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Give & Take: Finding the Prescription for Mental Health

Rebecca Shpektor

Working in an industry highly focused on providing elite client service, we often forget to service ourselves first. Bottom line, we’re our most important client. May is Mental Health Awareness month, making this the perfect time to focus on self-care.

Mental Health Awareness Month commemorates and brings attention to the importance of mental health and wellness as well as empowers the fight against stigmas and educating the public to advocate for those that struggle. Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. In fact, this affects one in five individuals through biological, psychological and social means. There’s no cookie cutter definition to mental illness, given this impacts individuals in a myriad of ways, often taking a toll on one’s day to day life, relationships, habit forming impulses and physical well-being.

For years, I’ve been passionate about studying mental health and how I could act by trying to aid those around me with finding coping mechanisms. I was taking college courses in psychology and neurobiology purely out of interest and to better understand people’s underlying pain, along with the chemical reactions that affect various receptors in the brain that inhibit normal activities and moods. Even after taking courses, I discovered that mental health cannot be classified in any book and there is no “right” way to “cure” those suffering internally – which is not an easy lesson to learn when you’ve lived it.

In elementary school, I became exposed to friends and classmates that were in deep pain – some handling their situations better than others. There were things I never thought I’d see, hear or experience, especially at such a young age. Mental illness doesn’t come black and white. There were friends who were mentally affected differently, struggling with eating disorders and body image issues. In middle school, I remember wondering why my best friend wore long sleeves in the summer, catching a glimpse of her cuts and feeling my stomach sink. In high school, another friend was caught in an abusive relationship and turned to burning herself. She disappeared that semester and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Then, my freshman year of college, I learned of four suicides – one of them being a friend’s brother, which sent shockwaves through our small community.

Sophomore year, I learned that both of my friends had moms suffering from psychosis – one completely rejecting her son and then bargaining for his time when she was feeling remorse. This would come in swings. Staying in close proximity to this kind of back and forth affected me too. I felt defeated knowing there are no words or actions that could alleviate the pain and I became a sponge – suffering when he would suffer. My junior year, I befriended a girl who spoke of overcoming mental illness, showing me her scars and proudly explaining that the darkness was behind her. Days later, she faced so much torment and drove herself into a bridge. There was a lot of grief and lingering questions during these times. Why would someone do that? What are the signs of mental illness? Could I have helped more? My mind roamed through these over and over.

The answer isn’t simple, and it took a long time to find peace with the idea that there is no easy solution. Instead, managing mental health innately starts with you. Work on finding tranquility and comfort within yourself first. This ultimately takes years of practice but is of vital importance. Once you find the connection and stability in your mind and body, put it into play each and every day. You will always be your mind’s #1 advocate, but don’t forget to mind those around you. Be kind, patient and empathetic. Ultimately, the best prescription to mental health awareness is practicing self-awareness.

I’m lucky to work at a place like Prosek that offers a safe space to practice self-care and level set your mental health. Prosek encourages and incentivizes outdoor time and breaks, hosted a mindfulness workshop and reimburses for gym and exercises classes so we are encouraged to take care of ourselves. Additionally, Prosek offers a no cost option to engage confidentially with a WorkLifeMatters Employee Assistance Program that connects you to a counselor for support.

For those who don’t have the support of their companies, or struggle to practice self-care, I wanted to share some ways to manage stress that can be easily be put into practice:

  1. Turn That Frown Upside Down. If you’re feeling upset, fake a smile. Scientists found that smiling releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain, sparking a feeling of happiness. Amazingly, you can improve your physiological and psychological state by deliberately changing your facial expressions.
  2. Breathe. Another method to ease your mind is to take a step back and count down from 10. Inhaling eucalyptus oil for stress relief has a positive stimulating effect on the body’s circulatory system. The result is an increase in blood and oxygen flow throughout the body, which can relax the nervous system and mental fatigue.
  3. Take A Time Out. Prioritize yourself when you need to. Finding the balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself can really reduce stress levels. Paying attention to your thoughts and feelings can help you be in-tune with your body and prevent burn out.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, I hope everyone makes the time to take care of themselves and build self-care into their routines and encourages others to do so. A little effort goes a long way and can help create a supportive culture for those who are actively struggling with mental health. 

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