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Being fit doesn’t end with the physique, it extends to the psyche

Helping each other by coming together are, from left, Andy Gallo, Orion Kobet and Deb Chisty at the Grapevine on Dec. 20. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

“If you think about it, mentally, you have to be taking care of yourself in order to work on the physical piece,” said Rich Blews, the peer support manager and housing engagement specialist at the Grapevine Center. “Mental health is absolutely important (and) for many years it’s been overlooked.”

The Grapevine Center, 140 N. Elm St., offers multiple support programs and services for people with mental illness, as well as the homeless, veterans, those recently released from prison and others.

“We are all about mental health here. Our philosophy is ‘Recovery is Real,’ and it really is,” Blews said. “They think that it is impossible for them to rebound if they’ve had a downfall in their mental health.”

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Butler County, at 220 S. Main St., also offers support programs to those affected by mental illness, both personally and for those who live with and care for a person with mental illness. Its mission is to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and build better lives through education and support.

“I believe that mental health is just as important as physical health,” Donna Lamison, the executive director of NAMI Butler, said. “One impacts the other, so it should have the same importance in health care treatment as physical health.”

When it comes to bettering mental health, both Lamison and Blews agree on multiple techniques, starting with taking small steps.

“When you’re working on your brain and your mental health, you have to take small steps and set realistic goals for yourself,” Blews said. “Small realistic goals are what’s going to be key to be successful and to generate wellness for yourself.”

Taking the time to rest and care for yourself is equally as important as making progress. Getting enough sleep, meditation, reading and journaling are among the suggested self-care activities.

“Carve out some self-care time to do something that relaxes you, whether that is listening to some music or taking a long bath,” Lamison said.

Along with caring for yourself, Blews and Lamison suggest participating in activities that make the doer happy — creative outlets such as art and music.

“I encourage individuals to look at things that used to bring them enjoyment that they don’t do anymore, to revisit it and maybe come up with a new way to approach it,” Blews said.

Having a support system consisting of trusted family, friends, close co-workers and therapists can help prevent isolation and provide outlets for communication and care, they said.

“I think that they should talk to someone they trust, whether it be a mental health professional, a good friend (or) someone whose opinion they value,” Lamison said. “Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. It’s important to know that you’re not alone, that other people have been where you are and that they are here to help you through that.”

When it comes to the holidays and the negative or overwhelming feelings the season brings, it is important to set limits.

“We can become so busy with the holidays, with family, invitations here and there, that we have to really set limits on our time and realize what we are capable of and when we should say ‘no,’” Lamison said.

To strengthen good mental habits, it is always beneficial to be kind to yourself.

“We don’t expect perfection from others, I don’t think that we should expect perfection from ourselves,” Lamison said. “Some days, it’s OK to not be OK.”

Blews and Lamison suggest practicing meditation and breathing exercises to prepare for when mental illness symptoms appear.

“Triangle breathing is important,” Blews said. “That’s where you [inhale] for four or five seconds, you hold it for four or five seconds, and you exhale, and that really helps reduce anxiety on the drop of a dime.”

Mindfulness is the practice of purposefully focusing on the now instead of the anxieties of the past or future. Practicing the act of mindfulness in everyday situations can help people better prepare for times of mental distress.

“There’s a lot being said about mindfulness, about staying in the here and now,” Lamison said. “Just taking a few minutes to just mind yourself and look around at where you are.”

Blews stresses that while society might push for constant selflessness, but when it comes to mental health, “we have to be selfish, because we have to take time for ourselves.”

“Everybody’s recovery is different, everybody’s mental health is different, and their journeys are different,” Blews said. “But one thing that is crucial, is that we make sure that we give ourselves time. It’s easy to get caught up in our thoughts and our feelings that we become consumed by them. We have to not neglect ourselves but reward ourselves.”

When it comes to finding a mental health care provider, Lamison and Blews agree that Butler County is rich with options.

“We are a blessed county,” Blews said. “We have the best mental health providers, I feel, (compared to) anywhere. Our services are so linked to each other, we work hand-in-hand with one another. We are fortunate in this county to have the mental health supports that we do, that we are able to help folks when they need us.”

From left, Rich Blews, Deb Chisty, Andy Gallo and Orion Kobet Stand together in front of one of the Christmas trees at the Grapevine on Dec. 20. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

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