As the holidays approach, many of us start dreading the increased social demands of the season. Balancing work, family, friends, and other obligations can feel daunting — especially at the end of the year. During this busy time, remember that supportive relationships are an important part of our mental health.
A Holistic Approach to Mental Health
Too often, people focus on mental illness when they discuss mental health. However, your mental health is much more than depression, anxiety, or a bipolar disorder diagnosis. It is your overall emotional and mental state and wellbeing, which includes both positive and negative elements. In many circumstances, positive mental health factors (such as resiliency, curiosity, and self-worth) can help you cope with adversity and mental illness.
Just as your physical health needs ongoing care, your mental health also requires regular attention. When we nurture our mental health, we handle stress more effectively, recover from setbacks more quickly, sleep better, and physically heal more quickly. In many ways, mental health is the key to a healthier, happier existence.
How Social Relationships Improve Your Health
Overwhelming research suggests that people with strong, supportive relationships live healthier, longer lives. Studies show that people with healthy relationships:
- Heal more quickly
- Have lower blood pressure
- Are less likely to experience a depression relapse
- Are less anxious
Social relationships foster mental health in several ways:
- Relationships help provide people with purpose and meaning.
- Your friends and family might encourage positive health behaviors (like following a healthy diet, finding work-life balance, and making regular doctor’s appointments).
- Conversations with a good, empathetic listener can help relieve stress and help you process your emotions.
- Engaging in activities with friends (such as walking or playing sports) increases your energy and releases tension.
While screen time and phone calls are easy ways to interact with our friends and family, nothing compares to face-to-face interaction. In fact, studies suggest that excessive social media use might trigger depressive symptoms due to feelings of inadequacy or jealousy. So, finish this article, log off Facebook, and go meet a friend or family member for a fun activity.
Identifying and Fostering Healthy Relationships
Unhealthy relationships can quickly become a stressor or mental illness trigger. For this reason, it’s important to pursue relationships with people who encourage healthy habits and provide emotional support.
Depending on your circumstances, consider:
- Reaching out to old friends you have lost contact with
- Making regular plans with family members
- Attending a family or school reunion
- Joining a social organization that reflects your interests or values
- Volunteering with a non-profit organization you support
And don’t limit your peer group to your family and existing friends. You might find meaningful relationships and emotional support from close work colleagues, clergy members, neighbors, and others in your community.
Incorporating Mindfulness Into Your Self Care
When relationships become stressful, consider practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is an increasingly popular method of reframing our daily activities. It combines meditation with self-awareness and empathy, teaching you to acknowledge and address your emotions and physical responses with curiosity and respect. In some ways, it’s a more structured and complex version of the age-old advice to “take a deep breath and count to ten” before you react to someone or something.
Recent studies indicate that mindfulness has significant mental health benefits, including reducing anxiety and avoiding depression relapses. Mindfulness might also improve your concentration and attention and decrease your emotional reactivity. While formal mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) involves an intensive eight-week training course, you can incorporate some facets of mindfulness on your own. For example:
- Pay attention to your body’s responses. Are you feeling anxious? How is your posture? Are your muscles clenched? What is your body telling you?
- Acknowledge your feelings. Are you feeling overwhelmed, tired, or sick? How is this impacting your responses?
- When you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take slow, rhythmic breaths. Pay attention to your breathing and re-center yourself.
- Find quiet time for personal reflection or meditation every day.
- Stop and take notice of your emotions before reacting. Why are you angry or frustrated? How can you correct the situation, rather than simply expressing your feelings?
Other techniques, such as yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and visualization can also help restore your mental health.
Seek Assistance From a Medical Professional
Many people could benefit from regular treatment with a mental health professional, such as a counselor, psychologist, or licensed social worker. Unfortunately, many Americans are reluctant to seek mental health care due to social stigma and misperceptions that mental health care is only for those with serious mental illness. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, speak with your doctor.
A mental health professional can help you foster mental wellness and address your mental health concerns. This can help you minimize your symptoms, build resilience, and improve your quality of life. And you might not require medication.
Canopy Health Values Optimal Mental Health and Wellness
At Canopy Health, we recognize that physical and mental health are deeply intertwined, and we value both equally. We also believe mental wellness decreases overall health costs and leads to fuller, more productive lives for our members.
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