Mental health continues to be at the forefront of our national conversation, and it is an important topic here at home.
Yet with so much focus on outdoor activities and physical achievement in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley, mental health often takes a backseat to physical health. So why not make 2022 different by putting mental health at the top of your list of priorities, along with your physical health, and any other goals you set for the coming year?
We asked Dr. Michelle Miscione PhD, LCSW, to share her thoughts about mental health and to offer ideas on how we can take better care of ourselves in the New Year. Dr. Miscione has a doctorate in social welfare from Yeshiva University, and she has worked in clinical social work for the last 20 years (and with Aspen Valley Hospital for six years).
How important is mental health in relation to our physical health?
Anyone who is in tune with their mind and physical body knows there is a strong correlation between how we feel both emotionally and physically. That’s not to say you can’t be physically fit and still suffer from depression, anxiety or another mental health diagnosis. However, if you are able to eat well, for the most part, move your body regularly, implement self-care strategies consistently, and be moderate with alcohol use, you’ll likely find you will feel better overall versus eating poorly, not exercising and not making time to nurture yourself and your own personal needs, whatever those may be.
If people want to make their mental health a priority in 2022, what strategies do you recommend to help them succeed?
Prioritizing your mental health in this New Year is certainly an achievable goal. It might be challenging, however, given the state of the world with the pandemic and other factors that many people find overwhelming. On a basic and fundamental level, here are some things that can boost your mind/body connection and will likely yield a positive result:
- Sleep hygiene. Make consistent sleep a priority with at least 8 hours if you can. If you are torn between getting up to work out versus sleeping longer, studies show that sleeping longer is ultimately better for you.
- Try and minimize sugar and eat a well-rounded diet including plenty of veggies.
- Move your body. Pick at least one activity each day that feels satisfying emotionally and physically, i.e. yoga, skiing, biking, hiking, swimming, going to the gym, running, taking a vigorous walk, etc.
- Implement a self-care strategy that is more cerebral such as journaling, meditating, mindfulness, meeting up with a friend or loved one consistently to talk about how life is going and create a space for the two of you to talk and share.
- Having a creative outlet, for example drawing, playing an instrument, painting or ceramics, can be a great way to reduce stress and provide a sense of balance.
How important is it for someone to consider their personal assets or strengths, as well as their deficits or shortcomings, in order to improve their mental health?
Albeit hard, taking inventory and stock of how we behave towards ourselves and those around us is essential. It’s easier to show up with grace and gratitude for others when we feel good about how we are showing up for ourselves.
The first step is to have awareness of how we treat ourselves. The hope is if we can be kind towards ourselves, we can then lead with kindness towards others. One study showed that doing one nice thing a day for another person increases levels of the hormone oxytocin in our own brain which fosters a feeling of worthiness and happiness which is strongly correlated with our mental health.
Do you have any tips for patients who are trying to overcome the stigma associated with mental or behavioral health counseling?
Think of entering into a relationship with a therapist or support group as just having a conversation. In our culture people don’t listen all that well. Imagine having a full hour to talk about what’s on your mind and being met with tenderness and care. Being heard is extraordinarily powerful!
It can be a real gift to offer yourself that opportunity, versus stuffing your feelings and suppressing the issues you are confronting. Storing everything in your mind without an outlet can be overwhelming, and the idea of talking about it can be scary. Often times saying out loud what is going on can be a huge relief and not nearly as draining as working hard to avoid your feelings.
What kind of services are available through Aspen Valley Hospital and Aspen Valley Primary Care in terms of mental/behavioral health services and consultation? How about elsewhere in the valley?
Aspen Valley Primary Care offers behavioral health services to anyone in the valley. All that is required is a referral from a primary care physician — this does not have to be a physician affiliated with Aspen Valley Primary Care. We do accept insurance. If a potential patient does not have insurance or their deductible or copayment is too high we will work with the patient to find a solution.
Many other primary care offices in the valley also have behavioral healthcare available. That is a nationwide trend, having a multi-disciplined team in a primary care practice. Additionally, there are a host of private therapists valley-wide, as well as organizations like Mind Springs Health and the Aspen Hope Center. Mountain Family Health Center is another great resource. With the onset of the pandemic, virtual counseling also became a readily accessible resource.