Mental Health Month

May 15, 2024
Reminder: Take some time for yourself today.

Written By: Heather Rafanello, MSW, LCSW 
@GrowingMindsetTherapy www.growingmindsettherapy.com

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in celebration of this important cause we’ve partnered with Heather Rafanello, MSW, LCSW – founder of Growing Mindset Therapy, a private practice offering virtual talk therapy, and corporate therapy contracts – to share her tips for honoring your mental health this month. Read on to hear her take on the topic.

There is an abundance of research that shows that there is not only a correlation between one’s physical and mental health, but there is also research that shows that one’s mental health can have an impact on their physical health, thus highlighting the importance of holistic wellness practices. We can exercise the body, and the brain on a regular basis, through mindful movement, puzzles, brain teasers, talk therapy, and more.

Here’s a licensed therapist’s insights on the mind-body connection:

Feeling and Processing Your Emotions

Why are emotions called feelings? – Because you have to feel your way through them. I teach my clients that emotions are energy, and that when a feeling arises we need to move that energy, otherwise it gets stuck, harbored inside of our body. We can process through our emotions by holding space for them, talking to a loved one, journaling, movement, and more.

Reframe Negativity

Think about your brain as if it were an algorithm. Our brain houses our cognition, and the job of our cognition is to think. When your brain creates a thought, it notices how much attention, or energy you give to that thought. We have a tendency to fixate, or get stuck on negative thoughts – because they worry us, scare us, or upset us. While it might feel productive to spend time thinking through these negative thoughts to create a plan or make change, what we end up doing is inadvertently teaching our brain algorithm to keep giving us these types of thoughts. By setting boundaries with our own cognition, and intentionally redirecting our focus, we can work to actually reframe our mindset, and change the structure of our brain. In short – don’t believe everything you think.

Challenging yourself (whether that be an ice-bath, going to a CKO class, or having a hard conversation) is a great way to actively practice creating cognitive flexibility. By choosing to do something challenging, you are creating space to pay attention to and combat that negative self-talk.

Practice Gratitude

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” As a mental health therapist, I teach that gratitude is an intentional practice where one pays attention to moments that bring peace, joy, or calm to their life. Practicing gratitude requires effort, we must tune into the things around us, and seek out the ‘glimmers’ of light in our lives. This practice requires self-reflection, patience, and consistency. Gratitude is a great way to intentionally hold space for more positive thoughts. When it comes to kickstarting a gratitude practice, I recommend starting small. Set a timer for 5 minutes a day, and come up with 1-3 things. Another recommendation is to attach your new practice to something that you already do regularly – i.e. drinking your morning cup of coffee, or brushing your teeth at night, this way it’s easier to remember to practice.

I’ll be honest, there are many days when I don’t want to go to the gym, but I can honestly say that most of those days I leave feeling gratitude that I did the hard thing, and that I leaned past my comfort zone.

Mindful Movement

Aerobic exercises have proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression (1) because of how they positively impact the functioning of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is a part of our stress response system (2). General physical activity has been shown to help with sleep, while improving a variety of psychiatric disorders, whereas exercise has been shown to benefit one’s mood and quality of life (2).

Mindful Movement vs. Exercise? Mindful movement means paying attention to your body, and its needs on any given day. Rather than viewing exercise as a rigid item on your to-do list, or simply a way to change your body and lose weight – we’re inviting you to reframe how you look at exercise. Mindful movement allows for more intention in your exercise practice – creating space for flexibility, gratitude, and joy. Yes, at times we might crave a high intensity workout, while other times it’s holding space for going at your own pace in class, or perhaps we’re feeling more drawn to a stretch or a walk.

The CKO Way

As a member of CKO, I have experienced a variety of classes that have allowed me to practice mindful movement. What I appreciate about my CKO instructors, is that they provide a variety of choices throughout the class – take a lap around the gym, or do some lunges; 60 seconds of freestyle; etc. which allows me to be more intentional about my practice and listen to my body. At times, I show up to my class carrying stress from the day that I unleash on the bag – whereas other times I show up with an empty tank, and I use that as an opportunity to practice being gentle with myself both physically and mentally. I’ve learned through these classes that breath work is an important part of both my work as a mental health therapist, and as a member of CKO. Last but not least, kickboxing classes at CKO have allowed me to increase my mindfulness, or present focused awareness. It requires me to focus on the here and now, listen to my instructor, follow their instructions, and let go of the endless thoughts in my mind. I can actively practice what I call ‘paying attention on purpose’ and work to actively bring my awareness back to the present moment when it inevitably wanders off (as all of our brains have a natural tendency to do).

The beauty of a CKO class is that it’s as simple as showing up, and giving it your best (which by the way isn’t always going to be 100% – and that’s okay!)


The best way to celebrate Mental Health Month is to tune into your body, it has a lot of wisdom to share with you – you just have to be willing to pay attention.

 

Want to dive deeper into any of the above information?
Heather and the Growing Mindset Therapy team is here to help, and are accepting new individual and Corporate Therapy clients in New Jersey and Florida. 

Want to try out the CKO Kickboxing Workout?
Search for the one closest to you by tapping here!

 

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DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended to treat, or diagnose and medical conditions, nor is it a replacement for mental health or medical treatment. If you or someone you know is in need of clinical support, our team is able to provide therapy services to those in NJ and FL. Contact us to learn more. If you or someone you know is in need of immediate support please contact emergency services. U.S. Mental health crisis line: dial 988 ; medical emergency dial 911.

Sources:

1.  Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006; 8(2): 106.  doi: 10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a PMCID: PMC1470658PMID: 16862239

2. Cureus. 2023 Jan; 15(1): e33475. Published online 2023 Jan 7. Doi: 10.7759/cureus.33475 PMCID: PMC9902068PMID: 36756008