Spinning off from the Going There with Dr. Mike podcast, our monthly “Ask Dr. Mike” column is back to answer listeners’ questions about their mental health. This past month’s episodes focused on Suicide Prevention Month, with guests like Phantogram and Jesse Leach discussing how they cope with the “beast” of their own mental health. Today, Dr. Mike provides some simple steps to help us tackle these daily stresses on our wellness journeys.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and it provides an excellent opportunity not only to check in on our own mental health, but also to find ways to improve our emotional well-being.
One of the most daunting aspects of our mental health journey is that there are often harmful and complex issues that we face in our lives that could hinder our wellness. We may have suffered traumatic life events or abusive relationships that make us question our self-worth and ability to function. Perhaps we struggle with maladaptive and dysfunctional thinking or unhealthy ways of managing stress that tend to make our problems worse rather than better. Even just the complexity of balancing all that we want to do in our life – find productive work, build relationships, and engage in enjoyable pursuits – can feel overwhelming and near impossible as we juggle all we want to accomplish.
Regardless of how these various complex issues influence our emotional well-being, they often manifest in a rather simple but unhealthy cycle of poor sleep, unhealthy eating, limited exercise, and substance use throughout the day. For example, if we’re having a stressful day at work and feeling anxious or depressed, all we want to do when we get home is find some kind of relief. Maybe we have a couple of drinks, smoke pot, or eat our favorite unhealthy foods — anything to feel comfort and improve our mood. And it works for the moment.
But we may also stay up late to binge our favorite shows and not get quality sleep. Then when we wake up the next morning, we feel worse, not better. We are rushed so we skip breakfast but make sure to down a giant coffee and continue drinking coffee throughout the day. Some of us even take stimulants like Adderall to help us focus. We grab some unhealthy comfort food for our meals to get us through the day. By the time we get home we are both exhausted from the day and too wired to be truly calm. So, we go right back to drinking, smoking pot, eating unhealthy food, and not getting enough sleep.
Over time our mental (and physical) health deteriorates. We become sluggish, irritable and have trouble concentrating. Slowly, we are doing less and less of the things that make us feel productive and fulfilled. And if we were depressed and anxious before, these symptoms tend to worsen.
As we embark on our journey to understand and improve our mental health and well-being, it can be important to seek out specific mental health treatment to address these more complicated and difficult issues. While in many cases it would be optimal to immediately seek psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy to address more complicated emotional issues, our mental health journey is not an all-or-none process. And even if we are not ready for full-on mental health treatment, there are a few simple steps that we can take to begin our mental health journey to provide us some relief. In fact, by directly addressing the behavioral manifestations of this unhealthy cycle, we can begin to take important steps towards improving our mental health and well-being.
Addressing the “Big Four” of mental health – regular sleep, healthy eating, enjoyable exercise, and reduced substance use – is a straightforward way of taking important steps on our mental health journey. Improvement in each of these behavioral goals can provide significant benefit to our mental health and well-being.