There are many ways to take care of your mental health, and consistency is the key the knowing where you stand. Learn about the importance of a mindful approach to mental health care from Bon Secours St. Francis Health System Behavioral Health expert, Carson Felkel.
Carson Felkel, a psychiatrist and Medical Director for Behavioral Health at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, said there are many ways to take care of your mental health, but consistency is the key to knowing where you stand. Without a mindful approach to mental health care, it is easy to go into “default mode,” even if you are a mental health professional, according to Felkel.
“That’s my state of mindlessly being – it’s the opposite of being mindful,” he said. “We need autopilot in our life. I call it my default mode, but it’s really the deep structures of our brain. Some people call it your reptilian brain that just does things automatically. It’s so good to have that, but we all can default into that if we are not being mindful – taking pauses in our day connecting with our breath, meditating, praying. And I have trouble personally being mindful and turning to those things if I don’t start my day with working out.”
Felkel is quick to note that an early morning workout session isn’t for everyone, but it is his way of setting the tone for the day. It is different for everyone, but it is important to find out what works.
“If I don’t do that, it’s hard to keep track of my mood, because I’m just on autopilot,” he said. “I’m checking in with my mood, but like most people, I catch myself in default mode. For me, that is feeling anxious and ruminative and being short with my kids and my wife. I will notice that I kind of bark back a response or I don’t really listen to them, and that is my cue that something is off, in me and in my day. It’s usually that I have a big project hanging over my head, or I did not work out in the morning.”
And if you don’t notice that in yourself, you can bet that those closest to you will.
“I think it is important to listen to the people who know you best that may catch you being off,” Felkel said.
One critical – and often overlooked – factor in good physical and mental health is quality sleep. Bad night? You won’t be your best the next day. A series of bad nights? The impact is real.
“I feel anxiety but someone else might feel anger or sadness or more a depressive feeling – negative self-talk,” Felkel said. “For me, I feel in my body a pressure, kind of the world weighing on me. I just have to listen to that feeling, even though it doesn’t always make sense.”
There are ways to get out of that stew of negativity without letting it take control.
“Because the world we’re living in is so relatively tough, it would probably be typical to feel bad most days, but I don’t think it’s good to define the day,” Felkel said. “Personally, my faith plays a role in this too, but I feel the most at peace when I’m either at the beach looking at the horizon, or in the mountains looking at the rolling hills because it is a reminder that I have become too self-focused.”
If your mental wellbeing is not as good as it should be, Felkel said it is important to reach out for help. Primary care providers can also consider physical factors that may be affecting mental health.
“All Bon Secours primary care providers are equipped to have these conversations and would love to have the opportunity to deal with this kind of holistic conversation around whole health, spiritual health, mental health,” he said. “In healthcare, we only see such a small slice of someone’s life. I would encourage people to have these check-ins and conversations with the people they’re around all day long – their loved ones, a friend, a colleague. There’s never a wrong time to consider or seek out counseling or coaching. You don’t have to be depressed to get counseling. There’s so much opportunity to optimize one’s health and mental wellbeing through talking to a counselor, and there’s never been this many counseling resources before either.”