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Six Tips to Make the Most of Mental Health Awareness Month

Every May is the annual Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s an important time. Spring brings with it a sense of renewal, and during this time people struggling with depression, anxiety, and a range of other conditions are encouraged to seek help. All people are also encouraged to learn more about mental health and to discuss it more openly. The end goal is to foreground people’s mental wellness and remove the stigma surrounding mental health and its treatment. Here are some simple steps to raise your own awareness about mental health  – and improve it.

Remember to keep your sleep consistent.

Lack of sleep is a common side effect of mental health conditions ranging from anorexia nervosa to general anxiety disorder. Sleep disturbances affect some mental health disorders differently as well. For example, although insomnia can affect people with depression, they often sleep too much or feel tired all the time.

One way to prioritize your mental health is to make sure you stick to a consistent sleep schedule. GO to bed same time and wake up consistently. Even if you struggle with insomnia, over time consistently going to bed and limiting distractions like screens or light will train your body to sleep more consistently. You’ll find yourself falling asleep easier and waking up without as much trouble.

Nourish your body and soul.

The word “mental” in mental health can lead you to believe it’s all about the mind. While it’s important to use therapeutic tools like therapy, CBT, or DBT to clarify how you think and act, mental health is about more than the mind. It’s about the complete person. This means taking care of the mind, but also the body and the soul.

As eating disorder treatment specialists, we’re naturally inclined to emphasize the importance of eating well (and intuitively). Ample evidence from various clinical trials and psychological experts explain how the way we eat affects brain function as well as the body. To simplify it greatly, the mind can’t function when the body is not nourished. Learning how to eat well, and to eat when you feel hungry, is what’s called intuitive eating. It’s a centerpiece of eating disorder recovery, but it applies to everyone looking to improve their mental health.

The soul can’t be ignored either. This is much harder to define, but mental health care must acknowledge the impact of our feelings and experiences. Nourishing the soul might be working on a labor of love, like tending your garden or painting a picture. It might be hugging a friend. playing with your daughter for a few minutes. Anything you do that reaffirms your life will have a positive effect on your mental health. Make sure it’s part of your daily routine.

Ask for help if you need it (and be there to help out too).

The whole point of Mental Health Awareness Month is to make people more comfortable discussing mental health. Even though mental health conditions are shockingly common, there is still hesitation when it comes to talking about them. If you’re taking May as a time to work on your mental health, resolving to ask for help when you need it is a great way to get started.

Openness to talking about mental health goes both ways. Although no one should provide emotional labor if they aren’t able to, lending support is a good way to boost your own mental health. Awareness means thinking about others as well. If someone asks you for help, do what you can to support them.

Asking for help doesn’t have to be just for friends. The hesitance to seek professional mental health care is just as strong as it is in interpersonal relationships. May is a good time to reach out to professionals as well. Use the focus on mental health awareness to strengthen your resolve to get help.

Take time for you.

Everyone is guilty of pushing themselves too hard sometimes. Whether it’s studying for exams, working on a huge project at work, or even purring all your attention on mental health recovery, please remember to take some time off and let yourself live every once in a while. These little moments are often called self-care, and they’re essential for keeping your mental balance.

During your self-care moments, turn off your computer and your phone. Watch a favorite movie or take a bike ride – anything that lets you focus on yourself for a few minutes. Even closing your eyes and simply being for a few minutes will help. A lot of this sounds like mediation, and they share the same purpose. In fact, mindful meditation is recommended by experts in treating all kinds of mental health conditions.

Get outside and get some sunshine.

Furthering the idea of nourishing the body as well as the mind and the soul, many mental health experts stress the importance of getting outside often. Fresh air helps to clear the mind and helps you refresh yourself. Taking a walk for a few minutes during the day relieves stress. It also helps the circulation and proves an easy way to get a little exercise.

The sunlight helps as well. Among a group of people with depression, astudy done in 2009 showed a correlation between lower sunlight levels and an increased probability of cognitive impairment.Just as with proper nutrition, getting enough sunlight will helps your brain work more efficiently. AS part of a full mental health care regimen, getting sunlight can make a real difference in your mood.

Stay away from social media.

Although social media surely has its purposes (you might even have come across these tips on social media), it can have harmful effects on a person’s mental health. This has been known for some time, but awareness reached a head in last year’s Congressional hearings. They showed the negative effect social media can have on body image and self-esteem, driven by Facebook and Instagram, especially on adolescents.

That’d why for people focusing on mental health limiting social media time is a must. If you can’t get away from it completely, try to only spend a few minutes a day on it, and avoid topics sensitive to you. For someone with an eating disorder, that might be “fitness” accounts or weight-loss discussions. Instead, put your energy into real-world activities and entertainment.

May is not the only time for mental health awareness.

We love the attention flooded on mental health awareness every May, but the truth is, mental health is a year-round concern. Any of these tips can be used from January to December. Take the lessons you learn during Mental Health Awareness Month and apply them to your everyday regimen, and a happier, more joyful, and more serene life is within your grasp.

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.