This week is the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week, which encourages Canadians to #GetReal about mental health and how they really feel. Here’s an article by a Lifemark clinician about mental health and different tools you can use to respond positively to events.
Mental health issues affect many of us. In fact, 1 in 5 of us will experience a mental health problem in the span of a year (That’s 7.4 million Canadians every year!) By the time we are forty, 50% of us will have experienced a mental health problem. The most common mental health problems people experience are anxiety (general anxiety, panic disorders, social anxiety etc), mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder) and substance-related disorders.
Most of us will experience symptoms that make life more difficult, but aren’t at the severity level where they would meet the diagnostic criteria for mental health disorder.
The COVID crisis
A pandemic can add tremendous pressure on our lives, aggravating what we were already going through. The following changes can all occur:
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Difficulty concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
In a recent survey conducted by Morneau Shepell called the Mental Health Index Report, Canadians reported a 16% reduction (or -12 points from benchmark) in the mental health category and a 25-point increase in mental stress, with anxiety, depression, work productivity and optimism being affected the most.
We all respond differently to this crisis and some of us will have stronger reactions than others. We shouldn’t judge someone else’s response. Instead, we should respond with empathy, compassion and care and meet people where they are to provide support and connection where we can.
We may not be able to control all the events that are going on around us, but we do have control over how we respond.
Responding positively with the 5 “Be”s
Responding positively can be difficult and takes conscious efforts. In times like this, or during other difficult periods, it can be helpful for our mental health to practice the 5 “Be”s.
1. Be Present
We spend a lot of time thinking outside of the present moment, which isn’t always helpful for our mental health. When we are struggling with mental health, we spend significant time “in the past” ruminating on past events or “in the future” worrying about what if’s and things to come. While I am all for learning from the past and planning for the future, the reality is that life is a series of moments. All we ever have is the present moment, which is right now. The more we can “Be Present”, the more we can appreciate the present moment and let go of things we can’t control in the past or worry less about the things that aren’t even here yet.
Here’s what I want you to do: Close your eyes and take two deep breaths. With each breath, try to focus on how the breath feels going in and out of your body. With each breath, feel a release of tension.
Practicing mindfulness or meditation can be very helpful for our mental health. I like using guided meditations, either on my favourite streaming service or YouTube. Even a 5 to 10 minutes meditation can have an amazing effect when practiced regularly.
2. Be Grateful
In our world around us, we generally find what we are looking for. What I mean by that is that our minds are innately wired to look for threats, which are generally negative, so without realizing it we sometimes tend to focus on the negative and the threats around us. This is not generally helpful for our mental health in the long run. It takes conscious effort to actually look for the positive and what is going well in our lives. However, when we do it, the practice of gratitude can be a powerful tool to improve our happiness. A short practice everyday of thinking about 3 things we are grateful for and writing them down can have a significant impact on our state of mind.
Here’s what I want you to do: Think of one thing right now that you are grateful for in your life. Either write it down or hold it and repeat it in your mind to fully appreciate it.
3. Be Kind
Acts of kindness can have a profound and compounding effect on our mental health. Performing acts of kindness not only helps our mental health, it also helps the person we are being kind to and anyone who is observing that act of kindness, too! So practicing kindness is great for our mental health. It doesn’t even have to be a grandiose act. Even the smallest of gestures can boost our mental health.
Kindness is two-fold for me. First, we need to be kind to ourselves. We are often too hard on ourselves and our own worst critic. Practicing self-compassion is very important for our mental health. Second, we need to perform acts of kindness toward others.
Here’s what I want you to do: Find someone in your phone’s contact list who has been there for you or who you want to perform an act of kindness for. Text or email this person a short note that says you are thinking about them and thank them for something they did. Be specific about what it was and what it meant to you. You will make both of you feel good and you will also have practiced another act of gratitude. Pretty cool!
4. Be Active
Physical activity, whatever that is for you, is very helpful for our mental health. During these times of physical distancing and “lockdown”, it’s a challenge to stay active. Activity boosts the “feel good” chemicals in our bodies and brains while giving us a sense of control. Whether it is working around the house, gardening, walking, yoga, resistance training, it doesn’t matter. Being active where you are and within what you can do can help you feel better.
Here’s what I want you to do: Wherever you are, take the next minute to get up, move around, do some stretches, walk the stairs or reach your arms above your head. Whatever you feel like doing, just move!
5. Be Connected
Connection is vital for our mental health. The more we ruminate and/or worry, the more we tend to withdraw. We are social beings and wired for connection to others. Connecting in whatever way we can will help our mental health.
Connecting with our purpose and passions in our lives can help drive us towards doing meaningful things in our lives that will benefit our mental health. Connecting with people we love and trust is excellent for our mental health. Connecting in whatever way we can with our community to help others where we can is also great for our mental health.
Here’s what I want you to do: Think of and write down one way you are going to connect today and then do it! It doesn’t have to be big. Even a small gesture can be meaningful.
Remember that life is a series of moments and that our greatest power is our ability to choose our response to any given moment. The 5 “Be”s are simple ways we can exercise a little more control over our mental health in a time when we may feel out of control and unsure of what to do.
You can do these five simple actions every day. The more we practice, the better we get. Training the mind is no different.
If you need additional support, you should know that we offer Psychotherapy services through Virtual Care. For more information about Virtual Care, check out our introduction video or this useful article.