Though most of us recognize the benefits of investing time and effort on physical health and fitness, this is hardly the case when it comes to mental health. Admittedly, I too failed to acknowledge its importance but it all changed years ago when I found myself working for a non-profit organization which focuses on providing mental health support.
Through this experience, I learned firsthand that maintaining a good state of mental health is as crucial if not more – as maintaining our physical health.
When it comes to mental health illnesses, prevention is certainly better than cure as they can be difficult and very costly to treat. More importantly, having good mental health not only prevents us from developing mental health issues, it also enhances our ability to create and live out our best lives. It has been scientifically proven that those who are emotionally healthy tend to be more resilient, confident and able to handle life’s challenges with a more positive attitude.
Luckily, taking care of and improving our mental health is hardly rocket science. When given attention on a regular basis, it can actually be quite easy! Here, I’ll highlight five simple tips that I’ve personally found to be helpful in improving overall psychological health and well-being:
1. Set Aside Some ‘Me’ Time
With so much on our plate, we often find ourselves ended up putting our own needs on the back burner. In order to have a healthier state of mind, we need to end this habit and pay more attention to our needs. If this is something that you struggle with, know that self-care is not selfish. Remember that when you tend to your own needs first, you are more likely to be able to offer your best self to others as a result.
Start by making a commitment to do something you enjoy a few times a week. Whether it’s taking a leisurely walk in the park, drawing yourself a bubble bath, reading, or playing with your pet, dedicating some time to indulge in something that gives you joy is a must in maintaining a good state of emotional health and well-being.
2. Practice Meditation
As unbelievable as it sounds, setting aside at least 10 minutes to meditate each day can do wonders for your mental state. Think of daily meditation as an exercise for our brain that offers an abundance of benefits including improved focus, reduced levels of stress, and anxiety as well as mental health maintenance.
In fact, a study done by Harvard Researchersat Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) found that by meditating only for 8 weeks, participants were able to significantly changed the brain’s gray matter, a major part of the central nervous system that is associated with processing information and providing nutrients and energy to neurons. Dr. Britta Holzel, who was part of the team that conducted the study, explained: “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation; we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”
3. Express Gratitude
Acknowledging our appreciation for the things that we already have enabled us to focus on the good that already exists in our lives and this creates feelings of joy. Appreciation is potent to fight off anxiety and worry because when we feel joy, we feel more excitement and optimism for life.
We can express our gratitude by reading our list of “Thank You’s” out loud before starting out our day every morning, writing it in a gratitude journal and/or simply by quietly expressing gratitude for things and people we are thankful for as we go about our day.
4. Get Adequate Sleep
Countless research found that we are able to best perform and are most energized when we get adequate sleep on a daily basis. Though the exact amount of sleep one needs differfrom one person to another, adults generally need about 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night to function optimally and be in a prime state of mind to make important decisions.
If you currently only get about half of the recommended amount of sleep, it’s helpful to start by adding 30 minutes to your normal sleep hours and gradually increase it. Soon enough, you’ll be getting plenty of sleep and be more ready to tackle whatever obstacles life throws at you.
5. Share Your Story
Going through tough times? Keeping it bottled up can be detrimental to your mental health in the long run. So, it’s best to let it out and share your story.
Though many of us find it difficult to share our hardships with others, keep in mind that everyone faces challenges and they may just be able to relate to your experience as well as offer a shoulder to lean on. More importantly, sharing our innermost thoughts to someone we trust and care about, acknowledges that we trust them enough to be vulnerable and often times, ends up bringing the relationship closer.
That said, if you are not ready to divulge your feelings and emotions to loved ones, I recommend for you to seek out a licensed mental health professional (a counselor/therapist/psychologist) and make an appointment. Alternatively, you can also call a mental health support hotline available in your area that will give you some support as well as the comforting reassurance that you’re not alone.
Discussing Current Events with Students and Children: If, When, and How?
