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Ever feel like your whole life would be SO much better if you could just give your mental wellness a boost?
Silly question. Of course you do.
Well, today we're going to learn 10 things that will help you understand your mental SELF, so you can take better care of your mental HEALTH.
Welcome to the blog & podcast, Unlocking Wellness! I’m Crystal McLain, curator of Crystal McLain Creative, an online resource that supports folks who are ready to get creative with the care of their mind, body, and mother-lovin’ soul.
If you enjoy this content, would like to support my work, AND score some sweet self care goodies, consider a Patreon Membership for as little as $3 a month! Yup, three bucks…it’s like buying me a cup of coffee. To learn more about memberships and how funds are making a positive impact, you can visit: crystalmclaincreative.com.
And, if you like to read along WHILE you listen, or enjoy graphics and videos, you can access all of these features through the blog version of this podcast (yes, even the audio as well). I’ll leave a direct link to this episode in the show notes below.
Alright. Let's get to it.
The first thing I need to tell you is that I am NOT a mental health therapist. I'm a self care coach, and my job is to guide folks as they figure out what's been holding them back from practicing self care, discover wellness routines that feel authentic and motivating, and create sustainable plans for their future. If you're exhibiting signs of a mental illness, you should definitely receive care from a mental health professional.
And if you're unsure if you're dealing with a mental illness or not, here are a few signs that may indicate that you are:
- Feeling very sad, withdrawn or unmotivated (for more than two weeks)
- Planning or trying to harm yourself
- Out-of-control or risk-taking behaviors
- Severe mood swings
- Excessive use of drugs or alcohol
- Drastic changes in behavior, hygiene or sleeping habits
- Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still
- Intense worries or fears impacting daily activities
Having a mental illness is NOT something to be ashamed of, and it's a lot more common than you might think. In fact, in 2021 it was reported that more than 25% of US adults were living with a mental illness. And I wouldn't be surprised if that rate was even higher now.
But the bottom line is, you deserve to feel mentally well, so please reach out for help. I've added THIS LINK to a National Helpline.
Alright, back to the mental self.
When it comes to taking care of yourself, I feel like caring for the mental self is really the best place to start because if you're feeling mentally well and capable, understanding and caring for the rest of your selves is going to be a whole lot easier.
But what do I mean by the "rest of our selves?"
Well, humans are pretty complex creatures, and are far more than just our bodies. Sure, we identify ourselves physically, but we also have a mental, emotional, social, practical and spiritual identity. And each part of us requires specific care.
And today, for reasons previously stated, we're focusing on our MENTAL self.
But before we dive in too deep, I also want to remind you that three months ago we learned how to create a growth mindset, two months ago we deepened our self awareness, and last month we expanded our body consciousness so that we could have some powerful tools while we explore the different aspects of SELF. And the reason we're doing this, honing our self care skills and focusing on the specifics of who and what we are, is because it actually helps us to better understand ourselves as a WHOLE being, define our needs more clearly, and become more creative with our self care.
So, if you haven't already visited those last posts...you might want to. Those skills are gonna come in handy in the coming months.
Alright, for real this time, let's learn about the MENTAL self.
The mental SELF (not to be confused with the emotional self) is the part of you that's able to think clearly, make decisions, process information, and solve problems (which are all very necessary skills for creative self care). In fact, they're super handy skills for all of life.
And in order for your mental SELF to thrive, you need to take good care of your mental HEALTH. And in order to optimize your efforts, it's helpful to have a general understanding of how the brain works.
The brain is a super complex organ that's in charge of a ton of things including managing:
- Thoughts and decisions.
- Memories and emotions.
- Movement, balance and coordination.
- Perception of your sensations, including pain.
- Automatic behavior such as breathing, heart rate, sleep and body temperature.
- Regulation of organ function.
- Speech and language functions.
- Fight or flight response (which is how you react to stress).
This is a LOT for your brain to manage all day, every day. In fact, the brain uses about 20% of your entire body's energy. And since you only have so much juice to run on, it's a good idea to learn some ways to help your brain run more efficiently so you can think more clearly, make decisions more easily, process information more honestly, and solve some mother-lovin' problems.
Nothing overwhelms a brain more than persistent, negative chatter.
If you hung out with us in January, while we were learning about mindset stuff, then you know that our thoughts influence our feelings, and our feelings are what drive our actions, and our actions reinforce our thoughts.
Makes sense, right?
Now, let me ask you, how do you think your brain is going to perform if it's stuck in a disempowering cycle of negative thoughts? Let's call these thoughts the negativity clowns.
You know who I'm talking about.
