How to protect your mental health

Do you ever wonder why certain individuals crash and have a mental breakdown? They might commit a crime such as robbery, commit suicide, or commit a mass shooting. They are human, so upon taking a closer look, we might wonder: Are they really any different from the rest of us? What changed in their emotions and flipped a switch?

Any of us can be pushed to the limit. And, at one time or another, life generally does push most of us to the breaking point. We may lose control over what is happening in our families, our finances, our jobs or in our communities. The only control we have is figuring out a few areas in which we can steady ourselves. This way, we protect our mental health to the largest degree we can.

Let’s take a look at how we exacerbate our personal stress. It helps to monitor what’s going on deep inside.

These tips can help you maintain some calm:

—Stop doing anything to excess. When we overeat, abuse alcohol, overwork, criticize others too much, or spend too much time sleeping, we upset the balance of our lives.

—Don’t try too hard to change other people. Most of us can get very, very upset thinking about the weird behaviors of people we know. While we shouldn’t allow people to hurt us, we’d be better off just accepting them the way they are. Then, we can manage ourselves accordingly.

—Limit how much bad news you watch. Staying glued to the TV can create bad feelings. While we want to have compassion for others, we have to be careful we don’t take in too much gloom and doom.

—Practice a healthy lifestyle. Try your best to eat healthy foods and spend time with upbeat people. Pay close attention to what helps you feel stable and whole.

“I’ve noticed that most of my clients, who are extremely stressed, tell me they have been neglecting themselves,” says a psychologist we’ll call Sandra.

Sandra once dealt with a man who had to be apprehended by the police. He’d had a meltdown at their local church.

“He was so stressed out, he told me he had forgotten to eat over a three-day period,” Sandra told us. “Worry destroys our focus on self-care.”

Finding a supportive person to listen is always a good idea, too, if you’re under extreme stress. That’s why it pays to have several close friends in your life.

“I am an attorney who worries a lot about other people,” says a friend of ours we’ll call Jack. “I’ve developed close relationships in cities outside my immediate circle. Sometimes, I need to talk to people who won’t share my secrets.”

Jack told us that he often gets involved in his cases way too personally.

“Lawyers are only human,” he points out. “We need people to lean on. We have our share of restless nights, believe me. It’s hard not to worry about losing a case, because many people are usually counting on me. Whether my client wins or not, his or her family is affected for years. I always take a week off after a major trial.”

If your mental health is a little shaky, take time to assess what’s going on. Figure out what you can do to calm down and feel emotionally healthier. The worse the stress, the more you need to take care of yourself.


(Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Café at Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)

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