Celebrating Mental Health Month: Top 10 Ways To Strengthen Your Mental Health
Every May in the United States, Americans celebrate National Mental Health Month. May offers a yearly opportunity to discuss the value of mental health, share stories and education, and combat the stigma of mental illness.
While May is officially recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, this work continues year-round. People celebrate World Mental Health Day in October and other mental health awareness dates throughout the year. Both within and outside the US, mental health professionals and activists are committed to increasing the availability of mental healthcare.
The History Of Mental Health Month
Mental Health Month, also called Mental Health Awareness Month, was founded in 1949 by Mental Health America (MHA) to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. Every year, the organizers announce a different theme. For example, in May 2022, the theme was "Together for Mental Health." In 2023, the theme was "Look Around, Look Within."
The primary goals of Mental Health Month include:
- Improving attitudes toward mental illness and people living with mental health conditions
- Advancing the quality and availability of mental health services
- Working toward the prevention of mental illnesses and the promotion of mental wellness
Every year, MHA also creates online "toolkits" with various strategies and resources to improve mental health.
The Significance Of Mental Health And Wellness
After a few global crises, more people may feel open to discussing the significance of mental health in their communities. Mental health, including emotional, psychological, and social well-being, determines how you respond to stress, form relationships, and make choices that impact your long-term health.
Investing in your mental health might make you feel more open to enjoying the following four benefits, which promote lasting improvements in your overall health and happiness.
Improved Physical Health
Your brain and body are connected. Studies have found several links between mental and physical health. In addition, mental health conditions often lead to physical symptoms, such as sleep disturbances or weakened immunity.
Individuals often notice improvements in their physical well-being by focusing on stress management and attending to other mental health concerns. Over time, this improvement could decrease the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and strokes.
When you're feeling mentally healthy, you might have more energy to sustain your current relationships and make new connections. Even when experiencing a mental illness or another challenge, your preexisting social network can help you manage stress and reduce loneliness.
Both platonic and romantic relationships can offer a sense of companionship, connection, and life purpose. Over time, these connections can have significant, positive impacts on your mental health as well as your immune function, nervous system activity, and disease susceptibility, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
Sharper Focus And Concentration
Mental health challenges can negatively impact your focus and concentration, which may lower your performance at work, school, and daily social settings. Difficulty focusing often accompanies depression. In addition, when you're experiencing a \ mental health challenge, you may find it difficult to concentrate on your work and relationships.
Improved Quality Of Life
When researchers study the lives of people with mental health, they often use a questionnaire to assess their overall quality of life. In their responses, people with better mental health report greater satisfaction with their employment, leisure time, living situations, and relationships.
10 Ways To Strengthen Your Mental Health In May
In honor of Mental Health Month, consider the following ten at-home strategies to improve your mental health. Making any of these adjustments may transform your mental health throughout May and for years to come.
1. Make A Plan For Stress Management
Stress is a natural bodily response, but several science-backed ways exist to manage chronic or unhealthy stress. For example, you might try finding a form of physical activity you enjoy. If it gets you moving, it can count. Try dancing, playing a favorite sport, attending a group yoga class, or taking a long walk with a friend. Exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural mood elevators, so it may also reduce stress.
Meditation and deep breathing exercises can also be beneficial. During stressful periods, some people find it helpful to practice deep breathing and mindfulness. These techniques can help you slow down, notice your thoughts, and learn to accept what you struggle to control.
2. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep positively impacts mental health and overall functioning. According to the APA, the benefits of high-quality sleep include improved muscle repair, memory consolidation, and better judgment and mood.
Health experts recommend that adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. However, US adults report sleeping an average of 6.7 hours a night, and 42% report that their sleep quality is fair or poor.
To better your sleep hygiene, try tweaking your routine with the following habits:
- Sleep in a quiet, dark, relaxing space at a comfortable temperature
- Limit alcohol, caffeine, and large meals before bedtime
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including on the weekends
- Practice breathing exercises, meditation, and other calming techniques before you sleep
- Put your electronic devices away one hour to 30-minutes before bed
If you're living with a sleep disorder or regularly experiencing sleep issues, consult your primary care provider or a sleep specialist.
3. Prioritize Your Self-Care Routine
Adequate sleep, nutrition, and stress management techniques can all be aspects of lifelong self-care. However, besides these pillars, you may benefit from finding self-care activities uniquely tailored to your interests, needs, and temperament.
While self-care can take many forms, the following activities may help you rest and restore after a challenging day or week:
- Reading a book
- Engaging in a spiritual activity like prayer or meditation
- Calling a loved one on the phone
- Creating art
- Spending time in nature
- Playing with your pets
Identifying self-care activities that bring you the most fulfillment may take time and experimentation. However, once you find them, try to schedule them into your everyday life, granting them as much priority as your work meetings, gym classes, and other responsibilities.
4. Invest In Your Relationships
Anecdotally and scientifically, quality relationships can be critical for a happy, healthy, and extended life.
An ongoing study by Harvard University, titled the Grant Study, has followed a group of people to assess how early-life experiences affect health and aging over time. One of their takeaways is that relationships have potent influences on mental health. These connections promote happiness, slow mental and physical decline, and predict longevity better than social class, IQ, or genes.
