Building Better Mental Health
What it Means to be Mentally Healthy
Good mental health isn't just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.
How to Deal With Stress
Everyone has a different stress tolerance. Some find sitting in traffic too much to tolerate, while others don’t mind. The key is determining your personal tolerance level for stress.
Fortunately – or maybe unfortunately – your body will let you know when you’re too stressed. Signs that you're exceeding your stress limit include insomnia, headaches, tense muscles, difficulty making decisions, and rapid shifts in emotions.
One quick way to test your stress level is to observe your breath. Is your breathing shallow? Place one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest. Watch your hands rise and fall with each breath. Notice when you breathe fully or when you “forget” to breathe.
If you want to “test” your stress, take the stress screener from Mental Health America.
Each person reacts to stress differently. The best way to quickly relieve stress often relates to your specific stress response.
If you tend to become angry, agitated, overly emotional, or keyed up under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down.
On the other hand, if you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and energizing.
Using your senses, you can tap into the power to reduce the impact of stress as it’s happening and stay in control when the pressure builds.
- Use a leafy plant to brighten your room.
- Enjoy the beauty of nature by going for a walk or drive in the idyllic countryside around WOU.
- If you’re pressed for time, browse r/EarthPorn.
- Hang a bird feeder outside your window so you can enjoy the bird songs.
- Leave your window open at night so you can hear crickets chirping or the wind in the trees.
- Buy a small fountain so you can listen to the soothing sound of running water.
- Wrap yourself in a warm fleecy blanket.
- Light scented candles that match the season. For example, evergreen in the winter and lilac in the spring.
- Smell the flowers in Inspiration Garden, a seven acre botanical garden in Independence.
- Sip a steaming mug of coffee or tea.
- Eat a perfectly ripe piece of fruit.
- Enjoy a crunchy snack like carrots or popcorn.
- Do some jumping jacks.
- Stretch or roll your head in circles. Check out this WikiHow on stress-relieving stretches.
- Squeeze a stress ball.
It’s not easy to remember to use your senses in the middle of a mini—or not so mini—crisis. At first, it will feel easier to just give into pressure and tense up. But with time, calling upon your senses will become second nature. Here’s how to make it habit.
Start small. Instead of testing your quick stress relief tools on a source of major stress, start with a predictable low-level source of stress, like cooking dinner at the end of a long day or sitting down to pay bills.
Identify and target. Think of just one low-level stressor that you know will occur several times a week, such as commuting. Vow to target that stressor with quick stress relief every time. After a few weeks, target a second stressor and so on.
Don’t force it. If something doesn’t work, try a different technique. Move on until you find what works best for you.
Talk about it. Telling friends or family members about the stress-relief strategies you’re trying out will help you integrate them into your life. As an added bonus, it’s bound to start an interesting conversation: everyone relates to the topic of stress.
Self care means finding a way to decompress throughout your day, not just when you leave class or work. The best part of sensory-based strategies is that you have control. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, quick stress relief is possible.
Sleep. Too stressed to snooze? Try using a white noise machine for background sound or a humidifier with a diffuser for a light scent in the air.
Your Workspace. Are you okay with where you sit and do your work? If clutter is upsetting, spend 10 minutes each day to tidy. Display photos and images that make you feel happy. Open the blinds and let in natural light. You want to create a sanctuary.
On the phone. Inhale something energizing, like lemon, ginger, peppermint. While talking, stand up or pace back and forth to burn off excess energy, or take calls outside if possible.
Walking to class. Play music or listen to an audiobook. Take a different route to see something new.
Public transportation. Tune into the sights and sounds around you. People watch. Try to guess what other people are saying or thinking.
Tips for Boosting Mood
Is it even possible to become a happier person? And if so, what’s the best way to go about it? Researchers in the field of positive psychology have been studying these questions and the answers are encouraging. Turns out you can genuinely increase your happiness and overall satisfaction with life – and it doesn’t even require winning the lottery.
When someone goes above and beyond or does something to make your day easier, be quick to show your appreciation. Not only will it make the person feel good, it will give you a happiness lift.
Research shows that writing down the good things that happened to you during the day instantly makes you feel happier.
Spending time doing personally fulfilling activities that you don't have to do will help increase your happiness and satisfaction with life.
Losing touch with friends is one of the most common end-of-life regrets. Make an effort to stay connected to the people who make your life brighter. Want to build connections? Check out WOU’s student organizations.
Research shows that just two to three hours per week of helping others can confer the same bump in happiness as an increase in pay. The opportunities that match both your goals and your interests are most likely to be fun and fulfilling. Check out VolunteerMatch to find opportunities near campus.
Build moments of enjoyment into your day with small rituals. These can be simple things like lingering over a cup of coffee in the morning, finishing a couple levels of candy crush between classes, or playing with your cat when you get home. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you enjoy and appreciate it.
People who exercise regularly are happier across the board. They’re also less stressed, angry, anxious, and depressed. It doesn’t really matter what kind of exercise you do, so long as you do it regularly.
Why are we sometimes reluctant to address our mental health needs?
In some societies, mental and emotional issues are seen as less legitimate than physical issues. They're seen as a sign of weakness or somehow as being our own fault. Some people mistakenly see mental health problems as something we should know how to “snap out of.”
Many people think that if they do seek help for mental and emotional problems, the only treatment options available are medication and therapy, both of which some people might not want. Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve the way you feel and experience greater mental and emotional well-being.