Your Mental Health and You

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Mental or emotional health refers to your overall psychological well-being. It is the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, your ability to manage feelings and deal with difficulties, and how much meaning and joy you get from your life.
Good mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. It is the presence of positive characteristics, such as being able to cope with life’s challenges, handle stress, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks.
People who are emotionally healthy are in control of their emotions and their behavior. They are able to handle life’s challenges, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks. But just as it requires effort to build or maintain physical health, so it is with mental and emotional health. Improving your emotional health can be a rewarding experience, benefiting all aspects of your life, including boosting your mood, building resilience, and adding to your overall enjoyment of life.
However, many things that happen in your life can disrupt your emotional health and lead to strong feelings of sadness, stress, or anxiety. These things include:

• Being laid off from your job
• Having a child leave or return home
• Dealing with the death of a loved one
• Getting divorced or married
• Suffering an illness or an injury
• Getting a job promotion
• Experiencing money problems
• Moving to a new home
• Having a baby

The connection between Mind & Body
Good changes can be just as stressful as bad changes, and when you are stressed, anxious, or upset, your body reacts in a way that might tell you that something isn’t right.
Your body can react in the following ways:

• Back pain
• Change in appetite
• Chest pain
• Constipation or diarrhea
• Dry mouth
• Extreme tiredness
• General aches and pains
• Headaches
• High blood pressure
• Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
• Lightheadedness
• Palpitations (the feeling that
your heart is racing)
• Sexual problems
• Shortness of breath
• Stiff neck
• Sweating
• Upset stomach
• Weight gain or loss

Poor emotional health can weaken your body’s immune system, making you more likely to get colds and other infections during emotionally difficult times. Also, when you are feeling stressed, anxious, or upset, you may not take care of your health as well as you should. You may not feel like exercising, eating nutritious foods or taking medicine that your doctor prescribes. Abuse of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs may also be a sign of poor emotional health.

Improving your Mental Health
First, try to recognize your emotions and understand why you are having them. Sorting out the causes of sadness, stress, and anxiety in your life can help you manage your emotional health.
Express your feelings in appropriate ways. If feelings of stress, sadness, or anxiety are causing physical problems, keeping these feelings inside and bottling them up can make you feel worse. It’s OK to let your loved ones know when something is bothering you. However, keep in mind that your family and friends may not be able to help you deal with your feelings appropriately. At these times, ask someone outside the situation, such as your family doctor, a counselor, or a religious advisor, for advice and support to help you improve your emotional health.
Live a balanced life. Try not to obsess about the problems at work, school, or home that lead to negative feelings. This doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be happy when you feel stressed, anxious, or upset. It’s important to deal with these negative feelings, but try to focus on the positive things in your life too. You may want to use a journal to keep track of things that make you feel happy or peaceful. Some research has shown that having a positive outlook can improve your quality of life and give your health a boost. You may also need to find ways to let go of some things in your life that make you feel stressed and overwhelmed. Make time for things you enjoy.
Develop resilience. People with resilience are mentally tough and are able to cope with stress in a healthy way. Resilience can be learned and strengthened with different strategies. These include having social support, keeping a positive view of yourself, accepting change, and keeping things in perspective.
Calm your mind and body. Relaxation methods, such as meditation, listening to music, listening to guided imagery and yoga are useful ways to bring your emotions into balance. Meditation is a form of guided thought. It can take many forms. For example, you may do it by exercising, stretching, or breathing deeply. Ask your family doctor for advice about relaxation methods.
Take care of yourself. To have good emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body by having a regular routine for eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising to relieve pent-up tension. Avoid overeating and don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Using drugs or alcohol just causes other problems, such as family and health problems.

Paying attention to the signs
of Mental Illness
Mental illnesses are serious disorders which can affect your thinking, mood, and behavior. There are many causes of mental disorders. Your genes and family history may play a role. Your life experiences, such as stress or a history of abuse, may also matter. Biological factors can also be part of the cause. Mental disorders are common, but treatments are available.
Mental and emotional health problems often arise when your nervous system has been compromised by overwhelming amounts of stress. The body’s natural and most efficient method of coping with stress and rebalancing the nervous system is via face-to-face social contact with a trusted person. This is why mental and emotional health is so closely linked with social health: helping yourself involves reaching out to others.
What are the symptoms of a mental illness? If a friend or loved one doesn’t seem themselves, how do you spot the difference between a bad mood and something more serious? Drinking too much, crying all the time or any other on going, significant change in a person’s behavior, thoughts or feelings could be telltale signs of a mental illness. Often it’s not a single change, but a combination. The following signs are not to help you diagnose a mental health issue, but instead to reassure you that there might be good reason to seek more information about your concerns.

• Feeling worried or anxious
• Feeling depressed or unhappy
• Emotional outbursts
• Problems sleeping
• Weight or appetite changes
• Quiet or withdrawn behavior
• Substance abuse
• Guilty or worthless feelings all the time
• Changes in behavior, thinking and feelings

In life we all face challenges from time to time and it is our reaction to these challenges that define how we are left feeling. Sometimes our reactions are based on where we are as a person at the time and we sometimes react without thinking thoroughly about the issue at hand. However, if we try to attain a calm, balanced and measured attitude we may find ourselves making less rash decisions and being in a better place mentally.
Many people who suffer from a feeling of a loss of empowerment often begin to feel irrational, down and depressed. Empowerment is a process that sets a goal that is personally meaningful and begins to work toward that goal.

To improve your sense of empowerment you can:
Learn something new
Learning is powerful and effective. When you gain new knowledge, it can help you feel prepared or inspire you to tackle something new. It can also make you feel as though you have a fresh perspective or different skill set to retry something that may have been challenging before. If nothing else, the act of learning can leave you feeling mentally stronger and more capable.

Give back
It is easy to get stuck in your own world. We each get wrapped up on our own day-to-day problems and it can leave us feeling overwhelmed and sometimes powerless. When we help others, it allows us to see that we have something important to offer to the world around us. In the process of giving back, we can also empower others while helping ourselves.

Take charge
We often have a tendency to rely on our routines, the competency of others or even chance to get us where we are going. Although there are certainly aspects of our lives that we are not able to control that are as simple as flight delays or as complicated as illness, there are many things we can control. Those things under our control include our behavior, thoughts, and feelings. If we take the opportunity to show up in our lives with the right attitude and focus on what we bring the situation, we often find that we have more power than we thought.

Set goals
Knowing what you want and going after it can go a long way in making you feel powerful in your own life. The first step in goal setting is to begin by thinking about what is meaningful in your life. From there, think about what you may want to achieve or do that can bring a greater sense of meaning into your life. Start with goals that you know you can attain first. This can help build confidence and a sense of mastery. From there add goals that may be more challenging and keep going.

Make your own rules
We all spend a lot of time worrying about what we “should” be doing. This tendency to live our lives according to the unattainable guidelines made up of absolute statements often leaves us feeling as though we are not good enough or that we have limited choices. So begin to think about how many times a day you say to yourself, “I should…” or “I have to…” and simply stop to think about whether that statement is accurate. You will likely find that there are plenty of times where you are making a choice, which gives you the chance to do something else if you want to.

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Columns · Health · Issue 24 · Psychological · Publication

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