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Mental Health Month: Get Connected
Release Date: April 29, 2008

Research shows that social networks can reduce stress and promote overall health by providing a sense of belonging, self-worth, and security.

Mental Health Month: Get Connected

For more than 50 years May has been celebrated as Mental Health Month to raise awareness about mental illnesses and the importance of "wellness" for all. The theme this year is "Get Connected" which focuses on an essential component of maintaining and protecting mental health and wellness: social connectedness. Research shows that social networks can reduce stress and promote overall health by providing a sense of belonging, self-worth, and security. Some of the ways to create connections that support mental health are to:

  1. Get connected to family and friends to feel close and supported.
  2. Get connected to your community to feel a sense of belonging and purpose.
  3. Get connected to professional help to feel better when you're stressed and having trouble coping.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Stress Survey, conducted in 2007; one in three people in America are living with extreme stress. Stress can come from a variety of sources such as a daily traffic jams, dealing with a health problem or injury, a heavy workload, taking care of someone who's ill, financial worries, relationship troubles, parenting, or major life transitions like moving or starting a family. Whatever the source, perhaps you cannot change the things that cause stress but you can improve how you deal with stress.

Do you need to be more connected to others? As with many goals, you'll be more successful at building strong connections if you create a workable plan. Here are some tips to help you create, keep and strengthen vital connections in your life.

Connect to Family and Friends

Make a short list of friends and family members who are supportive and positive. Make a commitment to yourself to call, email or get together with them on a schedule that's reasonable for you. Try to reach out to make at least one emotional connection a day, but plan realistically. When you talk, also listen. Check on someone else's day. Listening to other people's concerns can often shed a new light on your own challenges. Offer help when you can. Ask what other people think about your situation, and show them you value their opinion - listen and respond. Make social plans. Create opportunities to strengthen your relationships with fun things that both parties enjoy. Looking forward to special activities boosts our spirits, gives us energy and makes us more productive.

Connect To Your Community

A great way to feel emotionally strong and resilient in times of stress is to feel connected to a broad community. Think about the things you like to do. You can expand your social network by looking into community organizations that bring people together who share the same interests. For instance, many communities have local biking, hiking or walking groups. Is there something you've always wanted to do like learning a new language? Take a class, or join a local group. You also may find the support you need through local support groups for a specific issue like parenting, dealing with a health problem, or caring for a loved one who's ill. Or consider volunteering with a community organization that helps fill a need. Here are some tips to make sure your volunteer experience works for you – and does not become an additional source of stress:

Get the right match. Whatever your situation and your interests, there is probably a volunteer opportunity to make a great contribution in your community. Volunteering will help you build strong connections with others - a proven way to protect your mental health.

Connect To Professional Help

With today's hectic pace, it's normal to feel some stress. But having chronic stress can lead to a number of other health problems such as headaches, feelings of despair, lack of energy, sadness, nervousness, anger, irritability; increased or decreased eating and many other problems that can interfere with your daily life.

Watch out for these changes in your body if you've been under stress for a long time.

If you feel overwhelmed, unable to cope and feel as though your stress is affecting how you function every day, it could be something more, like depression or anxiety. Don't let it go unchecked. Contact your health care provider for help. If you're in crisis now, seek help immediately. The local 24 hour mental health emergency number is 973-383-0973.

Information for this article was taken from the Mental Health America website at www.mentalhealthamerica.net.

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