Notebook with self care notes in it

An important aspect of maintaining your mental health is through self-care.

When you travel by plane with children, you’re instructed to put on your oxygen before assisting a child, if that need arises. What’s the reason for this? Simple: If you don’t take care of yourself before the child, you may be less able or unable to help the child.

In health care, we are frequently advised that we will not be fully present to care for others if we ourselves are stressed, anxious, overly tired, or otherwise uncared for. Thus, self-care is important.

Self-care is particularly important to our mental health, but it isn’t always easy to engage in self-care in this busy world. Children, spouses, friends, other family members, co-workers, patients, all with needs, desires, requests, vying for our time, assistance, and energy. Often work and volunteer responsibilities supersede your own needs. That’s especially true for women and healthcare providers, who tend to put the needs of others first.

This leads to burn-out and fatigue, which in turn lead to mental health problems.

So, what do we do about this? How do we engage in self-care to maintain or improve our mental health? Here are some options:

  • Be intentional about creating space to recharge and decompress; this might mean scheduling the time into your day
  •  Prioritize healthy choices
    • Eat healthfully
    • Get enough sleep
    • Create a daily routine
    • Get enough exercise/physical activity
  • Be realistic; perfectionism doesn’t help! Set realistic expectations and give yourself some grace if the expectations can’t be met
  • Set boundaries; don’t be afraid to limit time with others who bring excessive stress into your space or demand more than you can meaningfully provide
  • Engage in enjoyable activities; restart previously enjoyed hobbies or learn a new one, and consider engaging in activities that can include people you want to spend time with
  • Take alone time when you need it
  • Be kind to yourself.

Remember: there is no health without mental health! 

By Pam Stover, Clinical Assistant Professor, Vancouver and PMHNP Clinical Track Coordinator

woman looking out a window
Meaningful human connections are important for physical and mental health.

Human connections are essential to avoid loneliness, which is risk factor for health challenges, including mental health challenges 

A 2008 Kaiser Family Foundation report noted that 22% of all adults in the U. S. struggle with loneliness or social isolation, and 58% found these factors are associated with mental health problems. The report also noted that those with loneliness or social isolation were much more likely to experience mental and/or physical health problems. 

Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, became concerned about loneliness and its impact on health because of various personal experiences, ranging from childhood to his work as a physician. In a 2020 interview with NPR, he said people who experience loneliness or social isolation are at greater risk for depression, sleep problems, decreased self-esteem, anxiety, violence, substance use disorders, and suicide. He noted that loneliness can be a self-perpetuating problem, because it is often associated with shame and a decrease in self-worth. 

A variety of life situations and stressors can contribute to loneliness and social isolation. These could include the death of a spouse or partner, family member, or friend; a serious illness or injury to oneself or a family member or friend; a change in living situation; loss of a job; or other negative financial change. 

Since humans were designed to be social creatures, meaningful human connections are important to our health, particularly our mental health. What are some ways that we can manage loneliness and social isolation to mitigate negative impacts on mental health?  Here are some suggestions: 

  • Engage in enjoyable activities 
  • Spend time with family and friends 
  • Connect with yourself; self-knowledge, self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion are the foundations for connecting with others 
  • Engage in service, including informal service, such as being there for others, listening to others, showing up for others, checking in with others who are struggling 
  • During the restricted physical distancing of the pandemic, consider making intentional efforts to find ways to safely and healthfully connect with others in meaningful ways, and be aware of those without the technology to make safe connection with others. 

Remember: there is no health without mental health! 

By Pam Stover, Clinical Assistant Professor, Vancouver and PMHNP Clinical Track Coordinator

Learn to play a musical instrument to improve mental health

woman learning to play guitar online
Learning a new skill, like how to play a musical instrument, can boost confidence and improve your mental health. 

Keep your brain active and improve your mental health by learning new skill; it can help boost confidence and increase self-esteem 

People learning something new report feeling better about themselves and have a heightened ability to cope with stress, studies have shown. In part, this relationship was fostered by setting and accomplishing small targets or goals, something that is an important aspect of all learning. 

So what can we do right now, when there are so many things we can’t do? One idea is to learn to play a new musical instrument. Playing an instrument elicits brain changes that positively influence cognitive functioning and decrease stress. 

I’ve been learning to play the flute.  Although have played a number of musical instruments throughout my life, I always wanted to play the flute and thought this might be an ideal time to dig into this desire.  Although I started lessons prior to the COVID lockdown, this pursuit has become important to my mental health at a time when other hobbies and social experiences were prohibited.   

Fortunately, music education, like all education, rapidly figured out how to teach music lessons remotely. My flute teacher uses Zoom; I was one of her first remote students, and we figured things out along the way.  For example, we found that if I connected a remote microphone to my laptop she could hear my playing better.  We learned where in the room I need to stand or sit so that she could best see my position while playing. 

In addition to the brain-enhancing, stress-reducing effects of learning a new instrument, the weekly connection with my instructor offered social interaction, albeit remotely, that had nothing to do with work.  I would encourage all of you, no matter your age (I am 65) or past musical experience to try this new hobby! 

–By Linda Eddy, Professor and Associate Dean, Western Washington 

Thinking about your mental health is first step to feeling better

 

stock art - mental health matters
Starting to take care of your mental health begins with naming the emotion you are experiencing.

If you’ve been feeling out of it over the last year or so, you’re not alone. The pandemic has many people “languishing,” as the New York Times recently dubbed it – not mentally ill, but not mentally well either.  

Isolation and lockdowns, family and financial stress all took their toll. Now we can add vaccine availability and/or hesistancy, and fear over returning to “normal” to the list of concerns.  

It’s no wonder that in December the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of Americans with symptoms of anxiety or depression increased to 41.5% from 36.4% pre-pandemic.  

The good news is that you don’t need to commit to ongoing therapy or a grueling exercise regimen to feel better. Small changes can have big impacts on your mental health.  

While “eat healthier” may seem overwhelming, for example, try having just one vegetable every day. “Exercise more” can be as simple, quick and inexpensive as a walk around the block. If social media or news sites make you feel anxious, carve out a phone-free hour in your day – or better yet, delete one person or app that tends to set you off. Reach out to someone you haven’t connected with in a while.  

Or simply name the emotion you’re experiencing. Naming it can be a powerful first step to addressing difficult feelingsit opens the door to a conversation with someone you trust or an exploration to address the emotion.  

The Washington State University College of Nursing will review some of these topics throughout Mental Health Awareness Week.  These easy tips and tools are great ways to enhance mental wellness or combat some of the difficulties this past year may have brought on. 

Because thinking about your mental health is the first step to feeling better.  

–By Anne Mason, Associate Dean for Academics and Clinical Associate Professor