Some advice for improving your mental health game

by Dr. Emma Wood

brainWe live in a culture that values productivity over health, outward validation above personal contentment, the bottom line (usually money) over the complex and at times painful beauty of being human. Within this culture, physical health is acknowledged as legitimate while mental health seems to be considered a “personal problem” or at best optional.

You broke your leg? Let me take you to the ER!

You can’t get out of bed in the morning because life is overwhelming? Just try harder, or drink coffee, or… maybe you are just lazy.

Around 25 % of America’s population experiences a diagnoseable mental illness in a given year. You may or may not fall into that 25%, but mental health is an issue for 100% of the population. An absence of mental illness does not the presence of mental health make. As a clinical psychologist I see the negative impact of the denial of mental health as a priority. Often, when people chronically neglect their mental health and self-care they ultimately end up with depression or anxiety which interferes with their ability to function.

The World Health Association defines mental health this way:

“Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”[1]

I would encourage you to ask yourself a question: where am I at with mental health?

rush rushBeing a therapist does not make someone immune from emotional and psychological difficulties, just as being a physician does not make you immune to cancer. All human beings are vulnerable to stress and ultimately distress. There are many ways one can improve or work on their mental health. Regular exercise that is fun (i.e. not pounding away on a treadmill looking at a wall), self-reflection, opportunities for creativity, play, relaxation, reading, meaningful relationships, eating delicious and nutritious food, these can all be part of your mental health routine. My routine is admittedly not as robust as I would like it to be. With two toddlers, a full time job, root canals, ear infections, church pot lucks, evening programs, etc. I find it hard to get it right. This is where the pièce de résistance of self-care comes in. The “mental health day.” The mental health day is a sick day off work or away from parenting (i.e. a babysitter). Consider it if mental health is sliding down the slippery slope towards mental illness.

I have come up with some hopefully helpful guidelines should you need and use a mental health day. I encourage you to do this, perhaps once a year, or more if necessary. Hopefully the following sentiments will assist you in getting the most out of your mental health day.

Things not to do on your mental health day:

  • no paperworkLaundry
  • Clean the kitchen (or any other part of the house)
  • Wear restrictive clothing
  • Answer work emails
  • Run errands

Things to avoid:

Picking up your children early from day care/school- it’s good to miss them. Ignore the guilt about not spending time with them. If you take the day for you, for the few hours you get with them at the end of the day you will be a much more present and healthy parent.

Avoid productivity.  This is probably the most counter cultural message, but it is important to have time to live, play, relax, be in the moment.

Avoid that list of things that you want to get done when you have time. Taking the new Mom a meal, buying new shoes for your baby’s rapidly growing feet, meal planning and prepping, working on the taxes, mowing the lawn, etc. you are booked all day with an appointment with yourself- you can’t cancel on him/her again!

Avoid guilt- easier said than done.

Things TO DO on your mental health day:

Nourish your soul. There is a qualitative difference between binge watching Netflix and reading an inspiring autobiography. There is a difference between watching day time tv and watching a nostalgic comedy from your childhood. Think about what the junk food of your brain is- it’s a quick distraction but leaves you feeling empty and hungry. Start to figure out the things that fill you up.

Journal. Take some time and space to think, clarify your thoughts and values, tune in to your inner experience. This is probably the healthiest thing you can do on your mental health sick day.

Have your partner bring home dinner. Let yourself completely off the hook- don’t cheat yourself out of the full day. It’s like meticulously planting a garden, and then not watering it. You want to follow through to see the full results of your investment.

Hopefully these tips leave you inspired and motivated to making mental health a priority!

Emma WoodDr. Emma Wood is a licensed clinical psychologist, public speaker, trainer, consultant and blogger in Waco. You can see more of her work and get more information about the services she provides at 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.


[1] World Health Organization [WHO]. “Strengthening mental health promotion (Fact Sheet No. 220.),” (accessed January 6, 2010).


In the kitchen with kids: They’re learning more than just cooking

By Meilana Charles

In April, Prairie View A&M University-Cooperative Extension Program’s “Dine on 3,” healthy living social media initiative focused on cooking with kids.

In my previous career as an early childhood professional I enjoyed preparing and cooking in the classroom with students. Taste tests, pumpkin carvings at the sensory table, creating salads from fruits and vegetables picked from the garden, and introducing different types of foods from different cultures were just a few of the activities implemented in my classrooms. And, as a young professional, I didn’t even know the long-term benefits associated with cooking with kids!