The unfortunate reality for children growing up right now is the prevalence of senseless tragedies. I myself, even as a grown adult, struggle time and time again to make sense of the catastrophic violence that pervades our day-to-day. For my students, I cannot fathom the panicked bewilderment and anxious uncertainties that events such as the Las Vegas attack bring to their frightened, yet curious, minds.
During these formative years, how can we mediate the thin line between informing and frightening our students and children? If we decide that information is power, how do we present such heart-rending topics to young people in a way that equips them to do better for the world? Conversely, if we instead choose to shelter our innocent young people by preserving their naïveté, how can we expect to bring up the next generation to be culturally responsive and informed citizens?
When considering conversations with young people involving tragic current events, such as this week’s Las Vegas mass shooting, adults must be extremely cautious. From the educator’s perspective, I am personally conflicted about my exact role as the adult in the classroom when it comes to conversations of a sensitive nature. Even as a middle school teacher, where my students assert themselves as “informed” or “aware” community members, I find it irresponsible of me to take on the role of informant for other people’s children.
Yes, our students are privy to infinite amounts of and avenues for any and all information, thanks in great part to the 1:1 ratio of school-aged children to smartphones. However, I firmly believe that the family (parents and guardians) know that child best. Therefore, as a teacher, my obligation begins and ends with parental consent. I can, and have, encouraged curious students to speak specifically with their parents about current events and the questions they have regarding those events.
Additionally, as an English teacher, I have provided students with criteria for credible sources, smart searches, and strategies to detect bias and objectivity. But that is where my responsibility ends. This is not because I don’t want to hear their opinions or thoughts on the world’s happenings, but rather because it is not my place to open such an emotional or sensitive topic up to discussion.
Suggestions for parents regarding if, when, and how to broach these types of discussions with your children vary from family to family. Obviously, you know your children better than anyone else. Parents are also in control of the extent of info to which children are exposed. Parents are the gatekeepers of information, charged with filtering, limiting, and explaining the events that you deem appropriate for your children.
If families decide to discuss emotionally-charged current events, such as terrorism or mass acts of violence with their school-aged children, parents should consider multiple factors, including age, social and emotional maturity, and peer influence. Let your children do the talking first. Take the temperature of their background knowledge on the topic before you begin.
Ask if they have heard or seen anything about the specific news story. It is likely that, if your child has a smartphone, she has some level of prior knowledge. Between social media and other communicative platforms, preteens and teenagers are presented with a deluge of news stories, photos, and videos.
Once you’ve gauged their level of prior knowledge, plan to direct the conversation with the goal to inform on a broad scope—do not necessarily delve into specific details, as details rarely serve to comfort or answer questions. A curious teen will inevitably stumble upon more details, but remind your teen to check the validity of the source before forming opinions or drawing conclusions.
Furthermore, be prepared to some answer questions, while leaving other questions unanswered. Especially with unanswerable questions like “how?” it is more than okay to respond with “I don’t know” or “we may never know.” Find some security in the fact that a senseless act will never make sense—and share that important realization with your teen.
Finally, encourage your teen to focus on the heroic deeds of bystanders, first responders, survivors, etc. Tragedies cannot be explained or reconciled, but the focus of the aftermath should always center on taking measures to lift up, help out, and affect change for the better. Always!
APA Offers Resources for Coping with Mass Shootings, Understanding Gun Violence
Constant news reports about the shooting in Las Vegas can cause stress and anxiety for people, leaving them with questions about the causes of and solutions to gun violence. Resources on the American Psychological Association’s website can help people with both issues.
One APA resource offers tips for managing feelings of distress in the aftermath of a shooting. “You may be struggling to understand how a shooting could occur and why such a terrible thing would happen. There may never be satisfactory answers to these questions,” it says. “Meanwhile, you may wonder how to go on living your daily life. You can strengthen your resilience – the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity – in the days and weeks ahead.”
Talking to children about the shooting isn’t easy but parents or teachers shouldn’t completely shield them from violence or tragedies. APA offers a series of tips to parents and other caregivers on how to guide the conversation in a proactive and supportive way. “The conversation may not seem easy, but taking a proactive stance, discussing difficult events in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure,” according to the resource available in the APA Help Center.