Healthy relationships require energy from all people involved. Seemingly "minor" acts, like scheduling a phone call with a family member or grabbing coffee with a friend, could add up over time. When you nurture your relationships, you invest in your mental health and the health of the people you love most.
5. Make Time For Your Hobbies
Hobbies are a form of self-care and a way to learn new skills and meet other people in your community. Hobbies can be so impactful that professionals sometimes "prescribe" them to supplement care plans.
Another observance that provides awareness of mental health is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month every October. If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, enjoying an exciting hobby is one way to celebrate.
6. Create Space For Gratitude
Gratitude and mental health can be related. Several studies link gratitude to reduced stress, increased emotional control, a more positive mindset, and deeper connections to other people.
MHA recommends tracking your gratitude with a journal. Every morning, evening, or sometime between, you can list three areas of your life you're grateful for and potentially discuss them with a loved one or therapist.
7. Get In Touch With Your Emotions
Between work, family obligations, and social events, you might find it difficult to pause and honestly assess your emotions. Yet, by asking yourself how you're feeling, you prioritize your emotional well-being—a primary aspect of emotional intelligence.
By understanding their emotions, emotionally intelligent individuals may learn to recognize others' feelings with greater accuracy and compassion. Emotional intelligence is related to better social and intimate relationships and work satisfaction, which may boost mental health.
8. Tap Into Your Creativity
Creativity isn't necessarily limited to visual art. Your next creative project could be writing a poem, making up a song, or choreographing a one-of-a-kind dance.
If you're harnessing your inner artist, you can enjoy some of the psychological benefits of creativity. Research has shown that, over time, maintaining a creative hobby or job can increase happiness, lower the risk of dementia, reduce anxiety and depression, and support healthy processing of trauma.
9. Focus On Your Self-Esteem
Self-esteem describes how positively you view your unique qualities and characteristics. Low self-esteem is linked to relationship challenges, academic struggles, work-related stress, and mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.
For many people, developing self-esteem is an extended journey. However, daily efforts may make a difference over time. To improve your self-esteem, pay attention to any thought or behavioral patterns that may make you feel poorly about yourself. A therapist might also help you identify negative thoughts and look for healthier ways to understand and explain your feelings and actions.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
10. Consider Therapy
A therapist or counselor is another way to respect your mental well-being for Mental Health Month. While some people prefer face-to-face therapy, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp is an increasingly popular option for people struggling to find the time or financial resources for traditional therapy. Digital platforms connect patients to over 20,000 licensed mental health care professionals with a broad range of specialties.
In several studies, including a 2019 review of telemedicine, clients reported that online therapy offered similar benefits to in-person sessions. In some cases, online therapy may be preferable to traditional treatment. Its benefits include reduced wait time and commute, which are both potential causes of stress. In the 2019 study, the researchers also noted that most online interventions simulated the benefits of in-person, face-to-face consultations, which include a sense of connection to the provider.
Regardless of which therapy format you prefer, therapy can offer a safe, calming space to cope with the past, build social and coping skills, and devise your goals for the future.
Whatever your preference, you deserve quality mental healthcare year-round. To get involved in Mental Health Month and related advocacy work, visit the MHA website.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are several frequently asked questions about mental health and Mental Health Month.
What Are Awareness Months?
Awareness months are month-long events dedicated to raising awareness of various challenges, communities, and historical events. Some examples include Alcohol Awareness Month, Black History Month, Women's History Month, and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In particular, Black History Month emphasizes Black individuals' historical contributions and achievements.
While these campaigns span one month each, advocacy, self-education, and activism work continues throughout the year. Awareness months highlight critical topics with national and global effects. Organizers often provide information, resources, and volunteer opportunities to the public.
If you are experiencing sexual abuse or have experienced assault, note that the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a hotline dedicated to supporting individuals experiencing sexual assault, harassment, or intimate partner violence. You can contact them anytime by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673) or using the online chat.
Is There A National Mental Health Month?
Yes, the US has a national Mental Health Month, recognized every May. Mental Health America (MHA) first recognized Mental Health Month in 1949.
The MHA originated from the experiences of Clifford W. Beers, a Yale graduate who experienced his first episode of bipolar disorder after the death of his brother in the early twentieth century. Beers' painful experiences in mental health care institutions inspired him to create the Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene in 1908, which later became the National Mental Health Association and MHA. The National Mental Health Association celebrated the first Mental Health Month in 1949, which the US continues to honor today.
In the US, National Mental Health Month is an opportunity to raise awareness for mental illness and mental health. You can get involved by attending specific events or lectures, volunteering in your community, or spreading awareness of mental health conditions and the value of self-care.
How Can I Improve My Mental Health?
Depending on the individual, mental health needs can vary. Your personal circumstances, community, and life goals may all shape the effectiveness of the types of mental healthcare you connect with. With these factors in mind, you might consider starting with the following options:
Improving stress management
Maintaining a healthy balance of work, personal life, and leisure
Getting enough sleep
Investing in social relationships
Regularly engaging in your favorite form of exercise
Eating a wholesome, nutritious diet
Your doctor and therapist can offer more personalized suggestions to improve your mental health. Making healthy changes to your daily routine can add up over time, supporting your mental health and potentially allowing for healthy aging.
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