One day, many years ago, my parents got me rollerblades. This is one of those nostalgic moments of childhood that I remember. They were black and purple, and I could not wait to take them out to the sidewalk for a ride. Before I could, though, my parents suited me up with a helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads. Then, I had to stay on the driveway and make sure I knew how to slow down and use the brake before using them anywhere else. I was so annoyed with all of these safety measures. I just wanted to go out and RIDE!
Now, looking back, I see the value in what my parents did. They were protecting me from possible injury or pain to my body that could happen from a fall or losing control while out there, rollerblading away.
We are given many preventative and proactive measures to guard our physical health every day as well. We have seat belts in our cars, vitamins to take in the morning, and those trusty helmets to wear when we are out on our rollerblades, just to name a few. But what preventative and proactive measures do we have set up for our mental health? What seat belts or helmets are out there to ensure that we are safe from possible negative impacts from stressors, anxiety, depression, past trauma, transitions in our lives, and possibly, chemical imbalances in our brains?
Our mental health should be taken as seriously as our physical health. It is part of who we are, and it regulates our ability to live the fullest and healthiest lives possible. Mental health concerns and needs are REAL and impact every person. Each of us is made in God’s image, but sin distorted that image and created harmful consequences in our world, our relationships, and our mind and emotions. There are, however, ways that we can reorder what is disordered in our lives and regain a healthy connection to what allows us, as children of God, to thrive in this life.
Here are a few important ways to strengthen and protect your mental health:
Connectedness to God
Each person who has, does, or ever will exist finds their origin in God. We really don’t take time to think about this enough. You are a son or daughter of God; the God who created the entire universe chose to create you. When Adam and Eve sinned, disorder and brokenness became a reality of the human condition. Our minds, bodies, environment, and relationships became distorted. It is only through the salvation personally won for us by Jesus Christ that we can have hope and a lived experience of its restoration. We will only fully experience this one day in the Heavenly Kingdom, but through our relationship with God and His Church, Heaven begins to be unveiled in our very lives each and every day.
This begins little by little each day and in simple ways: spending time in prayer every day, going to Mass on Sundays, bringing our sins to confession regularly, surrounding ourselves with a life-giving community who will challenge us to be better and more virtuous every day, and continually seeking ways to share our love for Christ with those around us.
We need to commit anew each day our connection to God, and we should make that commitment real. Making a goal of spending 10 minutes talking with God or reading a passage from a Gospel is a good way to start, or if you haven’t been to confession in a while, plan to go the next time it is offered at your Church. God made us his children, so creating a consistent connection with him allows our mental health to be strengthened, healed, and more fully understood.
Connectedness to Others
Because you were created by God and you share in his blessed life, you are made for relationship. No matter how you would label your social preferences, how many friends you do or do not have, or how you feel when in social settings, you are meant to be seen and known by another in order to be mentally healthy.
Who are the people who you can share your life with? Who in your life are you able to be yourself around and be safe with? Sadly, so many friendships in our lives have become shallow, lacking in true personal connection, and devoid of the ability to act as a stronghold for us. That’s right, a stronghold. Scripture tells us that “a faithful friend is a sturdy shelter” (Sirach 6:14). What better to aid us in combating the brokenness and distortions of this world than a sturdy shelter? A real friend and a real community help you become sheltered in who you were created to be and to achieve your highest potential in this life. You need real relationships to be healthy and at peace.
Connectedness to Yourself
At the end of a long day, it can be so easy to fill our minds with things that numb us or keep us from really listening to our own thoughts and feelings. Some of these things might be scrolling on Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok, or binge-watching another new show on Netflix or Hulu. This can be a helpful way to deal with stress or just wind down at times, but it can also keep us from having a healthy relationship with ourselves and any feelings or thoughts that should be processed in a mentally healthy way. Two ways to do this better and have a greater relationship with your own self is through exercising gratitude and identifying your strengths.
First, gratitude allows us to actually be connected to the goodness in our lives, which makes us mentally stronger and more at peace. It’s true. Just by calling to mind or writing down 3-5 things you are thankful for at the end of your day has the power to improve your mood, decrease anxiety and stress and help increase your overall happiness in life.
Why is that, you ask? Well, gratitude has the power to show us where in our lives, we can rest, experience peace, and have hope. Gratitude brings us into a direct encounter with the gifts God has given us.
Second, identifying your strengths is a simple exercise that can show you the ways you connect to yourself, others, and the world in a positive way. Oftentimes when we are weak in our mental health, we lose sight of our strengths and gifts. Each person has a unique outlook on the world, interests, gifts, and abilities. That means you have strengths that the world needs. Your strengths will also be the things in your life that will give you the most excitement, fulfillment, and peace. Take time to make a list of your strengths. It could be things you have a talent for (music, art, writing, sport, etc.) or qualities and virtues you possess that have impacted you and others in a positive way (kindness, intentionality, being a good listener, empathy, humor, etc.). Once you think about and write out your strengths, make a goal to express yourself, and use these strengths throughout your week. If you have a strength for writing, give yourself an hour one evening to express yourself in this way. If you have a strength for kindness and generosity, then write a friend a letter or get coffee with someone who needs encouragement in this way. If you love cooking, look up a new recipe to try for dinner next week.
Don’t sell yourself short any longer by only focusing on weaknesses or shortcomings in your life. We need to be aware of those things, yes, but until we achieve a healthy perspective about our gifts and strengths, we may be more prone to trap ourselves in things going wrong, such as anxiety, insecurity, and other mentally unhealthy thoughts and feelings.
Seek Help When Needed
For many people, it is often not if they will benefit from seeing a therapist, but when. We live in a world distorted and broken by sin, and this includes our mental health. If you feel the weight of past hurts, trauma, current stressors, major life transitions, or anything else, which leads to feelings of consistent depression, anxiety, or any other kind of mental stressors, seek help. Call a local mental health agency or counselor to set up a session. Your mental health matters; and just as you would go to the doctor for antibiotics or to get your arm put into a cast after it’s broken, you should seek mental health services when your mind becomes distorted and affects the way you are able to live a healthy life within your school, work, relationships, faith and all other important areas of life. You are worthy of health, wholeness, and healing, so don’t sell yourself short from receiving it.