When I first joined the Grace Alliance team back in 2014, I knew I had a lot to learn. With a degree in Public Relations and four years of college ministry work, I felt a little behind the curve when it came to understanding mental health. But I was passionate about being able to help others through the journey of mental health difficulties.
I read books, participated in webinars, attended conferences and trainings, watched videos and asked a LOT of questions. I wanted to learn as much as I could so that I could provide the best help possible to the individuals, families and churches with which we would be working.
Another part of my training and preparation was to walk through all of the Grace Alliance resources. As I started reviewing our Thrive workbook, an in-depth, whole-health guide to empower management of mental health stressors, improvement of daily well-being and renewal of faith, I made one very important discovery:
I should be implementing these tools into my own life!
I do not have a mental health diagnosis, but I have walked through seasons of anxiety and depression. Yet, whether I’m experiencing symptoms of a mental health difficulty or not, I am learning the importance of mental health – taking care of my mental well-being.
So, here’s the reality:
“EVERYONE SHOULD BE PAYING ATTENTION TO THEIR MENTAL HEALTH.”
It doesn’t have to be complicated or scary or embarrassing. In fact, I’ve seen the benefits of taking care of my mental health bleed into every area of your life…my work, my friendships, my physical health, my ability to rest and relax, my faith and more.
Whether you’re a new mom experiencing the difficulties of postpartum depression, a student who just started meeting with a counselor to try to manage the stress and anxiety of school or a husband who is walking through bipolar disorder with your wife, there are small steps you can take to care for your own mental health.
Here are my top ten mental health care practices for ANYONE.
1. Be Active
God created our bodies so intricately, connecting every part of us with the other. That’s why caring for our physical health can have an impact on our mental health. In fact, did you know that exercise can produce the same effects as an anti-depressant? Yes, you read that correctly! I can honestly say that I can tell a difference in my mental well-being if I’ve skipped exercise or activity for a few days. There are PLENTY of days when I don’t feel like being active, but I make it a priority to make it to the gym, take the dog on a walk or do some at-home yoga to care for my mental health. It refreshes me, energizes me and even helps me rest better!
2. Limit Unhealthy Foods
Y’all, this one is a STRUGGLE for me. I love chocolate and fro-yo and pizza and burgers like nobody’s business. Yet, I know how horrible continual unhealthy eating makes me feel. The sugar highs followed by sugar crashes, the fatigue that comes with nutrient-lacking foods and the sleeplessness that comes from caffeine and sweets too late at night all result in chaos for my mental health. But when I’m eating a balanced diet (with little treats sprinkled in, of course), not only does my body feel better, but my mind does as well. Clearer thinking, more energy and more focus!
3. People Time
Let me just preface this by telling you that I am an introvert. I absolutely need my alone time. But I’ve also learned that too much alone-time (isolation) is not good for me. Yet, let’s not place an expectation on ourselves to have intense, intentional time with people every single day. There are simple ways to get time with people that don’t have to be overwhelming. For example, I’ve learned that I feel much better and much less irritable if I go work at a coffee shop where I can just be around other people and have a few, limited interactions throughout my day. Sometimes, that’s all you need! Just to be around other people. Sit in a coffee shop, visit a park, go the library, run some errands.
4. Breaks From Technology
Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you to throw out your smartphone and delete all of your social media accounts. What I am here to encourage you (and myself) with is that age-old phrase: “Everything in moderation.” Take simple steps like setting aside time to turn off your phone, computer, tablet, etc. each day, charging your devices outside of your bedroom at night or (my recent favorite) turning off notifications on your social media apps to prevent constant distractions through your day.
5. Get Outside
This is especially difficult in the winter months for those of us residing anywhere else besides Southern California, so we have to take advantage of it any chance we can get! During a particularly cold and rainy stretch here in Houston, I was starting to feel myself dip into a low and realized I hadn’t spent any time outside in several days. I knew that I needed some fresh air – even if it was cold air! So, I put on some warm layers, grabbed an umbrella and took our pup on a walk. Turns out that neither one of us minded the rain and we were both feeling much better by the time we returned!
I remember riding in a car with a friend a few years ago and she turned the radio off and said, “Gosh, doesn’t the silence feel so good?” At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about. I loved cranking up the music every time I got in my car! But now, years later, I have come to appreciate those moments of silence. A moment to just be still, to give room for God’s gentle whispers, to process my day, to think about something I’m learning. I think Emily Freeman, one of my favorite authors, says it perfectly in her podcast:
“SILENCE AND STILLNESS IS HOW THE SOUL SIFTS THROUGH THE DAY’S INPUT. STILLNESS IS TO OUR SOULS AS DECLUTTERING IS TO OUR HOMES.”
Let yourself be still and silent.
7. Try Something New
You’ve probably heard the expression that your brain is like a muscle…and it’s true! Trying new things is a great way to keep your mind engaged and stretched and challenged. In fact, according to our Thrive workbook, “Evidence suggests that mental activities have a healing and protective effect on mental well-being.” It may also lead to finding a new hobby or activity that you enjoy.
8. Give Back
In the “Refreshing Others” chapter of our Thrive workbook, we discuss the Biblical truths that God has already prepared good works for us to be involved in (Ephesians 2:10) and that when we serve others, we are actually serving God (Matthew 25:40). One of the most beautiful and redemptive things about some of our most difficult experiences is the way we get to come alongside others who may experience the same thing (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). What is even more wonderful is how God created even our brains to react positively when we help others, giving a sense of purpose and what scientist’s even call a “helper’s high.” Think about one or two ways you can serve someone else this week.
9. Say “Thank You”
In a blog about giving thanks I wrote back in November, I talked about the mental health benefits of practicing gratitude. I really try to implement this into my everyday life. Whether it’s creating a Gratitude Journal, writing a thank you note to a friend or family member or just thanking a waiter for his excellent service, saying “thank you” moves our mind away from negative thinking and onto the blessings God has given us!
This is my personal favorite and something that we might not even think about! When was the last time you had a good laugh? I’m talking tear-inducing, stomach-clenching, can’t-breathe laughter. Whether it’s calling up your friend who always makes you laugh, watching a funny movie or finding your favorite funny YouTube video, getting a good laugh in can actually help reduce anxiety and boost your mood!