When mental health comes up in conversation, the usual reaction is to lighten the mood with a joke or dance around the topic until the moment passes.
This polite detachment when talking about mental health only furthers the stigma surrounding it and sends the message that it’s not okay to talk about.
The truth is you don’t need to be diagnosed with a mental disorder to be affected by mental health; from the burst of anxiety you feel when you are drowning in assignments to the overwhelming pressure placed on you by bosses and parents, mental health is something everyone struggles with.
This week, Health Matters will focus on how everyone can not only improve their own mental health, but also help friends who may be struggling with it or just need a boost.
GET SOME SLEEP
We all know that sleep is vital in our ability to function in daily life and maintain our physical health. However, sleep also affects our mental health. According to new research, lack of sleep may even leave people more vulnerable to developing a mental disorder.
On the other hand, trouble with sleeping is also a sign or symptom of an already existing disorder, such as anxiety or depression. With the overwhelming demands of work and school, it may seem like the last thing you are able to make time for is sleep.
Even if you can’t achieve the recommended eight hours of sleep each night, there are some steps you can take to improve your sleeping habits: avoid caffeine at night or within a few hours of your bedtime, exercise, reserve sleep as the only activity you do in bed (that means avoid looking at your laptop or cell phone in bed!), and remember you can’t achieve anything to your full potential without recharging your body first.
DEALING WITH PANIC ATTACKS
Panic attacks can either be a chronic condition or something that the average person experiences during particularly distressing times. It seems cliché, but truly the first step in getting through a panic attack is to breathe. The rapid breathing caused by anxiety can actually make the mental and physical effects of a panic attack worse.
Therefore, taking the time to slow down your breathing and focus your chaotic thoughts is an essential — yet often overlooked — first step in overcoming a panic attack. Relaxing your tensed muscles and reframing your negative thoughts into positive mantras are also measures that can be taken to halt the onset of a panic attack.
MAKE A SAFETY PLAN
Writing, reading, listening to music, counting backwards from 100, squeezing an object until the wave of anxiety passes and petting an animal: these coping skills are examples of what you can include in a safety plan for yourself.
Even if you don’t intend on harming yourself, safety plans are there as backup strategies to help calm down a stressful moment. Visit crisistextline.org/referrals for a full list of resources such as specialized hotline numbers, coping skills lists and downloadable apps.
TALK TO SOMEONE
If your mental health seems to be weighing on you more than usual, it is never embarrassing nor beneath anyone to seek professional help. However, professional help is not always easily accessible for everyone, especially for young people who have to run appointments through parents’ health insurance and cannot afford the out of pocket fees.
The University’s Counseling Center is a good short-term solution and a great, free place to start.
While you can’t rely on it for long-term treatment, the mental health experts there can refer you to a care provider who suits your long-term needs. You can call to make an appointment or do so in-person.
Reaching out to a trusted friend for support and a shoulder to lean on also works.
However, if telling someone you know this type of intimate information about yourself is too difficult, there are various online sources, such as helplines or online chat rooms. In crisis? Text HELP to 741741 to text with a crisis counselor.