By Jordi Alftine , SBHA Youth Advisory Council member
The following reflects Jordi’s lived experiences, thoughts, and opinions.
Mental health is crucial to overall well-being, particularly for teenagers and young adults. Unfortunately, mental health issues are increasingly prevalent in this age group, affecting individuals across the globe. The teenage and young adult years are complicated transitional periods characterized by physical, emotional, and social changes that can be challenging to navigate. Taking proactive steps to maintain good mental health during this time is important. I have often felt overwhelmed between school, sports, and extracurriculars, and I found it very challenging to balance these tasks while also taking care of my mental health. By prioritizing my self-care and seeking help, I have found ways to foster positive mental health and build a foundation for a healthy and fulfilling future.
Taking care of one’s mental and overall well-being can be easier said than done, which is why I have developed a guide to assist in this process.
- Creating a balance between school, work, extracurricular activities, relationships, and whatever else might be consuming time in your life.
- Set priorities – Setting priorities is a powerful tool for promoting mental well-being and achieving balance4. By creating a to-do list that includes the things that matter most to you, you can ensure that your time and energy are spent on the activities that bring you the greatest satisfaction and fulfillment. This simple act can reduce stress, increase productivity, and help you maintain a positive outlook, ultimately benefiting your overall mental health.
- Say no – Saying “no” is crucial to maintaining mental wellness as it allows us to create a healthy balance in our lives 4. By declining additional tasks or activities we don’t feel capable of handling, we establish boundaries and prioritize our well-being. Though difficult, learning to say no is essential for preserving our mental health and avoiding burnout.
- Incorporate time for yourself – prioritizing “me time” is essential in creating balance and promoting mental health. Taking breaks from daily responsibilities and engaging in activities that bring us joy, peace, or relaxation can help reduce stress, boost our mood, and recharge our batteries. Whether it’s meditation, reading a book, or taking a walk, making time for ourselves can profoundly impact our mental well-being and overall quality of life.
- Be productive – Being productive can promote balance and enhance mental health. While relaxation is important, having a sense of purpose and achieving meaningful goals can be just as vital to our well-being. Setting achievable goals and creating a plan to accomplish them can boost our confidence, increase feelings of self-worth, and foster a sense of fulfillment 4. Thus, a balanced approach that includes rest and productivity positively impacts our mental health.
Exercise and Nutrition
- You might think that exercise and nutrition are aspects of our physical health, not our mental health. However, it’s important to note that all areas of health correlate and impact each other; exercise and nutrition are no exception.
- Eat mindfully – A crucial step in ensuring a well-rounded diet is to be mindful of your emotional state and what you consume while eating. Many individuals overlook their eating habits. Therefore, nutrition experts suggest keeping a food diary 2. Keeping track of what, where, and when you eat can provide you with a better understanding of your dietary routines.
- Find joy in cooking – Finding joy in cooking can significantly improve your overall nutrition. By seeking out healthy recipes that spark excitement and incorporating them into your meal plan, you can take control of your diet and cultivate a more beneficial relationship with food 2. I often find intriguing recipes on TikTok and other forms of social media, but you can also visit websites such as Allrecipes to find ideas. To get started, create a grocery list and commit to regularly preparing these dishes. Not only will this lead to healthier eating habits, but it can also provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in the kitchen.
- Try to limit processed foods and sugars – “Sugar and processed foods can lead to inflammation throughout the body and brain, which may contribute to mood disorders, including anxiety and depression.” (“Eating Well for Mental Health.” Sutter Health)
- Get moving – Physical activity has a significant impact on mental health. Regular exercise can increase the production of serotonin, improve sleep patterns, and reduce the risk of substance use disorders 3. Starting a physical activity routine may be challenging, but finding an enjoyable form of exercise can make all the difference. Try outdoor activities like hiking, participating in sports, jogging, or hitting the gym.
- By focusing on relationship-building, trust development, and effective communication, we can create a strong foundation for positive mental health.
- Building quality relationships – Strong relationships are essential for promoting mental health and well-being1. To build quality relationships, focus on actively listening to others, being open and honest in communication, expressing empathy and compassion, and showing genuine interest in others.
- Building trust – Trust enables us to feel secure and confident in our connections with others, which can reduce stress and improve our overall well-being. When trust is lacking, relationships can become strained, causing feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and even depression1. If you struggle with building trust, speaking with a therapist can be a helpful way to work through these issues and improve your ability to form positive, trust-based relationships.
- Effective communication – Effective communication is crucial for maintaining good mental health because, at times, we may need support and help from others to care for our mental well-being. No one can do everything alone; seeking help and support is a strength, not a weakness. Good communication helps us express our needs and feelings, connect with others, and build support and comfort relationships.
School-based health centers play an important role in supporting students’ mental health. These centers offer a range of resources to promote well-being, including nutrition and physical activity guidance, counseling and mental health services, and support for managing time and priorities. For example, at my local school-based health center, students can access free planners and notebooks to help them balance their time and stay organized. These centers provide a convenient, accessible, and confidential environment for students to receive the care and support they need. Whether you need someone to talk to, guidance on healthy habits, or support managing stress, a school-based health center can be a valuable resource. These centers aim to promote holistic health and well-being by offering a range of services tailored to the needs of students, helping them thrive both academically and personally.
1 Department of Health & Human Services. “Strong Relationships, Strong Health.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, 2 Oct. 2017, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Strong-relationships-strong-health.
2 “Eating Well for Mental Health.” Sutter Health, https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/nutrition/eating-well-for-mental-health.
3 Get Moving: The Benefits of Exercise for Teen Mental Health. https://health.usnews.com/health-care/for-better/articles/2018-05-28/get-moving-the-benefits-of-exercise-for-teen-mental-health.
4 “Mental Health Is a Balancing Act.” NAMI, https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2017/Mental-Health-is-a-Balancing-Act