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Mental Health Week: self-care tips for promoting mental health

What are you doing to "clean up" your mental health?

May 1 – 7 is Mental Health Week in Canada. It’s a good occasion to remember what each one of us can do to promote and maintain our own mental health.

I’ve analysed my weekend to see what I’ve done to support my mental well-being recently. It turns out it was a pretty good weekend!  Here are some examples from my check-list that might be of interest:

1)   I worked out (and how!)
I went to a yoga class on Saturday and ran the Times-Colonist 10 kilometer race on Sunday. Regular exercise is a key factor not only for physical but for mental health too. There are many reasons for this – here’s one: when you join 13,000 people on a beautiful sunny day, with cheering fans and bands all along the route, you can’t help but feel good!

2)   I counted my blessings
When I checked in on FourSquare after my yoga class the auto-corrector changed my message to read “blessed out after yoga…” rather than “blissed out”. The errant message got away on me but I realized that “blessed out” might be a better description after all. I was having a good time with my friend Marylou and after our class we sat outside in the sunshine by the harbour and enjoyed a cup of tea and a pastry from a local bakery.  Our enjoyment was enhanced by the fact we took the time to appreciate for our good fortune.

Even in darker times, finding reasons for gratitude has helped me rebound. When a family member was hospitalized due to the onset of a mental illness a year ago, I came to realize I still had much to appreciate: our loved one was getting good care, the hospital was close enough to walk to for our daily visits, we had a strong circle of understanding and supportive friends and family members – and so on. The Canadian Mental Health Association calls this behaviour “collecting positive emotional moments.” It’s a way of training our brains to “default” to positive emotions rather than the negative ones that can be so intrusive if we let them.

3)   I had fun with friends
My husband and I invited friends over on Friday night, I went to yoga with a friend, I met friends at the run on Sunday, I went out to the Fairfield Artists Studio Tour with a friend, and I met another friend for coffee. This was one friend-filled weekend! Strong social connections are important for mental health plus they provide you with a support network when things go wrong.

4)   I ate good food and took my supplements
I made a point to eat a healthy variety of food, much of it fresh, some of it organic. I also supplemented my diet with a daily vitamin D tablet and a fish oil capsule. The brain and our eyes are the last organs to receive nutrition if we are running short, according to my Feldenkrais teacher Renee Lindstrom. My various readings indicate that Omega-3s – as found in fish oil – are a critical building block for brain health. Also, most people don’t get enough vitamin D, especially now that most of us use sunscreen consistently. The brain is a part of our body and needs to be well nourished just as the rest of our body needs to be.

5)   I worked on getting good sleep
Getting enough sleep can be a challenge for me – mostly because of various minor but intrusive physical ailments that tend to wake me up before I’ve had seven hours of ZZZs.  This morning it was a numb right hand, for example. However, I’ve really worked to make my bedroom a relaxing environment and I am making more of an effort to go to bed earlier and go back to bed when I do wake up early. I’ve even recently taken a Feldenkrais course from Renee Lindstrom that was focused solely on sleep health. We are a chronically tired society and that is not good for our mental or physical health!

6)   I asked for help
I figured a former boss of mine would be able to give me advice about a course of action I’m considering so I asked if she’d be willing to meet me to discuss it. She was glad to do so and I appreciated her counsel. I was willing to ask for help because I knew that I’d be happy to help someone else if the situation was reversed. I also knew I could benefit from another person’s perspective.

On the mental health front, I’ve attended several weekend meetings of the local Early Psychosis Support Group. This is a group run by the B.C. Schizophrenia Society for family members of people experiencing an early psychosis (of any type). It helps to hear other people’s experiences and get their advice and it feels good if I can offer advice that might help someone else.

When it comes to mental illnesses – please don’t be afraid to ask for help for yourself, a friend, a colleague, or a family member. My earlier blog post on mental health points to some resources I’ve found useful.

Happy Mental Health Week!  And remember: good self-care is a mental health gift we can give ourselves.  What techniques have you found beneficial for maintaining your mental health?

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