May is Mental Health Awareness MonthIf you hadn’t yet heard, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Stress seems to be a fact of modern life. Like many people, you may be juggling multiple demands and multiple roles.

If you are finding that it is causing you to lose sleep and to feel anxious or depressed, use this month to get back in charge of your life. Here are a few reminders of practical things you can do to improve your state of mind and your life.

Take care of your self-esteem.

In order to feel good and to feel good about yourself, do things for others. In my recent book, “Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem”, I summarize important research that shows that the way to feel good is to do good. A positive self-esteem is built on being a positive force in our families and communities. Actions big and small that contribute to the larger good are the basis for sound personal mental health. Take the bumper sticker “Practice random kindness and selfless acts of beauty” seriously. Surprise someone with flowers. Pay for someone’s coffee. Let someone else have that coveted parking space you had your eye on. It’s cumulative. Doing little things for others adds up to more self-confidence and self-liking.

Get enough sleep.

Fatigue is the enemy of mental health. Shaving hours off your shut-eye time in order to get work done can have big negative consequences. Insufficient sleep results in diminished ability to concentrate and reduced ability to make good decisions. Most people need 7 – 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. To be maximally effective, turn off your computer and turn off the lights at a reasonable hour. You will be sharper and healthier.

Eat right to feel right.

If your idea of the food groups is carbs, fats and sugar, you aren’t doing much for your body or your mind. Sure, a fast food meal on the run may save time but it’s at the cost of your physical as well as your mental health. Good health requires good food. Good mental health requires healthy eating that feeds the senses as well as the stomach. If you are feeling stressed during the day, take ten minutes or so to slowly, mindfully eat a piece of fruit instead of going to the vending machine for a quick sugar high. Make sure you have relaxed conversation with people you care about during a nutritious meal at least once a day

Get physical.

Get some exercise at least part of every day. Go for a walk or run. Work out for an hour. Bogey in the living room with your partner or your kids. Get the blood pumping – even if you don’t feel like it. Especially if you don’t feel like it. Physical exercise releases endorphins, natural feel good hormones.

Reach out and touch someone.

Mental health is nurtured by physical intimacy. Giving a hug does as much for the giver as the receiver. A pat on the back or stroke on the arm affirms connection with those we are connected to. So hug your kids. Hold hands with those whose hands are there for you to hold. Never be too tired to make love to someone who loves you. You’ll both feel better. Is there no one in your life you can appropriately touch? Get a massage or have your hair done. Then turn your attention to filling that gap in your life.

Are you doing everything “right” and still feeling stressed? Then it may be time for a trip to your doctor. Yes, your doctor. Many symptoms of mental illness are caused by undiagnosed or undertreated medical issues. The thyroid is often the culprit. But vitamin deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal ailments and heart trouble can cause anxiety, depression, and even delusions. Before deciding your feelings are all in your head, see your primary care physician for a check-up.

If you are medically fine but still regularly feel stressed and anxious or depressed, do consider working directly on your mental health. A mental health provider can do an assessment and offer you a plan to help you feel better and be better able to cope. If you could do it yourself, you would have done it already. Let May be the month you become more self-aware. Take better care of yourself in ways that you can and consider getting some help for the problems you can’t solve on your own.