Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I think it's important, more than ever to write on this topic. I decided to team up with Dr. Stephanny Perea who's a Mental Wellness Coach. She's been working in the mental health system for over 3 years and she has her doctorate degree in clinical psychology. Through her years of experience, she learned that many people experience difficult and painful events throughout their lives. Her goal is to build the mental strength of individuals and help them manage life's stressors, with the ultimate goal of preventing future mental illness.

"Why don't they teach this in school? Why wasn't this information available to us when we were younger?"

Those are some questions she'd commonly get asked by her patients.

At the start of a session, Dr. Perea guides her patients and helps them identify their needs and set attainable goals.

Here is an example:

My goal is to lower stress, improve my relationships and develop a positive relationship with myself so I can enhance my productivity and happiness in my life.

Personally, I’ve had so many questions about mental health. I feel like we hear about it all the time however, what does it really mean? See below my Q&A session with Dr. Perea:

In your own words, what does mental health mean?

Good mental health is a state in which a person feels able to realize their full potential and cope with day-to-day stressors. Our mind gets easily overloaded and scrambled with our environment. I picture ants walking in a line and then something falling and interrupting their march, and suddenly it's complete chaos. The ability to continue to march and go around the “something” that fell, is indicative of good mental health!

How important is a positive attitude and does it correlate with mental health?

Absolutely!! Having a positive attitude is so important and hugely correlates with a healthy mind. Positivity not only improves our mind but also drastically improves our physical health as well. Logically, if we think about this, it makes sense. If we have a positive outlook, we don’t get mentally stuck or overwhelmed; therefore, our stress levels are down. If our stress levels are down, usually our blood pressure is down, our body isn’t reacting to misperceived threats, our immune system isn’t stressed, our body isn’t tensed… everything is working how it’s supposed to. I would even dare to say that positivity can increase our life span!

During this time, stress is extremely dangerous because of the effect it has on our bodies. Stress sends signals to other parts of our body and communicates that we need to be on “high alert”. As a result, our immune system is impacted because our body is too busy trying to defend “perceived threats” AKA anything in the world that stresses us out. With COVID-19 being everywhere, our immune system needs to be in top shape!

How can an individual flip the switch on negative thoughts and turn them into positive ones?

Negative thoughts are so damaging yet so common. In psychology, negative thoughts are called cognitive distortions and there are usually ten different patterns of thinking. The funny thing is that everyone uses these patterns of thinking in one way, shape or form. Ever jumped to conclusions, said a "should" statement or said “yeah, but…” and discredited what someone said? It’s okay because I've done it too, but these ways of thinking are only truly damaging if you are unaware of them. The trick to flipping the switch is self-awareness. We first have to be aware of our thoughts; after that, we can choose to change them! I personally like playing devil’s advocate or examining the evidence to “debunk” my negative thoughts. You simply look for evidence that supports your thought and evidence that goes against your thought. This allows you to look at both arguments fueling your thoughts, which helps produce “flexibility” (now, there’s more than one way of looking at things). Practicing gratitude is also very helpful in changing our point of view. This practice quickly shifts our focus from what we don’t have to what we do have and can produce instant results..

How do I know if I need a Mental Wellness Coach in my life?

A mental wellness coach is helpful when you feel stuck; whether it’s in your relationship, friendships, career or just life. Coaches help pull the strengths that already exist in each person and help them by providing support and guidance to get them to the next level. For example, we go to the gym to strengthen our physical health and often we request help from a physical fitness coach or trainer to guide us and teach us about our body so we can obtain our fitness goals. It’s the same concept with mental wellness; you request help from a mental wellness coach to guide you and teach you about our mind, so you can obtain your life goals and live to our fullest potential.

What are the benefits of talking to someone and getting professional advice?

There are so many benefits in talking to someone; whether they’re a professional, friend or family member. When you talk to someone, you are allowing your brain to cognitively and emotionally process through your issue or situation. This is why journaling can also be very beneficial, but the good thing about talking to someone, is that they can talk back! Now, our friends and family can be very good support networks that can help us in our time of need, but it’s very important that we tell our support system what we need.

For example, ever had a bad day at work and you call your mom to vent; however, she starts throwing in opinions and solutions that you don’t really want? Yes!

This is kind of a natural response from those you vent to. In this instance, your mom wants to help by solving your problem, but the majority of the time, this actually just makes us upset because we already know the answer to our problem, we just want to talk, vent and complain about it. This is when we need to tell our support, “Hey, I just want to vent, can you listen?” This also helps the other person listen better and give support; instead of trying to search their brain for solutions to a problem they have limited information about. Now, talking to a professional is different because as professionals there is no judgment or emotional ties. They are able to provide a direct and objective view/ solution to a problematic situation. This helps people understand their emotional reactions or interpretations of the situation, so they can decide what to do with the situation. Did you know that therapists are ethically not supposed to provide therapeutic services to family and friends? It's actually for this reason! If we are too emotionally close to someone, it impacts our ability to be objective!

Can you talk about the difference between blaming and accepting?

I prefer talking about blaming vs. responsibility.

When most people hear the word responsibility they hear “fault" instead.

This makes it really tricky to take control of our lives, because with control comes responsibility; and without responsibility, acceptance is almost impossible. Practicing acceptance can be difficult but it's so rewarding if we understand how to apply the skill. Usually the biggest barriers toward acceptance are our emotions and our beliefs. Meaning, we find it hard to accept things because of the emotions we feel and/or we find it difficult to accept because of our beliefs related to accepting. This is where responsibility comes into play. In order to practice acceptance, we have to take responsibility for our emotions and our beliefs, so then we can change them. We can’t change something that we don’t have control over.

How can you build mental strength?

The secret to becoming mentally strong is to give up your unhealthy mental habits or patterns. Mental strength is a lot like physical strength. In order to get physically fit you adopt new habits like working out. However, you also need to give up bad habits such as eating junk food. If you want to become mentally strong you have to develop new habits like practicing gratitude or reframing your beliefs to look for a positive; but you also have to stop unhealthy habits like, negative self-talk and resenting others for their successes. If we’re not careful, those unhealthy mental habits will hold you back. We can re-train our brain to think differently by countering those unhealthy beliefs with healthier ones.

Your world is what you make it, but before you can change your world, you have to believe that you can change it! This takes practice and repetition. I encourage you all to take a piece of paper. On one side of the paper write down the lies you believe about yourself. On the other side of the paper, write down the truth. When you start telling yourself those lies, remember your truth and use it to battle the lies. Really meditate on your truth.

Additional Resources: - This is Dr. Stephanny Perea's personal website. Don't hesitate to connect with her! - This website has so much information on mental illness, support groups and additional resources for any one suffering with mental health. - This website provides worksheets and handouts to help manage your mental health.