Mindfulness

Take time aside to find a quiet place and observe:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

This is a helpful technique for when you feel overwhelmed or anxious. More about the 5-4-3-2-1 steps here.

Be compassionate to yourself. Your thoughts and emotions are valid.

It’s pretty easy to invalidate what you’re feeling by asking questions like, “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why can’t I handle this like a ‘normal’ person?” These thoughts often leave us feeling down or worse than before. By practicing validating thoughts, however, we can alleviate and lessen the intensity of  the emotion we feel. For example, try saying:

“my reaction/emotion makes sense based on my past experience with ___.”

“It’s understandable to feel this way” or “Anyone else in this situation would feel this way.”

“My emotions are valid.”

Try New Activities

Go outside – aside from providing an extra dose of Vitamin D, spending time outdoors can help with our creativity, boost immunity, and alleviate stress. Check out some of the benefits of being outside, even if it’s just a short amount of time each day, by clicking here.

Make a daily care ritual – set aside time each day to treat yourself to something relaxing like painting, reading, taking a walk, or meditating. For more ideas and information on the benefits of daily care, click here.

Keep in Mind

No matter how many tips & tricks we try, they are not the end all cure all. If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or mental illness in a way that disrupts day to day activities, reach out to a trusted friend, family member or mental health professional. Many experts are available to provide support both virtually or in person during difficult times.

For more information, click on these resources below:

National Alliance on Mental Health Iowa

Mental Health Awareness Month

Community & Family Resources

Mental Health America

Suicide prevention resources from American Addiction Centers below provide help and information to individuals, friends, or families that need them:

If in Crisis

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

(800)-273-8255 or (800) SUICIDE

services open 24/7

NAMI Information Line

(800) 950-NAMI

The Information HelpLine is an information and referral service which can be reached by calling 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., EST.