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Making Mental Wellness a Priority

May 24, 2023

In this article, WGU’s Lead Social Emotional Learning Analyst, Emily Graham, MSED, LCMHC, NCC, a licensed clinical mental health therapist, provides applicable, practical advice to anyone looking to boost their mental wellness, and/or address a mental illness. Emily is part of the team at WGU creating and curating Social Emotional Learning resources for faculty and staff. Her work is also part of the WGU School of Education’s Healthy Learning Initiative.

Making Mental Wellness a Priority

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While having a month focused on this is important, it is vital to remember that mental health must be a focus for people daily. People often seem to have a hard time finding and prioritizing ways to care for their mental wellness, however, many options are right at your fingertips. How can you make your mental health a priority today, and every day?

Talk Therapy

Many people are nervous about talk therapy and can’t imagine sharing personal stories and emotions with a “stranger”. But if you connect with the right therapist, it’s as easy as talking to a good friend and better in that you are speaking free from any fear of judgment like you might have with a friend, wondering what they’ll think of you later after the conversation.

Therapy can help you unload your emotions with a nonbiased third party, and it has many positive outcomes including improved communication skills, learning to resolve conflict, increased self-awareness, developing coping skills, and changing negative emotions and thought patterns, just to name a few. Giving yourself an hour a week to unpack your feelings can change how you approach your life. Therapy can be a foundational part of self-care. Many organizations provide therapy and counseling services as part of their employee benefits package, including WGU. One form of talk therapy proving effective for many is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. According to the Mayo Clinic, “CBT helps you become more aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them more effectively.”

Physical Health

Taking care of and nurturing your physical health is key to supporting your mental health. Feeling good physically and taking care of your body can positively influence your mental health. Eating well, getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water, getting out into the sunshine, and moving your body; any of these can impact your mental health in a positive way. Given how busy many people are these days you may want to consider scheduling your exercise or workout time on your calendar just like you do your meetings to give it the visibility and priority it deserves.

Nurturing Relationships

Try to find improved ways to communicate, connect, and prevent isolation, especially in a virtual world. Making sure that you are connecting with people and feeding relationships with genuine interactions will in turn feed your sense of belonging and community, which can help improve coping skills and bring you more happiness. If you’re new in a town or city and feel isolated and don’t have connections, consider volunteering for a recognized and reputable community-based non-profit. This can be an effective and fun way to meet people who have some common interests with you, all while helping others.

Spending Time in Nature

Connecting with the nature around us can be restorative and grounding. Even bringing plants inside or sitting by a window in the sunshine can help you can connect to the world around you.

A growing practice in Japan that is now taking off in the U.S. is Shinren-yoku, often referred to here in the States as forest bathing or forest therapy. In this practice, you observe the nature around you, typically in a peaceful wooded setting, and practice intentional deep breathing. This can help reduce stress and naturally improve your mood and well-being.

Here’s a helpful resource from Forestry England to give you more information.


Finding ways to calm yourself and take time out and breathe is key to improved mental health. Take a bath, go for a walk, talk to a friend, pet your dog, or just sit in place, close your eyes, and breathe.

You may find it helpful to breathe in deeply through your nose for the count of four, hold it a few counts, then audibly breathe out your mouth for the count of four or five. This can positively stimulate your vagus nerve which is the one responsible for ‘fight of flight’ syndrome. Allow yourself focused time to center and be calm and in many cases, joy and a sense of well-being will follow. Many apps for smartphones offer guided meditations to help you learn how to do this including Headspace (which WGU provides employees free of charge) and Insight Timer to name a few.

Connecting to Yourself

We don’t hesitate to discuss our physical health with family, friends, and colleagues, but there may still be some hesitation to discuss mental health concerns. Be part of the movement to remove that stigma and understand there can be no physical health without mental health. There are screenings for mental health just as there are screenings for physical health. Find ways to care for yourself this month, and every month. Every day is mental health and wellness day. What will you do for your wellness today?

We hope this practical advice is helpful. If you feel that your current state is cause for immediate concern, please reach out for support. For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, call SAMHSA's (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Or, call 988 to speak with someone at the suicide and crisis hotline for immediate assistance.


Additionally, WGU employees may access Spring Health Mental Wellness Benefits, and WGU students may access Well Connect (student login required) for mental health resources and support.

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