The recent news coverage surrounding Simone Biles’ and Naomi Osaka's exit from competition provides an opportunity to discuss the importance of mental health and mental illness.
We saw from some reactions to these athletes’ withdrawal that it is all too easy to dismiss someone’s reports of mental illness. People often underestimate the value of mental health because it goes unseen. Since it's not something visible that we can look at and see with our eyes, it's easy to imagine that someone is exaggerating or even making it up. Yet, just as physical health can impact all areas of life, mental health can be just as influential, if not more so.
Why is this the case? Well, we are integrated persons who are both body and soul. Part of God’s plan for us is to have an interior life. The Catechism says that the “unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body” (CCC 365). Since our mind and soul are essential to who we are, taking care of them is essential, too.
This means that when you set aside time to take care of and maintain mental wellness, you are doing healthy, spiritually-beneficial work. God’s plan for us is to thrive! Faith and prayer aren’t just coping mechanisms to use so we can barely get by. They are meant to help us experience the fullness of life - but this can only happen if we are physically, mentally, and spiritually whole. Thankfully, the Church offers us tools and resources to help develop our mental and spiritual wellness.
So, how can you begin to prioritize your mental health?
1. Start with self-awareness.
Learn your own signs. Pay attention to moments when you become stressed, overwhelmed, angry, or sad. If you're mentally healthy, you will find it easier to bounce back after a stressful situation, and optimism will come naturally. If you find it difficult to be resilient while under stress, that’s a cue to move onto the next step.
2. Notice what category of life that stressor falls into.
Consider those things that make up so much of what we do, like our work, relationships, and responsibilities. When someone is in a state of mental wellness, these things are more often than not a source of peace, happiness, warmth, and positivity in life. In contrast, people who experience symptoms of mental illness (which can be anything from anxiety to depression to bipolar disorder) may find that these things have become a source of stress and negativity.
3. Evaluate your life in that area and prioritize.
Plan ways to incorporate more self-care into that part of your life when you notice that you are feeling overwhelmed. For example, take advantage of your 15 minute breaks at work rather than working through them. Or, take a true lunch break instead of eating at your desk. Even when we have limited time and many good things present themselves or demand our attention, prioritizing helps us to stay focused and resilient in the midst of those demands. Even good things can become bad things when they harm our physical or mental health.
4. Get help.
Go to therapy. Get life coaching. Talk with someone you trust who is wise. A third party can help you recognize your personal warning signs, create a plan, and set goals.
The more you develop these skills, the easier it will be to honor yourself when the time comes - even if that time is as inconvenient and difficult as the Olympics or the French Open. You can rest assured that you are taking care of your health.
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