This essay is part of a series during Mental Health Awareness Month. You can learn more about Mental Health Awareness Month, including helpful resources, here.

Key Takeaways:

  • Regularly using self-care tools can make a big difference in how well you manage stress and emotions.
  • Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms like self-medicating or eating poorly; they do nothing to address the root cause of your stress or poor mental health and often do more harm than good.
  • It’s okay to seek professional help if your usual self-care tools are not helping you feel better.

Mental wellness is an internal resource that helps us think, feel, connect, and function; it is an active process that helps us to build resilience, grow, and flourish. Global Wellness Institute

Mental wellness is not the opposite of mental illness. Just like our physical health, there is no on or off switch to go from mental health to mental illness. Mental wellness is something everyone can strive for. It’s not about being perfect.

We have more control of our mental health than many of us realize.

Making good and regular use of self-care tools will help you better manage your stress and emotions. Many of the most effective tools contain a good deal of common sense. Exercise, to keep your body and mind in tune and release feel-good chemicals in your brain like dopamine. Talk with others about how you feel. Eat healthy foods as often as you can. There are also relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation and even problem-solving techniques that are simple to incorporate into your daily routine. Don’t be afraid to start small. Doing SOMETHING for your mental health is better than doing absolutely nothing.

Mental wellness is something everyone can strive for. It’s not about being perfect.

This resource from the National Institute on Mental Health provides more information about the importance of self-care.

If connecting with others who understand what you’re struggling with is an important part of your self-care strategy, Mental Health America of Northeast Indiana’s Peer Support program can help! Services are free and include wellness courses (called Wellness Recovery Action Plan) and an anxiety and depression support group. Peer Support services are currently offered virtually on Zoom. You can learn more about WRAP here and download the support group flyer here.

As you work to develop your own wellness strategies, remember to be very honest with yourself to make sure that your coping mechanisms are helpful. Self-medicating is not self-care. Beware the trap of substance use or bad habits that cover up problems in the short term but do nothing in the long term. These unhealthy coping mechanisms do little or nothing to address root causes of poor mental health and can be damaging. For example, if you eat sugary snacks when you are stressed out, you might feel better for the next hour, but it’s done nothing to ease your stress. Over time, a habit like this can cause other problems to arise like obesity and diabetes.

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, examples of unhealthy coping strategies include: drug or alcohol use, overeating, procrastination, sleeping too much or too little, social withdrawal, self-harm, and aggression.

But what if you can’t make it work? What if you’re regularly practicing self-care but can’t seem to get back to feeling like yourself? Perhaps it’s time to consult a professional.

Asking for help is not a defeat. Many people tell us that the positive turning point in their mental wellness journey was connecting with services and treatments that allowed them to regain control of their lives.

We ask for help in keeping our body in top-running condition. If your tooth hurts, seek advice and treatment from the dentist. When you break your finger and want it to heal properly, you let an orthopedist set the fracture. Seek the help you need to live your best life. It’s not too much to ask.

According to the National institute of Mental Health, “you should seek professional help if you are experiencing severe or distressing symptoms that have lasted two weeks or more, such as:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Appetite changes that result in unwanted weight changes
  • Struggling to get out of bed in the morning because of mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in things you usually find enjoyable
  • Inability to perform usual daily functions and responsibilities.”

Asking for help is not a defeat.

Don’t wait until your symptoms are overwhelming. Your family doctor may be able to help and can direct you to an appropriate mental health specialist if needed. Treatment for mental illnesses usually consists of therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. It is important to have a good relationship with any medical provider, especially when it comes to your mental health.

You may also contact a counselor on your own. Check here for list of therapists searchable by Zip Code.

Current technology is making it easier than ever to connect with counselors and other mental health practitioners. While more research is needed to better understand when “telemental health services” are most appropriate, initial research shows that people are benefiting from this convenient and accessible connection to professional mental health help. Privacy can be an issue. If you have an appointment, plan to be where you cannot be unintentionally overheard. This is a developing service area so make sure to check with your medical insurance before assuming coverage.

Better mental health is within everyone’s reach. Practicing regular self-care can help. Self-care alone isn’t a cure-all and sometimes may need to be combined with therapy and/or medication to live your best life. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s very common to need help with managing your emotions and mental health. You might be surprised at the difference spending some time taking care of yourself can make!