Four Steps to Good Mental Health
Felicia Thompson, OPACE
Mental Health Awareness Month is observed each May, but self-care and being cognizant of one’s own mental health is a year-round task. Good mental health offers feelings of well-being and inner strength, contributes to life’s enjoyment, and gives one the ability to cope with challenges. To help improve or sustain mental health and well-being every day, follow these four steps:
The food we eat has a direct effect on our energy level and mood. A healthy diet contains essential nutrients and a variety of foods from all food groups. It’s also important to consume the right number of calories to maintain a healthy weight and steer clear of foods with too much fat, sugar, salt or alcohol.
Regular physical activity has long been recognized as a powerful tool in improving overall physical and mental health, as it reduces tension and stress, counteracts weight gain, increases physical and emotional energy and improves sleep. Being active keeps the body strong and helps to maintain independence, which positively impacts mental wellbeing.
Get Enough Good Sleep
To function effectively, the mind and body needs time to process information, rest and heal. Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle and can benefit physical and mental wellness in several ways – improved energy, memory, focus, learning ability, and mental and emotional resilience.
Consider a few basic steps to promote healthful sleep:
- Follow a consistent sleep routine (soothing bedtime ritual and sleep/wake times).
- Eat nutritious meals on a regular schedule.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, sugar, heavy meals and strenuous exercise close to bedtime.
Feeling stress from time to time is common; however, when stress is long-term or becomes constant it can lead to physical and mental health issues. People can be affected by stress in different ways. For example, some people may experience digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger or irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold.
The effects of stress tend to build up over time. Taking practical steps to manage your stress can reduce or prevent these effects. Here are some to consider:
- Recognize the signs of stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed and having low energy.
- Talk to a medical professional and get care for existing or new physical or mental health concerns.
- Exercise regularly to help boost mood and to reduce stress.
- Explore stress-coping techniques, and schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities. An example could be to add 30 minutes of daily “worry time” on your calendar, which will allow you to think about your concerns.
- Set goals and priorities, decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say “no” to new requests if they are putting you into overload.
- Focus on small wins and accomplishments at the end of the day.
- Stay connected with people who provide you with emotional support and ask for help if you need it.
For more information, resources and additional mental health topics, visit the National Institute of Mental Health's website. You and your immediate family members can also contact the FSIS Employee Assistance Program for free and confidential support and referral to resources for any of life’s challenges you may be facing. Just call 1-800-222-0364 (TTY 1-888-262-7848) any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or visit www.foh4you.com or www.worklife4you.com (new user code: FSIS).