28 May2021

Mental Health Month Short Stories

by The Five to Flow Collective

In the spirit of living our brand every day, Five to Flow would like to share a series of short stories from our Collective that go below the surface and get to the heart of what Mental Health Month 2021 means to us. Since 1949, Mental Health America has observed May as Mental Health Month to generate awareness and outreach to millions of people through the media and local events. This year’s theme is “Tools 2 Thrive,” which focuses on providing practical tools everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency regardless of their situation. We hope each of our stories gives you the inspiration to thrive and live your best life.

DISCLAIMER: These short stories do not provide medical advice. The purpose of the Five to Flow personal stories is to promote health and wellness. They are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

Be Good to Your Body​ - Jason Haller, Managing Director of Health and Wellness

Our lifestyles and how we treat our bodies can have a significant impact on how we feel mentally. We do not perceive it, but our bodies have many chemical reactions going on all the time; how we live our lives affects that chemistry for better or worse. The pharmaceuticals we use seek to balance that chemistry once it has become out of balance, but what caused that imbalance in the first place? I would like to explore a few aspects of lifestyle that substantially impact our bodies’ chemistry that will positively affect our mood, energy levels, anxiety, and health.

These are all things I have used as personal strategies to look after my mental health after bouts of severe insomnia following a concussion-riddled football career, adrenal fatigue, and general life struggles. Personally, I look to these strategies in times of frustration, fatigue, and anxiety. It feels good to know I can reliably affect my physical and mental health with some factors I have control over. These are not meant to cure anything, but perhaps they can help guide you as you seek to find strategies that help to promote your well-being.

1. Sunshine. It helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, allowing for better sleep at night and better energy upon waking in the morning. At certain times of the day, the UVB rays stimulate your body to produce vitamin D (synthesized from cholesterol in your skin), which is associated with proper bone development and health, a robust immune system, and better R.E.M. cycle sleep, according to Dr. Stasha Gominak’s research. Sunshine also has the profound effect of increasing nitric oxide, which has been linked with lower rates of all-cause mortality and boosting mood, sleep, cognitive performance, and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

2. ​ Sleep. If you are not getting proper sleep, there is little chance of functioning well in life, mentally or physically. Lack of sleep also significantly increases the risk of depression and other mood disorders. Some strategies that have helped me include creating a good sleep environment. Think of a bear’s cave: it should be pitch-black, quiet, cool (approximately 65 degrees F), and devoid of electronics. Seven to nine hours per night is the range most people will need to be at their best and healthiest.

3. ​ Exercise. This could be as simple as a walk in your neighborhood for ten to fifteen minutes and could range all the way up to an hour-long session at the gym pumping iron. Exercise increases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine while reducing stress hormones like cortisol.​ The combined effect is you feel better and have less stress and anxiety. Be mindful not to overdo it, especially if you are in a state of exhaustion. Thirty to sixty minutes per day is therapeutic, but beyond two to three hours per day can begin to cause more damage than repair. ​ ​

4. ​ Digestion and gut health. If you are not absorbing the correct nutrients from your diet because of impaired digestion, it is going to be difficult to feel your best. Common symptoms of poor digestive health include cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, constipation, brain fog, fatigue, and depression. There will be different solutions for different gut issues, but when I experienced poor digestive health, I used the FODMAP diet.

5. ​ Electrolytes and hydration. Proper hydration can make you feel dramatically more energized and mentally sharp and reduce feelings of fatigue and anxiety.

Be Kind to Your Mind​ - Jennifer Franko,​ Chief People Officer

“What story am I telling myself?” I have come to rely on this question for self-management of my mental health and well-being. I have been learning a lot lately about how powerful my thoughts are and how critical it is to take my thoughts captive and direct them toward goodness and gratitude. Additionally, I have found my thoughts to be directly tied to outcomes in my life.

