By Darby Gregersen
Fall is officially here, the leaves are starting to change, the seasonal drinks are making their annual debut, Halloween decorations are starting to pop up everywhere and people are starting to pull their warm weather clothes out of the back of their closet. Personally, I love this time of year and get so excited for Halloween and the crisp air. I know not everyone is with me on that but many are also starting to get swept up in the season’s excitement or for the upcoming holidays. There is a day in October though that isn’t as popular but most definitely is important, so I would like to take this opportunity to draw attention to and discuss it a bit.
On Sunday, October 10th, it is World Mental Health Day, and I think it’s very important for everyone no matter who you are or where you come from, to stay conscious and on top of your mental health. Also to be conscious and supportive of other people and their mental health.
You could be asking, why is mental health so important and what exactly is it, right? We are all familiar with the phrase “mental health” but don’t all have the same experiences with it. You might be more familiar with mental health because you struggle with it on your own or have a loved one who lives with a mental health disorder, but I want to clarify that mental health isn’t just the disorders. Mental health is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, it is how we think, feel and act. It helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Just as it is important to take care of our physical health, our mental health is important to all people of all ages.
So what can we all do as individuals to take care of our own mental health? The answer is something I cannot give as it is different for everyone, but I like to refer to an acronym that I have learned along the way in my mental health journey, that simply lays out what each person should do each day to take care of themselves. SEEDS.
Socialization can be difficult, especially since COVID-19 became a factor, but your socialization for the day doesn’t have to be some big event. You can take care of your social needs by just making sure that you talk to someone other than yourself each day, reach out to a friend or family member to chat for a little bit, sit at the coffee shop patio and people watch or attend a group of some kind (virtual or not). Having interactions and connections with other people is a vital pillar of our mental health, even if you aren’t feeling super social one day try your best to connect with someone even briefly.
Looking at education your first thought may be, “I am not in school anymore, so what are you talking about?” and that was also my first thought the first time I was introduced to the acronym as well. Education doesn’t have to be school, the way I am talking about education here is any way you can put your brain to use and push it a little bit. It can be easy to fall into our routines or have a lazy day where all you want to do is something like watch TV or scroll social media, but try to make time in your routine to flex that brain a little bit. You can do this by reading an article you find interesting or a chapter of a book, doing a mental exercise like sudoku or a crossword puzzle. You can even flex your brain by helping someone else problem solve, heck if you’re reading this you’re already doing something to take care of this part of your mental health. You don’t need to go and master a new hobby or become an expert in something to have it be considered your daily education, just do something to get your brain pumping and active each day.
Exercise, the second “E” in the acronym, is also somewhat misleading. I know when many people think of exercise they imagine a whole grueling work out session, but that isn’t
what is being asked here. It is crucial to your mental health just to get your body moving each day and not to stay sedentary. The first thing I think of that many people could easily fit into their day is walking. As a general rule to stay on top of this for myself, I make sure that I take my dog on a 15 minute walk at least once every day. Not everyone has something like a dog to motivate them to get active but try to think about your day to day, where you could try to implement physical activity in your day? Maybe you could start by taking the stairs instead of the elevator/escalators at work or school, maybe you could take a short bike ride through your neighborhood at the end of the day, you could try picking up a casually active hobby like ultimate frisbee, you may not have a dog but maybe you live with someone you could go for a walk with during the day. If you did that, then you are tending to two of these things at once, socializing and exercise. Anything you can do to get that heart rate up a little bit for a portion of the day each day is enough to honor this part of your mental health.
