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Find Peace in Action

Basia Skudrzyk

· mental health,wellness,mentorship,communication,self-care

 

With so many to-dos to accomplish in a day, it's not uncommon for people in all stages of life to find themselves overwhelmed or drained of their emotional energy.  While it’s not possible to remove all the stressors of daily life, trying these simple, effective actions can help improve mental health. 

Priority One Community Center(POCC) designed a workbook that highlights what mental health is for educational purposes only, and does not intend to give specific therapy advice. 

The staff of POCC recommends obtaining individual diagnosis and treatment from licensed mental health professionals in your area to assist with a personalized treatment plan.  The aim of this article is to provide general education around mental health and some practices involved with addressing mental health and the stigmas thereof.   

What is Mental Health? 

Mental health usually refers to the emotional well-being of an individual. Mental health can affect how people think, feel, act, handle stress, relate to others, and make choices (mentalhealth.gov, 2020).  No single cause has contributed to mental health disorders.  Many variables cause mental illness, such as family genetics, life experiences, chemical imbalances, brain injuries, virus exposures, substanceuse, medical conditions, and instilled isolation.  

Many citizens in the United States struggle with mental health issues. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental health illness, which equates to approximately 50 million people (National Institute of Mental Health, 2019). Stolzenburg, Freitag, Evans-Lacko, Speerforck, Schmidt, and Schomerus (2019) claimed that many people with mental health illness did not seek professional help. Many people find the stigma of seeking help for their mental health correlates with insanity.  

Trauma refers to a deeply distressing event. Trauma rewires the brain to fear and doubt that everything will be tolerable. Levenson (2017) explained that trauma therapy combines coreprinciples of safety, trust, collaboration, choice, and empowerment and provides services that avoid inadvertently repeating unhealthy relational dynamics in the helping relationship.  People who have had their safety, trust,choice, and empowerment stripped from them need time and work to rebuild those qualities and may not react or behave in the way others in their community expect them to.    

Some Strategies to Help Improve Mental Health   

People have a lot of things on their minds when battling mental health challenges.  Some people experience barriers to assimilate within their community, finding a job and or working through relationships that may not necessarily be healthy for them. Teaching strategies to improve mental health, creating boundaries and being mindful of people who may need time to adjust will enhanceall stakeholders' vitality, both the person in transition and the citizens within their communities.   

 

Licensed Mental Health Therapy 

Licensed mental health therapy remains one of the best strategies people use to improve their overall mental health and outlook on life. Swaim (2020) explained that licensed mental health counselors (LMHC) help assess, diagnose, and treat clients experiencing psychological distress. One advantage of having a professional therapist involves the removal of emotional entanglement in the issue addressed. Having a person not emotionally involved with the pain allows for viewing the issues at hand from different object perspectives. Good counselors help clients reframe their problems and come to epiphanies to operate and live their lives at optimal levels.    

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy involves working with a licensed mental health therapist to address andchange cognitive distortions and behaviors. CBT helps treat depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness. Reavell, Hopkinson, Clarkesmith, Lane (2018) found that CBT helped reduce depression and anxiety in people diagnosed with Cardiovascular Disease. The authors urged physicians to consider CBT in standard clinical carewith patients. CBT remains a problem-focused and action-oriented form of therapy. The therapist helps the client find and form effective strategies to address identified goals and decrease mental disorder symptoms. A lot of research has surrounded CBT showing great success when implemented correctly.

The book The CBT Toolbox, written by Jeff Riggenbach, remains one of the most excellent resources for clients and clinicians.  Clients and clinicians can use the examples in the book to identify and correct negative thinking patterns.  

One example of CBT involves questioning automatic thoughts. The questioning automatic thoughts exercise challenges negative thinking and mandates the client to slow down long enough to take each "automatic thought" through a 6-step process. For example, assume the automatic thought was,"He's mad at me because he doesn't like me." 

