Mental Health Awareness: How to Budget Time For Mental Health and Why it Matters

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity for us to learn about mental illness and how to advocate for those in need. It is also an opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate our individual needs for better mental health practices.

As a freelancer and business owner, I’ve become increasingly aware of the impact of my mental health on my ability to produce good work while also showing up for my loved ones. This has led me to pursue daily practices that support my well-being.

While you may not struggle with mental illness, learning to manage your physical and mental health is an important part of the human experience. There is no one size fits all solution, but here are some practical ways to better budget time for your mental health.

The Truth About Mental Health

Mental illness and mental health are two different things. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the US experience mental illness each year. One in twenty experience serious mental illness. In 2020 alone, at least 4.9 million adults seeking mental health services were unable to get the care they needed.

You may never struggle with mental illness, and there is a good chance you know someone who does. NAMI shares some common signs of mental illness to help recognize symptoms in both yourself and others. If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, it is important to speak to a healthcare professional and/or call the NAMI HelpLine at 800–950-NAMI (6264).

Mental health, on the other hand, is something we all experience. Just as we need to acknowledge our need to keep our physical bodies healthy, we also must acknowledge our mental well-being. Understanding the importance of mental health can help slow the global trend of mental illness.

The World Health Organization indicates that mental health conditions are increasing worldwide. While events like the COVID-19 pandemic certainly added to the increase, this has been an ongoing trend.

Upending the trend of increased mental illness starts with awareness. While we advocate for better healthcare and support for those who are struggling, awareness helps us bring needed change to our everyday lives.

Why MH Matters

We face unique stressors in modern society. We all have in common the constant bombardment of notifications, news, updates, and more expectations on our time than there are hours in the day. These stressors, both known and unknown, influence our mental well-being.

What are your unique stressors? They can be anything: raising a family, pursuing a degree, unemployment, financial burdens, or an argument with a loved one. Just as there is not a single solution to mental health, there is not a universal way to diagnose stress. What is stressful to one person may not be stressful to another. This is why awareness is so important.

One of the unique stressors in my own life is my choice of career as a freelance web designer and project manager.

Freelancing comes with incredible benefits. Making your own schedule, turning down projects that don’t interest you, spending more time with your family, and working from anywhere are just a few of those benefits.

Self-employment, however, also comes with a set of burdens that aren’t always recognized. Working independently leads to isolation. Managing your own projects and timeline often causes burnout, as does the stress of not having a set income each month. A survey of freelancers done by Viking indicates that over half of freelancers deal with depression, stress, and burnout because of their work.

Office workers certainly indicated less stress, depression, and burnout, but the numbers were still too high to ignore. We all need to learn how to slow down and decompress. Our mental health depends on it.

Tips from a Mental Health Advocate

Because I am not a mental health expert, I wanted to provide you with more than just my own tips and opinions. I asked Casey Karl, a friend of mine who is also a mental health advocate, to share some of his own insights as well.

Casey was inspired to become a mental health advocate when he heard others share their mental health journeys, particularly Eric Kussin, Founder of the Same Here Global Mental Health Movement.

If you aren’t familiar with Eric’s story, I highly recommend you check it out here. After a seemingly sudden decline in mental health due to unresolved trauma, Eric recovered and vowed to change the conversation about mental health. He set out to spread his message that “EVERYONE in the world is affected by life’s inevitable traumas and stresses…Mental health exists on a continuum, with some simply experiencing more severe declines than others over varying periods of time in their lives.”

Why is this so important? According to Casey, stigma and language are the two biggest roadblocks to facilitating effective discussions on mental health. When we understand that mental health is something we all deal with, it removes the stigma.

Casey’s insights about mental health really hit home for me, and I want to share those here with you:

Q: If there is one piece of advice you could give to someone who is working on their mental health, what would it be?

Validate yourself. You matter. Your thoughts and feelings matter. Lean into your emotions. Share your journey.

Q: What advice do you give to friends and family of someone working on their mental health?

Meet people where they are, not where you need them to be.

Q: Why do you think this is such an important topic right now?

The global events of the last few years have brought on an opportunity to “get with ourselves.” We were all told to stay home — and this allowed for more contemplative time. It may not have been easy, yet I do think it was necessary to establish a raw awareness of how we were all handling our lives.

Ways to Budget Time for Mental Health

If you have never implemented a mental health practice in your daily life, there is no better time to start than right now.

Budgeting time for health is an important step. I found a direct correlation between my physical health and mental health, so creating time to exercise is top of my list.

Below is a compilation of both my practices and Casey’s practices that we do daily to help us navigate our mental health.

  • Exercise: I schedule time on my Peloton every morning. Like any other meeting, phone call, or work task, I list it in my calendar. This allows me to prioritize that time. I wouldn’t flake on a scheduled work meeting, and my health is far more important…so I stick to it!
  • Meditation: Casey uses meditation as a daily practice to help him manage his mental health. The beauty of meditation is that it is time set aside to simply be. You learn to breathe, be present, and slow down both physically and mentally.
  • Time with family: Why is it that we make our work tasks sacred and not the time we spend with the people we love the most? Spending time with my family is a huge priority. My mental health depends on it! My boys and my spouse help keep me grounded: they make me laugh and remind me that I’m surrounded by people who love me.
  • Journaling: Did you know that writing helps improve your mood and control symptoms of mental health? Journaling just a few minutes every day helps you prioritize your thoughts and fears, identify negative self-talk, and track symptoms and triggers, among other things.
  • Listening: Whether you like to listen to podcasts (Casey loves podcasts on mindfulness and mental health), music, or books on tape, the practice of listening is a great way to support mental health. By listening, you help clarify your own thoughts and emotions while also learning and stretching your understanding. Listening to podcasts and books helps us see the world from a fresh perspective, which improves our own mental well-being. Another great way to practice listening: is meeting with a friend for coffee and lending your ear and support. It will give your friend a boost while simultaneously boosting your own mood.

What other practices do you use to manage your own mental health? Please share in the comments! Let’s support each other’s journeys as we become better advocates for mental health.

For more great tips on mental health awareness and advocacy, I highly recommend following Casey on Instagram (@ckdaddy72) and checking out his micro-podcasts on mental health at Solvv.com (and on the app). You can also follow along with @samehere_global and #ProjectThrive as they change the conversation about mental health.

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