by Carolyn Beauchamp, ACSW, MSW, President and CEO of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey
It is just as critical to strengthen and maintain our mental health as it is to take care of our bodies to help assure good physical health. One of the best ways to do this is to build good mental health practices into a regular routine, just as we attempt to eat right and get exercise.
During Mental Health Awareness Month, the Mental Health Association in New Jersey encourages you to start putting mental health as an action item on your “to do” list. When we feel good it is easy to take things for granted. Unless we know someone or have problems ourselves it is easy to forget that as many as 1 in 4 Americans lives with a treatable mental health condition. At MHANJ, we are using this month as an opportunity to remind everyone to be proactive and put yourself in control of your mental health as much as possible.
Here are a few suggestions.
Checklist for a Proactive Mental Health Routine
1. Get a handle on stress by planning ahead and balancing your schedule between work and leisure.
High levels of stress may lead to lack of emotional well being as well as chronic physical conditions and diseases. Before you start to feel overwhelmed, sit down and plan your month, week or your day. Set realistic expectations for handling responsibilities and be sure to balance work and leisure by including relaxation, recreational activities and socialization as well as work, household and family obligations. It helps to write things down and then you can celebrate your progress when you finish a task by crossing it off your list. Your strategy may serve as a helpful guideline but it is important to be flexible and shift gears as priorities change. Re-order your list and forgive yourself if you miss a deadline.
2. Notice your accomplishments and congratulate yourself every day.
Make a list and watch it grow over weeks and months. Building in positive thinking is a good way to help assure more time in a better mood, which contributes to your overall mental health in the long run. So celebrate the good stuff – even the small victories and successes.
3. Prepare yourself for challenges.
Research shows that consciously living in the moment, keeping calm and thinking ahead may improve your coping skills and help prevent a melt down at times of challenge and crisis. You may also find it helpful to prepare a checklist, when you are in a calm state, of issues to consider for when things get rough. This could include listing and setting priorities, action steps and follow-up reminders.
4. Make sure you are getting proper nutrition and rest.
Does this sound like your mother? It’s true – research shows that the amount of sleep and the foods we eat both have an effect on emotional well-being. Little steps, such as limiting the junk food, taking in protein and getting enough sleep can make a big difference.
5. Regularly connect with people who make you feel good and causes that are important to you. Don’t forget your pets.
There is scientific evidence that being active in groups may enhance our ability to handle difficulties and make us mentally stronger. So make it a priority to pursue your friends and your causes and share time with others doing whatever makes you feel fulfilled. The loyalty and love of pets is also known to improve mental health.
MHANJ is pleased to provide these helpful guidelines to help promote mental health in everyday life. Visit http://www.mhanj.org/programs-and-services/ for information about more formal approaches to planning for emotional well-being such as a Wellness Recovery Action Plan.
The Mental Health Association in New Jersey strives for good mental health for children and adults through advocacy, education, training, and services. Its main office is located in Verona, New Jersey; affiliate offices are located in Absecon, Bridgewater, Jersey City, Kenilworth, Montclair and Toms River. For more information about MHANJ, visit www.mhanj.org, call 1-973-571-4100 or follow the Mental Health Association in New Jersey on Facebook.
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