Mental Health Awareness Month and the Importance of Self-Care

May 15, 2024

With Mental Health Awareness Month taking place this month, it’s a great opportunity to take some time to reflect on our own personal and work lives, and think a bit about how our habits, choices, and how we decide to manage our busy lives ultimately impact our mental health and wellbeing. Obviously, so many people’s mental health challenges are significantly more complex and serious than can be remedied by a few small changes in our routines, but for many of us, it can be valuable to take stock of how our daily lives could be contributing to feelings of stress and burnout, which take a toll on our mental health, impact our ability to function effectively at work, and detract from our relationships and personal lives outside of work.  

I’m sharing some thoughts of what has helped me, and some things I know I need to continue to work on, in hopes that some will resonate with you, again knowing that for many of us, mental health treatment and care do require serious and professional management and care. I empathize with everyone working through their mental health challenges in their own ways. 

With that disclaimer said, here are a few ways and changes to my daily habits and routines that have worked for me and have helped me over time to become what I hope is a healthier and better person, colleague, parent, and partner. Some of these are still works in progress for sure! 


While I have always been active and mostly kept a regular exercise routine, over the last few years I have been more intentional about making it a priority to carve out about 30 minutes every day for exercise. When the pandemic shut down everything in 2020, I recall making an emergency run to a local Dick’s Sporting Goods, (which somehow was open), and purchasing the last set of dumbbells they had in stock, a pair of exercise bands, and a yoga mat. Little did I know at the time, those few workout supplies would have to sustain me for several months!  

But importantly for me, that 30 minutes I take each day, even when I am super busy with other things, makes a huge difference in my mental outlook and mood. Sure, there are the physical benefits of exercise which are important, but for me, I think as I get older, I value the mental wellbeing boost just as much from exercise. And if for you 30 minutes seems too hard to fit into your routine most days, then start with 15 or even 10 minutes to step away from your work and your other commitments and take the time for yourself and your own health. It is a small, small investment that pays off in a big way! 


Recently, and I won’t lie, because of watching the Netflix series titled “You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment”, which documents a scientific study about the effects of diet on our physical and mental health, I have made some major alterations to my typical diet and eating habits. I have (largely) cut out most meats from my diet, and have been eating significantly more vegetables, whole grains, beans, and plant-based meat substitutes. I have had some meats here and there in the last few months, but overall, it has been substantially less than was my habit for years. And I am someone who has always loved grilling and barbecue! 

I bring this up not to try and convince anyone about how they should be eating, but to encourage you to think about how what we eat impacts us more generally, and specifically how it affects us from a mental well-being perspective. In just a very short time of making changes in my diet I have noticed that I just “feel” a little better. A more balanced diet with less “bad” fats has been shown to have a positive impact on brain function, mood regulation, and my overall energy level. It is hard to explain precisely, but I have noticed a difference in that I just seem more aware, focused, and balanced since making these changes. It has definitely made more than a physical impact on me for sure. 


I have not always been great at keeping in touch with friends and family and making time to connect with people in a meaningful way. It is a weakness and failure of mine for sure. Some of it I attribute to being innately introverted and at times can be a bit in the mindset of needing to step back and chill when I have had a few busy days full of meetings or am at an event that requires a lot of socializing and interaction. In fact, as I write this, I am just back from an industry event where after a long welcome dinner and a full day event, I was pretty checked out by the end and needed to decompress and not have to talk (or even listen) for a bit.  

While it’s ok to step back and need some time to oneself, it also, at least for me, turns into a habit that eventually leads to isolation and losing connection to people that are important. And one of the things that I am working on is being more aware of my tendency to withdraw and to acknowledge it and be more proactive and intentional about reaching out to important people more regularly and with more generosity and openness. It is not always easy to do, especially when feeling burned out a bit from a busy day with lots of interactions, but I am finding it to be helpful and hopefully valuable to those people in my life with whom I am working to improve and strengthen our connection. So, my advice to start, if you are finding this challenging as I have, is to pick just one person in your life and begin the process of more regular and meaningful connection – even when you are a bit tired or when you’d rather just shut off for the day. It may only require a few minutes of your time, but in time, I think you’ll find it extremely beneficial for your overall mental wellbeing. 


I mention sleep and sleep habits as one important aspect of a contributor to mental health that I know I have plenty of work to do to improve. I, like many others, tend to get distracted by reading news or checking work messages late at night when I should be disconnected and focused on rest. The same applies when I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and feel compelled to look at my phone. I have set up an 8-hour “Do Not Disturb” period on my phone, but that has only marginally improved my (bad) habits.  

Proper sleep is important to mental health as poor sleeping habits have been closely linked to various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, and bipolar disorder. Chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to the onset or exacerbation of these conditions, while improving sleep quality can help alleviate symptoms and improve overall mental well-being. And even if you are not facing more serious mental health conditions, adequate sleep is still essential for regulating emotions. When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to experience heightened emotional reactivity, mood swings, and overall irritability. One of my goals is to improve sleep habits and monitor how that impacts my overall mood, outlook, and mental wellbeing. 


These are just a few examples, and it’s important to find what works best for you and your life. What I have found is that even just making some small changes in diet or exercise or even just setting a reminder to check in with a loved one can all make a difference in my overall wellbeing. I hope you can use this month to reflect and experiment with different strategies and be patient with yourself as you work towards improving your mental health. 

Some additional resources from the HR Happy Hour Media Network related to mental health and wellbeing are available below. 

Four Ways to Nurture and Support and Mental Health-friendly Workplace

Overcoming Addiction and Supporting Others in their Healing Journey

Supporting Mental Health – How One Person Can Make a Difference featuring Born This Way Foundation

HR Organizations Should Increase Focus on Employee Growth and Wellbeing

Thriving at Work: Nurturing Wellness, Mental Health, and More

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