Mental Health Is Whole Body Health

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I was at my grandson’s flag football game over the weekend. As the kids ran their hearts out, the referee called the game and controlled the game clock. He used a stopwatch that added time for penalties occasionally. I’m not a big football fan, so I didn’t really understand how the added time worked, but it made me think. How much easier would life be if we could just add time back to the clock? How many of us would have better mental health if we knew we could have a little grace now and then? 

The ability to stop the clock and take a breath is something we all need but that no one gets. If we could all stop the clock for a few minutes a day, a week, or even a year, it would relieve a lot of the pressure we place on ourselves with deadlines, workload, and calendar invites. The ability to clear your mind and check in with yourself sounds like pure luxury to me. 

As we recognize World Mental Health day this month, I think it’s essential to acknowledge that while the clock never really stops ticking, we owe it to ourselves to stop and take a moment to breathe and check in with our mental health. Think you don’t have time to care about your mental health? I’m here to tell you that you don’t have time to neglect it either. 

There’s an idea that mental health care has to take a lot of effort or expense, but that’s simply not so. It can be as simple as slowing down your day enough to breathe and acknowledge your surroundings. Sit with how you feel and just be. Breathing in through your nose for three counts and then out through your nose for three counts can be a helpful way to center yourself. 

Think about all your mind does for you and how hard it works. If you’re like me, you probably work too hard and handle a lot of stress daily. I’ve always said that I wish we could add more RAM to our brains or erase old data, but it just doesn’t work like that. But as you sit with your thoughts, remember your mind is yours and yours alone. Honor your mind’s complexity and beauty. Each one of our brains is unique and extraordinary.

I choose to honor my mind with balance in my life: healthy foods, regular exercise, prayer, and gratitude. All these are important, but gratitude has the potential to change my mindset the most. When I’m feeling down, I go out of my way to help someone else, and my mood lifts immediately. It can be as easy as going for a walk and saying hello to strangers on your way. You immediately feel better when people smile back at you and return the acknowledgment; it’s very powerful. Suddenly, you feel grateful for what you have, rather than mourning what you don’t have. 

It’s important to realize that my physical, spiritual and emotional health are all connected and equally important. When one is out of whack, the others will suffer. When I’m in balance, I feel more capable of being there for others, which is also very important. We live in a society where discussing feelings is just now acceptable. 

My grandmother had to teach herself to tell her children that she loved them; she wasn’t raised that way. Her parents never, ever talked about their feelings or told anyone they loved and appreciated them. And what’s scary is this was not that long ago. I tell my children and grandchildren that I love them daily. It’s taken time, but our society has changed for the better! 

I think that this quote from Fred Rogers (yes, Mr. Rogers) says it perfectly. 

“When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”

It’s true. Our emotional and mental health isn’t something that should be hidden or put on the back burner. Taking a moment to take care of yourself is free and so necessary. Give yourself grace and time—these are things only you can do. When you’re whole, you can support others by listening and permitting them to take care of themselves as well. When we all start taking care of ourselves, we can take care of others, and the world will be a kinder place! 

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