Getting Serious about your Mental Health
The state of your mental health is one of the biggest factors that determine the quality of your life. Your quality of mental health affects how you think, feel, communicate, and function. It affects your mood as well as your physical body. Taking steps to improve your mental health can help bring peace, joy, and fulfillment to your life.
If it sounds a little too good to be true, it kinda of is... Mental health is not easy to tackle when coming from a place of depression and anxiety. It takes a lot of work and like physical health it takes constant effort. You will fail and have setbacks often, but as long as you stay committed, you can improve your life slowly but surely.
It can be hard to even believe there is something better out there when your are stuck in anxious and depressive thoughts. However, if you are reading this, it shows you have some hope for yourself and are willing to put in some effort to improve. That's great! Props to you.
Let's dive in to a few ways to improve your mental health.
Improving Your Mental Health
If you're in a dark place right now, I feel for you. I know all the advice out there makes it seem so easy to change your life around just by following some "simple" steps like sleeping more and exercising and blah blah blah.
While the advice in those kinds of articles and posts can definitely be accurate and proven by science, I don't think they look at the situation from the point of view of someone going through it. We often KNOW the things we SHOULD be doing. The harder part is consistently finding the motivation, time and energy to DO these things. Sure, they may also teach you some new facts and strategies, but again this advice is often delivered like saying "calm down" to someone experiencing a panic attack, or saying "stop being negative" to someone that's fighting depression. It comes from a good place, but it's not really helpful.
I may not be able to "fix" your situation or "cure" your ailments, and you may not take all or any of my advice (that's cool). I just hope to provide a little compassion that I understand how hard it can be and believe you can change. I hope you at least get some reassurance that you're taking the right steps by looking into your mental health and maybe even pick up some tips along the way.
You Need to Know Yourself.
Again, these are hard things to do on a consistent basis when your mental health is suffering. Keep in mind, you will not improve these things all at once. It's important for you to analyze which area is most likely causing you the most discomfort and to put more effort into improving that topic FIRST.
Mental health is a complex idea and countless things in your life can affect it. The most impactful thing you can do is start paying better attention to your actions and what in your life is affecting YOU PERSONALLY, so that you can take steps to improve those things. Everyone is different and there is no universal roadmap to becoming mentally healthy.
Lastly, before we dive in, please remember its also okay to be struggling! It's okay if you feel that life is getting the best of you lately. You are certainly not alone. Things are tough lately, and honestly, I think you have to be crazy not to have some inner turmoil during the times we're living in. Do what you can. You deserve to live a life with more peace and fulfillment. Keep believing that and you can make progress, even if it is little by little.
9 Key Areas of Mental Health
1. Safe Vices
Put out the biggest fires first.
The first thing you have to do is identify your unsafe or unhealthy vices. Yes, this means drinking, drugs, screen addiction, gambling, sex or whatever. You probably already know what yours is. You have to tackle this problem first, or else all the other effort you put in to fixing the other areas of your life is wasted.
There's no sense scooping water out of the sinking boat when there's a huge hole in the side spewing water. You've got to patch the hole.
Before moving on, you seriously have to deal with what is causing you the most trouble. You have to be clear and prevent harm to your mind and body as much as possible. Sometimes, going cold turkey and just cutting that thing out of your life is best. Sometimes, replacing a bad habit with a more benign habit can do the trick.
For example: Someone smoking might start chewing gum as a "replacement". It doesn't fill the same void, but it helps distract you a bit. Before going further, please seek help from professionals if you feel you have a serious problem. Below are only solutions for more mild substance issues.
If you have decent self control, you can also create rules for yourself, like only 2 beers/night or only drinking on the weekends.
If you're struggling with substance abuse, here are a few less harmful herbal replacements that might be able to take the place of smoking/drinking (make sure these are legal in your state first):
A. Kava - Kava is an herbal drink that can promote relaxation and sooth anxiety while being "mildly intoxicating". Like alcohol, it can take the edge off, without getting you drunk or leaving you hungover the next day.
B. Kratom - Similar to Kava, Kratom tea produces a mild euphoric experiences and can boost your mood and improve focus. Kratom can be a good substitute for stimulants or energy drink addiction.