This thought could cause anger, depression, anxiety, resentment, and many other negative distortions.Taking the thought through the process would first look at step one and weigh the evidence that supports the idea and proof against the idea. Then step two would ask if there is a possible alternative explanation.  Step three asks what's the worst that could happen, the best that could happen, and the most realistic that could happen? Step four challenges the effect of believing the negative thought and proposes changing the thinking pattern.  Step five asks what the person should do about it, and step six questions what the person would tell a friend to do about it.  By the time the thought goes through all six steps, the person can gain a new perspective and interrupt the negative distortion to create amore realistic explanation.  

Therapists should have expert knowledge in psychology, therapy, and counseling and have mastered skills suchas good listening, effective communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Morin (2015) found that most highly successful people seek therapy because they know investing in their mental health translates to an overall healthier state of being. Many therapists have tried to attract clients and remove psychotherapy stigma by changing their mental health therapy sessions to life coaching.  Life coaching does not require licensure and does not involve regulation from the health department.  While mental health therapy concentrates on reprocessing traumas of the past, life coaching focuses on future aspirations such as goal setting and accountability.  Both licensed mental health therapy and life coaching can improve people's chances of removing blocking beliefs and living life with more vitality.  

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)  

Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Trauma causes neural pathways of the brain to become distorted. The brain begins a natural healing process after trauma, just as the physical body would after an injury. Aggravating a bodily injury prevents the body from healing correctly.

Similarly, negative thoughts and feelings surrounding a traumatic event block the brain's information processing systems and psychologically prevent the brain from healing. The clinician that practices EMDR uses protocols and procedures to help remove these negative blocks and allow the brain to activate its natural healing process.  Becoming EMDR certified requires many training hours and remains a specialty subset in the licensed mental health industry.   

Evansand Wallace (2008) claimed that many people have experienced traumatic events in life and find themselves psychologically trapped. These people become imprisoned in their minds at the same time as being imprisoned in the physical environment. In the EMDR process, the therapist has the client focus on a specific traumatic event while giving attention to the negative belief related to theevent and then to an optimistic view that the issue remains resolved. While the client stays focused on the traumatic event, the therapist begins sets of side by side eyes movements, sounds, or taps the client follows. The client notices what comes to mind after each set, and this process repeats until the event becomes less disturbing. The client controls the session and can stop the therapist at any point. The sessions usually last between 60 and 90 minutes. De Jongh, Amann, Hofmann, Farrell, and Lee (2019) pointed out that the goal of EMDR remains to process completely the traumas that are causing the problems and include new beliefs needed to improve the healing process. The authors noted that EMDR remains a safe, effective, and productive treatment for anyone who suffers from trauma. 

 

Support Groups 

Support groups are critical to helping people recover from issues in their life. Unlike professional therapy that uses techniques and research methods to offer advice on improving a condition, support groups encourage people not to face their issues alone. Support groups should not attempt to fix or offer advice but remain in place for assurance that people do not have to face their problemsalone.  Knopf (2020) found that combining support groups with therapy significantly improved the chances of a successful treatment plan.  Support groups help people realize they are not alone in their struggle, express their feelings in a safe environment, and connect with others who understand theirfeelings. Support groups also allow people to improve their social skills, gain hope, reduce distress, and help others.  

A connection happens when people have gone through the same experiences or suffered the same feelings. People cannot understand the struggle until they experience it themselves. Everett Coffman, a doctoral candidate and instructor at the University of Florida, claimed that the best professors also practice (personal interview).  Everette understood that theory and practice present two differentideologies. What works in theory often does not work in practice. While having an educated professional work with specific life events adds value, having the support of someone who understands the specific life event and overcoming the hurdles faced through experience also adds value. In general, the members of the support group should default to the recommendations of the professional therapist.  

