In times of crisis, taking care of your mental health is paramount to not just surviving, but thriving. The importance of maintaining physical health is well-documented and well-accepted in the wider population. Mental health, on the other hand, can carry a stigma. But research shows tending to your emotional well being will enable you to weather whatever storm you’re in, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, divorce or even a pandemic.
Physical and Mental Health go Hand-in-Hand
You may have heard of serotonin, the “happiness” chemical your brain releases when you exercise. It’s what’s associated with that “runner’s high” or the pump up people feel after a good workout. But physical fitness is even more integral to mental health than that.
You can think about your mental health like a cup of water. Negative interactions and experiences deplete the cup of water, while positive interactions and experiences, fill the cup. Depletions cause stress and chronic stress changes the chemistry of your brain. Studies have shown exercise makes the brain more resilient to chronic stress, allowing it to function properly. Studies have also linked physical fitness with the following positive mental health outcomes:
- Improved moods
- Clearer thinking
- Sharper memory
- A greater sense of calm
- Increased self-esteem
- Lower risk of depression
- Improved relationships
- Stronger resilience
If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or another mental health challenge, one low-level intervention that could help is to get moving. According to a Harvard study, even running for just 15 minutes or walking an hour a day is enough to lower your risk of major depression by 26%.
Accessing Mental Health Benefits Through Insurance
If you’ve decided you want to see a counselor, whether it’s just to talk or to help you manage a substance abuse disorder, check with your health insurance administrator to see if your benefits cover these services. The American Care Act required all individual and small group health plans with effective dates as of January 2014 to cover mental health and addiction treatment at the same levels they cover medical and surgical care. Unfortunately, large group plans are not required to offer mental health benefits.
If your health plan does cover mental health treatment, ask your health insurance administrator for a list of mental health providers in your area that are covered by your plan. If you live in a rural area without many or any mental health providers, or if there aren’t any local providers who are taking on new clients, ask the administrator about the availability of mental telehealth services such as BetterHelp.com. Telehealth has grown in popularity in recent years with more and more psychiatry and psychologists offering remote assessments, diagnoses and treatments via video conferencing and other technological solutions.
If your health plan doesn’t offer mental health benefits, you can purchase a mental health plan in the marketplace or try utilizing other low-cost interventions.
Free and Low-Cost Mental Health Interventions
If accessing counseling services isn’t available to you, or if you’re not ready to take that step, here are some free and low-cost mental health interventions that could help ease the burden.
- Exercise. As was stated above, even a minimal amount of exercise can change your brain chemistry for the better.
- Journal. Writing down your thoughts gives you a space to release stress, fears and other negative emotions. It’s been shown to be a powerful tool for those overcoming addiction as well as helpful for adolescents, leading to improved academic performance and a reduction in violence.
- Meditate. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University reviewed 19,000 studies and concluded that mindful meditation can reduce psychological stresses like anxiety, depression and emotional pain. If you need help getting started, try a mindfulness app such as Calm, Headspace, or Simple Habit.
- Call a hotline.
If you’re struggling with whatever is going on in your life, you don’t have to suffer alone. There are multiple resources you can access, but at the very least, call a trusted friend or family member. Sometimes even a short phone conversation can help you get through the day.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a hotline (1-800-662-HELP) that’s a free, national, peer-support service providing information, referrals and support.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a hotline (1-800-622-HELP) that’s a free referral service for people facing substance abuse disorders. They can give you referrals for local treatment centers, community-based organizations and support groups.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). This hotline provides support for people who are suicidal or in emotional distress.
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