The month of May is Mental Health Awareness month, drawing our attention to a largely under treated health issue. We may not struggle personally with a mental health disorder, but many of us know someone who does. Learning how to proactively strengthen your mental health in these challenging times is vitally important. Staggering US statistics report:
- one in five US adults experience mental illness each year.
- one in twenty US adults experience serious mental illness each year.
- one in six youth, aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
- 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
- suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.
Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! Where we learn some easy ways to be more present “in the moment” at our jobs, in our homes, with our families and friends.
Learning to recognize God and what He has for us in each divine moment He offers. We acknowledge the belief that God is with us always.
We confess His presence is available to us, lifting our spirit and helping us with power and grace. Learning the art of “stillness” so we can hear His voice and view ourselves, others and our surroundings through His eyes.
mindfulness and mental health
The 2021 mental health statistics listed above no doubt reflect the impact of the COVID pandemic on mental health, especially among the younger demographic, though evidence presented recently shows mental health in the elderly impacted at higher rates than in previous years. Now, more than ever focusing on how to proactively strengthen your mental health begs attention. In a training at our hospice counseling center not long ago, I learned the influence of the COVID pandemic, and political and racial tensions on the mental well-being of a majority of Americans was so subtle in many cases it was dismissed or overlooked.
Emphasizing good self-care during particularly challenging times such as we experienced these past twelve plus months contributes to improved mental well-being. Deficits in mental health often manifest as subtle changes, and when ignored evolve into more serious issues. Mindfulness provides a regular avenue of self-care promoting a healthy mind-body connection. While serious mental illness disorders benefit from regular mindfulness exercises in addition to professional and medication therapy, I am not advocating its use exclusive of professional intervention for those under the care of a therapist or physician.
the effects of mindfulness on mental health
Mental health by definition is simply the condition of your psychological and emotional well-being. Many factors influence our mental health from physical health crises to emotional or relational stress. Society’s focus tends towards physical well-being, though more holistic trends now recognize the value of caring for our mental well-being. Which explains the rise in popularity of incorporating a mindfulness practice into your overall plan for well-being.
Remaining in the “present moment” by bringing your thoughts and emotions into intentional awareness, is only a beginning step to mindfulness. Choosing a healthy way for processing those thoughts and emotions once we bring them to our awareness, is the nurturing lens of a regular mindfulness practice. A mindful person not only views their thoughts and emotions without judgement, but takes the time for gentle processing of them, ultimately choosing a productive course of action. Conversely, a person without a mindful perspective, seeks external avenues of blame for their thoughts and emotions. Letting their thoughts and emotions run unrestrained, they create limiting beliefs about themselves and others, poorly reacting to stressful and emotional situations.
how to proactively strengthen your mental health
The beauty of mindfulness is in its versatility. From a simple breathing exercise, to overcoming depression, and emotional eating, managing stress, to finding God in the moments of your day, mindfulness teaches you how to proactively strengthen your mental health. Take a few moments and entertain these five ways mindfulness strengthens your mental well-being.
Strengthens your stress management skills
A five-year study revealed the effectiveness of mindfulness based stress relief in a variety of patients. A leading cancer treatment center in my area as well as the hospice where I work both employ mindfulness as a critical component in their treatment plans for their patients.
But mindfulness based stress relief benefits more than critically ill patients! Part of taking a proactive approach to your mental health is learning a mindfulness practice before you face serious illness.
strengthens your emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence comprises awareness of our emotions with regulation of our emotions. Mindfulness creates space for bringing awareness to all emotions, but especially strong emotions like anger and grief without judgement.
Through mindfulness, we gently and productively process these strong emotions without impulsive reactivity. Recognizing and differentiating between emotions rather than having a jumble of emotions hijack our minds and actions, contributes to good mental health.
decreases depressive symptoms
Life challenges like chronic illness, death of a loved one, divorce and relational issues cause bouts with depression for many people each year. Experiencing periods of depression due to emotional overwhelm is not the same as clinical depression, which is best managed under the care of a knowledgeable physician and/or therapist.
Depressed symptoms from prolonged periods of grief or emotional strain respond well to mindfulness practices centered on self-compassion and gratitude. Expressing grace and kindness for yourself in difficult circumstances helps with accepting your own emotional limitations as normal. Reframing your circumstances through gratitude infuses hope for the future.
Research studies prove the effectiveness of mindfulness on anxiety reduction, but I have little need for research studies to substantiate the powerful results of mindfulness on individuals with anxiety. Observing the results first hand in hospice patients and my own life speak to the value of mindfulness in decreasing anxiety.
Mindfulness offers numerous techniques for managing anxiety, from journaling, art therapy and easy breathing exercises providing immediate relief from anxious moments, in addition to regular support for better managing anxiety daily.
enriches your relationship with god
The purpose of mindfulness is reminding us the present moment is all we really have, we exist in the present and the present is where we connect with God. Learning the art of praying mindfully, removes our focus from self, negative emotions, overwhelm and performance. Instead the focus is squarely on God, right here, right now and what He has for us.
Eventually we all crave a quiet time sitting with God, but creating space for this in our distracted lives proves difficult. Mindfulness teaches us how to pause from distraction and busyness, embrace silence and rest before God. It creates a safe place where we authentically come before God allowing His Presence to transform our chaotic minds, while offering us the peace we so desperately need.
good mental health affects every area of our lives
The importance of focusing on how to proactively strengthen your mental health, ultimately impacts every area of your life. Psychological, emotional and social well-being influence your behaviors, decision making ability, interactions with others, even productivity.
Mindfulness provides one way to proactively strengthen your mental health, but good self-care practices of healthy eating, exercise, relaxation, spiritual growth and gratitude practices all contribute positively to good mental health. Prioritizing your mental health is an important part of your overall health, building resiliency, acceptance of change and the ability to face adversity with positivity and confidence.