Today is January 30, 2019. It’s also Bell Let’s Talk day. Today there will be a conversation across Canada on the topic of mental health. I wish it wasn’t just for one day.
What is mental health?
We were driving to soccer practice last week and my son who was quietly riding in the backseat suddenly asks “Mom, what is mental health?”. You see we had just passed three large billboards all of which had campaign posters on them linked to Bell Let’s Talk. I explained that mental health was the fitness of our minds and emotions. He stayed quiet. Not sure if he understood what I meant I continues.
“We have to keep our brains and emotions healthy just like we work to keep our muscles and organs healthy. Let’s take soccer practice, you run and complete fitness drills that keep your physical body strong and so you are able to play games, avoid injury and perform at your best. Right?”
He said, oh I get it. And then asked “But how do you keep your brain and emotions healthy?”
I realized that’s the issue we are facing. We know as a general population how to keep our physical bodies healthy. We go to the gym, attend a yoga class, hire personal trainers, eat nutritious food, drink enough water (half our body weight in ounces), spend time outdoors, play, run, jump … you get my point. This list is long and extensive and most of us, when asked, could come up with at least three things we do to keep our physical bodies healthy.
On the other hand, what do you do to keep your mind and emotions healthy?
End the Stigma
The list of how to keep our minds healthy is hard to create and much less likely to be talked about. Stigma is still a real issue when it comes to mental health. Did you know that on any given week there are 500,000 Canadians that don’t go to work due to mental health challenges? This is a staggering number and quite honestly is makes my heart very heavy. It doesn’t have to be this way. The first action we need to committ to is talking about it.
If we are suffering we need to find someone to talk to. A therapist, a friend, a colleague, a coach or a loved one. Saying I am not feeling well and need to talk about it is the first step. If you need to find someone to talk to here is a list of resources to get you started.
If someone approaches you and says they need to talk please take the time to let them share. You don’t have to fix it. All you need to do is listen and support them. If they are ready to share what’s really going on then offer to help them find a professional they can talk too. You wouldn’t offer to fix your sons broken arm or diagnose and treat your colleagues diabetes, so don’t think you have to ‘fix’ their mental health challenges either. Get them the help and support they need. If you need to know where to go check out this list of resources as a place to start.
Practice Mental Fitness
Here are my top five activities and strategies I engage in to keep my mind fit.
This can be as simple as a walk for 30 minutes. Moving your body helps protect the mind and keeps both the physical and the mental bodies strong.
Floating is meditation, rest, detoxification, and relaxation all wrapped up in a pod of warm salt water!
Floating is done inside a light-proof, sound-proof float pod, which is pitch black and completely quiet. There is 10-12 inches of high salinity water (think the dead sea) set to body temperature. I usually float for 60 minutes but have done floats as long as two and a half hours; that’s 150 minutes of no interruptions, no external stimuli, no forces of gravity pulling on my physical body. Just me, myself, and I getting to know one another. Honestly, it’s pure magic, and I hope you give it a try.
Read widely and often. I now listen to books in the car, when I’m walking and try to make an effort to read a few pages every night before I go to bed. I also used to have this belief that I couldn’t have multiple books on the go. I threw that idea right out the window!! I read what I feel like when I feel like it and usually have at least 2-3 books on the go.
I make it a point to talk about the realities of what I’m up against. Sometimes it is with my husband, sometimes my friends and sometimes it’s a professional. The point here is that I’m talking about what’s really going on for me. And no, a conversation with your inner critic or crazy inner roommate, doesn’t count as a conversation. You need to speak the words out loud and have them be heard and recognized by another human being. Find someone you trust. Say it out loud.
It sounds cliche I suppose but really what has helped me the most is paying attention. Being mindful and tuned in to what my body and mind needs. Is it rest? Is it movement? Is it connection? Is it silence? Whatever you need, pay attention to it and find a way to bring more of it – whatever ‘it’ is – into your life. It’s worth noting here that paying attention to what makes you happy is important. Find a way to cultivate time and energy for your passions.
Join in the conversation today and everyday. Support each other. There is hope and together we can end the stigma around mental health.