Every year, millions of Americans cope with mental health conditions. The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this serves as a time to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for policies that support people with mental health conditions.
One of the first services we added to Radish was access to counseling and therapy because we strongly believe in the importance of mental health. We’ve recently added a psychologist, Dr. Megan McGinn, to the Radish Health family. She has put together four strategies that can help you improve your overall mental health! Keep reading to learn more.
If you stop and take inventory of your daily thoughts you will quickly notice that the mind can be a hostile place, especially when it comes to how we talk to ourselves. For example, after an awkward social encounter, you may be negatively judging yourself long after others involved have forgotten. We mentally latch on to perceived failures much easier than we do successes, sometimes forming our entire identity around them. We do this because of the brain’s singular focus on survival (which for humans depends on social acceptance by others) and its mission to protect us from further harm. However, if we are always trying to protect ourselves, we will not grow and we will ignore our many successes. An important part of psychological growth is self-acceptance; while you are not perfect, you have unique abilities that set you apart from everyone else and will empower you if you embrace them, rather than only focusing on your shortcomings. To begin, simply take note of your negative thoughts about the self, acknowledge that you can choose not to believe them, and redirect your mind to focus on your strengths.
Just like with the inner critic, when it comes to maintaining relationships, we tend to focus on the negative, i.e., when we perceive that our partners have failed us. Especially if the relationship does not feel secure, it makes us feel more in control to keep a little vault of all the times our partners have been wrong and we were right to break out at opportune times. Again, this is a matter of self-protection. Unfortunately, we do not realize that highlighting our partner’s faults while martyring ourselves does immense damage in a relationship and pushes people away from us. Also, it is important to remember when keeping score that nothing is as black and white as it seems, and it is far more likely that both parties share responsibility for problems in the relationship. If your goal is to solidify a relationship on shaky ground and build trust, it is more productive to point out your partner’s strengths and build their self-esteem. This way, they will naturally want to be around you more and feel enough goodwill towards you to treat you well. It is also important to take responsibility for your own contribution to relationship issues and avoid using accusatory language toward your partner. For example, say “we have communication issues in our relationship” rather than “you don’t communicate with me.”
Opposite action is a behavioral intervention that is incredibly effective for quickly regulating emotions and thoughts when you feel overwhelmed. As the name implies, it involves doing the opposite of any urges you may experience in a heightened emotional state. For example, when experiencing depression and hopelessness, you may have the urge to lay in bed with the curtains drawn. In this scenario, the opposite action would involve going outside in the sun for some kind of exercise, such as a walk or run. Or, perhaps your romantic partner or crush has texted you something you perceive as rejecting. Your urge may be to respond angrily in the heat of the moment and risk saying something you may regret. The opposite action would encourage you to hold off on responding, at least until you do a breathing exercise, call a trusted friend, or take a warm shower to calm down first.
Anxiety and mental health conditions thrive on the mind-body connection, meaning they are all influencing each other. In times of high stress, it can be too difficult to stop our racing thoughts, let alone replace them with more positive ones. In these cases, we begin by relaxing the body in order to send a signal to the brain that we are calm. Deep breathing, especially directed to parts of our body where we are holding tension, and then exhaling and releasing the tension, sends a message to the endocrine system to block stress hormones. When the stress hormone (such as adrenaline or cortisol) is not coursing through our body, we automatically feel less fear which drives anxious thoughts. Deep breathing basically tricks the mind into believing we are relaxed so we can think more productively and realistically.
Everyone faces struggles with their mental health, even if it isn’t visible to the eye, and it is important to take care of both your body and your mind. If you feel that you may benefit from speaking with a psychologist, we encourage you to book an appointment today!
If you try out any of these tips and tricks, let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear from you, and we wish you all the best in your own journey towards a healthier, happier you.
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