If I tell myself I’m not smart enough, I show up quiet in meetings at work instead of contributing the value I bring. If I tell myself I’m not capable, I don’t accept a challenge that can take me to new levels of leadership and influence. If I tell myself I’m not good enough, I miss out on the possibility of fulfilling relationships.

As a professional and leadership coach, I find I am not alone. Many of my clients discover the obstacles in the way of their ability to grow and achieve life-changing goals are their negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves.

I have recently been learning about the Enneagram​ and have identified I am an Enneagram Personality Type 2, “Supportive Advisor.” These new insights help me understand why I say and do the things I say and do. Learning about myself through the Enneagram enables me to realize negative thoughts more quickly and empowers me to choose to think and act differently in the moment.

Here are some of the strategies I have put in place to be kind to my mind and tend to my mental well-being daily:

  1. Create space each morning for inspirational reading, journaling, and praying to keep things in perspective.
  2. Shine a spotlight on the “story” I am telling myself and journal what part of the story is true, what is not, what is mine to own, and what is mine to learn.
  3. Practice mindfulness, noticing what I am thinking and feeling, acknowledging it without judgment, and using the Enneagram to help me discern.
  4. Practice gratitude, including for my mistakes and painful situations, because they help me grow and know more about myself.
  5. Accept change and receive it with open hands and heart, because on the other side of change is wisdom.

Tend to Your Spirit​ - Sam Morris, Chief Culture Officer

Mental health at its very healthiest is quiet. When mental health is not “healthy,” things are very loud; there is internal chaos, the feeling of a tornado or a swarm of bees in your head. Seek out and learn to trust the silence.

For a very long time, through my battles with depression, anxiety, and addiction, to say that the “quiet” I am talking about was a foreign concept to me is a massive understatement. There was constant noise in my head, which manifested into a highly chaotic life: I was arrested for five DUIs across three different states on the east coast, had broken relationships, struggled with oral cancer, and was unemployed. During this period of my life, it felt like there was a swarm of angry bees in my head all the time. I could not hear anything over the deafening buzz. Laying underneath all the noise was unhealed trauma and depression.

The quieter you are, the more you can hear. When you're able to get and stay quiet, that’s where your truth lives. Quiet is relaxed, and relaxed is the most effective way to be in your personal life and your professional life. Perhaps Bill Murray said it best: “The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything: the better you are with your loved ones, the better you are with your enemies, the better you are at your job, the better you are with yourself.”

When noise, chatter, or chaos are present, you become overloaded with non-essential feedback. The decisions, thoughts, and behaviors that come from the “noisy” place will be influenced by judgment, fear, overwhelm, and scarcity. When you are in the noise, it's like trying to do math with your friend yelling random numbers at you. But when you are quiet - emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually - you get clear answers, authentic behaviors, and thoughts and decisions that are aligned with mental health.

Here are some ways I tend to my mental health, keep it a priority, and get quiet so that I can hear.

  1. I tend to my spirituality.
  2. I find moments of stillness.
  3. I breathe more.
  4. I unplug from technology (and people, if I need to).
  5. I go into nature whenever possible.
  6. I connect with things that bring me joy and make me laugh.
  7. I use my creativity as an outlet.

Feed Your Heart​ - AJ Bellarosa, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer

I have struggled with my mental health due to several health problems I have experienced over the past two years. The microbiome in my digestive system was severely deficient. I had multiple vitamin deficiencies, including Vitamin B3, B6, and Magnesium. I had a severe case of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) that made it difficult for me to breathe at night. I also had elevated levels of mercury in my blood. Ultimately, these imbalances led to:

  • a severe case of hypervigilance,
  • chronic anxiety,
  • panic attacks,
  • chronic insomnia, and
  • agoraphobia.

In addition to these complex health problems, some family-related issues put even more strain on my mental health. When the pandemic hit, and I decided to quarantine with my family, I felt isolated and overwhelmed. The only thing I could do was reach out to friends and family and connect with them on the phone or FaceTime.

