31 May Mental Health Month: Your Mental Health Matters
Today I wanted to bring you all a message that’s a little different from my usual.
You may or may not be aware that the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health has not always been something I put a lot of thought and effort into, but recently it’s been showing up for me with both myself and people I care about. I’ve been realizing just how challenging it can be, and how much effort it can really take to maintain a healthy mental state. As it has impacted my life, it has become very important to me to contribute to bringing awareness to the mental health struggle.
I wanted to bring in someone who is familiar with sharing her mental health experience to shine some light for you all on the importance of the conversation and some ways to manage your mental health. You may remember our former studio manager, Kassy. She shares about mental health and the reality of living with mental illness on her instagram (instagram.com/coffeewithkas), and I wanted to share her voice with you all.
The thing about mental illness is that it sounds like such a scary word, but we all know and love someone living with it. And the reality is that more than half of those living with a mental illness are not being actively treated for it. Which means that so many of our family members, friends, and ourselves are all silently struggling through each day trying our best to self-manage in whatever ways we can.
The two most common mental illnesses are depression and anxiety, both of which can show up in different ways for different people. Particularly anxiety, which is a blanket term for a number of different disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, all of which look and feel entirely different. It’s important to remember this fact when talking to someone living with the disorder as it may look different than you expect, and it may feel different to them than it does for you, or it did for your mom, best friend, etc.
No one set of coping mechanisms will work well for everyone, and finding the right formula for your particular mental health can be an ongoing process of trial and error. For many people medication is a vital ingredient to the formula that works for them, but for many others medication is not even an option. What works for someone with depression may not work for someone suffering from PTSD, but here’s just a small sampling of ways to contribute positively to your mental health.
This could even mean taking a five minute walk in the sunshine, getting up from your desk to stretch, or dancing around in the kitchen while you cook dinner. Of course, the more traditional “working out” such as going to the gym or yoga or swimming works, too, but just moving helps. If you ever saw Legally Blonde you know all about how exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you feel better. This is why it’s always one of the first recommendations for mental illness. THAT SAID, part of depression and anxiety can be chronic fatigue, and exercise isn’t always a possiblity. Do what you can, give yourself grace when you can’t, and know that even a little bit makes a difference.
Meditation & Breathing Exercises
As cliché as this may sound, proper breathing techniques REALLY do make all the difference in the world for when you’re experiencing the physical symptoms of anxiety. Meditation and mindfulness, which focus on being present in the moment and utilizing awareness of your body and surroundings, also help negate the effects of anxiety.
This is absolutely crucial to maintaining your mental health and coping with mental illness. Whether this is family, friends, really great coworkers, or a combination of, having people to lean on when you’re not feeling well can make all the difference. Whether it’s just calling someone on the phone, or texting if that feels like too much, or if you’re able, meeting up for a cup of coffee, spending time with people who care about you can be a really great way to help counteract the feeling of being entirely alone in your struggle.
There are tons of different coping mechanisms and resources available. I encourage you to seek out what works for you and continue trying different combinations until you figure out the best fit.
More than anything else, though, I want to talk about “the conversation.” When it comes to mental illness there are huge amounts of stigma surrounding it, and coupled with the fact that people experiencing it often feel alone, it can be incredibly difficult to reach out for help. This is why so many people suffer in silence. It’s also why I passionately believe in being open and honest about how you’re feeling, even when you feel like “no one wants to hear that.”
As a culture, we’ve become so obsessed with the idea of “positivity” that we’ve forgotten how to empathize and recognize that “positive thinking” doesn’t make the pain of mental illness just go away. Of course, mindset can make a huge difference, but it’s all about balance. I believe one of the most powerful things we can do to help people heal is to be open and honest about our own struggles. It’s when we see our pain mirrored by others that we feel validated and no longer so alone.
If you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, PTSD, or something you don’t know how to describe or label, I encourage you to reach out to someone close to you. A partner, friend, parent or sibling. If you have someone in your life that you know is experiencing mental illness, reach out to them. Send them a text or a card, take them out for coffee, let them know that even if they don’t want to talk about it or know what to say that they are not alone.
If you don’t understand or don’t know what to say back, that’s okay, too. Just letting them know you are there can make all the difference. And if you hear someone else say that they are struggling, instead of staying quiet because it’s easier, have the courage to stand up, and say, “Hey, me too.” It’s only when we all start to share our stories that we begin to recognize how much of our pain is shared, and how much healing we can find in one another.