Let’s talk about “diet”. I don’t want a single person to think they need to drastically change their eating habits or go on some specialized diet in order to meet this need. Diet here just refers to your literal diet, your eating habits. Making sure that you actually do eat enough throughout the day and that at least some of that food is nutritional is the key to this. It can be a lot of work to cook a healthy meal and we don’t always have time to do such, so I don’t want anyone to get down on themselves because they have to pop through the fast food line sometimes. It is okay, no one is perfect, but trying to choose a healthier option than fast food when you are able is a big thing you can do. Make sure you get some fruits and/or vegetables every day even if it’s just a snack. Another thing everyone can do is make sure you are drinking enough water; we don’t function at our best, can’t think as clearly and it is hard on our bodies when we do not have enough water. Something you can do is try to keep a water bottle around you throughout the day, set a reminder on your phone to hydrate every half hour, whatever you can do to make sure you are getting water in your system everyday makes a world of difference for your mental and physical well being.
And now, for the last part of SEEDS, sleep. Getting enough sleep as well as getting quality sleep makes a world of difference to your mind and body. When we don’t get enough sleep our mood is affected, the ways in which we communicate with others gets gummed up, and it makes it harder to just stay on top of things in our day. It can’t be said enough how huge of an impact sleep makes on our mental health, and our sleep schedules can be an incredibly difficult thing to change when we have our habits set. So for this part I just want to share some facts and tips about sleep. We need 6-8 hours of sleep every night, and it can actually be unhealthy for us to get more than 9 hours of sleep every night, so it is very important to keep to a regular sleep schedule. Having a set time that you go to sleep and a set time to wake up every day helps form a solid base for our sleep hygiene. If you are thinking about your sleep habits now and are starting to think you may need to adjust how much sleep you’re getting or when you’re falling asleep/rising, it is important to keep in mind that our circadian rhythm can only move in 15 minute increments over the course of about 5 days. So if you decide to shift up your sleep schedule, be easy on yourself, it isn’t going to happen overnight- pun intended- but in all seriousness be patient with yourself and your body if you decide to adjust your sleep schedule, it will take time and effort but a well rested mind and body is worth it. Another thing to keep in mind for sleep is that our minds love association, our minds associatie certain activities/smells/behaviors with things the more we do them. So watching TV in bed, as comfy and fun as it can be, is actually making it harder for you to sleep because your brain isn’t associating the act of laying in bed with sleep, it is associating it with not sleeping and staying stimulated by the TV. So even once you turn the TV off your mind isn’t shut off for sleep.
This goes for any activity you do in bed (reading, writing, scrolling on your phone, etc.), nobody is perfect but trying to restrict your activities in bed to just sleep can make a world of difference in your sleep quality and ability to fall asleep. Also, sleeping in a colder room can improve your sleep quality and help combat insomnia episodes. Scientists link this to the fact that our body temperature naturally drops at night. It might be uncomfortable at first but keep that bedroom cool and let yourself warm up under your covers. It will take some time to adjust to the cold but your mind and body will thank you. My last sleep tip I would like to share is a pretty simple one, firstly, it helps not to have a clock facing you while you sleep as we can become so focused on the concept of time and how much is passing, that it keeps us awake. But my tip is that if you are laying in bed and find yourself unable to sleep after 20 minutes (using your mental clock), to get up out of bed and do something out of your bedroom for a couple of minutes, don’t do something that is going to wake you up more, but just getting out of bed and reentering your sleep space after a few minutes can be like a little reset to help you get to sleep. If you lay in bed relentlessly trying to get sleep for more than 20 minutes, your body just isn’t going to agree.
I know that this blog might feel like a lot to take in or might not have been what you were expecting but for World Mental Health Day, I really wanted to share ways that we all can take care of our own mental health. I did at the beginning say how important it is to be supportive and conscious of other people’s mental health but I didn’t really want to go too far that way because taking care of ourselves first is the only way we can truly take care of others. I do hope by reading this and learning more about how to care for your mental health, it also helps you help care for others’ mental health. Now my final thought and hope is that I am writing this because World Mental Health Day is coming up but our mental health is something we need to care about and be aware of every day of the year. It can feel like a lot especially when we aren’t doing well mentally, but I hope you can take with you “SEEDS” and utilize it to help you honor and care for your mental health.