Being ‘Present’ During Mental Health Month, and beyond

By Dennis Archambault

It may seem strange to “celebrate” Mental Wellness Month, especially after a month of celebrating. To “commemorate” doesn’t seem to give it a proper profile. In fact, chances are, you don’t think about mental wellness, or “wellbeing”. Mental health, as in disease, yes.

Which is why they dedicate a month to getting us off the sick care model to wellness when it comes to our emotional and mental wellbeing. For in the cloud-covered state of Michigan, the post-holiday month is about as dreary as the psyche can tolerate. An even better time for discussing strategies for promoting mental wellbeing and preventing mental illness, or at least addressing it before it’s debilitating.

Mental wellness is the absence of mental illness, but that’s too simplistic. It is a condition that is integrated with, and often affects, our overall health. “Society often thinks of health as something biological and physical: the condition of our bodies, how healthy we eat, the physical exercise we do,” writes Tanya J. Peterson. “A key component of health is missing from this, though. It’s mental wellbeing, which encompasses our inner workings and the way we describe how we are in our lives.”

Essentially, it’s a state of thrival – beyond existing, even beyond resilience. It’s also closely tied to “emotional wellness,” which is defined by the National Center for Emotional Wellness as an awareness, understanding, and acceptance of your emotions, and your ability to manage effectively through challenges and change. When you’re tuned into your feelings, then you can more easily become aware of your bodily sensations. The more you act on your feelings and emotions, the more reliable they become. Remaining in the present moment and adhering to a sense of “mindfulness,” without looking back too much into the past or the future, is also very important for your emotional well-being.

It’s timely that for those bold enough to commit to New Year’s resolutions, the middle of January becomes a critical test of endurance. Which is where mindfulness comes in, says Jeremy David Engels. “A key to ensuring that resolutions stick is to choose one that will make a meaningful difference in your life. Seeing a real, tangible benefit can provide inspiration to keep going when all of life is telling us to let things go back to the way they were before. Living more mindfully is a common New Year’s resolution.”

Mindfulness has several health benefits, not the least of which reduces anxiety and promotes healing from chronic disease. Based in the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness helps calm mind, body, and spirit “as we learn not to react to experience with likes and dislikes or judgments of good and bad. It does not make us cold or apathetic, but more fully present.”

In our “attention economy,” the ability for us to be truly present is a challenge. The cell phone buzzes incessantly with updates, social media posts, and news breaks. One of the mental conditions that can result from this is “information anxiety,” and that has assorted complications.

So, while we are still lingering in the season of resolutions (which for many involves something related to weight loss and physical fitness), let’s quietly commit to being present. We may find that simply responding to roll call as “present” instead of “here” will take on new meaning (though it may play havoc with legislative voting).

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.