Tag Archives: recovery

What is mental health?

We went from headaches to mental health fairly quickly. I asked him what he did for his own mental health? His answer: “I don’t know what it is.” Fair enough. An honest answer! A few beats passed and he asked, what do YOU do for your mental health? Touché!

I told him that for my mental health, I exercise, hang out with uplifting people, do arty stuff, meditate.

He perked up about the meditation. He said he tried it but it didn’t work. He had done it twice, each time for 2 hours. I told him that was very ambitious! How about shorter, like 10-15 minutes a day?

He asked how does it feel, when you are in the zone of meditation? This is a good question and I wasn’t sure how to answer. English was not his first language so when I used words like peaceful, it didn’t fly. So, I motioned like I was unscrewing the top of my head, and said, “it’s like if you took the top of your head off and poured fresh water through it; rinsed it out with water and light.

His eyes lit up and he said, “oh!”

He left with a new approach to meditation.

© Mary Ann Petersen. Albany, Oregon

What is good mental health?

Here is a list of eight things I was told in school (Oregon college of Oriental Medicine, Portland, Oregon).

Signs of good mental health could be the ability to:

  1. Develop emotionally, creatively, and spiritually.
  2. Initiate, develop, and sustain healthy relationships.
  3. Face problems, resolve them, learn from them.
  4. Be confident and assertive.
  5. Have awareness of others, ability to empathize with them.
  6. Use and enjoy solitude.
  7. Play and have fun.
  8. Laugh at yourself and at the world (takes tremendous amount of self esteem and inner strength to laugh at oneself).

*We need enough life force to initiate and develop ourselves. Always look for and find ways to cultivate your life force.

The above list came from an academic course, which was directed toward working with addiction and mental health.

© Mary Ann Petersen

These are guidelines, points of reference. I think we need to identify in writing some concepts of good mental health. It’s time to be concrete rather than vague.

Why don’t more people have answers for good mental health? Why does it seem slippery? Lately, I see a need for solid footing in this subject. Let’s start somewhere. And go beyond, “see a counselor.” Some won’t get there, so what are common sense concepts in the meantime? As in, let’s get some movement on the ground floor, within our reach and not make supporting general mental health too confusing.

© Mary Ann Petersen. Dublin, Ireland.

My point is, we all need to bring this care into our own lives, even if we are not in the middle of a mental health crisis. If we wait for that, it’s a harder place to set up aid and self care.

© Mary Ann Petersen. The temple.

The next list is from a Quaker group I attended, so it has a spiritual leaning. The topic was Universal Spiritual Elements.

Universal Spiritual Elements

  1. Awareness of the “other.” What is valued or sacred? What do you value over yourself?

2. Sense of responsibility. How am I responsible for the world around me? How do treat my space, surroundings, people, pets?

3. Sense of vocation. What is my reason for being? What gives meaning or purpose?

4. Sense of community. Is there a sense of caring and being cared for? Who are my people? Who do I trust?

5. Sense of repentance. What is my capacity for reconciliation with self and others. Mistakes are entry points for healing forgiveness.

6. Ability to be present. Is my focus past, present, or future oriented. Soul lives in present. Past: ego. Future: ego.

7. Faith. What is the relationship between my small story fitting into the bigger story. To connect to a sense of the transcendent, what do you relate to?

Having trouble figuring out how to integrate all this into your life? That’s o.k., pick one thing and start there. Remember to have fun. Practice, practice, practice.

In my view, we should be having conversations and taking action everyday toward cultivating good head and heart space.

Leave a comment to say which or what called to you.

Back to meditation, if you want a great kickstart, go to https://chopracentermeditation.com/experience.
It’s a great 21-day simple guided meditation. It fits into any schedule! It starts Monday the 30th. The theme is Making Every Moment Matter.

