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Understanding behavioral health for you and your loved ones

We asked Alexis Lyon-Claus, LMFT, behavioral health manager at Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group, to help us explain behavioral health and share tips on what you and your loved ones can do to continue your mental health journey. .

Behavioral health for you

So what exactly is behavioral health and how is it different from mental health?

“Many people use these terms interchangeably, when in reality behavioral health is broader and encompasses mental health,” Lyon-Claus said. “Behavioral health looks at the connection between various actions or behaviors, as well as the overall health and well-being of the body, mind, and spirit.”

Have you ever noticed how refreshed you feel after taking a nice walk, even if you didn’t feel like doing it in the first place? Or the feeling you get when you cross a task off your to-do list? These are small but practical examples of how certain actions impact your thoughts, emotions, and even your physical health. Recognizing the impact of your behavioral health can be used to help manage a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

It can be difficult to identify when to start implementing behavioral health tactics as you struggle with your own negative thoughts and feelings. Lyon-Claus has some advice for when you find yourself in these difficult situations.

Move your body
“Whether it’s walking, gardening, biking, yoga or whatever is available to you, movement is great for the body and mind. Many people struggle to get enough physical activity, especially as many of us lead a more sedentary lifestyle. Challenge yourself by taking a walk around the neighborhood every day or doing some stretches between meetings.

Have a good night and sleep
“Daily movement also improves sleep for many people, and getting enough sleep each night is a very important part of self-care,” Lyon-Claus said.

To improve your sleep schedule, try going to bed and waking up at the same time every morning, including weekends, and limit phone use in bed. These habits have been shown to improve sleep quality, which affects all aspects of our health.

Countdown with your senses
Another helpful way to incorporate behavioral health is to implement the 5 senses countdown technique. If you feel anxious or stressed, lie in bed and identify five things you can see; four things you can physically feel; three things you can listen to; two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Taking time to connect to the present by identifying things that are tangible and real can help you stop thinking about anxiety. That’s what behavioral health is all about; do things and take actions that can strengthen the connection between your mind, heart and body.

Behavioral health for others

Being familiar with behavioral health not only helps you help yourself, but also allows you to recognize and provide support when a loved one is struggling with their own mental health.

“Some common signs that a friend or family member may be struggling include; moving away or withdrawing from your usual activities and community, unusual difficulties at school or work, extreme mood fluctuations, or significant changes in sleeping or eating habits,” Lyon-Claus said.

Another common warning sign of deteriorating mental health that is often overlooked is a sudden increase in risky behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or abusing substances. If you notice any of these signs in a loved one, reach out and offer a listening ear without judgment.

“Reassure them that you are there for them and that you care about them. If the problem becomes persistent and has a significant impact on their daily life, encourage them to talk to a therapist or their primary care provider,” Lyon-Claus said.

People often don’t have an outlet to resolve their difficult feelings, and having a trusted person in your circle to vent to without feeling judged can be a huge help. Lyon-Claus suggests simply listening—not offering advice or immediately reprimanding your loved one for the things they’re struggling with.

Take the time to learn more about the behavioral health resources available in your community. Ask your primary care provider if you have any concerns about your own mental health and how to help those around you. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or harming others, visit a local emergency room for evaluation or call 9-1-1 if you believe there is an immediate safety risk.



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