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Mental Health Awareness - What Can I Do to Benefit My Overall Mental Health?

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Mental Health Awareness




What is Mental Health?

As we wind down what has been a challenging and unexpected year, it’s important to take time and check in on our mental health. Our mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being and affects how we think, feel, and act. In 2014, One in five American adults experienced a mental health issue.1

Who has Mental Health Issues?

Anyone can experience stress, anxiety, or other mental health issues, whether they are short- or long-term. The American Institute of Stress reported that in 2014, 77% of people regularly experienced physical symptoms from stress, 73% regularly experienced psychological symptoms form stress, and 33% felt they were living with extreme stress.2 The American Psychology Association found that 67% of adults say they have experienced increased stress amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.3

Some things we can learn more about to better understand our mental health and how to improve it are stress, anxiety, and resilience.


What is Stress?

Stress and anxiety are two different responses we can have to a situation or challenge. "Stress is very common, and we all deal with it in our day-to-day lives. It's what we feel when a deadline is looming or in anticipation of an important event or occasion," explains Dr. Ali Sawal, a primary care practitioner at Houston Methodist. Stress is just a part of overall mental health, but it’s important for us to acknowledge and better understand it when considering the potential physical and psychological consequences as well as its potential negative impact on our relationships.

A generally unpleasant feeling, stress can provide short-term physiological changes that help us, like increased concentration and enhanced reaction time.4 However, this is due to our body reacting as if we’re under attack, – increased heart rate and breathing, increased blood pressure, tense muscles- and constantly feeling stressed negatively affects our physical health and emotions.

We have options when it comes to managing our stress. One possible approach is a “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction,” as Cigna defines it. Mindfulness helps us focus only on things happening in the moment, purposefully paying attention to our surroundings (the sights, sounds, smells, etc.), emotions, thoughts, and body.

Examples from Cigna include:

  • When you go outside, take a few deep breaths. What's the air like? Is it warm or cold? How does the warmth or chill feel on your body? Try to accept that feeling and not resist it. Notice any plants, their colors, and the contrast of those colors against the sky and clouds.
  • Eat a meal in silence. Don't do anything but focus on your food. Smell your food before eating it. Notice what your food looks like. Eat slowly and savor each bite. What flavors do you taste?
  • When you can, take some time at the beginning of your day to sit alone and think. Focus on your breathing. Gaze out the window and listen to the sounds outdoors. Or take a slow walk by yourself. Count your steps while you breathe in and out.
  • If you can do this at work, try to stop for a few moments each hour. Note how your body feels. Let yourself regroup and let your mind settle before you return to what you were doing.

More action-based tips include:

  • Exercising. Regular exercise (walking, jogging, a sport you enjoy) is one of the best ways to manage stress.
  • Writing. It can help to write about the things that are bothering you.
  • Letting your feelings out. Talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when you need to with someone you trust.
  • Doing something you enjoy. A hobby can help you relax. Volunteer work or work that helps others can be a great stress reliever.
  • Set a routine. If you had a routine that’s recently been interrupted, create a new one for yourself to follow.

Other tips include setting short term goals, verbally reminding yourself of your abilities, and giving your thoughts a break.


What is Anxiety?

Remember that stress and anxiety are different. Anxiety is “when stress or worry become so excessive or so persistent that it negatively affects your daily life, as well as your ability to cope with the everyday stressors." Anyone can experience anxiety, but anxiety has no advantages.4

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

  • Excessive or persistent worrying that occurs more often than not
  • Muscle tension and restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Nausea and abdominal cramping
  • Hyperarousal – your body suddenly goes into high alert, can include palpitations and sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Be easily startled

Anxiety symptoms can negatively affect your interpersonal relationships as well, which can increase your anxiety and stress and continuing the negative cycle. Many of the tips for handling stress can apply to managing anxiety, but if anxiety begins to affect your everyday life, remember that it is not a weakness to ask for help.

Talk to your doctor about your symptoms to make sure an unrelated physical issue isn’t causing them. They can usually refer you to a mental health specialist. You can also search for one on your own. A mental health specialist, such as a cognitive behavioral therapist, can help you learn different or new ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to situations can help decrease anxiety and worry.5


What is Resilience?

How do we handle stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges? Cigna defines “resilience” as the ability to quickly recover from challenges. and they have completed several studies on “Resilience” and “Resiliency.” According to the Cigna Resilience Index, resilience is at risk in three in five Americans, with young adults at the highest risk. We’re less likely to quickly recover from challenges if our resilience is low or at risk. Incorporating simple methods for building resilience into our lives can help us in the long-term.

Cigna’s GROW framework

G – Ground yourself in the situation

R – Recognize what you can control

O – Organize the resources you need

W – Work with your community for support

Other ways to maintain positive mental health include1:

  • Getting professional help if you need it
  • Connecting with others
  • Staying positive
  • Getting physically active
  • Helping others
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Developing coping skills


Our mental health is a big part of our overall well-being. Understanding what mental health is and what affects it can help us better manage our overall health on a daily basis. While we may not have a single simple solution to mental health, we can learn healthy mental health habits and develop them to increase our resilience. As always, you should discuss any health concerns, questions, or issues with your doctor and see what mental health wellness benefits your health insurance may offer and/or cover.

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  1. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health
  2. https://www.stress.org/daily-life
  3. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report-october
  4. https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2020/dec/what-anxiety-feels-like-and-why-it-happens/
  5. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/index.shtml

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