Mental health maintenance

Taking actionable steps toward a happier future

Everyone wants to be happier, but arriving in a place of better mental health can seem a daunting task.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2014 an estimated 15.7 million Americans age 18 and older had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, which is 6.7 percent of the adult population.

The LGBT community is even more vulnerable, as life coach and motivational speaker Jonathan Winn points out. Winn, who owns and operates the Charlotte, N.C.-based Breathe Refuge, is himself openly gay and often works with other members of the LGBT community.

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“Clearly the LGBT community is emotionally wounded, (many) having been cast aside from family and society. Our wounds run deep, striking at the core of who we authentically are,” Winn says.

While those suffering from major depression may need to seek professional psychiatric help, it is important to understand that there are actionable steps that can be taken to increase overall happiness and mental wellbeing. Better yet, all of these techniques can be used in conjunction with psychotherapy or clinical treatment. Most of all, it is important to retain hope.

“By letting go of our past wounding, we are freed up to fully stand in our power,” as Winn puts it.

Gratitude journal

Keeping a gratitude journal has been shown in several studies to help improve mood and feelings of happiness. A gratitude journal is a diary where you write down that which you are grateful for in your life. It allows you to focus on the positive over the negative. This is particularly helpful for those who have a tendency to notice the negative experiences they go through much more than the positive ones, as it can begin to retrain your way of thinking about life. You may not be able to change what happens to you, but you can change how you view it.

You can keep a daily journal or simply make an entry once a week or so, which some studies suggest is more effective than making daily entries.

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Letter of gratitude

Writing a letter of gratitude to someone in your life who has helped you or been supportive is another great way to focus on the positive aspects of your life. It also extends the gratitude outward and is a chance to thank someone, as well as remind you that you are a part of a supportive community. It may also act to reconnect you with those with whom you may have lost contact.

Random acts of kindness

Doing something nice for someone, even something small, even if they never know you did it, can also create positive effects in your mood. Just remember not to have preconceived expectations about how the person you aim to help will respond. If you are walking around handing out flowers, for instance, do not feel bad if someone ignores you. Focus on those who were happy to receive your gift. If you are particularly sensitive to rejection, try to find ways to help people where they will have no way of knowing the kind act came from you.

Meditation

In a hectic society such as ours, meditation provides a mental oasis where you can relax, release stress and try to find a quiet place in your mind, free from anxiety and worry. There are many different ways to meditate, and it is something of a catchall phrase at this point. If you are new to meditation, make your first goal to simply sit down for 20 to 30 minutes in one place without moving or engaging in any activity.

Once you can successfully make it through those sessions, start working on sitting with crossed legs on a cushion with your eyes closed, while focusing on your breathing. When thoughts come into your mind, as they will, don’t try to chase them away or latch on to them. Simply watch them arise, and then watch them disappear again. Try to eventually get to the point where you are meditating once a day for around 30 minutes. Not only will it help you to reduce and manage stress and negative emotions, it will begin to make you a more patient and less reactive person as well.

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Posted by Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.