As an extension agent in McLennan County, I have found that few parents know the benefits of preparing a meal with their children.  For example, in one of my classes I noticed a preschool-aged girl attentively focused, watching her mother prepare a fruit smoothie. When I inquired about her daughter’s fascination, the mother replied that she’d never made a smoothie and her daughter wasn’t allowed to be in the kitchen when the adults were cooking.

Children only get in the way, this is my “alone time,” it’s not safe… many parents seem adamant that children don’t belong in the kitchen. To counter this resistance, I make sure to include information regarding the importance of cooking with children in my health and nutrition programs. I make sure to explain that parents need to introduce their children as early as age 2, to age appropriate activities when preparing meals. Additionally, I explain that aside from the cooking skills, there are nutritional, developmental and academic benefits associated with letting children assist in the kitchen.

In the end I hope that some of the information provided convinces parents to allow their children to take some role in preparing meals for with their children. The long-term benefits far outweigh the reasons to avoid having them help.

cooking with kids


Meilana CharlesThis Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Meilana Charles. Meilana is a Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent at Cooperative Extension Program at Prairie View A&M University. Meilana’s priority areas for providing educational resources to McLennan County are general nutrition, money management and parenting. She has a M.S. in Child Development from Texas Woman’s University and is a certified Human Development and Family Studies professional through American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.


Home and Hope: Conversations at Church about Including LGBTQ People

By Curtis Cannon

There were so many people, many more than I had anticipated, all gathered in the Church sanctuary that first Wednesday.  I’m not a member of this particular faith community, but I was thrilled about the topic they would be considering and discussing during the month’s Wednesday gatherings.  The program series was about the Church and their relating to and including LGBTQ people.  Momentous and exciting stuff.  I was again filled with hope.

My journey in the Christian Church began in my infancy – many, many moons ago.  Some of my earliest memories are of playing in the nursery, doughnuts, Tang, felt board Bible stories, “Jesus loves me this I know”…We were a very involved Church family with regular participation in the myriad assortment of groups, classes, committees, choir….all of it.  I loved it and drew a great deal of identity from my belonging there.

Later, as a teen in high school, I began to realize and grapple with the fact that I was gay.  It wasn’t a phase or an affliction, it was simply who I was.  I’m able to say that today with a clarity of age I wish I could have known then.  I was very distressed then about what was happening with me.  After a few cursory “testings of the waters” with trusted leaders in the Church, I was left with a palpable sense that I was in err, that something was wrong with me.  Did I grieve God?  Was I an abomination?  I no longer felt I could be honestly myself in Church.  This all coincided with my heading off to college, so I used the opportunity to bow out from Church.

For ten years I bobbed and tossed through a rather tumultuous early adulthood.  I think of that time as my years wandering in the desert.  I had some great friends and dear confidants, but wouldn’t a home base of faith and solidity have been great?

In 1993 I moved from San Francisco, where I attended school, to Waco.  Yes, that’s right, SF to Waco.  A radical transition to be sure, but Waco is my mother’s hometown and I had the familiarity of visits in my youth to see grandparents and relatives.  I moved out here with the goal of helping my parents organize and sort through my grandparent’s estate.  Little did I know it would still be  my home 23 years later or that it would mark the next chapter in my spiritual odyssey to wholeness.

I remember sitting in my car outside of the Metropolitan Community Church for a good while before finally mustering up the courage to venture in.  I had heard this was an open and affirming Church and actually came into existence so that LGBTQ people could have a welcoming place to worship.  It all seemed almost too good to be true.  I was home.

In the years since that wonderful homecoming I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a number of organizations and fundraising groups in Waco that that have worked for the equality and betterment of life for LGBTQ people.  I’ve also witnessed landmark legislation and court rulings that have made it possible for me and my husband, Dave to be legally married here in our home state (after we’ve lived together as a married couple for 16 years). I’m also grateful to new friends in other circles of belief and faith that have been so welcoming.

Today, I know of a few more congregations that have adopted the practice of true inclusivity (a definite improvement from a few decades ago).  My hope is that more and more faith communities will be open to growing in this direction of embracing all people.  It’s challenging work to grow beyond what you think you already know, but it’s possible, and I’m truly heartened by those congregations that are committed to this healing and transformative work.

Curtis CanonCurtis Cannon studied Theatre at San Francisco State University. He has been a zoo keeper, pre-school teacher, and house flipper.  He’s a member of CrossTies Ecumenical Church (who welcome and affirm all people) and is a mission group member and volunteer with the Gospel Café.  He and his husband Dave are big fans of all things theater.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.