Parents should also watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety.
For those who feel too overwhelmed to use the tips provided, APA suggests consulting a psychologist or other mental health professional.
“Turning to someone for guidance may help you strengthen your resilience and persevere through difficult times,” it says.
There is no single personality profile that can reliably predict who will use a gun in a violent act, according to a report issued by the APA in December 2013 entitled Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy. There is, however, psychological research that has helped develop evidence-based programs that can prevent violence through primary and secondary interventions.
Written by a task force composed of psychologists and other researchers, the report synthesized the available science on the complex underpinnings of gun violence, from gender and culture to gun policies and prevention strategies.
“The skills and knowledge of psychologists are needed to develop and evaluate programs and settings in schools, workplaces, prisons, neighborhoods, clinics, and other relevant contexts that aim to change gendered expectations for males that emphasize self-sufficiency, toughness and violence, including gun violence,” according to the report.
Gun violence is estimated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year in medical, legal and other expenses, not to mention the psychological toll. That is why the government needs to approach it as a public health problem, according to APA acting Executive Director for Public Interest Clinton Anderson, PhD, writing in a blog post entitled No Silver Bullet: Why We Need Research on Gun Violence Prevention.
“Some have argued that we need to focus on policies that prosecute criminals and prevent those individuals who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from obtaining a firearm,” wrote Anderson. “While these policies have merit, they are clearly not fully effective, and do not address the roots of violence in our society.”
No one policy will prevent gun violence, writes Anderson. “It will take a multi-faceted approach. Funding research that explores these horrific, impulsive acts can help us all inform and adapt our policy approach.”
In another blog post, clinical psychologist Joel Dvoskin, PhD, warned against unfairly stigmatizing the mentally ill by immediately jumping to the conclusion that most shooters have a mental illness.
“Too often, even the most well-intentioned among us believe that most mass shootings are carried out by those with untreated mental illness,” he wrote. “What the perpetrators seem to have in common is the experience of extreme situational crisis.”
Rescue to Recovery Stages in a Red Cross Disaster Deployment
Roy was my partner for most of our deployment with Red Cross on the Disaster Mental Health Team in Texas. We spent many hours on the road mostly on our own, with the exception of “ride to the office” or “back to the shelter” caravans, which could be quite crowded as there were few available cars to ferry us all from the staff shelter to Headquarters for the day.
Conversations stayed rooted mostly in the present, even with kids occasionally Face-timing us in the car when a signal would pop up. I know that he’s been a social worker since 1970 and that he has been married nearly as long. Getting to know each other on a disaster mental health deployment is a different way of knowing someone, but knowing them well regardless. Similar relationships are built with the people you sleep a couple of feet from in the staff shelter.
Roy: “Wasn’t there a band people used to like called the Dead Heads? People liked them but I think they’re dead.”
Roy, In response to a question about breakfast: “Right I’ll give you another rotten orange in the morning.”
Kristie: “No thank you; that coffee was sufficient.”
“Roy, just go ahead and get in the wrong lane again for this right turn.” (Texas “turnarounds” can be a nightmare).
There was the normalcy of the city center recovering, demonstrated through open shops and Home Depot’s parking lot was nearly at capacity. Starbucks opened, there was a carafe in HQ for one of the lucky teams.
Vulnerability and exploitation were visible not far from the city center. Compounding issues plague those who struggled prior to the disaster. Living paycheck to paycheck when there is suddenly no paycheck creates a domino effect of financial disaster. You can only call the companies to beg for mercy if your phone works, if there are enough bars available to connect you. The smell is rising in neighborhoods, and the question, “What is that smell?” was more frequent today. Mold grows rapidly, and you can smell it from the street. Weeks have passed since the initial disaster, but it is just beginning to unfold for many people do not have flood insurance.
