For May, Mental Health Awareness Month, I really want the conversation also to include mental wellness. Through the years, it seems as if when we, health professionals, say mental health people often think about mental illness. While it is important to discuss mental illness and destigmatize having a mental health condition, we can't let that overshadow the importance of mental wellness. Mental wellness is key to everyone's overall health because, contrary to how we act, the body and mind aren't separate. The mind and the body are very interconnected. What happens in the mind sends out biochemical reactions that impact the entire body, so as En Vogue says, "Free your mind, and the rest will follow."
Seriously, when developing your weight loss plan, many people often focus only on the body and overlook the importance of mental health. Reaching your happy, healthy weight starts with your mind, and more specifically, your thoughts. Your thoughts impact your mindset. Mindset is very closely related to mental wellness, but they aren't the same. The word implies "mindset" is a set belief that guides our actions. Mindsets can be helpful or harmful. Our mindset can help us transform our obstacles into opportunities or cause us to stay stuck at an obstacle.
If you want to change your mindset, you have to be willing to E.M.B.R.A.C.E. the process of mindset transformation. What does this look like practically?
It means deciding to:
Examine your thoughts
Every belief you have about yourself started as a thought. Take time to examine your thoughts. Write them down and ask, "Is this thought helping me get to my goal?" If it's not, then it's time to release the thought. Thoughts create biochemical reactions in our body that can either help or harm us on our wellness journey.
Make up your mind to change your thoughts.
Once you identify thoughts that do not help you. Decide to transform them into a positive thought. For instance, "I can't lose weight." is not helpful on your journey. You can transform this to "I can find help on my weight loss journey."
Believe it's possible to change your thoughts.
Sometimes, we get stuck in a rut of negative thinking, and it can feel impossible to get out. Remember, you do have a choice. Believe that it is possible to change your thoughts. It may take practice and, possibly, professional help, but you have the power to change your thoughts. If you feel like you don't, then it is time to urgently seek professional help.
Release any obstacles: people, places, things.
It's difficult to make a positive mindset change when we are attached to negative people, places, or things. These links to our negative past can be triggers that promote negative thinking. As uncomfortable as it may be initially, choose to release anyone or anything interfering with your positive mindset change.
Ask for help: personal and professional help.
We were created to be social beings. Accordingly, it's tough to make a significant change alone, especially if we've been doing the same thing for a long time. Having help on our mindset shift journey can be so helpful. A professional can also help identify any other issues that may be making your mindset shift a challenge, such as a mental health condition or unprocessed traumatic life events. You might start by reaching out to a trusted friend, family member, or spiritual leader for help. Just keep in mind a holistic approach is often needed.
Cultivate Self-Compassion for the process
"Be nice to Sylvia. I like her." This simple phrase was the thought that sparked my mindset shift. Before my friend said this to me, I had been trying to bully myself into weight loss. When I shifted to treating myself with kindness, I was able to shift my weight loss journey from being intrusive in my life to compassionately incorporating lifestyle changes that worked for me.
Embrace every day as a new opportunity to improve
Mistakes are part of the learning process. Choose to embrace each day as your gift. You have the present as a gift to grow from yesterday's lessons. This will free you from guilt and shame so that you can truly continue moving forward in your mindset shift.
Once you E.M.B.R.A.C.E. a new mindset, you can truly adapt a lifestyle of mental wellness.
So how do you do this? By prioritizing your M.E.N.T.A.L. H.E.A.L.T.H. Let's look at how to practically do this.
Make mental health a priority.
Recently, I had a client telling me, "I have not had a break in 4 weeks. I am so tired most days I can barely stay awake at my computer." I asked them if their leg was bleeding, would they stop work and take care of it? The answer was yes. When we are tired, overwhelmed, irritable, or just plain "stressed out," we are "emotionally bleeding." Still, too often we don't stop to address it. Just like you would stop and focus on an issue with your physical health. Prioritize mental health.
Eight hours of sleep.
