Over the years, there have been many conversations on mental health concerns and awareness. But a specified day, like Mental Health Action Day, celebrated on 18 May, marks a clear, mindful shift whereby we can take an extra step and look at actions that allow for better mental health. I absolutely love the idea of celebrating this because it allows people to be proactive. It not only brings an opportunity to share valuable resources about what one can do, but also to commit to actions that ensure healthier living.
The day also becomes a way to work with family members, teenagers, young adults and even organisations to move beyond conversations about awareness and step in to take a pledge towards mindful mental health action.
Given the stigma and judgemental attitude that exists around mental health, conversations can often feel loaded. As soon as we celebrate it as a day, which is for everyone, it opens up the conversation. My sense is that more people would be inclined to take positive steps because there is a feeling of community. The exclusion and labelling is reduced a fair bit, if not completely taken away.
I was reminded of a conversation with a client, who was in her mid-30s. She mentioned, “Sometimes I schedule appointments for therapy because I recognise that this is the only time I do something about my mental health. Otherwise, I am so wired, swamped with work, that I don’t even allow myself to feel, or to re-evaluate what’s happening. Over the weekends, if I am lucky, I end up going for a run, otherwise I binge-watch shows and put myself to sleep, which is unhealthy, but that’s the truth.”
While therapy may be one of the actions people may take to address their mental health, and it could be a first step for some, we need to ask ourselves the bigger question: “Which mental health action can I commit to for the next month to begin with, which helps me in my day-to-day life?”
Given that people’s lives are so hectic, I often say that we should begin with as little as 15 or 30 minutes every day that you can take out to commit to your own well-being. My advice is to block this time on the calendar and schedule an activity/action, otherwise we all are guilty of using that free time to scroll, busy ourselves with work or succumb to the itch of responding to messages on our devices.
Good mental health can be understood in the context of what we can do at the physical level, emotional level and then at the interpersonal level. So, the idea is to slowly build actions that allow us to strengthen our health at all three levels. Take a moment to assess where your mental health is impacted the most, or which area is most crucial for you to work on as of now.
Taking care of our physical health can be about choosing to sleep at a fixed time, to ensure that one gets seven-eight hours of sleep, exercising at least thrice a week, eating meals mindfully and not skipping them. This could also include actions like keeping the phone away for 30 minutes before you sleep and after you get up. At an emotional level, it could include engaging in activities that are self-soothing, a mindfulness practice, choosing to work on your self-esteem, working towards emotional regulation, moving from irrational to rational beliefs that work effectively.
At an interpersonal level, it may mean taking time out to meet friends, family, spend time responding and catching up with them, learning to be attentive with loved ones, building a sense of community and increasing our social fitness. Begin by pledging to work towards one mental health action for the time being and stick with it, so that it deepens and becomes a part of your routine. One mental health action can have a huge impact on your overall well-being in the long run.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health With Sonali.