You hear it all the time – the endless list of tips on how to protect your physical health. Practices for maintaining spiritual health are shared by our parish priests, and those in our faith community. Thankfully, a third vein of advice is arriving with it, encouraging us to care for our mental health. May is set apart for mental health awareness. Especially during this month, people around the world encourage each other to care for their emotional, mental, and social well-being in a variety of ways.
May has spiritual significance as well. Traditionally, this month is dedicated to Mary, our Mother in Heaven. We still continue to honor the Year of St. Joseph, and celebrate his feast on May 1st. Both our heavenly parents are invoked for good health, and the protection of our bodies and souls.
One of the best parts about our Faith is that God wishes us to take care of ourselves in everything – our physical, our mental, and spiritual health. Keeping these coinciding May dedications in mind, let’s examine some practices to uplift our spiritual, physical, and mental well-being.
- Ask for the intercession of Mary and Joseph in regards to your mental health. Before starting (or continuing) anything, the best thing to do is lift it up in prayer. Take some time to reflect on your mental health. Think about how you process your emotions, engage in relationships, think through decisions, and adapt to new situations. Praise God for the things that are in a healthy state, and ask for help through Mary and Joseph’s intercession in the areas where you still struggle. Doing this often will help you be mindful of your mental health, and keep track of your progress as you improve.
- Don’t mark mental health issues as only spiritual, or vice versa. An ongoing issue with addressing mental health in the Church is the inability to distinguish these two. Individuals end up more hurt than before, and unable to best face whatever problem with which they are struggling. If you struggle with a particular behavior or practice that seems impossible to break from, you may need to talk with a mental health professional, and that’s perfectly okay. It means that you are seeking the help you need to take care of you. Currently, these professionals are taking online and in-person appointments, to fit the particular schedule of your life.
- Reserve time each day to implement mental health practices. Using the time above where you reflect on your health, pinpoint how you can implement small acts to improve the unhealthy areas. Kicking out a bad habit – such as doom-scrolling, gossip, ingratitude, or self-inauthenticity – requires conscious refusal, and – when you fall back into the habit – determination to strive for better. There are even apps to help you keep track of your mental health practices, including Remente, Streaks, and Climb.
- Take five minutes a day (at minimum!) for silence and meditation. Meditation is a crucial mental health practice that allows a person to stop for a few moments in the midst of busyness and be still. Jesus himself often took the time to go off alone and pray quietly, connecting with his Father. We can learn from his example in taking time from our day to spend some quiet moments with God. Hallow and Laudate are both Catholic apps that offer guided and unguided meditations. You can select the amount of time for the meditation, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide your heart through it.
- Kick out behaviors with severe implications for your mental health. Pornography and sexting. Toxic relationships. Substance abuse. Extreme self-deprecation. These are just a few of many things that are not only considered sinful in the Church, but are also extremely damaging to your mental health. The good news is you are not alone, and there are plenty of resources out there to help you heal. You can check out Catholic resources like Integrity Restored, Catholic in Recovery, and LifeTeen. Or secular resources like Fight the New Drug, Turn, Fortify, and Way of Life. It’s also highly recommended to speak to your pastor or spiritual director, a trusted loved one, and your mental health professional to encourage you on the road to recovery.
- Connect with saints who struggled with mental health. Believe it or not, there’s many. One of the go-tos is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who likely struggled with depression and anxiety. St. Oscar Romero battled OCD his entire life. Some holy figures, like Venerable Matt Talbot and St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, battled addiction, even to their dying day. St. Dymphna (whose feast we celebrate May 15th) is considered one of the ultimate patrons of mental health. Turn to them in both good times and bad, invoking their intercession in your life. This litany includes them and so many other intercessors who will implore health on your behalf.
I am so grateful that this month’s coinciding dedications give us the reminder to maintain and improve our health when we can, and strive ever further towards holiness, even in the midst of difficulty.