May is Mental Health Awareness Month

... and it comes at the right time

Health and Wellness graphicWe may well be keenly aware of our mental states now that we have been in pandemic lockdown for a while. Maybe feelings of grouchiness, negativity, and frustration now accompany many ongoing feelings of boredom, listnessness, and anxiety. We may find ourselves feeling rather unmotivated and lethargic. Things that even up to recently gave us “lifts” throughout the day now may be waning in their effectiveness.

If this type or pattern of feeling rather blue, down or lackluster continues for a person, it may morph into being more of a clinical depression. This is where we have to be careful and provide for our own welfare; it may mean enlisting the help of friends, relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances, as well as mental health counselors.

Some of these mentally challenging feelings come from lack of adequate exercise or sunshine. Vitamin D is essential for mood. We have certainly had our share of cloudy days and cool days which limited our ability to spend any extended amount of time outside. As parks open up again, we have the ability to get out more, but when weather makes it difficult, we are less inclined to do so.

Some feelings of being blue may come from poor nutrition. We are possibly indulging more because of the convenience of the kitchen combined with unpleasant issues surrounding the lockdown. Possibly we are seeking out comfort foods with less nutritional value because they often can work psychologically to increase endorphins.

We are often now seeking things that cause a rise in the neurotransmitters endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin. Sweets are selling very well now, for example. Alcohol intake should be monitored. And while cessation of smoking is a stressful process, any effort to reduce or eliminate tobacco is worthwhile. Ultimately, when we take in anything, our brains must work with what we have given them. They need the best nutrition in stressful times in order to bring our mental health to its optimal state, both short term and long term. 

Some of our feelings of sadness or despair surely come from a decrease in meaningful prolonged human interaction, especially human touch. This is especially the case for those who live alone and who are feeling more isolated than ever, but it can also affect others who rely on a variety of contacts. Extroverted persons may find themselves putting on a brave face as an important part of them is denied something so crucial. Coping mechanisms begin to wear down or run out for some. Some have had mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression going into the lockdown, and these are only exacerbated by many of the conditions brought about by the COVID-19 reality.

Some of these issues can be managed by increasing endorphins – certain chemicals produced by the body that deal with stress and pain. Some activities where endorphins can be boosted are: exercise, yoga, and meditation.

Some have found that giving and helping as an activity of its own also increases endorphins. And studies have shown that spicy foods and chocolate (high quality 75 percent cocoa and higher) can raise endorphins. And finally, laughter is called good medicine by many, and for good reason. Though these are very individualistic (health care providers can advise you here), engaging in some of these ways to increase endorphins may ease feelings of situational depression.

Finally, social engagement is key to good mental health. Without it, we perish. There are many ways to address the lack of adequate social engagement, though it is not easy. We thrive on human touch. We bask in the warmth of face to face interactions, seeing smiles and other expressions and reactions.

As we weather this shift, we find new ways of being healthy and promoting social engagement at the same time. As restrictions loosen, we may feel safe removing our mask in open spaces and increasing the distance to engage with a friend, even for an extended period in a park. We may need more interaction (quantity) to compensate for the less satisfying type (quality) over Skype or phone. How we go about this now may provide the blueprint for our mental wellness in the coming months. And we will be well.

– Charley Rowe, coordinator, Holy Cross Health and Wellness Ministry. 

View this attachment for mental health resources provided by parishioner Ava Thompson.

Additional sources and resources

Hope4Healers is a partnership between NC DHHS and the North Carolina Psychological Association (NCPA) that offers resources including a hotline staffed 24/7 by licensed therapists for health care workers and their families who need emotional support for being on the COVID-19 front lines. The hotline number is (919) 226-2002. Other resources, including information about how to volunteer to staff the hotline, are available here

Employee Assistance Programs are offered by many employers; they may provide valuable help at this time. 

Tags: healthy exercise, healthy eating, endorphins and mental health, COVID 19, mental state, me, feeling blue, Mental Health Month

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