I asked my good friend, Jackie Britton CNP, to share her thoughts on mental wellness. So much good information in here!
America, the promised land of possibilities, hopes, dreams, and wealth…so it appears. From the outside, we are all put together, with Pinterest homes, beautiful cars, jobs, and our 2.1 children. Unemployment rates are at their lowest, while technology is at its highest. Our children can watch TV in our cars, or on our phones, literally anywhere. It seems as if life is at its simplest. Do you need to pay a bill? Just punch a few things on your phone. Do you need to cash a check? Just snap a picture with your phone. You have to go to work, but you have children? They can go to daycare (I am not knocking daycare). I am simply pointing out that we have the conveniences now, that our parents and grandparents never dreamed of. With all of the privileges and conveniences in America, what is going on INSIDE our homes? What is going on in the hearts of the American people?
The statistics don’t lie. According to the NIMH, 80 million Americans will experience a mental health challenge this year. These are staggering numbers. What is even more alarming is the number of children included in this statistic. Our suicide rates for teens and young adults are at a 20-year high. Our children are the most medicated generation. People are suffering silently…both adults AND children.
So, what can each of us do NOW to improve the world around us? It seems daunting, doesn’t it? How can I, ONE person, make a difference? Well, let’s talk about the power of one. Let’s use me as an example. I am a wife, full-time working, mother for four children. In my household alone, my health and wellbeing have the potential to impact 6 people right now if you count me. But what if you look to the future and think of my 4 girls, their spouses, and let’s say they each have two children. Now, just the immediate connection is 16 people. This does not include the hundreds of people we come in contact with our schools, workplace, distance family, and casual contacts. Just our family alone could easily make a difference in 1000 people. Think of how the statistics would change if even 100 people proactively make a difference in their own families. Raising awareness is key to this! We need to pay attention to those around us, and especially those close to us. We all have mental health. Some of us struggle and have mental illness and some of us have mental wellness. We are all vulnerable to mental health problems just as the healthiest can struggle with a physical ailment like cancer. It is not a sign of weakness. We need to look for signs and we need to have open, unashamed conversations about how we feel. We must break the stigma and address our mental wellbeing.
Now that we know the impact, one individual can make, through human connection, let’s talk about how. Mental health is complicated. There are many contributing factors, some controllable and some not, like childhood trauma, genetics, socioeconomic status. I would like to share 5 ways you CAN impact/improve the mental wellbeing of yourself or those around you.
- Practice gratitude- Research has shown, awareness and acknowledgment of the blessings in your life can change your mindset which also has a big impact on your mental wellbeing. Gratitude can be the cure for comparison. Instead of looking around you and seeing what others have, that maybe you don’t, think of all the things you can be thankful for. Even better, journal or write them down! Even if life is a struggle right now, gratitude for family, food, shelter, freedom of faith (in America), are all things that most people in America have.
- Exercise- I’m sure you knew this would get thrown in there! Exercise has so many benefits, it is astonishing to me that more people aren’t doing it. I understand it may not be an option for those with severe physical ailments. It costs nothing, to go for a walk around the block or do some bodyweight exercises in your home. Most studies suggest just 30 minutes, 3 times per week, can make a huge difference. Most people spend much more time than that on social media! Exercise releases some of the endorphins and ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters that send happiness signals to our brains.
- Sleep- Getting enough sleep at night (7-9 hours for adults and 9-12 for children) is so important. Sleep deprivation affects both your mental and physical health, which we know both are synergistic to each other. Sleep deprivation can increase cortisol levels which can cause chronic fatigue, weight gain, and depression. It is important to develop good ‘sleep hygiene’ like avoiding bright lights and screen time at least an hour prior to bed, going to bed at approximately the same time each night, and having a bedtime routine. Early in my career, when I did well-child visits, I cannot tell you how many parents did not provide adequate bedtime for their children. Children that are sleep deprived can have a much harder time with impulse control, focusing in school, and can be more irritable.
- Nourishing relationships- Whether you have a ‘family’ or not. Chances are there is someone in your life that is like family. Both people in a relationship benefit when it is nourished by communications, physical touch, gratitude, quality time. This is where we moms can probably have the greatest impact on our children. When a child is hugged, snuggled, listened to, spoken to with kindness, valued, they are much less likely to struggle with a mental health issue. Now don’t beat yourself up if you have a child who struggles. Remember, these are the things YOU CAN control. There are other factors you cannot control.
- Nutrition- If you look at the nutrition of the average American, it is probably not surprising to the rest of the world that we are unhealthy and unhappy. Our highly processed foods and large sugar consumption are two major flaws in the American diet. There are certain foods that contribute specifically to a healthy mind, like salmon, leafy greens, many fruits and vegetables, and dark chocolate. Yes, I told you to eat chocolate! A diet rich in whole grains, minimally processed, and whole foods like fruits and vegetables (organic is best) is the basis of what you should eat and what we should be feeding our families. All of these foods support a healthy gut. I did say gut. Have you heard the gut is the 2nd brain? The latest research shows our gut produces more of the neurotransmitters that control our mood than our brain! Eating foods to support a healthy gut is vital for peak mental wellness. Nutritional support, in the way of strain-specific probiotics can also help you support the gut-brain connection. In another blog post, I discuss this further! Feel free to email me if you want to learn specifically how my family has addressed our nutrition to support a healthy gut. [email protected]
I hope you will join me on a journey to empower and educate to break the stigma of mental health! If you are struggling, get help! Go to your family, a counselor, a healthcare provider. Do not remain silent. If you have a family member struggling, do your best to support them with the things I mentioned above but also talk with them about what they are needing and monitor progress or regression.