Many are aware of the importance of physical health and the positive impact on the body of physical activity, which reduces the risk of preventable disease and promotes healthy aging.1 Physical activity is valued highly enough to be a component of school and organized sports. Many employers offer employee fitness programs as part of their wellness initiatives. When a new year begins, it’s common to take on a physical health goal, such as weight loss or exercise. Even billboards along the road advertise gym memberships.
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health, in contrast, is defined by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services as our “emotional, psychological and social well-being." The department goes on to say, "it affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”2
Mental health is less openly discussed in the United States than elsewhere, which could be one reason there is a national mental health crisis. It is important for mental health to become a normal part of everyday conversation, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic or other times of crisis.
Challenges From the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to challenges that have increased overall stress levels in adults and children. Under the circumstances, this stress is normal, but it is important to acknowledge and address it. Social distancing can lead to feelings of isolation; job insecurity can lead to financial stress; online learning can change family dynamics – all this on top of constant worry about the health of close family and friends.3
Some aspects of mental and physical health go hand in hand since exercise, sleep and proper nutrition are good for both mental and physical health. It is important to take time to reflect on mental health and identify early warning signs. Pause and reflect on feelings, emotions, sleep habits, social connectedness and engagement in behaviors such as drinking and smoking. Consider your behaviors and discern whether each is positively or negatively affecting your mental health.
Managing Your Mental Health
There are many effective strategies for improving mental health and wellness. First, take a break from constant absorption of negative information in the news and social media, which can be overwhelming. Second, experiment with reflective activities, such as meditation and journaling. Deep breathing is a third strategy that engages both mindfulness and natural physiological calming mechanisms. On the physiological front, maintaining a healthy diet can also be surprisingly helpful. Social strategies are another powerful option, including positive social networking and seeking professional help when needed. Also in the social dimension, make time to talk to friends and family, either in-person or virtually. Video sharing platforms foster a stronger experience of connection than a traditional phone call. All these avenues have positive influences on mental health.3
Mental health does not respond well to a one-size-fits-all approach; it is important to determine what works best for each individual. By taking the time to engage in activities that positively affect the mind, individuals can feel better, make better choices and better serve others. Grand Canyon University has resources for students, including the Office of Spiritual Life and the GCU Health and Wellness Clinic.
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1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Physical Activity, Why it matters in May 2021
2U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. What is mental health in March 2021
3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19, Coping with Stress in March 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.