Emotional Health · Health

Mental Wellness: Steps for Establishing Routines to Nurture Your Mental Health

10910538984_2271c4afd9_z Mindfulness offers the opportunity to be fully present now. It can be practiced anywhere, whether in the middle of nature on a walk in the forest or in the chaos of a work day. (Photo by leodelrosa via Flickr. Creative Commons License)


May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. It has been observed by presidential proclamation each year since 1949. Nearly 44 million American adults and millions of children experience mental health conditions each year. The cost to individuals and their families can not be calculated.  The stigma of mental illness prevents timely evaluation, causes shame, increases alcohol and drug abuse, and can result in loss of life.  This one month of Mental Health Awareness helps to increase education, focus on cause and treatment and encourages evaluation of those with symptoms that can be associated with mental illness.

Many of us are able to weather the storm of 21st-century life without succumbing  to mental illness, even though we might not have a plan for mental wellness.  We have too much chaos. We are over-scheduled. We push ourselves to get it all done, then are so revved up at night it can be hard to get enough sleep. Then we wake to an alarm, feeling tired before the day begins. I have heard from many patients that they have time only for family, home and work commitments. Even finding time for physical health becomes a stressor for many as they have to get up an hour early each day to head to the gym. Or they get up early every day before the demands of family begin just to find time to clear out the always demanding inbox of that great time waster: email.

We will have a post from Dr. Megan Riddle each Monday this month that will focus on some aspect of mental health. I asked her to begin her series with her plan for mental wellness. Do add your comments to this post, letting the readers of this site know what you do to improve your mental health. This is what we do best at womensvoicesforchange.org: share our wisdom. We look forward to hearing from you.

—Dr. Pat

Dr. Megan Riddle’s Response

What’s in your mental wellness routine? Many of us know we need to do things to keep ourselves physically healthy — we exercise regularly (or at least intend to), get our age-appropriate health screening, floss, visit our doctor and our dentist regularly. But what do you do for your mental health?  In a society that can easily devolve into a perpetual push to rush-rush-rush and go-go-go, it’s easy for your own mental health to take a back burner to more pressing things. In my line of work, I meet a lot of people with mental illness. But the mere absence of a diagnosable disorder does not always equate with good mental health.  Personally, in times of stress, I find it easier to focus on others’ needs than my own. However, by keeping in touch with my own mental health, I am better able to not just survive, but enjoy each day. Here are five of the things I do to help my own mental wellness.  What are yours?  

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  • Remember what is pleasurable and Just Do It: When I am stressed and feel I don’t have time to breathe, let alone have fun, it can be easy to let things I enjoy fall by the wayside.  However, this can be just when I most need to back off and give myself time to do something that brings me pleasure.  For me, that’s spending time with my two dogs, Aiden and Ellie. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, a quick trip outside to play ball or a training session in the park can be just what I need to make life feel manageable again.
  • Strengthen social connections: Studies repeatedly show that strong social supports have all sorts of benefits for both your physical and mental health. Finding time to reconnect with friends is an important part of overall mental wellness. Ideally, this is actually seeing each other — stopping to grab a cup of coffee or inviting a group of friends for dinner — but even a quick text message to let someone you know you’re thinking of them can give a boost.    
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  • Megan Riddle May 9, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Thank you for all of the lovely and thoughtful comments. I love hearing your own ideas about what works for you. Mental wellness is definitely an ongoing project we can all work on.

  • D. A. Wolf May 5, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    I find myself changing some of my once-upon-a-time go-to strategies for well-being — an hour alone at a bustling cafe or window shopping in a crowded urban center. A born “city girl,” I am finding surprising comfort in short nature walks, and a growing awareness of the beauty of the woods, even if only for a rare afternoon.

    I have also found that I lose my usual ability to sanity check myself with healthy routines if I am not sleeping enough. No surprise there, of course. Everything is harder when we don’t sleep.

    Delighted at helpful suggestions.

  • Diane Dettmann May 4, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Thank you Dr. Pat and Dr. Riddle for the timely suggestions on mindfulness and caring for our mental health. It’s easy for me to focus on my physical needs, but often my mental wellness slips by the wayside. I especially like the suggestion of creating nurturing rituals. I have some in place like daily walks and quiet time for reflection in the morning and evening. This post has inspired me to think of other ways to nurture my mental well being.

  • tasha May 3, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks so much for addressing this topic. It’s why I really love to read Women’s Voices for Change – it gets real on what concerns women as we live our lives, leaving aside the buzz and hype that only adds pressure to what we do.

    I follow a mental wellness plan similar to Dr. Riddle’s but there are still times in my life, usually unexpected situations or adverse life events, when I wonder if it would be helpful to be able to ‘check in’ with a mental health professional. I’ve had therapy in the past but, at 66, a long term arrangement seems a bit – well, intense (I was in therapy for many years when I was younger).

    I know Dr. Ford has addressed this to some degree and I’ve always found her comments very helpful. Perhaps it could also be included in Dr. Riddle’s mental wellness series? I know I’d appreciate it, and wouldn’t be surprised if there there are others who would, too.

  • Marcia May 3, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Even though your budget may seem tight, I have found you have to schedule “fun” in your budget just as you schedule utility bills, etc.

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. May 3, 2016 at 12:22 am

    Thanks to each of you for sharing your response to Dr. Riddle’s first post for the month devoted to Mental Health Awareness. We all benefit from the personal wisdom and experience that each of you bring to this subject.

  • Debbie May 2, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    I am thankful that mental health issues are openly discussed today. I have sought to correct a family disposition to depression by looking at diet, exercise (don’t do enough regularly), boundaries etc.
    I am a planner by nature but get overwhelmed with details of many things on my plate. It’s helpful to tackle a part of one issue and then more on.

    I have created a private space in my daughter’s former bedroom to scrapbook, listen to cd,s and plan. I now schedule catch up time with friends too and don’t feel guilty.
    I love the topics on your site. I grew up in NewJersey but now live in Sydney Australia.

  • Barb May 2, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    Phew! I’m relieved your mental wellness practices didn’t heap more “shoulds” on us. Good, simple, life-affirming practices.
    I also love the benefits of regularly walking outdoors, no matter the weather. Just getting outside and moving is healing.

  • Jen May 2, 2016 at 11:30 am

    I appreciate that May is the month for honoring Mental Health Awareness as I was profoundly affected by my eldest sister’s battle with schizophrenia.I also suffered a painful experience with psychosis as a result of Xanax overuse.Because of this,I now respect my body and brain and want to do everything I can to be healthy with both.

    I most enjoy walking “meditaton”..amazing how things look so much better with a good walk,good nutrition and good sleep.Also,I listen to CD’s with anything by Jack Kornfield,but by far,his “guided meditations for self healing” is most excellent.

  • Pat McIntyre May 2, 2016 at 7:26 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your personal strategies for improving mental wellness, Dr.Riddle. I am sure that each of us can incorporate or interpret your suggestions into our daily routines. I realize that I postpone my healing rituals for the weekend but there is only so much repair that can be done in those two days. Mental wellness routines should be intentional and every day.