May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. I recently spoke with published Woodneath Press author and therapist Steve Daily to get his thoughts on the importance of this month.
Dave: What does Mental Health Awareness Month mean to you as a therapist?
Steve: Mental Health Awareness Month increases people’s awareness of the struggles and difficulties that persons who deal with psychological disorders experience. I am concerned that we place too much emphasis on various diagnoses or labels that mental health workers, including myself, place on them. On one hand, a diagnosis can help determine treatment needs, which is helpful. On the other hand, a diagnosis or label can unfortunately become a stigma, prompting others to think that a person is broken or profoundly different from those who do not have a mental health diagnosis.
Dave: As an author, what role does writing play in mental health?
Steve: Writing can be extremely useful for clients in the therapy process. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and narrative therapy use writing as a tool for healing. Grieving clients can help process their grief by writing a letter to the deceased person. Expressing what they would like to have told that person before they died helps them to move forward. Persons with PTSD can find new meaning to what they experienced during trauma and show a marked lessening of symptoms when they write about the trauma in a therapeutic way.
Dave: How does your recently published book approach the topic of mental health? What resources and tools does it provide for readers?
Steve: Healing the Heart and Mind: The Therapist’s Workbook of Poetry contains 35 poems I have written, each relating to some aspect of psychological or spiritual health. The poems cover a wide range of topics, including grief, happiness, trauma, relationships, encouragement, suicide, gratitude, anger, and many more. Many of the poems point out a universal truth that if understood can make life easier to navigate.
The poetry workbook encourages persons to reflect on each poem, read the author’s personal reflections, and then write a response to three prompts in the “Journal to Grow and Heal” portion. This can be a valuable tool for gaining a better understanding of life, and hopefully free readers from some of the obstacles that limit their peace of mind and happiness.
Dave: Do you have recommendations or steps people can take to guard against stress and anxiety in this challenging time?
Steve: There are practical things you can do to reduce anxiety and irritability. First, practice mindful breathing. Take 15 slow, deep breaths several times a day to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) and relax the body. Simply breathe in deeply through the nose for six seconds and breathe out deeply through the mouth for six seconds. Do that 15 times in a row.
Second, increase activity by doing aerobic exercise, if health permits. If able, walk briskly for 20 or 30 minutes several times a week. Mow your lawn or get outside and work in the yard. If you watch a lot of TV, walk in place or do stretching exercises during commercials.
Third, don’t spend too much time watching the news and avoid rumination. Rumination is repetitive negative thinking (excessive worry). Rumination can lead to a repeating loop of worry thoughts, triggering more anxiety, which in turn triggers more worry thoughts. Break the cycle by talking to another person about something other than worries. Go for a walk or a drive as staying in the same spot makes it difficult to change your train of thought. Engaging in activities that require your full focus can decrease rumination.
Finally, set a timer for 20 minutes and write about worry thoughts. When the timer goes off, stop and do an activity requiring your attention. Don’t journal again until the next day, again for 20 minutes.
This is a shortened version of the interview. Please visit Steve Daily’s website, FeelGoodEnough.com, to read the interview in its entirety.
Story Center Publication Manager