As a society, we are becoming more aware and accepting of mental health disorders. Through advocacy and awareness efforts, we are developing insight into the devastating consequences that mental health can have on an individual and societal level. Research continues to emerge and mental health is becoming one of the leading topics in public health and reform. This couldn’t come at a better time as society is starting to notice the increase in mental health disorders and many have referenced our nation experiencing a mental health crisis.
A recent article showed that 40% of adults in the United States suffer from substance abuse or a mental health disorder. With everything that is happening in the world today, it is no wonder that people are struggling with their mental health. A global pandemic, political divide, racial tension, and, now, the cold winter months are vulnerability factors for mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and an increase in stress levels.
Signs of a Possible Mental Health Disorder
You can look for common signs and symptoms if you think you may be experiencing a mental health issue. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, common signs and symptoms include:
- Excessive feelings of sadness, low energy, and low mood
- An increase in alcohol and drug use
- Changes in sleep including sleeping too much or too little
- Irritability, restlessness, and anger
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Not engaging in activities that were once enjoyable
- Social challenges including difficulty relating to other people
- Difficulty completing daily tasks and responsibilities
- Extreme mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating, focusing, and paying attention.
- Thoughts of suicide
If you recognize one or more of these symptoms, you may be struggling with a mental health disorder. Mental illness presents differently for everyone. The silver lining is that you can implement interventions to help improve your overall mood and mental health. In fact, you are probably familiar with some of them, such as seeing a mental health counselor and talking to your doctor about possible medication options. These two options are particularly helpful if you are experiencing a severe mental illness.
Other interventions may not be as commonly known or recognized as treatment for mental health issues. Some interventions are simple and easy to incorporate, while others may be a bit more complex. Interventions are not one size fits all, and you may want to try different ones to see what works best for you and your mental health needs.
Some additional interventions that can help improve your mental health include:
- Regular physical exercise
- Taking prescribed medication
- Staying hydrated
- Engaging in activities that bring you happiness and joy
- Maintaining healthy sleep hygiene
- Limiting consumption of alcohol and drugs
- Spending time with loved ones, including virtually
- Doing something nice for someone else
- Organizing and cleaning your space
- Reducing consumption of processed foods and increasing consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Using light therapy to help increase vitamin D levels, which can become depleted in the winter months
Take a Nature Walk
Another intervention that has been gaining more attention is immersing yourself in nature, including going on nature walks. Research indicates that nature can be a significant factor in managing and reducing stress as well as treating depression and anxiety. Being in nature reduces the activity in the prefrontal cortex area of the brain, which is where we do our worrying, stressing, and ruminating; this was substantiated by a 2015 research study. Researchers also theorize that hearing soothing sounds of nature and witnessing the beauty that exists authentically in nature can be calming and relaxing for the mind and body.
Walking is a natural form of physical exercise, which we know is an effective strategy to reduce and minimize certain mental health symptoms. The idea is that combining the two interventions—in other words, walking in nature—can be significant in managing various mental health disorders and symptoms.
If you happen to live in a climate that allows for year-round enjoyment of the outdoors, you may want to consider incorporating nature walks into your regular routine. When done regularly, being in nature may help reduce your vulnerability to negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
If you live in the northern hemisphere and are starting to experience the warning signs of winter, there are other accommodations you can make to incorporate nature as part of your mental health routine. For example, research shows that listening to nature sounds and even looking at pictures of nature can have a significant impact on improving your mood and reducing your experience of negative emotions. There are free apps you can download on your phone and free YouTube videos that provide the sights and sounds of nature. Experiencing nature is proving to be an effective and cost-effective intervention for combating mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and stress.
Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.