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Health Beat: How to prioritize your mental health

By JaNell Octigan | Beaufort County Health Department

We typically think of health in regards to the food we eat or how physically active we are, but we often forget about our mental health. Mental health influences how we think, feel, and behave in our day-to-day lives. It also affects our ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships.

Some believe strong mental health is the absence of mental health problems, but it is not. It is much more than that. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other physiological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics, such as laughing, a sense of contentment, the ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships, adapting and responding to change, and much more.

Life is filled with unprecedented events that lead to stress, such as sickness, loss of a job, career changes, moving, and many more. In the past year, we have all in one way or another had our mental health impacted by COVID-19.  Keeping our mental health sharp is just as important as keeping our physical health strong. Here are six ways to boost your mental health:

MAKE SOCIAL CONNECTIONS

Create time to meet with friends, family, or coworkers — maybe for lunch or coffee — while taking appropriate measures, such as wearing a mask, if needed. Don’t let long distance between you and your friends stop you from connecting. Connect via online using Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, or FaceTime.

STAY ACTIVE OR GET ACTIVE

If you are not physically active, now is better than never. Find something you enjoy doing and even better, find someone you can be active with. Having someone to stay active with you will help encourage you to keep participating. Don’t know how to start? You don’t have to go out and run a marathon, just start moving! Small steps lead to big change! Cleaning and organizing can help you stay active as well.

MANAGE STRESS

Finding and doing what makes you happy is key to living a low stress life. Stick to a nighttime routine and practice relaxation exercises before bed to help you sleep better. If it’s hard to focus, try keeping an agenda/planner, establish a plan, and write it down. Evaluate your priorities and focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t control. Let go of the past and be extra kind to the people around you.

BRAIN-HEALTHY DIET

Did you know what you eat affects the way you think and feel? Food with caffeine, refined carbs, alcohol, and many more deplete your overall energy and weaken your immune system. Try increasing your intake of good fats like omega 3 from salmon, mackerel, and tuna. Visit a farmers market and add nuts and leafy greens to your diet to improve brain memory and development.

QUALITY SLEEP

Getting enough sleep is a necessity. Do not cut yourself short on sleep. Life can get busy and skipping a few hours here and there or staying up all night takes a toll on your mind, energy, and ability to cope with stress. Do not be afraid to create a sleeping schedule. An hour or two before bedtime set your work and phone aside, take a bath, relax, read a book, and/or listen to soothing sounds.

MEANING AND PURPOSE

Not knowing your meaning and purpose in life can take a toll on your mental health. This requires reflection, listening to others, and figuring out your passion. Surrounding yourself with positive people will help you draw from their inspiration. Starting new conversations with people will help you expand your mind to new ideas and opportunities. Explore what interests you and what keeps you going to help establish your meaning and purpose. We all have meaning and purpose!

If you feel your mental health is struggling or you are dealing with life challenges and need someone to help and talk to, we’re here to listen. Beaufort County Health Department is now offering counseling and telepsychiatry services on a sliding fee scale. To learn more or make an appointment, call us at 252-946-1902. We’re here for you.

JaNell Octigan, MPH, Human Services Planner IV and Preparedness Coordinator for The Beaufort County Health Department.