The clowns who are always reminding you of your challenges and weaknesses, and honestly, feeding you a bunch of bullshit about your capabilities and worthiness. They're making you worry about the future, other people's opinions, and whether or not you're doing life the "right" way. They're making up excuses to keep you in your comfort zone, even though, in all honesty, it's not truly comfortable there.
These clowns manifested in the vulnerable moments of your life, when you were not being properly supported. And they are distracting you from focusing on the things that really need your attention, and whittling away at your mental wellbeing.
And the only way to shut them up, is by changing the narrative that's going on in your head. If you want a guide for shifting your mindset, you can get my basic mindset makeover kit when you sign up for my newsletter. Or, you can snag the deluxe version for $3 at my shop. Or, if you're a Patreon Member, you can get that deluxe model and other tutorials and self care goodies for free using the Inspiration Station App.
But essentially, you shut the clowns up by recognizing the language you're using, and replacing disempowering thoughts with more supportive ones.
The subconscious brain's natural tendency is to look for problems to solve. It's surveillance camera is scanning everything that's going on around us and within us, 24/7. This is a good thing. It's part of our primal DNA, designed to keep us safe and healthy. The problem is, we are BOMBARDING it with too much information.
We've got friends, families, jobs, pets, cars, homes, and all of these things that need our care and attention. But THEN, on top of that, we binge on SO much extra input. We've turned on TVs and radios while we're scrolling on our phones reading the news, playing games and catching up on the social media circus.
Now, I'm not saying you can't do any of these things. And I'm not saying you can't do more than one thing at a time. BUT if you are finding that your mental wellness is suffering, it might be a good idea to take note of just how much you're actually giving your gorgeous brain to process.
The conscious, thinking brain is really only designed to focus on one thing at a time. And when we throw a bunch of information at it, it can be overwhelming and draining.
So, a good thing to become aware of, is just how much you're cramming into your brain. And then, try to figure out where you can scale back.
How can you create a little room for your brain to breathe? If you're stumped, this next mental health tip might be helpful.
You just learned that your conscious, thinking brain can really only fully focus on one thing at a time. Practicing mindfulness is kind of the Olympics of focus.
If you're lucky enough to get even five minutes to yourself, be it time brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, or folding laundry, practice being 100%, completely in that moment.
If you're brushing your teeth, notice the sensations of the bristles on your teeth and gums, how the toothbrush feels in your hand, the taste of the toothpaste, the temperature of the water while you rinse, the fresh, and satisfying feeling once you're done.
Slowing down and focusing your senses without judgment does crazy good things for the brain. It's actually a common tool used in reducing stress and anxiety. And the best part is, you can practice mindfulness just about anywhere.
Fill a page with doodles, watch the clouds roll by, feel the hum of a coffee shop. One of my favorite places to grab a minute of mindfulness is while I'm standing in line at the grocery store. The tidy rows of colorful food, the beep of the scanner, the drone of the conveyor belt, the chatter of people making small talk. I just love it.
So many magical things happen while you're sleeping.
For starters, this is when your brain deep dives into the parasympathetic response, and literally repairs itself. In fact, the WHOLE body works at repairing cells, restoring energy, and releasing goodies like essential hormones and proteins. Aren't you glad you expanded your body consciousness last month so you know what the heck I'm talking about? Anyway, nerve cells communicate and reorganize, which supports healthier brain function. And, while you're sleeping, your brain stores new information and gets rid of toxic waste.
And, as a bonus, all of this helps support things like immune function and cardiovascular health.
Sleep is the shit.
But what if you suffer from insomnia?
Well, you should totally discuss that with your doctor. But a few things you could try are:
- Limiting screen time and wearing blue light blocking glasses, especially before bed.
- Keep a consistent bed time and routine
- Make sure your room is comfy, cool and dark
- Don't eat anything or drink caffeine before bed
- Do something relaxing at the end of the day
- And get some exercise.
And speaking of exercise...
Because the brain requires so much energy to perform, that means it has a high metabolic demand. And in order to meet this demand, it's helpful to engage in aerobic exercise, which increases blood circulation to the brain.
What's happening is, the proteins and nutrients your brain needs in order to function properly gets transported more efficiently when we exercise.
But that's not all.
Exercise also improves memory by increasing something called, the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which makes it easier for the brain to absorb information and form long-term memories.
But that's not all.
While exercise doesn't get rid of stress, it does decrease the number of stress receptors in the part of your brain called the hippocampus, which minimizes the effect that stress hormones have on the brain.
But that's not all.
When you exercise you release the "feel good" hormones called dopamine and endorphins. Dopamine evokes the sensation of pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. And endorphins make you feel positive, euphoric and helps diminish the feeling of pain.
BUT THAT'S NOT ALL.
Studies have also shown that when people exercise regularly, they reduce their chances of developing dementia by 30%, and Alzheimers by 45%.
