The last two years have showcased the need to build resiliency; to focus on mental health. And while, at times, we have returned to some semblance of normalcy during the pandemic, the state of mental health in America continues to crumble. At evolvedMD, we live this daily — hearing from our frontline clinicians the struggles of everyday Americans to simply be okay, let alone thrive.
With mental health being deeply personal, dynamic, and ever-changing — there is no silver bullet for success. However, there are some best practices and perhaps best mindsets to get to a better mental state. As a strategist and storyteller, I’d like to provide some actionable strategies, insights, and tips to empower you to take charge of your mental health in 2022 and beyond. Curating reflections, research, and anecdotes — nothing I will deliver will be groundbreaking but nevertheless, this piece’s intended impact is designed for introspection, accessibility, and actionability:
Bet On Yourself
2022 is the year to be selfish and to bet on yourself. As a strategist, I constantly leverage questions and prompts to create a framework for larger plans. As you focus on your mental health in 2022, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions and complete the following prompts to help you better understand what you require to be well, be happy, and be strong this year:
- “When I think about _____ I immediately light up.”
- “Professionally, I need _____ to be happy and successful in my role and subsequently, in life.”
- What are my three (3) non-negotiables in [insert relationship]?”
- “If [insert relationship] were to end poorly, it would be because of ________?”
- “To be happy this year, I need to let go/get rid of ______”
I realize that the questions above can seem quite lofty, but there is also a simpler way to assess. At evolvedMD, we’ve implemented a framework for one-on-one meetings that includes checking in with the team with a simple prompt that I encourage us all to use daily. As you think about your personal and professional life, ask yourself: “on a scale of 1–10, how am I feeling/doing in each domain and what would get me to one point higher?” This quick exercise helps you take temperature in the moment on where you are and how to feel a bit better. For the ambitious, you can tweak the question and ask, “how can I get to a 10?” which will unlock more insight into your passion and your overall needs.
When answering above, be sincere to best understand your needs and be courageous to act on your answers. With these answers, you can assess and develop a plan by taking intentional time to reflect, understand, and act upon identifying what brings you energy and nurture those activities and relationships accordingly while also being very honest with yourself to understand what took me a while to learn: the strongest and healthiest mentally are the people who can name their struggles and set boundaries on the actions and people causing them. If there’s a draining friendship or something at work that continues to bring you down, acknowledge it, face it, and develop a plan; just know that plan might including removing yourself from the situation altogether. Conversely, if there are people in your life or something that really elevate you, invest to make more time and space.
The data from these exercises will help you determine your mental health plan for the upcoming months and the strategy should be simple: put yourself first. Once you adopt this mindset, the rest of this list becomes easier while carrying much more weight.
Commit to Whole-Person Care
As part of the executive team of a company leading the integration of physical and mental health, I know firsthand the power of looking at both the body and the brain as one. While the notion of whole-person care isn’t new or novel, it is still woefully underleveraged even though we know that approximately 89% of all published peer-reviewed research report a positive, statistically significant relationship between exercise/physical activity and mental health. The mind and the body are not two separate entities with improved physical health leading to improved mental health, and vice versa.
A self-proclaimed fitness junkie, I love the gym so I get plenty of exercise, but it wasn’t until my therapist told me to simply take a 15 minute walk every day did I understand the power of movement as a benefit: mental break + physical movement = whole-body care. Get your body in motion — you don’t have to run a marathon or lift heavy weights in the gym to strengthen the whole-person. Something as easy as going on a quick walk — and doing so consistently — will do wonders for your physical and mental health.
In 2022, complete your favorite exercise or activity for at least 30 minutes every day whether it be lifting, or Pilates, or walking around your neighborhood. Or find a completely new activity that challenges your body. Whatever it may be, just make sure you enjoy it — exercise should be fun, not a chore. It also wouldn’t hurt to incorporate mental breaks into this new routine, too, whether it’s deep breathing, practicing gratitude, or taking your eyes off screen. This synergy between the physical and mental will only compound that feel-good effect.
Write, Write, Write
If you know me, then you know that I always carry a notebook with me everywhere I go. Journaling daily is one of the simplest activities you can do for your mental health, not to mention an incredibly cost-effective way to get in touch with your mind and body. Positive Psychology recently outlined the benefits of journaling and I couldn’t agree more — putting thoughts and feelings on paper will help you to better understand yourself and gain more control of your emotions.
I had a coach offer insight that I journaled on recently with the statement “no one is exempt from growth and healing.” Profound and timely, that notion sparked pages of writing that was a catalyst for introspection while examining both personal and professional relationships. Without time to reflect and respond in a way I love most (writing), I would not have been able to grow myself which is something I try to do often.
With that, I recommend spending 15–20 minutes with your journal or notebook and write down whatever comes to mind. Don’t stop, don’t edit, just let it flow — then revisit to glean insights and themes to help you think about how to be the best you.
Find and Nurture What Fulfills You
Everyone says to pursue your passion which is wonderful advice but sometimes just not very practical so if that’s too lofty, I encourage you to pursue small things that bring you joy. Did you know that a common symptom of depression is anhedonia — losing interest and joy in things you normally like doing? With literature suggesting that hobbies can enrich your mental health, in 2022 its time to either reconnect with or continue to nurture those fun things that fulfill you. Whether it’s something to add to your daily routine like reading, writing, creating art, or gardening or something that will expand your personal or professional skillset like brewing beer, learning a new language, or volunteering — identify and foster what moves you.
Pursuing a hobby is a great way to spend your spare time and unwind from your daily routine and the world happening around you. If positioned correctly, your hobby can also elevate you in your relationships and work too while providing points of mental clarity and strength.
I find so much joy in helping my community by volunteering my time and talent to social impact organizations in Phoenix and nationwide. I am also, surprise surprise, an amateur writer so when I need to decompress or unwind, I put pen to paper and write poetry and short stories to an amazing outcome: peace and clarity.
Whatever your passion, start small — paint a picture, start planting tomatoes, or call up a local shelter and volunteer. Don’t overwhelm yourself with multiple activities, though; just pick one thing to focus on to keep you centered.
Leverage Community with Vulnerability
To thrive mentally, you must learn to ask for help without feeling guilty. As a man and particularly a black man, this has been probably the hardest thing for me to understand, internalize, and exercise. Being candid about my own mental health journey, once I realized that everyone, no matter how strong they are, needs help and support, finally set me on a path to healing and building better mental health. At evolvedMD, I have the privilege of conceptualizing campaigns aimed at reducing stigma because it’s so important for me to help people be willing to get help.
Every one of us is surrounded by a community that is willing, able, and hoping to support. Whether it’s a family member, a close friend, or a mental health professional, we are most successful when we leverage those around us. But to do that, we must be vulnerable and open to being open. With renewed focus on you in 2022, taking the time to know that you will be loved and supported “warts and all” will be not only freeing but immensely invaluable on your journey to strengthening your mental health.
Sit down and talk with those close to you or a mental help professional and I promise you will see why vulnerability with the community around you is the key to success.
Depending on who you are and where you are in your journey — my hope is that no matter what, the strategies above are helpful in immersing you in introspection and understanding what it means to be mentally fit. My journey and my work have culminated in me finding the power in looking inward, listening to your body, finding a passion, reflecting on your thoughts and being vulnerable about it all with those around you.
Good luck on your journey.
Onward to a successful and healthy 2022.