Closing Out Mental Health Awareness Month 2023

As we reach the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’d like to reflect a little bit. I often reflect on the state of mental health; I try to figure out how we, as a society, view mental health and wellness. In the year since the last Mental Health Awareness Month, have we improved things? What does it mean to spread awareness, and are we doing a good enough job? There are many conclusions this month has led me to, but what I want to focus on today are next steps. How do we go beyond mental health awareness? How can we build a better world, focused on wellness and healing?

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Five Ways You Can Raise Mental Health Awareness Right Now

How can we raise mental health awareness? The answer isn’t as easy as it seems. Many people agree that it’s important to raise mental health awareness, but they don’t always know how or when is the best time. In my opinion, there’s no bad time to raise mental health awareness. It’s always a good time to talk about mental health, and you never know who it can benefit. In fact, I came up with five ways that you can raise mental health awareness right now! I hope one of these ways will help and inspire you to raise awareness, in your own way, this month.

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What Does It Mean to Shrink the Stigma?

During Mental Health Awareness Month, there’s a lot of talk about shrinking the stigma. While it might look different than it used to, the stigma surrounding mental health is alive and well. While many would agree on how important it is to shrink the stigma, it’s easier said than done. Shrinking the stigma isn’t only in our words; it’s in our actions. So, what does it actually look like to shrink the stigma, and how can we contribute?

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Five Ways We Can Better Understand Our Mental Health Symptoms

Earlier this week on the blog, I wrote about understanding symptoms. When it comes to mental illness, many symptoms are easy to see or understand. However, many symptoms also feel impossible to see in ourselves or others. A symptom of depression for one person might not exist for someone else, but both of these people could experience depression. Mental health is complex, and understanding our symptoms (however they look) is a big step on the path toward mental wellness. Today, I want to look at five ways we can work toward better understanding our symptoms.

Do your research – but take it with a grain of salt

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s be honest. The Internet is a big place, and not everything you find here is going to be helpful. The more that mental health has worked its way into mainstream conversation, the more likely there will be disinformation or misinformation about it. On the flip side, researching depression and anxiety on my own terms has been one of the most helpful ways of understanding my diagnoses. Researching symptoms is a good way to understand things more, but it’s important to take everything you read with a grain of salt until you talk with a professional. Which leads me to the second point…

Talk with a mental health professional

If you’re experiencing symptoms where your physical health is impacted, you see a doctor. Why would it be any different for mental health? Talking to a mental health professional is a good first step to get the help you need. And if you think that means immediately seeing a therapist or psychiatrist, that’s not always the case. There are many types of mental health professionals who can provide valuable insight, and reaching out to someone you feel comfortable talking with is the most important criteria.

Understand mental symptoms and physical symptoms

As I mentioned in my post earlier this week, symptoms of mental illness can manifest themselves mentally and physically. It took time, but I’ve learned the difference between mental and physical symptoms. I’ve learned to recognize symptoms within myself, and figure out if my symptoms are recurring. It’s important to understand what these symptoms are, but it’s more important to know what they are for you. Understanding how my symptoms impact me is one of the most valuable things I’ve learned when it comes to mental health.

Know the difference between acute and chronic illness

For a long time, my symptoms came and went without any further understanding and introspection about them. Learning the difference between acute symptoms and chronic conditions has been very helpful for my long-term mental health. According to the National Council on Aging, acute illnesses “generally develop suddenly and last a short time, often only a few days or weeks,” while chronic conditions “develop slowly and may worse over an extended period of time – months to years.” Once I could start defining my symptoms as acute or chronic, I could better learn how to deal with them.

Take things day by day

This last bit of advice sounds a little cliche but it’s something I come back to time and again. For a long time, my only reaction to a new aspect of my depression and anxiety was fear. I was afraid of learning about new symptoms because I assumed I’d have to deal with them every single day. I’ve since learned that this isn’t the case; a symptom that might be challenging one day might not show up the next. Learning to take things as they come has taught me a lot not only about my mental illnesses, but also about myself. Every day brings new lessons on dealing with depression and anxiety. In my experience, the best way this happens is when you slow down and take things day by day.

Now I want to hear from you! What is a bit of advice you have for someone who is learning about symptoms of mental illness? Let me know in the comments!

