Mental health used to be a concept that was often stigmatized, associated only with mental illness and often not socially permissible to be discussed openly. Mental health was neglected until it was ‘a problem,’ and even then, the problem was handled exclusively by a doctor.
Thankfully, much of society has changed greatly in the last 25 years and mental health is not merely a subject that is thought of with illness, but a subject that is incorporated into the whole well-being of a person.
When we think about mental health now, we think about what it means to take care of our whole self. This whole-self integration incorporates the concept of integrative health, whereas caring for the whole body, mind, and spirit.
Integrative health can be credited to our dear psychologist friend, Abraham Maslow and his great hierarchy of needs. See graphic.
The concept of integrative health can sound vague and unclear to some, leading to the question, what does this really mean?
Let’s start with the whole body.
When we think about caring for our body, we think about sleep, nutrition, activity level.
Our physiological needs (AND, the base of Maslow’s pyramid).
HOW are we sleeping?
Are we getting enough sleep?
Do we have a sleep routine?
Sleep can contribute to a variety of others health concerns, thus making it an important contributing factor to our overall health.
What about nutrition?
HOW are we eating?
WHAT are we eating?
WHAT is our relationship with food?
Food can be a natural source of medicine for our mental health needs, and often we neglect its healing power.
When we think about activity, we can overthink what we need to do. American culture is especially one of extremes, where we are either underactive or overactive.
Let’s rethink the way we think about activity.
Are we walking?
How much are we sitting?
Are we getting our heart rate up?
How do we use the one body we were given to move?
When our physiological needs are being met, we can move up the pyramid to psychological needs.
Do we feel safe and secure in our lives?
Do we have people around us who are able to support us?
Do we feel a sense of belonging in our worlds?
Do we feel challenged enough?
Do we have ways to feel accomplished?
Are we growing in how we navigate our lives?
As we continue up the pyramid, our ability to care for our whole self can now incorporate a more global approach and if our basic needs are being met, we are able to think outside of ourselves about how we want to live in this world.
At the top of Maslow’s pyramid is self-actualization, characterized as achieving one’s full potential, both intellectually and creatively.
If everything below this level is being fulfilled, we have the potential to be fully integrated and thus live into our greatest potential. We can care for our whole self, which will help us be better friends, parents, children, caregivers, and spiritual beings.
Start small, knowing that each step we take can lead us on this path to integration. If you feel you need some guidance along this path, please reach out to us at 615-591-5262.