Deep BreathingTechniques 

Deep breathing, also called belly breathing or abdominal breathing, remains one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. Noble and Hochman (2019) explained that deep breathing provides a sense of calm, reduces stress and anxiety, and lowers blood pressure. Deep breathing involves intentional awareness of the breathing process. Upon inhalation, the stomach should expand, and uponexhalation, the stomach should contract. The breathing should remain rhythmic with slow and steady inhale and exhale movements.  Many people count to between five and ten on both the inhale and exhale components. When first learning the deep breathing technique, it may help by lying down and placing a hand on the stomach to ensure the stomach rises upon inhale and contracts upon exhale. Burgess (2019) revealed in her study that deep breathing sends messages through the brain's neurons to calm down and relax.  

Meditation can incorporate deep breathing, but people should not consider these two practices synonymous. Deep breathing concentrates on the breath going in andout of the lungs, while meditation allows all thoughts to come and go.  Abeer,Zeinab, Haidy, and Aymn (2019) tested the physiological benefits of deep breathing and found that the practice increased heart rate variability and helped with the heart's elasticity and functional capacity. Adding deep breathing to the daily routine of life improves the holistic approach to a healthier lifestyle.    

The American Lung Association provides some good recommendations on proper breathing techniques.

Meditation 

Meditation has an origin in ancient times. Ross (2016) claimed that some archaeologists believe mediation dates back to 5000 BCE. There are many meditation types, but some of the common forms include mindfulness meditation, spiritual meditation,focused meditation, movement meditation, mantra meditation, and transcendental meditation. Like deep breathing techniques, meditation increases calmness, relaxation and enhances overall health and well-being. In mindfulnessmediation, you pay attention to the thoughts that pass through your mind without judging them or becoming involved with them. The objective of this meditation becomes aware of your thoughts and looks for any patterns or themes.

People who practice spiritual meditation focus on the silence around them and pursue a deeper connection with their God or the universe. Focused meditation often accompanies deep breathing techniques. In focused meditation, the practitioners focus on something internal, like breathing, or external. The critical thing to remember with focused meditation involves resetting your mind to the practice when it begins to wander. Movement mediation, like Yoga, helps people find peace in action.Mantra mediation uses repetitive sound to clear the mind. Many people using mantra meditation will place in headphones to block out external distractions. Transcendental meditation uses a series of phrases or words personalized to practitioners.  

Meditation helps lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, decrease pain, ease depression symptoms, and improve sleep habits (Anderson, Mallika, & Norman, 2019). The easiest way to start meditating is to sit quietly for 20 minutes each day and focus on your breathing. Many people sit with their legs crossed because they believe that this position facilitates the body's energy movement. Meditationrequires sitting still, which remains difficult for many people.  Making meditation a consistent part of your lifestyle will require an intentional disciplined approach in the beginning.    

Stress Management 

Many people may find life stressful these days. Dealing with Covid, obtaining new employment,  recovering from financial setbacks and or establishing healthy relationships all pose challenges for reintegrating into the new norm of society. Stress management involves specific techniques and programs that people use to identify stressors and take positive action to minimize their effects. Common symptoms of stress include, but are not limited to, difficulty sleeping, stomach pain, irritability, teeth grinding, panic attacks, headaches, heartburn, social isolation, difficulty concentration, and others. Sorenson (2007) pointed out that stress remains a contributing factorto many individuals' death in organizations worldwide. People trying to gain equality with other workers in organizations put a lot of pressure and expectation on performance acceptance.  One way to help limit symptoms involves understanding stress. 

People who understand their stress have a better opportunity of limiting or minimizing its effects. Stress affects people differently, so understanding how stress manifests itself personally will allow people to know when they need to look into the stress management toolbox. Once people recognize that their stress has begun to become unhealthy, they can manage it by meditation, exercise, self-care, and other strategies. Reducing the noise of technology and news reports helps people to focus and center on well-being. Time management for activities that are enjoyable and creating healthy boundaries remain essential for maintaining stress management. 

Understanding the things you can change and accepting the things you cannot change are critical to emotional health. Getting involved with stress management support groups offer many options through collaboration and innovation of techniques and programs. Support groups help normalize stress and inform people that they do not struggle alone with this issue.    

