May is Mental Health Month. Now in its 74th annual observance, this is an opportunity to raise awareness and encourage loved ones, friends and coworkers who may be struggling with a mental health condition to seek help.   

In support of Mental Health Month, the Coast Guard’s Office of Work-Life highlights a new brochure–Real Talk about Mental Health for Coast Guard Members—and encourages every Coast Guard member and family member to check it out and share it with others.  

Additionally, the Office of Work-Life would like to bring awareness to your mental health and suggest some ways to improve your overall well-being. 

Common factors negatively impacting mental health 

Two of the most common mental health problems affecting American adults today are anxiety and depression. Many experience anxiety before an important event and most people will feel down or have a bad day here and there. However, when signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression last for a long time and start to interfere with everyday functioning, it’s time to pay more attention. You may need to make a change or seek professional help. Below are just a few common anxiety and depression triggers or behaviors to consider:  

  • Caffeine –Everyone responds differently to caffeine. For some, caffeine may help to lower depression, but too much of it can induce or worsen anxiety. Pay attention to your mind, emotions, behavior and body and adjust your caffeine intake accordingly. Seek medical help if necessary.  

  • Poor sleep – Not enough sleep can lead to or worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. Your goal should be two-fold: 1) get at least seven hours of sleep a night; and 2) get good-quality sleep on a regular basis. See a medical or behavioral health professional if you have trouble reaching these two goals.  

  • Stress – Everyone experiences stress. Left unaddressed, stress can result in anxiety or depression. Explore and experiment with healthy coping skills until you find what works for you. Your CG SUPRT Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor can help you with this.   

  • Finances –Financial anxiety can be about how much money you have or don’t have, but it can also be more of a cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and physical response to your overall financial outlook. Some signs of money anxiety can be stomach aches or headaches, thinking too much about money, having trouble making decisions about spending money, avoiding paying bills, poor work-life balance and more. If you struggle with finances, consider talking to a Money Coach through CG SUPRT or your Coast Guard Personal Financial Manager (PFM).  

  • Workplace – Just about every job can trigger some anxiety. The triggers may be related to the job itself, work environment or other factors. The question is whether your anxiety is causing other problems for you. If you are unsure or struggling with your job performance, maybe it’s time to connect with your CG SUPRT EAP counselor to explore workplace anxiety.   

Tips to Help You Manage Your Mental Health 

  • Stay positive – Pay attention to your thinking style or patterns. Do you have a balance between positive and negative thoughts? When negative thought patterns dominate, they can contribute to anxiety and depression. Try to identify the sources influencing your thoughts. If they are unnecessarily causing negative thoughts, can you limit or reduce their influence on you? 

  • Practice gratitude – This learned skill can help you stay positive. Gratitude is about being thankful for the good things—big and small–in your life. The more you practice gratitude, the more you start seeing and experiencing life differently. Start with three things you are thankful for and three things you were able to accomplish each day.   

  • Take care of your physical health – Your physical and mental health are inseparable. You can improve your physical health by staying active, getting enough sleep and eating healthy. Exercise can help reduce stress and improve your mood. Need help in this area? CG SUPRT offers professional health coaching.   

  • Breathing exercises – This is a grounding technique that can reduce anxiety. When you get overwhelmed by racing thoughts and heart, one proven way to help you calm down is to practice breathing techniques. One such example is box breathing, where you slowly count to four for a total of four times — four counts of breathing in, four counts of holding your breath, four counts of exhaling and four more counts of holding after your exhale.  

  • Laughter – Pay attention to one day in your life. How often do you have a good laugh? Laughter has many positive physical and mental health effects. It can lower cortisol levels (a stress hormone), reduce stress and anxiety, improve self-esteem and even burn calories. Be intentional and include humor in your life daily as it will enhance your whole health.   

  • Strengthen your sense of purpose in life – Research shows that having a strong sense of purpose and meaning about your life tends to yield better mental health. If you feel a lack of purpose, consider volunteering in your community to develop a sense of connection. You can also talk with your Command Master Chief, your Coast Guard chaplain or CG SUPRT EAP counselor.   

There is so much more to mental health and helping resources than what’s been written here. If you connected with something said or want to learn more about mental health, you can contact the resources below to help you take charge of your mental health.  

  • SAFE Helpline (sexual assault) 

  • Domestic Violence Hotline  

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