By Marissa Frazier, Staff Writer
One of the biggest issues in the world today is mental health, and it affects all individuals around us. It can be easy to see, or it can be blind to the eye. While we can’t necessarily go out of our way to improve our mental health, there are ways to help ourselves. Some are scared to reach out, or possibly even isolated. Many people have also been there, so you’re not alone. Counselor Cheri Riley, MA, LPC, in Union has personal and professional opinions on improving mental health, with student Nathaniel Pittman providing what he does to improve his mental health, and ECC counselor Jenny Kuchem providing information as well.
First off, what is mental health?
According to Cheri Riley, everyone has some conflicts, and some hurt, habits, or hang-ups that pull the person down. Happiness, contentment, life satisfaction, and personal confidence are all parts of mental health, and we all are learning how to be mentally healthy every day of our lives. Mental illness, the negative part of mental health, can be caused from almost anything. It could be from the chemistry in our brains, genes from parents, where we live and grow up, what we experience, etc. Being able to recognize irrational thoughts, any self abuse, any psychological or emotional abuse, help us in how to live mentally healthy as once we acknowledge what is happening, we can do something about it. Adding on, student Nathaniel Pittman finds mental health to be the wellbeing of someone’s mental state, and if that mental state is unhealthy it can lead to poor choices. Being in an unhealthy mental state can lead to poor hygiene and to life decisions that could lead you down a darkened road. Mental health is considered the same as physical health, as explained by Jenny Kuchem. Years ago, mental health was never looked at seriously, and even now too sometimes. Due to the fact we can’t physically see every mental illness, there are often people putting down those who are reaching out for help.
But how can we improve it?
Some can be hesitant to reach out for help, and that’s okay. According to Kuchem, it’s important to have someone you gel with, and sometimes the hesitation to start counseling is the fear of opening up and confronting your feelings, etc. (although that is not to force anyone to attend counseling sessions). Since that, multiple studies in the past, and ones we do today, show that mindfulness exercises and practices can change the way we think and how we act. One of the biggest concepts taught in counseling is that thoughts control emotions, which control behaviors. The way we think affects the way we feel, and in return changes what we do to ourselves and those around us. Though, one of the biggest practices could be breathing. It sounds simple, but breathing helps tremendously. For anxiety specifically, breathing has been found to be one of the most effective coping mechanisms that calms the vagus nerve in your body. Cheri recommends yoga as a mindfulness exercise as it encourages breathing techniques that can help in everyday life. One of the most prominent is the Ujjayi (uj-jay-i) breath. This breathing technique is done through the nostrils, with the lips never parting. It’s also better to place your tongue at the roof of your mouth. After that, you’ll breathe a little deeper than usual before exhaling, creating a gentle, “Haah” sound much like the ocean. Along with yoga, exercise is also found to be helpful as any physical activity like that releases dopamine and serotonin, which are the chemicals that keep us happy, in short. Jenny Kuchem, much like Cheri Riley, believes that counseling provides beneficial help for you to improve your mental health such as talking to someone who isn’t connected to you, and someone unbiased. Nathaniel Pittman also provides an option of using music to relax and surround yourself with healthy people. Music can be a way of self expression, or you can also enjoy it for how it is, while being surrounded by people who make good decisions can help you be better. Tying into that, Kuchem explains that having a support system can go a long way when improving your mental health. It is noted to always try and see the bright side, no matter how far away that light may be.