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ERMC Public Affairs Office
DSN 371-3317/3049
Tel. 06221-17-3317/3049
ermc-pao@amedd.army.mil
Advisory No. 20100507


May 7, 2010

Mental Health Month Tips
Learning to ‘Live Your Life Well’

By Kelly L. Forys, Ph.D. and Maj Laura Lewis

HEIDELBERG, Germany – Text

It is easy to prevent, identify, and treat a problem when it comes to one’s physical health. For example, you can prevent foot injuries by stretching properly and wearing appropriate footwear. When your foot hurts, it’s obvious you can’t walk or run as well. You also know a visit to doctor can get you started back on the road to health. The methods for prevention, identification, and treatment of mental health issues might not be as obvious. During May and National Mental Health Month, you can learn more about those issues and follow this year’s theme, "Live Your Life Well."

Prevention
Proper footwear and stretching cannot prevent all injuries to your feet. Neither will self-care prevent all mental health issues. Prevention strategies can make a difference, though.

Living your life well means taking care of yourself not just physically but mentally as well. Take time to practice the tools presented below, improve your mental health, have more energy, and live a healthier life.

  1. Sleep. Don’t underestimate the power of rest. Sleep helps to regulate physical processes in your body. Sleep is essential for coping with and preventing stress, depression, and anxiety. Aim for seven or eight hours of sleep to function at your best. If you have problems with sleep, consider adjusting the temperature and darkness of the room. Or, try reducing caffeine intake, setting a regular bedtime, exercising during the day and practicing a relaxation exercise before bed.
  2. Be positive. A positive outlook leads to a happier, healthier life. Shift your perspective from negative to positive by catching yourself when you worry about things that you cannot control or when your self-talk focuses on the negative details. Keep a gratitude journal to write about the people and events that make you happy each day.
  3. Connect with others. Social support from family, friends, and co-workers provides you with someone to talk to when times are difficult as well as someone with whom you can laugh and share good times. Surrounding yourself with positive people can enhance your mood and well-being.
  4. Eat well. Food is your fuel. Fuel your body with nutrients and vitamins that support mental and physical health. Focus on natural foods—fruit, vegetables, fish, and nuts. Removing the junk food from your diet and replacing it with healthy foods can create changes in your brain chemistry to improve your mood. Remember as you sleep you are burning calories so start your day off with a hardy breakfast and avoid skipping meals throughout the remainder of the day.
  5. Play. Playing isn’t just for children! When was the last time that you did something just for fun, just for you? Engage in fun activities and laugh. Go for a walk, take a hike, play a game, or throw a frisbee with friends. Leisure activities and hobbies can restore and re-energize you.

Identification
Psychological pain can be more difficult to identify than physical pain. Its effects on well-being, however, are every bit as painful. An individual might not be able to say “I am depressed and it is affecting my interpersonal relationships.” Rather, the problem is often noticed when important things in life start to suffer. For example, not feeling like going to work, withdrawing from friends and family members, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy, and worrying more than usual can all be signs of a problem. If you notice these symptoms in yourself or another person, it is important to seek help. The earlier you get help, the faster the problem can be resolved.

Treatment
What does it mean to seek help and get treatment? Seeking help does not mean that you are "crazy." Unfortunately there is a stigma in both the civilian and the military culture towards seeking help for a psychological issue. This is unfortunate because seeking help when the problem is first identified can lead to a better outcome. Skilled professionals are equipped to listen to you and to help you create and utilize coping resources to address the issue. Treatment options include talking to a chaplain, a behavioral health professional, a Military OneSource representative (www.militaryonesource.com), or a provider in the local community.

Many resources exist for helping you to prevent, identify, and treat behavioral health issues. In addition to local resources at a military facility near you, check out the following websites for great information and links to resources on specific concerns: www.health.mil, http://www.behavioralhealth.army.mil, www.afterdeployment.org. Practice "Living Your Life Well" each and every day!

Note: the authors are assigned to the Behavioral Health Department, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.