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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health refers to our state of mind and includes emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. Our mental health influences how we feel, think and act which can fluctuate over time and with stress. Supporting our physical health, thought patterns, and relationships helps strengthen our mental health.

Our thoughts, personality, emotions, and relationships contribute to sound mental health. Negative emotions are normal but it’s important to not let them take hold. Talking with a trusted friend or writing about emotions can help. Allowing ourselves time to reflect and process feelings is also beneficial. Daily affirmations (saying positive phrases to oneself) can improve our outlook.

Research shows that a gratitude mindset (appreciating what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t) leads to greater feelings of happiness, motivation, stronger relationships, and physical health. We can cultivate a gratitude mindset by choosing to be grateful every day. A simple activity to build our gratitude mindset is to write down one thing that we take for granted but are very thankful for. Doing this writing exercise every day for a couple of weeks and reflecting on our list can help make being grateful a part of our daily routine.

Eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep helps us build a foundation for physical and mental well-being. Compromising our physical health can detrimentally affect our mental health as they are interdependent.  Not getting enough sleep or skipping meals can make us irritable. This may lead to problematic interactions and affect our relationships, which becomes an added source of stress. Taking a brisk walk can help stimulate brain chemicals that may leave us feeling happier, less stressed, and more energized. Getting daily exercise may also lead to better sleep.

New habits require practice! Starting with small changes and accepting that slips are unavoidable will help our chances of being successful in our efforts towards health improvement. Focusing on one thing to adjust whether it is becoming more physically active or adopting a gratitude mindset will also make change easier. Enjoy the process as much as the achievement. Getting started is an accomplishment in itself!