Emotional fitness

The other function of organs
The other function of organs

I work out for emotional fitness. I work out for heart health. No, not just the cardio blood-pumping heart health. Sure, that’s good common sense, which we all know. I like to work out to make my heart feel stronger on an emotional and spiritual level. Yep, that’s right. I think emotional fitness is where it’s at.

Exercise has been a lifelong habit. I work out when I am sad, happy, bored, lonely, anxious, depressed, excited, joyful, or worried. It fits all my moods.


Fitness is encouraged to support physical health, fight off disease, and for sex appeal. It is also encouraged for stress relief. What does it mean to reduce stress exactly? I think it means that we take care of our emotional fitness.

Walked by this once and have been inspired since.
Walked by this once and have been inspired ever since.

I have a list of reasons to exercise to support what is referred to as mental health. I would rather call it living.


My list includes familiar methods, but instead of listing the obvious physical benefits, I share how I am effected on a mental, emotional, or spiritual level. I am sure everyone experiences these differently. I’d love to know how others feel their emotions are enhanced with workouts.

I do intervals of jogging, sprinting, and walking. Intervals, the mixture, is ideal for me. I find jogging boring and slightly miserable after a while. Walking makes me slow down and see things around me more closely. I learn to appreciate my surroundings. Running fast makes me feel like a stone skipping across water. I like the short maximum demand, like a speeding bullet train (at least in my head).

For me, running burns off anxiety. It reduces fear.

It’s quiet under the water. I come up with new ideas because I am less distracted by reasons why I can’t do things. It’s just me and the water. The water’s fluidity encourages a more flexible way of thinking.

Perspective shift in progress
Perspective shift in progress

I have to take deep breaths and hold it and release it, and that creates a lot of bubbles that I can float through. I move through space differently and that brings forth creativity in problem solving.

Laps to freedom
Laps to freedom

For me, swimming is forgiveness. Swimming makes me feel the most loving. I love everyone after a good swim.

Lifting weights:
I feel strong, and therefore confident when I lift weights. This makes me less paranoid, less concerned about perceived threats. I like to hold weight, to lift it with control. When confident in this arena, I am more likely to bring myself stronger to whatever I am doing. This includes things that don’t require obvious physical strength. Another bonus: I don’t feel as vulnerable to negativity.

Lifting weights can offer stability and build confidence.

It is good for me because it makes me go slow. My favorite instructors offer a bit of history about the poses rather than powering through it on a purely physical level.  Yoga can be a great blend. It offers a good dish of humility. My best life teachers have been humble. Knowing these teachers taught me to be vulnerable, to ask for help. I like yoga for making friends with myself, for practicing flexibility.

Yoga encourages me toward a more humble and yielding position in the scheme of things.

Burpees: Falling to the ground and getting back up again, over and over when it seems impossible, is pushing it. This is about perseverance through discomfort and even fear. After I do burpees I feel like my cells have been washed, purged, and rinsed repeatedly. By the time I am done, I feel more clear. I feel my body, mind, spirit have been flushed and hung out to dry. I’m ready for anything.

When you're all in on all levels
When you’re all in on all levels

Burpees reduce negativity. You’re simply happy you lived through it. They also reduce stagnation. I am cleansed. I feel nearly euphoric.

A little shout out to the heart and lungs on a emotional level: Older health paradigms assigned emotions or feelings to organs. For example, in Chinese medicine the heart can house anxiety, but also joy and enlightenment. The lungs can store grief, but also can produce generosity and integrity. In my thinking, the more we are stagnant, the more negativity builds.

This does not mean we cannot be still. Stillness or meditation is absolutely essential in good mental health. Being still for wellness is a completely different blog, so I’ll save that for later.

Paddling relaxed
Paddling slow and relaxed

In summary, the above listed methods of exercise offer me:

less fear
less anxiety
more love
less negativity
less stagnation
a sprinkle of euphoria

These are health goals that I can get behind!

What about you, what works in your world?

DIY autumn body wash: Inspire; Release!

Grape leaves turning
Grape leaves turning

The following is a fall aromatherapy body wash based on Chinese elemental theory.

