Dr. Aron Steward, Psychologist-in-Residence
There are so many important reasons to celebrate mental health in May. When we reframe mental health to be a continuum of experience that is unique and individualized to the person, “mental health and wellness” become an opportunity for living the lives we love rather than a harmful label. We all have mental health, and we all have the opportunity to adjust the way we feel, accommodate for our personality and upbringing, and to develop strategies to apply when challenged by adversity in our personal and professional life. This superpower, specifically, is one of the incredible aspects of our humanity. We are resilient, even when we are struggling to use our mental health in ways that are adaptive, healthy and hopeful. One of the ways we can de-stigmatize mental health and help individuals, organizations and our society to understand that mental health can be a tool rather than a label is by building community and affinity around us.
After getting to know OBE, I recognize that agency work can be mentally, physically and even emotionally stressful. Here are three steps for improving well-being and preventing mental health challenges the next time we face stressors, whether you work for an agency or not:
Step 1: Connection and belonging
The experience of feeling connection and belonging is the first step in improving our well-being and preventing mental health challenges in the face of stress. Every one of us needs connection and belonging. What this means for you specifically is a unique and individualized plan of care that is very likely different from your colleagues, friends and family. The next time you're feeling stress, reach out to someone (or a group of someones) who support you. The small extra effort will undoubtedly pay off.
Step 2: Real rest
The second step toward improving the resilience of your mental health is achieving “real rest.” Our bodies can’t sustain for long periods with wellness Band-Aids — we need cures. The cure to fatigue and disengagement is real rest, which is an activity or moment that is intentionally and purposefully chosen to provide your body the opportunity to increase energy and engagement.
Step 3: Rhythm and routine
The third step to mental health improvement is establishing, maintaining and/or returning to a rhythm and routine. We need rhythm and routine embedded in the patterns and structure of our lives to alleviate the pressure we feel from things outside our control. To feel more comfort and calm, we need many periods of familiarity, experiencing the "known" thing we've done a million times, giving our brains and bodies the ability to say, "Oh yeah, I know exactly how to do this."
The final step: De-stigmatization and celebration
In May, as a celebration of mental health awareness month, we can take these three steps in resilience work to strengthen our opportunities for meeting the demands of life, both personally and professionally. Individually, collegially, as families, and culturally, we can engage in these practices, then exercise the next step of de-stigmatization by sharing our relationship, rest, and rhythm plans with our communities. By doing this work individually and then sharing it collectively, we can move the dial and celebrate May as a reminder that our health and wellness are our most successful strategies for building resilient people, organizations and communities. Let’s celebrate all that we uniquely are and can be!
About Dr. Aron Steward
Dr. Steward is OBE’s Psychologist-in-Residence, the current Chief of Psychology at The University of Vermont Health Network — Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital and Founder of ReallyBeU — a health and wellness consultancy that provides training, leadership, therapy, mediation, and program development to individuals and organizations. Among her many recognitions, Dr. Steward was awarded for exemplary teaming and coaching with the Department of Mental Health and Department of Children and Families and has received the State of Vermont Crime Victims Services Career Achievement Award for exemplary service to victims and initiatives that support crime victims.