Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. When people think about mental health, they often think about conditions like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, but it encompasses far more than clinical diagnoses. Mental well-being is critical to our optimal health. When we are stressed or anxious, they can show up in a variety of ways, like decreased appetite, sleep problems, and physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches. Stress, either intense acute situations or chronic stress, can also increase our risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. It is important to monitor your and your children’s mental health on a regular basis and to acknowledge when you or they are not OK. Here are three steps to maintain optimal mental wellness.
Assess: Pay attention to how you are feeling. We get so caught up in our day-to-day activities that we ignore our mental health, often “pushing past” stressful circumstances to take care of our responsibilities. For our little ones it can be even harder to know how they are feeling as they may not have the developmental skills to describe their emotions. Using tools, like something as simple as a number scale, can help score your mental health. Ask yourself, “One a scale of 1-10, how stressed, anxious, sad, etc. am I?” You can ask your little ones the same question. Anything higher than a 5 should be evaluated to achieve the second step, which is identify sources of stress.
Stress: Once you have identified how you are doing emotionally, the next step is to figure out your sources of stress. Stress happens and is a normal part of life. Our stress response system was designed to help us react when something potentially threatening happens and to learn from it, which is where “fight or flight” comes from. Our response to stress is truly a survival skill. Studies show that moderate, short-lived stress can improve alertness and performance and boost memory. However, an acute intense stressor or chronic stress can have the opposite effect on our health. Elevated levels of stress have been linked to increased risk of inflammation, immune system impairment, chronic diseases like diabetes, and early death. Stress has also been linked to other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Determining continuous sources of stress is a key component to ensuring optimal mental health.
Address: Once you have determined the sources of stress in your life, now it’s time to address them. Although all of life stressors may not be able to be modified, there are techniques that we can incorporate to manage through stressful situations. Here are a few helpful ways to manage stress.