WOMEN'S HEALTH BLOG May 2021
Guard Your Mental Health
A Message For Women
Written by Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham
We are living in very turbulent times! We are at war with an invisible enemy, which threatens our very breath. We are socially and politically polarized due to our highly charged opinions and experiences around the construct of race. We are at odds with the earth due in part to our daily habits. We are in turmoil with our emotional health as we see rates of psychiatric distress spiraling out of control, often unaddressed because of untenable stigma about mental illness.
As such, it is critically important that each of you, mindfully and intentionally, Guard Your Mental Health! “Mental Health” has typically meant being in balance mentally, spiritually, and physically through relationships, a faith system, adequate rest, nutrition, and physical activity. Since the pandemic, it has also come to mean responsible masking, safe distancing, good hygiene, and getting vaccinated.
Equally important is good “emotional intelligence.” When used well, it masterfully orchestrates the various challenges we face. For women, our added emotional layering is embedded in our brain’s limbic system, where our instinct to survive and save others is housed. It accounts for our high level of concern for our children, family, friends, and others. One of our greatest assets is the depth of emotional richness we feel. Our adeptness at using our emotional awareness to filter our thoughts and shape our actions is the product of emotional intelligence, a tremendous skill to guard our mental health.
Conscious regard for the dignity of others is a humane expression of emotional intelligence. It promotes self-respect and models humanity for so many who are watching us. Respectfulness rewards us through the release of natural endorphins, which intensify our subjective feeling of wellbeing. We can recreate this feeling over and over again every time we do something good for someone else. Such actions can bring peace and contentment, thus guarding our mental health.
The impact of trauma can begin in childhood when adverse experiences occur early in life. For all stressors, anxiety, worry and fear take the most significant toll on us, both mentally and physically. Cortisol is usually released for “fight or flight,” where threats of harm (real or imagined) require surges in blood flow, breathing, and blood sugar levels. Sustained worry and fear are emotionally traumatic. Persistent cortisol levels from emotional trauma cause physical harm from chronic hypertension and Type II Diabetes Mellitus. During times of high stress, women and children are more vulnerable to domestic violence. Violence and homicides are more common. Currently, depression and suicide rates and alcohol use, and drug overdosages are at their highest.
So, in a world with many stressors and where a pandemic has put a hard stop to our “familiar,” we must be smart about using our stress response to fuel practicing new ways of guarding our mental health. Being open to learning something new and to sharing it with someone else is a double reward!
Here are a few additional tips to Guard Your Mental Health!
- Remember to BREATHE
- Be more flexible in general
- Balance how you spend your time and with whom
- Open up to someone
- Don’t avoid asking for help
- Find the answers to your kids’ questions and talk with them
- Be a Blessing to Someone else by helping
- Embrace differences and look for people’s value
- Enjoy an occasional indulgence
- Eat Well! Move more! Sleep enough!
- Hold on to a belief in something bigger than yourself
- Choose Joy!
Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham
Rochelle Head-Dunham, MD, DFAPA, FASAM, is a Xavier University Chemistry Pre-Med Graduate. She attended Tulane University School of Medicine and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, where she completed her Residency in Psychiatry. Later she returned to Tulane to complete a Substance Abuse Fellowship.
Dr. Head-Dunham currently serves as Executive Director and Medical Director for Metropolitan Human Services District (MHSD). She is an Assistant and Associate Professor of psychiatry at Tulane and LSU, respectively, and was formerly State Commissioner for MH and the State Director for Addictive Disorders while serving as the State Assistant Secretary of Behavioral Health.
Dr. Head-Dunham’s clinical, administrative and academic experience strengthens her subject matter expertise as an Addiction Psychiatrist. She is the recipient of many awards for her leadership and service. Named a Physician Champion for the state of Louisiana, she is a national and local thought leader and strategist on systems-level changes in the field of behavioral health.