Sleep is the body's natural mood stabilizer (and weight loss medication, I might add!). When we sleep, our body regulates and rests on hormonal pathways for our mood regulation. That's why so many mental health conditions impact sleep. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep nightly for optimal health. If you are having difficulty sleeping and home remedies aren't working, see a professional for help. There are a wide variety of treatment options beyond "sleeping pills" to help you.
Nutrition. Eat food that makes you feel good.
Food impacts our mood.
Take a break.
Breaks don't have to be long. While vacations and extended time off are nice, even a one-minute break can help to refresh your mind and give you a break. Build breaks into your day.
Ask for help.
I used to feel "weak" for asking for help. But now I realize that asking for help is my superpower. I can get more done and more effectively when I delegate. I also empower others by teaching them rather than doing everything for them. I've also learned asking for help also teaches you to be comfortable with things not being done "my way." and opens your mind to other possibilities.
Listen to your body.
Our bodies are constantly giving us feedback. However, we've trained ourselves to ignore what our bodies are saying to "just keep going." As you cultivate mental wellness, listen to how your body responds to different situations and thoughts. This awareness helps prevent negative stress and other unhealthy responses from accumulating and impacting your mental health. I've worked with many people who have difficulty acknowledging and admitting they are stressed. Sometimes it takes objectively scoring your stress using a tool like the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory (see resources). Once you are aware of your stress you can properly address it.
Breaking news: You can have a physical illness & a mental health condition at the same time. Again, the body and mind are interconnected. Many physical health conditions can also impact mood and mental health. It's important to get regular health screenings to check for this.
Exercise improves mental health.
Honestly, I just wanted to lose weight when I started regular exercise, or "movement," as I prefer to say, over seven-year ago. However, as an emotional eater triggered by stress, I realized the regular movement sessions were really controlled by stress and anxiety levels. Now I regularly exercise primarily for mental health benefits. This is what keeps me going even though I've been at my happy, healthy weight for years now and the days "I don't feel like going."
Acknowledge your emotions.
Whew! This was a tough one for me. I learned at a very early age to stuff my emotions. I would hold onto things and pretend to be "always happy." Until one day, I would unexpectedly "go off." With therapy and self-reflection, I learned the root was not honoring my true emotions. It takes time to learn your emotions. I recommend the book "Doing My Work Therapy Journal" or "The Self-Help Prescription," both by Dr. Robyn Gobin. She has great resources on emotional wellness and lists of emotions beyond the four basic emotions of "happy," "sad," "anger," and "fear."
Let go of toxicity in your life.
Toxicity shows up in many forms- Internal and externally. Internal toxicity could be negative thoughts or harmful habits. External toxicity could be people, places, or things that aren't helping you reach your goal. The tricky thing about toxicity is that it can be comfortable since that all we're used to. In order to release it, you must believe that what you will embrace after the toxicity will be so much better.
I always say outside of your Faith, every woman needs three things: a good hairstylist, manicurist, and a therapist. Seriously, a helpful therapist not only provides an unbias sounding board, but they also equip you with tools to navigate emotionally difficult situations.
I highly recommend professional therapy. One warning is that you may not like the first, second, or even third therapist you try. That's okay. Keep trying. It's worth it when you find the right connection. See the resources below for help finding a therapist.
"Hope doesn't disappoint" is one of my favorite Bible verses though at times I didn't understand it because I've definitely been disappointed before. Through the years, I've come to understand what it means. Hope is a useful tool in developing mental health because it helps to assure us to trust that things will work out for our best. When you are feeling overwhelmed on your mental wellness journey, remember never to lose hope. As long as you're still breathing, the possibility of progress is still possible.
I pray this post has inspired you to E.M.B.R.A.C.E a positive mindset and take the M.E.N.T.A.L. H.E.A.L.T.H. Steps to prioritize your mental wellness. If you need more support on your mental wellness journey or suspect you have a mental health condition, please see the resources below. But above all in all you do, please remember to always Embrace You!
If you are having a mental health crisis, call 911. Seek immediate medical attention.
National Suicide Prevent Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
To Find A Therapist
Substance Abuse Treatment