Mental Fitness

Members of the Jewish Community are eligible to receive 5 free counseling sessions at JFCS’s Dupont Counseling Group, so there is really no reason not talk through any and all mental health challenges you might be facing.

One in every five American adults experiences mental illness each year, with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder ranking as the top three most prevalent conditions in our country.

While the severity of each individual’s condition may vary, it’s hard to ignore the wide commonality of mental health disorders across the country – which is why there’s no better time to work to improve our collective understanding of mental health. 

Depending on the type of disorder, there are myriad signs and symptoms that can indicate possible mental illnesses. For example, beyond the typical symptoms of prolonged sadness or loss of interest in usual activities that are generally associated with depression, other common emotional and behavioral changes can raise red flags as well. Symptoms such as increased frustration or hopelessness, withdrawal from friends and activities, and significant tiredness or problems sleeping can all indicate a possible mental health disorder.

Lorna Wittenrich is a licensed mental health counselor at Dupont Counseling Group, a division of Jewish Family & Community Services that provides counseling services to First Coast families of all races, religions and backgrounds. Wittenrich notes that it’s important to pay close attention to these symptoms – whether in yourself or in those you love.

“We are not always the best self-advocates when it comes to mental illness,” Wittenrich said. “Many of the individuals and families we serve come to us after a recommendation from a friend or family member who saw the signs, took note and helped them seek assistance.”

Wittenrich also mentioned that the pervasive negative stigma around mental illness often clouds the judgement of those wondering whether they should seek help.

“We find that many are still reluctant to seek help and are unsure of where and how to start the process of connecting with mental health services,” she said.

To combat this – and to bring services to those who need them most – Dupont Counseling Group offers in-home counseling sessions aimed at helping families, couples and individuals navigate mental health issues in the space where they are most comfortable. There, counselors offer critical therapy and build strategies to improve clients’ situations.

Wittenrich also brought up one concept that is a prime topic in many of these sessions: mental fitness – i.e., incorporating good habits to maintain positive mental health.

“Whether you are managing a diagnosed disorder or simply want to be proactive about keeping a healthy routine that benefits your mental health, there are several easy ways to stay mentally fit,” Wittenrich said.

Prioritize Social Connection

It may sound simple, but the company of others can be instrumental in helping you feel and function at your best. Humans are social creatures, and many of our emotional needs are often met by investing in positive relationships and quality connections with others.

While connecting with others via phone or social media can certainly be a step in the right direction, nothing beats face-to-face interaction. Make a point to see those you care about in person on a regular basis. For those managing a mental health disorder, this can be crucial, since seeing someone in-person will give them an opportunity to keep track of your habits, mood and overall wellbeing.

Focus on Physical Fitness

When you improve your physical health, you are bound to experience positive mental and emotional benefits. Physical activity releases endorphins – powerful chemicals that boost your energy and improve your mood. In addition to this, regular exercise helps to relieve stress, improve your memory and can even help you sleep better.

Finding the motivation to get up off the couch and work out can be difficult – especially if you are dealing with a mental health disorder or simply don’t like to exercise. But you don’t have to create a full body-building routine to reap the benefits of workout. Start by shooting for modest amounts of activity – walking laps around the mall, throwing a Frisbee with a friend at the beach or even playing an activity-based video game.

Write in a Journal

There are many benefits to journaling that have positive impacts on your mental health. In fact, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that people diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder reported significantly lower depression scores after just three days of expressive writing for 20 minutes per day.

Journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with mental illness. By jotting down the details of your daily moods, experiences and interactions, you also give yourself a baseline to draw patterns from. The practice will also help you clarify your thoughts and feelings, allowing you to solve problems more effectively.

Revamp Your Bedtime Routine

Sleep and mental health are closely connected. Not only are those with mental problems more likely to have insomnia or similar sleep disorders, sleep deprivation also further affects your psychological state. Studies in both adults and children suggest that sleep problems actually increase the risk of developing some psychiatric disorders.

Get serious about your bedtime routine by developing baseline “sleep hygiene” – i.e., maintaining a regular sleep-and-wake schedule, using the bedroom only for sleeping and keeping the room dark and free of distractions like computers or televisions.

See a Counselor

The stigma surrounding therapy leads many to believe that it’s only for those who suffer debilitating mental illness, or for those who are going through massive interpersonal issues – but this entirely untrue. People want to do more than simply manage mental illness – they want to learn how to be happier, more productive and better at forging healthy relationships. Seeing a counselor or therapist can help you mitigate smaller issues as they come up, all the while providing you with a non-judgmental space to guide you towards a better version of yourself.  

Adopting one or more of these habits can help you stay mentally fit in the face of anything life throws at you – but they can also help you throw a lifeline to someone in need by connecting them with strategies that can improve their mental wellness. In 2018, less than half of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment. If you or someone you care about needs help, don’t hesitate to connect with a professional. For more information on Dupont Counseling Group, go to the services tab at JFCSjax.org or call 904-394-5706.

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