When I decided to open my heart to my friends and family, I found those relationships changed dramatically for the better. By being vulnerable with my struggles, I was feeding my heart with the nourishment needed to energize my mental health. I essentially made a conscious effort to step out of my mind and into my heart. As a result, I was able to heal by putting myself in a position to experience the power of now. What I have learned is it is okay not to be okay. Watching the Apple TV+ docuseries “The Me You Can’t See”​ reminded me that every person on this earth is one family member away from someone who is suffering from anxiety, depression, or trauma. There is nothing wrong with you, and you are not alone.

Here are five ways I have fed my heart to energize my mental health:

  1. Call someone I care about and ask them to tell me something great that is happening in their life right now. All I have to do is listen.
  2. Write a letter to someone I feel I need to ask for forgiveness, which gives me the strength to let go of the past to focus on the present.
  3. Reaching out and helping others in need helps me feed my heart and put my struggles in perspective. Selfless acts of service have helped me stay grounded when I am struggling with my mental health.
  4. Send someone you love gratitude for their presence in your life. A thoughtful handwritten card goes a long way.
  5. Practice loving-kindness meditations. I energize my mind, body, and soul whenever I show love, kindness, and gratitude toward myself and the world around me.

Follow What Fits You​ - Kate Visconti, CEO and Founder

“One size fits all.” Those are the words on clothing tags that plagued me and wrecked my confidence for most of my life. I was always very overweight and often found that clothes with this label most certainly did not “fit all” because they did not fit me. This particular issue, along with a lengthy list of many other internal and external factors that started with a troubled childhood, significantly impacted my mental health throughout most of my life. In my early twenties, I began seeing a therapist for some of the deeper-seated issues that I felt were the root cause of the struggles with my weight. Despite seeking counsel, I never really labeled anything inside my mind as poor mental health, depression, or anxiety; it was just my life. After decades of researching and experiencing many different kinds of therapy, reading self-help books, and following the many suggestions for positive mental health, one thing has become abundantly clear: one size does not fit all.

As COVID-19 hit, this became even more clear. I was alone in a foreign country without a job, preparing to launch a global company, going through what I considered a break-up, all while being isolated from nearly any human contact for over seven weeks. Like many people across the globe, I realized that I had a huge decision to make: find a way to survive this, now. I immediately reached out to a rapid transformation therapist, a cognitive hypnotherapist, and a kinesiologist. I did this while continuing to see my fitness, personal growth, and nutrition coaches remotely to ensure I had the support I needed to survive the isolation and grow and thrive during it. Some of that was based on relationships, and some of it was not. I am 100% aware that this strategy had a cost – one that most people cannot afford – so I also want to share what I did to support my mental health for free.

​ I decided to focus on supporting others with laughter using my very poor singing and dancing skills to do so. Across seven weeks, I made hundreds of silly videos spoofing sitcoms, Saturday Night Live, musicians, famous movie scenes, and the like. I researched how singing, dancing, exercise, and creative activities boost mental health not only for me by doing it but for the people who love me who needed to laugh at me and my very self-deprecating humor. This type of activity would have been counterproductive for many, as some people were not so kind about my approach and wrote mean comments on my posts.

As you have now read a few more stories from the team at Five to Flow, my point in sharing this story is this: one size does not fit all. How you proactively handle your mental health has to be a fit for you. The suggestions, the options, the advice, the blogs, the books, the supplements, and the various medications can become overwhelming. I encourage you not to let the options cause even more anxiety. Because positive mental health is an infinite journey with ups and downs, it takes self-awareness, self-reflection, and seeking the tools and resources that are right for you. What helped me may or may not help you. The remaining stories from our team may or may not help you as well. What will help you is knowing you are not alone and that, even though you may think you have tried everything, you may not have. I hope reading what we each share tells you that everyone’s mental health experiences are unique, and there are always options for you to get to a healthy state of mind. If talking to a silly CEO who struggles with this every day would help, my email and phone number are listed. I am here to listen. If you need more help, please reach out to a professional who can further discuss what options are best for you.

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