Practical Steps to Better Mental Health

This past year and a half has been challenging, right? Ponder this fact:

The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed. From January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screen, a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens.” (https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america)

And then there’s this from the same source: More people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever been recorded in the MHA Screening program since its launch in 2014. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread rapidly in March 2020, over 178,000 people have reported frequent suicidal ideation. 37 percent of people reported having thoughts of suicide more than half or nearly every day in September 2020.”

Now I am no counselor nor will I pretend to be. If you need to seek an educated counselor, please do so. That can be a great investment in you if you are suffering from anxiety and depression. In my past, I have met with a counselor who did so much good for me. It is worth it.

In my experience, here are a few things that have helped me battle anxiety and depression. Again, I’m no counselor. I’m simply sharing my story in case it will help you.

Stay Connected with Positive People

I have found in my own life and from observations of others that when a person becomes stressed and depression starts to set in, withdrawal happens. Pulling away from people that support and love you – this is dangerous. I can lose perspective so quickly when I withdraw from others. I only end up playing “bad tapes” that can drive me deeper and deeper into depression.

Years ago, I had breakfast with a friend who was going through an ugly divorce. “I just don’t know what to do right now!” he told me that morning. “Doing what?” I asked. “I just want this all to go away and I feel like I’m supposed to be doing something right now.” I replied, “You are. You’re meeting with me. Don’t forget the friends you have. We are here to support you, to listen to you, to help in anyway we can. Stay connected.”

He did. And he was able to navigate those stormy relationship waters.

Pay Close Attention to What You are Saying to Yourself

Dr. Shad Helmstetter wrote one of my favorite books – What to Say When You Talk to Yourself. Self-talk – and we all do it – is very important when you and I are fighting anxiety and depression. I would highly recommend this book and practice what Dr. Shad teaches. Our tendency is to talk negativity into our lives. We replay so many “programs” we’ve grown up with. But there is hope! You can re-program your brain. You can.

Jon Acuff in his book Soundtracks approaches the same topic. He also talks about former programs, soundtracks, that we habitually play. To overcome negative thinking, Jon tells to create positive soundtracks that we say to ourselves often.

If you know you overthink and talk negatively to yourself, get these books. Fight for a healthier you.

Walk it Off

I’m not suggesting that exercise, even a 20 minute walk, will eradicate anxiety in your life instantly, but doing something as simple as taking a walk has huge benefits for our physical and mental health. Here’s what one article listed as benefits:

  1. Protect Your Heart – in just a 20 minute walk everyday, you may reduce the risk of heart issues by 30%.
  2. Slim Down – for many of us, weight gain is a point of anxiety. Consistent exercise can improve your health in so many ways. You already know this. Try walking for 20 minutes a day. Then slowly increase it. Clear your head. Breathe. Walk.
  3. Keep Your Memory Sharp – in one study, people who walked regularly tested better on memory tests and the levels of the protein in the brain responsible for learning increased.
  4. Improve Your Mood – a study by Cal State University found that the more steps you take during the day, the better your mood. Endorphins are released and you will feel happier.
  5. Sleep Better – who doesn’t want this?! Harvard conducted a study that revealed that those who moderately walk every other day feel asleep 50% faster.

To read this article, follow this link.

Remember Your Good Times

Your life and my life have good memories we can recall. Do it. Remember something funny from you past and laugh about it again. Remember something that really touched you and feel those feelings.

Years ago, one of my teams did something for me that still moves me today. They (unknown to me) surveyed everyone on the teams that I led asking them what they think about when they think of me. They then presented me with the following. This is how they saw me:

I look at this often. I remember. I become grateful that I had the privilege of leading this team. They made me laugh, think, and they helped make me better.

Don’t let our current world-wide issues drag you down. You can do very practical things to improve your mental health. As I wrote earlier, practicing these ideas is an investment in YOU. You are worth it. You truly are.

Your Team – Emotions, Energy, Empowerment

I am looking forward to a new year. While I don’t have grand hopes that 2021 will be better than 2020, I am hopeful that we will apply what we have learned in the past 9 months to make the new year better.

What is your team experiencing right now? If they primarily work from home, they are experiencing a sense of isolation even if they are surrounded by kids doing school from home. They are isolated from teammates that probably have been a good influence on them. They are isolated from a routine that is healthy for them. They are isolated from stimulation from a job they enjoy and find meaning in.

And when people feel isolated, other feelings enter through that gateway.

  • FEAR – Fear of the virus. Fear of their significant other (or themselves) losing their job. Fear for their family’s wellbeing. Fear of the unknown.
  • WORRY – Worry about staying healthy. Worry about following health mandates. Worry about their future.
  • ANXIETY – Change can easily usher in anxiety. The work environment has changed. The world has changed. The political environment has changed. School has changed. Family activities have changed.
  • STRESS – The recipe for stress is all of the above. People’s emotions can be on edge. Patience becomes shorter. The news is hardly ever positive. Domestic violence, abuse, and suicide are on the rise.

So this is the world we are in right now. And this includes your team. You work hard to be connected via Zoom, Skype, etc. Your team meetings are as good as they can be. People say the right things. They seem engaged.

But how do you go beyond the surface to connect to your team’s emotions, energy, and engagement?

In coaching sessions, ask better questions. And listen. You do not need to become a personal counselor to your team members – in fact, don’t be. If you discover that a team member is struggling, refer them to your employee assistance program (EAP) if your organization offers one. Encourage them to seek help. It is healthy to seek help from a trained professional.

Give your team member something specific to focus on. For some folks, when they become stressed out, everything seems to rise to the surface screaming for attention. Help them find some clarity by helping them identify the truly important from what seems to be urgent. Again, ask questions to help them self-identify what personal projects, initiatives, tasks will make the most difference. Once they accomplish those, walk them through the clarifying process again. Celebrate their wins. Encourage them in their journey.

Pay attention to their energy. Working from home can, for some, be a time of burnout since they are “on” all of the time. Encourage healthy habits – walking 20 minutes a couple of times each day, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, etc. Share inspiring articles, videos, or blog posts with your team.

Team members want to know that you are there for them. They are seeking validation in their work. They want to make a difference in the lives of the coworkers and customers. They want to know they can make a positive impact.

Identify with your team’s emotions. Help them sustain the energy necessary to do their work. Encourage engagement by asking great questions that make them think and then act in new, more effective ways.

Here’s to a better new year.