I ended up making a call to the Attorney General’s office regarding landlords who are refusing to remediate damage and demanding rent from those who cannot pay (or live in their home), with the threat of their things being sent to the dumpster. The police were empathetic but said that it’s a civil issue and in a disaster needs to go to the AGs office. So the wet carpet stays with children living inside, and they lack healthy food- maintaining on what looks like a vending machine diet.
There are contractor company scams that further exploit the exploited, and many workers are being brought in from surrounding areas without protective gear (notable lack of face masks) and clearly without reasonable hours or meal contracts.
On the other end of helplessness and anger, I felt in awe of all of the volunteers and what they do. They respond at the crack of dawn to Headquarters to work with a team using colored post it’s on the wall to map progress and hot spots for the day. Knowing that it’s likely that at the end of the day, they will have gotten sidetracked from the need that was directly in front of them, feeling regret for not making it back to the places they know are in desperate need but are now blocked by factors beyond their control.
Headquarters experienced an evacuation- someone screamed, “Get out! Get out of the building!” It turned out to be some off-gassing cones, but everyone went right back to work outside while standing outside the building waiting for clearance entirely unfazed.
Volunteers will talk it out with each other back at the shelter late at night, eating cold leftovers from the ERV (feeding) vehicles. Informal meetings run from their cots which will make a difference the next day in how resources are allocated because drivers are sleeping next to mental health, nurses, and those doing communications assessments. If you end up both eating and securing a space in line at the shower trailer behind the civic center before it’s too late, it’s something of a miracle. With a lot of contamination and illness going around, it’s best to just throw away the shoes on your way out.
As for the people we served, we realized the depth of desperation that is held for those in areas without good water. Your clothes were washed away or were contaminated, and even if you could wash them, you can’t because your washer and dryer is flooded (one family had some kind of snakes in theirs) as is the laundry mat down the road.
We brought restaurant workers wearing their last items of clothing and shoes serving people in the only community restaurant to open back up in Port Arthur in a certain radius, knowing that those clothes too, would soon be dirty. So what then? How long will this all take? While you may see signs of recovery in the city center, it’s clear that this is going to take so much longer for others, and the rural areas are barely touched by “helpers”.
The depth of this disaster isn’t something that we are used to covering, Katrina taught us a few things that are applicable, but each disaster is its own, and this scale is unimaginable. Puerto Rico is now unfolding as we watch on our screens, in some sort of mass denial of scale.
Most of us can sit comfortably behind our devices and all caps “GET TRUCK DRIVERS!” and while I can personally imagine the barriers that they have in distribution as we just experienced them in Harvey, you just can’t know unless you’re there and are using all of your five senses.
Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Why We Are Just Learning About Harvey Weinstein?
Why has it taken almost three decades for Harvey Weinstein’s absurdities and gross sexual misconduct to come to light? He...
Head Start May Protect Against Foster Care Placement
Participating in Head Start may help prevent young children from being placed in foster care, finds a national study led...
Rescuing Sex Trafficking Victims
Forty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to find Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. wandering the streets and alleys of Los Angeles at 3...
It’s National Coming Out Day
Today is National Coming Out Day which is a day of raising awareness and destigmatization for the LGBTQ community. It's...
Actor Terry Crews Comes Forward About Being Sexually Assaulted by Hollywood Exec
Actor Terry Crews takes to Twitter to discuss being sexually assaulted by a Hollywood Executive in the wake of the...
Elder Care2 months ago
Stressed Out Caregivers Are Using ER Visits for Respite, Study Finds
News2 months ago
5 Ways White Social Workers Can Respond to the Charlottesville Aftermath
LGBTQ2 months ago
Military Service Boosts Resilience, Well-Being Among Transgender Veterans
Culture2 months ago
The Rise of Hookup Sexual Culture on American College Campus
Global2 months ago
Britain: We Need to Talk About the Benefits System
Justice2 months ago
Exploring the Traumatic Impact of Criminalizing Policies on Black Women and Girls
Emergency Management1 month ago
How to Volunteer for Hurricane Irma Disaster Relief
Entertainment2 months ago
What “Bachelor in Paradise” Can Teach Us About Working With Young Black Men