Was it just me, but did May feel like a vortex of chaos? Work was manifesting left, right and centre. Events such as Mother’s Day, exhausting. Victoria Day Long weekend made the week, longer. And, let us not forget the yo-yo temperatures which has confused our bodies, (aren’t we supposed to be experiencing 20-degree temperatures right now?!!). Retreating from this madness, via cable, we find ourselves caught up in agonizing, nail-biting moments brought-to-you-by the Raptors and Game of Thrones, (personally, show watching has caused my heart to race and drop so many times this month, my ribs hurt). As I pause here to take a deep breath and look at my wall calendar (days booked solid?!), I am reminded that May is Mental Health Awareness Month (or by the time you read this, the end).
Reading the above, I am sure your head is spinning, adding to the list of stressors and challenges that hit you every day. Many of us have adapted by plowing through life, not taking time to observe, recognize or address stresses that constantly affect us. There are times we are triggered by others, recall painful experiences or feel like a hamster in a running wheel, unable to shake off the monotony of life. In fact, do you ever notice that when you are stressed, it is usually the same time you end up sick? And just like the health of our bodies can get weakened, so can our mental health. We can feel depressed, anxious and unfocused.
According to the Government of Canada’s definition of mental health…
“Mental health is the state of your psychological and emotional well-being. It is a necessary resource for living a healthy life and the main factor in overall health. It does not mean the same thing as mental illness. However, poor mental health can lead to mental and physical illness. Good mental health allows you to feel, think and act in ways that help you enjoy life and cope with its challenges. This can be positively or negatively influenced by…life experiences, relationships, work and school environments, physical health and the community you live in.” www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/about-mental-health.html
In a nutshell, our mental health allows us to fulfill our daily functions and activities of life. For some, that may mean emotional energy needed to take care of children, partners and ageing family members or for others, using critical thinking skills to close a deal, save a life or fire an employee, (yes, I put the latter to tinge it with stress).
The care of our mental health impacts not only ourselves but those around us. It is contagious that if we are happy, those around us and the world appear rosy, but if we are stressed, the world feels exhausting and hard to manage. Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with experiencing moments of bliss and healthy stress, but it is how one stays grounded when riding the waves of life.
Therefore, for May’s Mental Health Month, accessing the ‘food’ for our own mental health, allows us to prepare mental ‘meals’ that help balance our emotions, strengthen our bodies and provide the light for our souls. Here are a couple of ‘bite-sized snacks’ to get you hungry for feeding your own mental health, (by the way, my apologies for the using the theme of food for this article. I am currently without a kitchen and craving a simple meal to calm my nerves with these renovations).
1. Suss out a life coach, therapist or social worker – There are times when divulging what we are experiencing emotionally, physically and spiritually may affect the relationships with the ones we love or work with, putting additional strain on our emotional and physical systems. By using a qualified coach or therapist, it allows one to unfold in a safe, neutral space where we can unpack our stresses, work with things currently bothering us, or have someone hold our hand as we make life-changes. I personally have used someone to help me through my divorce, build on my career goals and provide me with tools for my own well being. In sessions, we talk about meaningful events, honour my emotional body and think of strategies to help hold space for my tense feelings so that it can feel free to float away. Many places of work provide access to therapy in either a private or group setting, which are not disclosed to employers or family members. In recent years, the number of people using life coaches and therapy has risen considerably (thanks to events such as Mental Health Awareness Month and sharing our own stories on mental health).
2. Move – Like mentioned in my previous article on Work-Life-Balance, movement can be an excellent ‘snack’ for our mental health. Studies have shown that when we are under stress, our body acts as though it is under a fight-flight-freeze mode, storing our worries, anger, excitements and fears. Since our emotions are a form of energy, it needs an outlet to be released from our body. As well, by getting into our bodies, it distracts the brain from mind chatter to body awareness. Many people move in different ways. You may choose to run, strength train, swim or yoga out your stress. In fact, the practice of yoga moves you from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing you down. Try your best to get moving 3 times a week for 30 minutes.
3. Eat sensibly and for your body – Yes, we all have indulgences when we are stressed, but sometimes what we eat (or do not eat) causes us a lot more problems than we wish. According to CAMH Registered Dietitian Kelly Matheson, “People are now realizing there is not only a psychological connection but a biochemical and physical connection between what we eat, the way it makes us feel and our mental health.” Researchers have also been showing how specific foods can alter brain chemistry and recognized the link between gut and brain health. What you eat impacts how you feel. Therefore, try to eat (or make) meals that are colourful, fresh and balanced. That way you will feel more alive, focussed and your food-mood is manageable (food-mood is when certain foods affect your nervous system and mind).
4. Lastly, Sleep – Ever notice that when you are sleep deprived you end up feeling irritable, snapping at those around you? Deep sleep is crucial because it is a time when our bodies repair themselves and our brains consolidate our memories and process information from the day. It also helps us regulate our hormones and emotions, which are crucial for the level of stress we end up attracting. If you find yourself unable to sustain a good night’s sleep, try a warm bath, eating light 4 hours before bed (digestion creates bursts of energy) or meditate for at least 15 minutes in the evening.
There are so many recipes for feeding one’s mental health that this article could become a recipe book in itself, however just with any meal you eat, make sure what you feed your mental health is delicious, satisfying and provides you with the support to keep you grounded. Be curious with your own mental health, observe how you feel day-to-day, research resources (regardless of your state of being) and lastly, always seek out help if something does not feel right. The best mental meals are often those we share. Bon appetit!
Sephra Khan is a lifelong educator who is open, curious and deliciously happy! Always seeking to cultivate more awareness, flow and creativity in people. Practices and educates on an integrated, balanced approach to life (one that is holistic, diverse and inclusive). She is currently a guest writer for LIVE YOUR POTENTIAL.