May is known as Mental Health Awareness month. We took some time to delve into how one define's mental health and what are some of the symptoms that someone may have. Dr. Sanam Hafeez shares what this involves.
ATHLEISURE MAG: When people use the term, Mental Health what does that mean?
DR. SANAM HAFEEZ: The dictionary defines it as: “A person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.” To give it broader strokes, the term mental health is akin to mental fitness. It means, how “stable” is a person in their head? Do they have what would be considered normal reactions to everyday disappoints or situations? Can they manage anger? Can they make and maintain relationships? Do they engage in self destructive behavior? Are they violent? Do they abuse drugs or alcohol? Do they have post-traumatic stress or obsessive compulsive disorder? Do they have eating disorders?
AM: What is the importance of Mental Health Awareness month in May?
DR. SH: There is less of a stigma attached to forms of mental illness than there used to be. Even Princes Harry and William have taken this up as one of their philanthropic causes. There is a saying within mental health, and that is: “Your secrets keep you sick.” The more that celebrities such as Demi Lovato admit to battling some form of mental illness, the more everyday people have the strength to come forward and seek help. We have empathy (as we should) for people stricken with Cancer, Aids, Parkinson’s , etc. we must have the same understanding for people who carry the burden of depression, anxiety, addiction or other forms of mental illness. People do not need to suffer in silence, as many of these conditions can be treated with medication and therapy.
AM: In the last few years, there seems to be a focus on providing education and acknowledging the fact that taking care of ourselves within this space is just as important as a number of other things we do from day to day – why do you think that right now that this is something that we’re hearing a lot more about in the media, social media, personalities etc?
DR. SH: We live in a world where there is more openness and honesty than that of our parent’s generation. Our parents were taught not to “air their dirty laundry in public.” For all of the negatives that have been said about social media, and some are true, it has brought about forums that provide support for people. For example, one can find multiple support groups on Facebook for alcoholics in recovery, overeaters, compulsive gamblers, anxiety, anorexics, etc. Sometimes it takes just one influencer or celebrity to be the brave one and lead the way, and then more follow. For example, Dan Harris was a Good Morning America Anchor when he had a panic attack live on air. It terrified him, but he spoke candidly about it and went on to write a book “10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works.” Elizabeth Vargas, is a longtime anchor on ABC and host of 20/20. She had a well publicized battle with alcohol and has sat down for many interviews to discuss it. Most recently, TV host Wendy Williams admitted to a relapse with Cocaine and to staying in a sober living facility. Notable figures like these have made conversations about mental illness or addiction more acceptable and commonplace. They have brought it out of the closet and shown that anyone can be susceptible regardless of race, education, or social status.
AM: What are signs that one might be suffering from mental health whether we’re thinking about ourselves or someone we know?
Loss of interest in things/people that that once enjoyed
Lack of self care
Sleeping too much or too little
Major decrease or increase in appetite
Giving away prized possessions
Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don't exist in objective reality)
Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing aches and pains)
Thinking about suicide
AM: Many people think that within the topic of mental health that this is focused on those suffering from Bipolar, Schizophrenia or depression; however, what other conditions may follow under this area?
DR. SH: People can simply be situationally depressed. Situational depression means that a person is typically an even-keeled person who now finds themselves in a very distressing situation such as the loss of a child, parent or spouse. Perhaps their home has been foreclosed or they have been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. These are all very mentally challenging situations and the person facing them will likely need help from a mental health professional to learn skills to cope and have a sympathetic unbiased ear to listen.
AM: What risks are involved when we don’t check in with how we are doing when it comes to mental health awareness?
DR. SH: Small problems can turn into big issues whether it is marriage, substance abuse, eating disorders, anger issues, depression, etc. You know yourself better than anyone else. If something feels “off” and your habits change your social life changes, your motivation is lacking, take a step back and asses what is going on. Never be ashamed to reach out for help. There is no such thing as doing it “too soon.”
AM: In living a life that is in constant motion, what are things that we can do whether it falls into self-care or seeking professional help etc. that should be placed into our routine to ensure that we have good mental health?
Do your best not to overschedule yourself
Learn to say no to people or commitments that will overwhelm you
Make time for physical exercise
Eat a a balanced diet and make the most of the food you eat to nourish you and fuel your body
Decide who and what are the priorities in your life. Eliminate extraneous people and places.
Get rid of toxic people
If your job is making you miserable and you can quit for financial reasons, do your best to seek a new position while you are still employed
If you are in a verbally or physically abusive relationship get out of it
AM: Are there websites/apps that you feel are beneficial as a better way to establish proper mental health?
DR. SH: Calm focuses on the four key areas of meditation, breathing, sleep, and relaxation, with the aim of bringing joy, clarity, and peace to your daily life.
Headspace uses mindfulness and meditation to help you perform at your best each day. The app's mission is to provide you with the essential tools to achieve a happier, healthier life.
Moodnotes is a thought journal and mood diary. The app can be used to capture your feelings and improve your thinking habits through the implementation of CBT and positive psychology.
Moodpath is your pocket-sized mental health companion. Whether you are facing a rough patch or have concerns about your mental health, the app's goal is to support you through the difficult times and guide you out the other side.
AM: If there is anything that we should keep in mind when it comes to an area that we need to keep in mind regarding mental health.
DR. SH: Social media can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on how you use it. If you are using it to join networking groups, support groups, or grow your business that’s constructive. If you are stalking an ex, or obsessing over how your selfies look and re-touching them for hours, that is not constructive. If you are spending your time comparing your life to others you know this can lead to depression. Remember, social media is a very edited and curated version of people’s lives and it is the rare person who shows their life warts and all. So get off your phone and live your best life!
Read the latest issue of Athleisure Mag’s May Issue and see Let’s Check in on Our Mental Health with Dr. Hafeez in mag.