"There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self." - Aldous Huxley

Five Ways to Manage Thought Spirals

Earlier this week, I wrote about thought spirals, what they look like, and what we can do about them. Thought spirals can be tricky to deal with, but there are ways we can try and manage them. I’ve dealt with many thought spirals over the years, and these are some of the most effective ways I’ve found of slowing my brain down and getting back to center:

Acknowledge what is happening to you. Name the fact that your thoughts are spiraling. This might not sound like a big deal, but there is tremendous power in being able to define something, to name it or to understand what something is called. This is especially relevant when it comes to mental health, because we as a society haven’t always had healthy ways to define our experience, which lead to further stigmatization. If it feels like your thoughts are spiraling, it’s good to admit that. You might not be able to solve the problem in the moment, but knowing what something is can make it less intimidating.

Control your breathing (make sure it’s steady – check on your physical self in this moment). The link between mental health and physical health is a very real one, and our physical health can absolutely be impacted by mental health challenges. I know for myself, anxiety manifests itself physically, which means that an anxiety attack can sometimes impact my body as much as my brain. A good way to find some semblance of control is to regulate your breathing. Whether that’s taking a few deep breaths spending more time to find your breath, getting back to level is a great way to calm your brain down.

Ground yourself. Though this might sound similar to controlled breathing (and they are certainly linked), grounding yourself is much different. Thought spirals can lead to getting lost in our minds, which might mean we’re less in tune with what’s around us. Finding ways to ground yourself (here are some tips!) and remember who you are, where you are and what’s around you can help slow down that thought spiral.

Challenge one of the thoughts you’re having. A thought spiral can create a lot of different irrational thoughts, ones that can build on each other and make things overwhelming. But if we can isolate one of these thoughts and challenge it, we can try to lessen the impact of this domino effect. Challenge one of these thoughts by asking questions like is this true? Why do I think this is true? Attacking illogical thoughts with rational logic is good way that I slow down when my thoughts are getting out of hand.

Get someone else’s perspective. Mental health challenges feel isolating. Oftentimes, people think they’re the only person in the world who feels the way they feel. That can make someone feel helpless or hopeless, and makes it more of a challenge to reach out. Getting someone’s perspective can be invaluable, and can be a big help in many ways.

Now, over to you! What are some things you do when you’re dealing with a thought spiral? Is there anything you do that’s effective when dealing with a thought spiral? Let me know in the comments!

Getting Out of My Head

Some days I wish I could get out of my head. I don’t always know what I mean when I say that, but the sentiment is there. It feels like I live most of my life inside my head and every so often, I want to burst out. I’m sure actually doing so isn’t as dramatic as all that, but it feels like it would be. Being ‘inside your head’ is a fancy synonym for overthinking a moment or situation but when you do it often, it feels like it’s just the way you experience things. After quickly retreating inward for many weeks, I’d like to try getting out of my head, and here’s why.

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The Impact of Anxiety on Our Physical Health

Living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder has taught me so many things about myself. I’ve learned what some of my tendencies are, as well as what habits I fall into when it comes to coping mechanisms. I’ve learned about my triggers, what overstimulates me and what makes me anxious. But over the past few years, I’ve started focusing on other things connected to my anxiety. My GAD has always impacted my physical health, but it wasn’t something I often reflected on. Like other mental health disorders, anxiety can affect our physical health. Here’s how it impacts mine!

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Helpful Resources During Suicide Prevention Month 2022

CW: This post discusses suicide and suicide awareness.

Last week was the beginning of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. This month is extremely important because it’s a chance to have honest, open discussions about suicide and suicide prevention. More so, it’s a good time to share resources for those who may need them, as well as people who are looking for information to distribute this month. These are resources that I’ve found in recent years, and I’m re-upping them to give people as many resources as possible.

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Metaphors for Mental Health: Lifting Weights

A couple of weeks ago, I started doing some weight training exercises for the first time in at least a few years. Lifting weights is something I’ve done on and off for years, but I’d fallen away from it for some time. But one day, kind of randomly, I went into the gym and headed for the weights. After the first session, my body was sore in places I’d forgotten I could be sore in, and these new exercises taught me a valuable lesson in how we can help ourselves adjust to things, not only physically, but mentally as well.

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Are We Really Talking About Mental Health?

I am tired. Tired of a lot of things, but today I’m sharing one specific reason I’m tired. I’m tired of seeing mental illness get weaponized. Tired of seeing mental health being brought up in bad faith, in harmful, disingenuous and shameful ways that undo the work people have put in for decades to shrink the stigma surrounding mental health. And because I’m bouncing back between rage and sadness (which is just what it is right now) over this and have been for sometime, I just want to express those feelings today, because they need to get out.

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