Our calendar is filled with dates of remembrance, those that are personal, those that are historical and those that focus on healthcare concerns. May was Mental Health Awareness Month.

I may have missed my May deadline to talk about Mental Health Awareness, but I also believe that Mental Health Awareness is a 12 month, 365 day self-care practice. That may sound quite daunting… But don’t worry, I will be outlining some basics for you.

My hope is that this will plant the seed for you to think about mental health in terms, not only of psychosis or mental disorders, but of your life view, mood, motivation and overall sense of well-being.

How do you think about your mental health? Maybe you don’t even give it a thought, especially when things are going well and life is good. It is the same as not thinking about our physical health when we are feeling healthy…that is until we come down with a cold. Now our attentions turn to questioning. “Where did this come from?” “Oh No…I can’t have a cold now!” “I can’t miss…work, my vacation, my friend’s party, etc…!”

A cold unattended to can turn into something more serious. A mental health issue such as stress or anxiety can also grow to be something that interferes with daily life, healthy functioning and decision making.

Mental health encompasses our emotional and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and behave. It plays an essential role in how we relate and connect to others, how we make choices and how we handle all aspect of our lives.

How do we begin to become aware of the state of our mental health? The signs may be much more subtle than that scratchy throat or stuffy nose that tells you a cold is coming on. Here are some examples:

  1. Stress – We all have stress in our lives, but when stress gets out of hand we don’t have the resources to deal effectively with it. We know we are on stress overload when: we have difficulties sleeping, when we eat too much or too little, or when we feel tension in our body.
  2. Anxiety – When our minds become cluttered with constant thoughts of “what if’s” that are full of the worst case scenarios we can think of, this overwhelm slows down and clouds our ability to recognize any possibilities for solving our problems.
  3. Change – We are constantly in a state of change during any given day, adapting to different seasons, weather patterns or making adjustments for traffic, to name just a few. When bigger change happens, like moves, career transitions, divorce, bereavement, caregiving issues or retirement, we may want to retreat into denial, that state of being that convinces you that there is nothing wrong. You may just withdraw, stop seeing friends and family, in order to avoid talking about what is happening and what you are feeling.

The core of Mental Health Awareness is centered on how well we know and accept who we are and how we access healthy coping skills and our sense of resilience when life challenges us. Drawing on our support system of family, friends and professionals when we need help is key. Often we can’t see in ourselves what others see in us and we need someone to guide us.

The emotions that come up for us when we are dealing with these life altering changes are not our enemy. Emotions alert us to the need to pay attention and work through what we are feeling in a healthy way. Learning how to work through our emotions instead of denying them will bring us relief and space to find the pathway to figuring things out.

The month for hightlighting Mental Health Awareness may have passed, but the importance of knowing who we are and how we feel is on-going. It is how we heal, learn and grow! This opportunity to for transformative change is what Women Reshaping Lives is all about!