Jul 28, 2020

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Manage and Improve Your Mental Health with the Right Tools

Health is more than just diet and nutrition and how you look in the mirror. In order to live your best life, taking care of your mental health is crucial. Your mental state allows you to feel good about yourself, be confident to live the life you want to, and have positive, enriching relationships.

Kevin Curtis is a licensed clinical social worker with University Neuropsychiatric Institute. He suggests asking yourself three questions to assess the state of your mental health:

  • Are you having thoughts that are useful to you?
  • Are you having thoughts that impact your ability to function?
  • Is your emotional state supporting or hindering achieving your goals?

Kevin is joined on this episode by his friend Ben. Ben works at the University of Utah and considers himself a regular guy who has been working with professionals to improve his mental health over the past decade.

Ben admits that he's not the paragon of mental health, but feels tons better than he was 10 years ago. He's learned a few tools and techniques that have helped improve his mental health over the past 10 years. He shares the three tools he feels were the most helpful for him.

  1. Box Breathing/Tactical Breathing
    The way you feel during an emotion is ultimately a physical response. The increase in heart rate when anxious. The flush of blood to the face when angry. These physical changes can start a feedback loop with your emotional state that can lead to an overwhelming response.

    To help keep your mind calm when feeling stressed, Ben focuses on his breathing. He will breathe in for a count of four. Hold that breath for a count of four. Breath out for a count of four. Pause for a count of four. Repeat as necessary. This is called "box breathing."

    This breathing technique allows you to shift your mind to a physical response rather than an emotional one. It changes the way your body feels, and in turn is able to help make the emotion feel less overwhelming.

    Tactical breathing uses the same four-second breathing technique but removes the pauses between breaths. This alternative will provide the same benefit, but is best used in a situation when you need to be able to breathe regularly.

  2. Check fo BLAST(H) Conditions
    We've all had a friend, partner, or child in our lives that make poor decisions or are particularly irritable because something more physical is going on. It's sometimes easy to see exactly why another person is stressed, but hard to recognize it in yourself. As such, Ben's second technique takes a personal inventory of the following if you are feeling overwhelmed:

    B: Bored
    L: Lonely
    A: Angry
    S: Stressed
    T: Tired
    H: Hungry

    If these "BLAST" conditions are present, recognize they may be having an impact on your emotional state.

    A good step to improve your mental health is to adopt strategies and daily habits that will keep you out of these conditions as often as possible.

  3. The Reach Out
    While professional help can be an integral part of your mental health strategy, it's also important to build a network of support and "emotional scaffolding" with people in your life and network.

    "The Reach Out" is a technique that aims to build and strengthen your connection with others. If you are feeling down, or upset about a situation, reach out to two people you trust. These people can be friends, family, coworkers. Take the opportunity to tell them what is going on in your life and how you feel about it. Explain that you are not seeking solutions to your problems, but rather you are merely reaching out to let them know what you are experiencing.

    By expressing vulnerability without setting an expectation, you are inviting these people to join a network of support without placing pressure on them. Additionally, by reaching out and getting personal, you are inviting the possibility of sharing a meaningful interaction that can deepen the bonds you have together.

In times of stress, be sure to take care of your mental health. These tips may help maintain and improve your day to day mental resiliency. However, if you are experiencing overwhelming feelings of depression or contemplating self-harm or suicide, reach out to a professional.

For people in Utah consider the Crisis Intervention Services at University of Utah Health.


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