Exercise 

One of the best ways to improve mood and decrease anxiety involves physical exercise. Craft and Perna (2004) verified that exercise is a behavioral intervention that shows great promise in treating depression. Regular exercise releases endorphins that cause a sense of calmness. Exercise also helps take the mind off worrying, instills confidence, gains social interaction, and helps healthily cope with stress. Ruegsegger and Booth (2018) found that lifelong exercise delays the onset of 40 chronic conditions and diseases. 

Experts recommend doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week. Exercise does not always have to have structure. People can exercise by gardening, house cleaning, and other chores that seem mundane. All physical activity can turn into exercise depending on the perspective and intensity. The critical thing to remember is to try and maintain an active lifestyle.  

Some helpful hints with incorporating exercise into lifestyle involve creating goals, prioritizing the event, recording or logging the session, finding accountability, and rewarding for successes along the way.  Think of the acronym SMART when creating goals. The acronym  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.  

An example of a goal too generalized may include the phrase "I want to get in shape." Notice the lack of specificity, measurability, and timeaccountability. People could rephrase the wording to make it a SMART goal as follows: "I want to lose 5 pounds by next Friday." 

Notice the specificity, lose five pounds. The person can measure the goal by whether or not the person lost five pounds. The goal remains attainable and realistic with losing five pounds in two weeks. Thetime-bound component equates to two weeks. Creating SMART goals can help people to make exercise habitual, which results in lifestyle changes.   

Healthy Diet 

A healthy diet adds substantially to maintaining good mental health. The brain takes care of our entire body, both the physiological functions and cognitive functions. Stranges, Samaraweera, Taggart, Kandala, and Stewart-Brown (2014)found that eating a well-balanced diet rich with vegetables and nutrients increased feelings of well-being. Thinking about food as fuel for the brain instead of viewing it as a commodity could help people eat healthier. Parletta et al. (2017) discovered with their research that a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats supplemented with fish oil led to a reduction in depression among participants up to six months after the trial intervention. By eating healthy, the physical and mental functions of the body operate at optimal levels.   

Many people hire a nutritionist to help tailor a healthy diet specific to their SMART goals. A marathon runner will eat a completely different diet than a weightlifter, who eats an entirely different diet than the average person. For many people, eating smaller portions at mealtimes and adding more vegetables and fruits to their daily intake would significantly increase their metabolismand mood. Knüppel, Shipley, Llewellyn, and Brunner (2017) found that sugar in sweet foods and beverages linked to depression in many populations. The authors explained that many people use sugar as a two-minute lift then become swallowed up with remorse and suffer hours from the feeling of regret.  Eating healthy can directly impact people's outlook on life and remain essential when creating a holistic, well-balanced treatment plan.   

Summary 

This article reviews the introduction of some strategies to help improve mental health and to be mindful of oneself and those around you.  Mental health is essential to personal well-being, family and interpersonal relationships, and the ability to contribute to community or society. 

Mental health goes beyond major, life-debilitating problems, such as depression or OCD.  We all have a mind! So we can benefit from a healthy mind. Like an itchy throat might signal the start of a cold, frequent problems might signal underlying mental health issues (ex. feeling angry very often, or constantly being upset that you ‘should have known’ how to handle a situation.)  And just like you’re better off in the long run addressing the cold before it really starts, it can be extremely beneficialto your wellbeing to work on improving your mental health. Most people still believe you only need to see a therapist if you have a serious mental health issue. But, ideally, one goes to the doctor to get regular checkups to find out whether anything needs a little help. Mental health should be thought of in the same way: checking in on how our mental space is doing is important even during times of calm.  

Establishing a relationship with a therapist is especially important during this time. Not all therapists are the same and therapy is much more effective if you find a therapist you like and work well with. If you are struggling and find it hard to go through the process of finding a therapist, it’s ok to ask a trusted friend or family member to help or even to set up an appointment for you. 

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