May is mental health awareness month—we are keenly aware of the importance of prioritizing our physical health we tend to take it on the chin with our mental health needs. It is equally important for us to take steps to reduce mental fatigue and recognize how to manage potential bouts of depression, anxiety, and stress which has a great impact on our wellbeing.
While 1 in 5 people will experience mental illness over the course of their lifetimes, everyone will face challenges that can and will affect their mental health.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 20% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental or neurological disorder. In particular:
"The most common mental and neurological disorders in this age group are dementia and depression, which affect approximately 5% and 7% of the world's older population, respectively.
Anxiety disorders affect 3.8% of the older population, substance use problems affect almost 1%, and around a quarter of deaths from self-harm are among people aged 60 or above."
So, how do we know if someone is struggling with mental health?
Warning Signs of Psychological Distress & Mental Illness
There are signs to recognize if a family member, friend or colleague may be struggling. First step is through conversation and/or observation, you can notice the first signs of mental illness or mental distress.
Warning signs of mental illness include:
- Mood changes: feelings of agitation, anxiety, restlessness, hopelessness.
- Change in sleep patterns: difficulty sleeping and/or sleeping much more.
- Change in appetite: eating much less or much more than usual.
- Decline in personal care: not cleaning or dressing properly.
- Apathy: lack of interest in activities that one typically enjoys.
- Withdrawal: avoidance of social interactions.
- Nervousness: increased fear or suspicion of others.
- Drop in functioning: difficulty performing familiar tasks.
- Cognitive problems: with concentration, memory, logical thought of speech.
- Heightened sensitivity: to sights, sounds, smells, or tactile sensations.
- Feelings of disconnect: a sense of alienation from oneself or one's surroundings.
- Unusual behavior: uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior
When one or more of these warning signs are present, an intervention to restore balance to improved one’s overall well-being can be supported. In order to do so, there are some simple actions that can make a big difference.
The Importance of Stress Relief
Increased stress levels are one of the main culprits leading to a decline in mental health. In the past year, especially, we've all had to relate to the COVID-19 pandemic: a significant source of stress from required quarantine protocols, social distancing, and isolation. And pandemic-related stress and isolation has, in many cases, been even more extreme for many.
Engaging in activities that reduce physiological and/or psychological stress is one the best ways to restore mental-emotional harmony. Here are eight great strategies for doing just this!
Eight Tips to Reduce Stress
Incorporating one or more of these into your daily routine will help to relieve stress and support increased feelings of comfort and ease.
1. Be Mindful of Your Breathing.
Sit down for five or ten minutes, close your eyes, and simply follow the movement of your breath: inhale and exhale. This basic form of breath meditation can do wonders for relieving stress. You can also experiment with saying "ahh" with a nice, long exhale—and imagine all physical and emotional tensions melt away.
2. Maintain a healthy diet.
Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Enjoy healthy proteins such as eggs, salmon, tuna, yogurt, almonds, and sunflower seeds. Reduce your intake of alcohol and refined sugar. Enjoy a soothing cup of teas such as chamomile and or peppermint.
3. Make fitness a part of your daily routine.
Great options include walking, swimming, yoga to name a few. Simply any activity to get you moving.
4. Step away from the news.
In the same way that eating too much places stress on our digestive system, watching too much news—especially when it is focused on negative events—creates mental and emotional stress. Give yourself a day or two away from watching the news.
5. Take time to unwind.
When you're feeling stressed or out of sorts, take a break. Try listening to music or enjoy a leisurely walk or curl up with a good book.
6. Set personal goals and priorities.
Stay interested in exploring and learning new things—or deepening your mastery of things you're already good at. Prioritize the activities you most enjoy. Set a goal and follow through on them.
7. Stay active and engaged in the community.
Staying active in your community benefits you mentally, emotionally, and socially. Seek out a way to actively contribute, for example knitting hats and scarves for a church group or childcare center, or volunteering for a local organization.
8. Connect regularly with friends and family.
Stay in touch with the people who mean the most to you—either in person, a text, phone, or video chat. Take advantage of technology that allows for a virtual connection. Or simply take a moment to send a handwritten cards and letters.
Practice self care. It is important to prioritize your mental well-being not only during the month of May but each and every day.
Together we can encourage our community to engage in the conversation about mental health. If you feel you cannot manage your thoughts seek out help and support you may need for stress, anxiety, and or depression.
Read more of Church Home LifeSpring blog articles on wellness and person-centered care.