Okay...I think that's all.
The brain needs five essential nutrients in order to function well; lutein, omega-3, B vitamins, vitamin D, and protein. And the best way to get these nutrients into your blood stream is to eat 'em.
But what the heck is lutein?
Lutein is actually a pigment found in certain vegetables and it helps with memory and learning! Who Knew? And the best way to get it is by eating leafy, green vegetables like as kale, spinach, and collard greens. You can also find it in zucchini, squash, broccoli, corn, peas, and brussels sprouts.
Omega-3s are amazing fatty acids and super necessary to the vitality of your cells' membranes. Omega 3s provide structure to your cells, and support the interactions between them (so your nervous system functions better). You can find these fabulous fats in fish, seafood, seeds, nuts, and different oils like olive, soybean, and flaxseed.
B Vitamins can also be found in those leafy greens we just mentioned, but they're also hanging out in foods like salmon, trout, eggs, milk, beef, pork, turkey, chicken, oysters, clams, mussels, legumes, and yogurt. And what these B vitamins do is help prevent things like dementia, and boost the production of neurotransmitters which are the little cells that communicate information within your nervous system.
Vitamin D helps you maintain cognitive function (which is your ability to understand and process your thoughts, experiences and senses). And you can find vitamin D in a lot of these foods we've already mentioned, especially the fish. But you can also find it in foods like mushrooms, and fortified juices and milks.
And finally, Protein. Protein is important, because that's what your brain is made of - that, and water. You can get protein from the usually places like fish, meat, and poultry, but there's a ton of it hiding out in nuts, legumes, soy and dairy.
So, my question is: What's for dinner?
About 70% of our waking behaviors are habitual. Meaning, we're conditioned to do these things automatically.
And the reason we're able to form these habits is due to the magic of something called neuroplasticity, which is our brain's ability to literally rewire itself in order to learn and adapt to new things. This is how you're able to read, write, walk, talk and do absolutely everything you're currently capable of doing.
Which is a LOT of things, right?
Well, I've got a question for you...How many of your habits are setting you up for success?
Now, I don't mean success by corporate standards. I mean success, as in feeling empowered, grounded, and in control of yourself.
One of the ways we can help ourselves to experience these feelings, is by creating new habits, and building systems that support our brains and our lives.
I'm talking about morning and evening routines that help ramp us up, or wind down from the day. Schedules that remind us to keep up on regular life events like balancing the checkbook, and booking that doctor's appointment. Daily practices that strengthen your mind and body. Rituals that fill your soul.
Creating systems that work for YOU, and keep you inspired, focused, and organized will satisfy your brain, and keep the squirrels from getting too disruptive.
Sometimes the best thing we can do when it's feeling a little too cuckoo in the ol' brain cave is to simply take a break.
Listen, our brains like to obsess about stuff. It's totally normal. And it's REAL easy to get swept up in the drama. And when that happens, it sets our little fight or flight systems on fire.
So here's the thing, if you find yourself getting overwhelmed or anxious, hit the pause button, and redirect the brain.
Get outside, do some deep breathing, drink some water, count to ten, recite a calming mantra. There are endless things you can do that will help distract the brain, and get you out of cuckoo town.
I really need you to hear me on this. We've all got our baggage, our trauma...our shit. A lot of people I know are experiencing some sort of emotional dumpster fire, and you know the best advice I have for that?
DEAL WITH IT.
Not as in, suck-it-up-and-deal-with-it. But, face it, feel it, and fucking process it.
Maybe that looks like therapy. Maybe it's journaling. Hell, it could be expressive dancing. I don't know what you need. That's your job to figure out. All I know, is once you find some tools that help you manage your emotions, your mental wellbeing improves, like, a million times over.
Your mental health isn't going anywhere if you treat yourself like a dick.
This kind of goes back to our very first tip, changing the narrative. But I really want to express the importance of being patient, kind and compassionate with yourself.
If you're feeling like a hot mess, chances are, you've got some pretty good reasons for that. A human can only take so much stress in their life before the wires short out. And taking care of your mental wellbeing can feel really hard, isolating, and like it's taking forever.
So, again, be patient, kind and compassionate with yourself while you explore your needs, and discover new ways of caring for yourself. And while you're at it, maybe throw in some of that fluffy self care stuff that was super popular about ten years ago.
You deserve it.
If you want some extra mental wellness tips, and to belong to an amazing self care community that's making a positive impact, you can join us at Patreon!
I love you.
I appreciate you.
Thank you SO much for being here.
I'll see you soon!
This month's Patreon Perks: Mental Wellness Journal Prompts, Deluxe Mindset Makeover Kit, 7 Principals of Mindfulness, 30 Days of Empowering Questions