The season is: autumn. Time to let go of the old, and take in the new. The direction of this time of year is downward- a quiet movement back into the earth to push nutrients into the soil for next spring.

The physical aspects include: lungs, colon, body hair, and skin. The lungs inspire, the colon purges.

The emotions include: grief, loss. To stay in balance regarding grief, we need to allow for the recognition of it, and the care of how it passes through us. If not, we may not actually grieve, which can cause it to get stuck, unprocessed, and eventually become a heavy burden following us everywhere.

Apples paying it forward
Apples paying it forward

If we unburden ourselves, we can find and connect with new inspiration.

Shed the old, make room for the new

During this season, nature leads us into the cycle of creating and letting go. Trees don’t cling to their leaves because they might need them next year. They let them all drop. If held onto, the decayed leaves can pollute and effectively block the entry of anything new.

When the lungs are healthy, we not only breathe better, we can absorb new experiences, ideas, and be more open to inspiration.

Positive aspects of this season: generosity, integrity, self-respect, and personal value. Focus on and bring about these positive traits during this season. Self-care creates awareness and discernment in what you breathe, both physically and mentally.

It was a good summer!
It was a good summer!

A few essential oils for this season:


These all perk up the lungs.

Lungs inspire literally and figuratively. They bring in air and ideas. In Chinese medical theory, the lung is paired with the large intestine, or colon. The colon purges what is no longer needed.

Together, they have a team approach toward balance. Disperse with the old, welcome the new.

DIY autumn body wash

1 cup Dr. Bronners unscented liquid soap
1 cup water
3 T. coconut oil, fractionated
10-15 drops essential oil

During this season, ask yourself:

What inspires you?

What do you want to let go?

Finding the window out of addiction

“I saw the window, so I took it,” was what he said. This was in response to the question of how did you quit large doses of prescribed pain medication and copious amount of pot smoking? He started out with neck pain and back pain. The pain medication and pot smoking rained down to cover the pain. There was also mention of PTSD lurking in the background. It needed something too. So he used substances, lots.

Then he quit.

How does it feel? “Good. now it’s just me,” he said.


I’m not sure why but he looked around, saw a window for change, and he took it. He didn’t deliberate. He didn’t wonder if he could do it. He figured it would be hard. He did it anyway.

Maybe he got lucky. He didn’t notice a painful withdrawal. He said it was neither painful or dramatic. A little while after he stopped the pain medication, his pain got better, decreased noticeably. After he stopped smoking pot, he felt more engaged/available in his relationships.

Now he actively meditates, gets acupuncture, and looks for holistic ways to nurture a healthy body/mind/spirit path. He wants to be active in his life, engaged, and, as he said, “become better.”

I see a lot of people who want to make positive changes happen. They are very sincere. But they struggle with obstacles. Real or imagined, the obstacles get in the way. Real or imagined, excuses clog the path, the stream, the field, and ultimately, the window. They can’t get to the window, much less open it.


I am curious, how we get there ourselves? How do we help each other? How do I help clients? I had a teacher once tell me that what I do  (acupuncture/Chinese medicine) is like a housekeeper and gardener. The practitioner must help to trim the brush, sweep the walkway, wash the windows, clean the pond, hang up laundry in the sun to dry…. you get the idea. This maintenance and attention to the inner and outer landscape may lead to a sharper focus. It cleans up the noise and distraction and leads to an easier path to a row of open windows with bird songs floating in.

How people get there is diverse. The man I talked to seemed to just bob to the surface one day and it happened. I think a lot people can be motivated by witnessing others, being inspired. Though many appear to have inspiration like a new baby, a dream job, a great love, a new house- all the stuff we can see- none of this is enough to actually make change. From what I have seen, change comes from a deep inner place that has its own reasons and they can’t be seen or analyzed. They just are there and they have a louder voice than all of the reasons to not change.

Where do you find inspiration that lifts you and lasts?