Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 3, 2012

Mental Wellness: Give back for therapy

BY JOSEPH R. SANOK, Local columnist
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---- — As I emotionally prepare for the madness of the holiday season, it's easy to already feel overwhelmed.

It can be a great time with friends and family, but it can be a time of expectations, hurt feelings and a sense of loss, especially if this is the first holiday season without someone.

We often miss the power of giving back during this time of year. Yes, we all know we should give back — but why? Ultimately, it does more for our mental well being than for anyone else.

Here are some things that have helped me grow:

- Learn about the world. Did you know that our toilet water is cleaner than most of the world's drinking water? Or that $3,000 will house three homeless individuals for a year in Traverse City through the local agency, The Foundation for Mental Health? Or maybe that more than one in five youths leaving foster care will be homeless after the age of 18? As we educate ourselves, it is hard to not take action.

- Do or do not, there is no try. What can you do? What is your small step? We have neighbors who have a Christmas party every year. They always focus on a different charity. People often bring food, child care items or money for the specific charity when they come to the party. It's an amazing way to give back, while still being authentic to who they are. There are small steps that each of us can take to challenge the way that the world is and to leave it better than we found it.

- Allow yourself to be influenced. When we volunteer, throw parties for charities or learn about the world, our problems often seem less severe. Through that process, we challenge our own emotional trials and can start the process of building our own mental wellness. It also gives more humanity to the people we learn from. They feel heard, and in the process, we start to hear our own voice.

Volunteering and giving back are not a magic bullet to happiness.

However, what it does is shape how we view the world, grow in appreciation and frame the holidays differently.

I encourage you to take a small step toward creating the wonderful world that you want to see.

Joseph R. Sanok is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling, www.mentalwellnesscounseling.com. He is also the newest member of the board of directors for The Foundation for Mental Health, providing permanent, stable, supportive housing to homeless individuals with mental health needs.