Today’s post comes from Dr. Shana Perrucci a clinical psychologist at Family Counseling Associates in Andover, Massachusetts. She works with adults, teenagers, and couples for psychotherapy assessment and treatment of mental health. Below are her suggestions for checking in and maintaining your mental health every day.
FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR OPTIMAL MENTAL HEALTH
BALANCE: The key to good mental health is balance. Finding a balance can be harder in winter when it’s difficult to engage in outdoor activities. I always tell people to check in with themselves after they do an activity to see how it made them feel. If it made you feel good, do more of it. If it made you feel bad, do less of it. Sounds simple, right? For example, if you go for a walk outside and you feel emotionally and physically better, than try to prioritize it for another day. If you binge watch Netflix and feel more relaxed and happy, then do it another day. If you feel lazy and tired, then try not to. When we are out of balance, our mental health suffers and it can lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, or stress.
PRIORITIZE YOU: It’s important to see patterns between what you do and how you feel. When you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, if you continue to push yourself, you will feel worse. People often think if they push themselves, they will get everything done and then they can relax. This is a fallacy in thinking, because you never get to that point, as there is always more to do. I use the analogy of an Olympic athlete with my clients. If an athlete trains ten hours straight with no breaks, she won’t perform as well as if she took ten minute breaks to rest her body throughout the day. It’s the same with mental health. Prioritizing breaks makes you a healthier, happier person. I like to think of balance as a trifecta: time by yourself, time with your partner, and time with your nuclear family. Some people may need more or less of one of these depending on whether they are introverted or extroverted, but even extroverts need time alone to recharge. If you have healthy self-esteem and recognize that your self-worth and needs are as important as others, it helps to minimize guilt.
START SMALL: Starting with small changes is most effective because it’s doable in an already stressful life. The most basic thing you can do is to focus on your breathing, because this relaxes your body. If you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, take some deep breaths. This can be done in any situation, at any time of day. I also recommend learning and engaging in mindfulness, which is a trendy topic right now, but works well and has a lot of research behind its efficacy. It basically means living in the present moment and focusing on what is going on right in that moment. I find using your senses helps you engage in the moment. For example, what are you seeing/hearing, and how does your body feel in that moment? There are a ton of great mindfulness resources online and guided exercises you can do to help you practice.
FOCUS ON HOW YOU FEEL: We get caught up in the cerebral, meaning how we think, too often. I am the guiltiest of all when it comes to this, as I overthink everything, as most psychologists do! If you are making crafts for your child’s birthday party and you feel relaxed and happy, then it’s a good thing and indicates you are on the right track. If you feel stressed and overwhelmed, then try to stop and think about why you are doing it and whether it is worth the detriment to your mental health. This also relates to self-esteem because if you have good self-esteem you will be less likely to compare yourself to others and feel inferior. Self-esteem is not the same as arrogance or boastfulness, a difference I have to explain to many clients. Healthy self-esteem is being aware and accepting of your strengths and weaknesses.
REMEMBER THE GOOD – Too often we focus on our weaknesses, and what we can do better. Spend some time putting thought into the things you do well, and the qualities you like about yourself, without being evaluative or judgmental of yourself or others. Owning who you are, and validating how you feel, while also challenging yourself to make positive changes, is the best balance of all.