C. CBD Oil - CBD is great for anxiety and can be taken multiple ways. You can use drops, take pills, vape it, or eat edibles infused with CBD. It gives a lot of the same benefits as marijuana, except has little to none of the negative effects.
D. Ashwaghanda - A time-tested supplement that has been shown to reduce anxiety.
Again, the best results would probably come from stopping cold turkey, but that's just not an easy thing to do when certain substances are so addicting. If you need further help with substance abuse, please reach out to professionals.
(Routines, Schedules, and Lists)
I know what you're thinking... how boring right?
Honestly I can't disagree. I hate the idea of having routines and scheduling your days. I used to think doing these things would restrict my creativity, but it turns out, doing these things can really help free your mind and ALLOW you to do the things you are passionate about.
Hear me out:
To Do Lists
My memory is trash. With my ADHD and Anxiety I'm constantly forgetting important (an non-important) tasks that I have to do. If I don't keep a to-do list, these things just simply won't get done. I'll end up making candles or painting some furniture or some shit instead of paying my bills. Writing down things you need to do will help keep them in focus. It also clears your mind, because there is less pressure to remember what you have to do, since you have it on paper.
Put a * next to the important tasks that you need to do first. Get that dopamine hit when you cross completed tasks off. When the page is full and messy, tear it out and rewrite the things you haven't completed yet on a new sheet.
I prefer keeping these lists on physical paper, as your phone or computer can complicate things.
Try scheduling and planning your day if you find yourself lost when you have free time. Often, we can find ourselves in "decision paralysis", which simply means having so many options of things we have to/want to do, that we can't decide and end up doing basically nothing.
Schedule time for things on your To Do list that are the MOST IMPORTANT. Try to get these done first to get them out of the way. I know it can feel like there are 100 things to do, but you have to prioritize and just choose 1-3 tasks for the day that you really need to get done. And remember: some days, it's enough to just make it to the end of the day. We don't always have to be a hyper-productive member of society. Fuck that. Cut yourself plenty of slack and schedule time for yourself to do things you love.
To start, only use schedules on you days off, since the days you work will likely be taken up. Keep it as simple as you can too. Every minute doesn't have to be accounted for. For example, part of your day could look like this
8am-9am: Wake up, Walk Dog
10am-11am: Shower and Breakfast
11am-1pm: Computer Work/Errands
Routines also sounded pretty uninteresting to me before I tried them, but really, they've been a huge help to balance my life and make things easier.
By having a routine, you can eliminate some uncertainty in your daily life. Typically with anxiety an depression, your mind and life can feel cluttered. A routine can help you organize certain parts of your life to free up some mental capacity to HELP YOU focus on everything else going on in your life.
And again, it doesn't have to be complicated. A morning routine can look as simple as this:
- Wake Up
- Use Phone/Read a book for 15 mins
- Go To Work
Nothing crazy. Just try to create some patterns and structure in your life. Start with a simple morning routine and simple night routine. They say the human brain can only make a certain number of decisions in a day, so our goal is to limit the number of decision we make to save that essential brainpower for the more important stuff.
3. Eating Better
Don't worry, I'm not going to rant about micro and macronutrients and tell you that you HAVE to measure your food or that you HAVE to eat 300 blueberries a day or whatever. Here are just a couple points that have helped me eat better and as a result FEEL better when I was going through it.
Yes, please just EAT ENOUGH. It's too easy to skip meals when we're too busy or too distracted. Practice bringing snacks like fruit and granola bars everywhere for quick energy if you don't have time or motivation for full meals. Fuck it, even get fast food if you absolutely need to.
2. Limit the Fast Food
Fast food can be fine if it's your only option, but it's of course its not the best fuel for you. Plus, its costly! (Finances affect your Mental Health too, which we'll dive into later). If you do get fast food, try to get healthier options.
Try to limit your food purchases to groceries, or frozen premade meals if you don't cook much. I know its a hassle, but eating well rounded meals can really help give you more energy through the day. You'll also start feeling better and less guilty about your food choices!
3. Cook More
I get it, cooking and cleaning can feel like such a big task (and to be honest, it is).
Try to at least have a few go-to meals that are well rounded and don't take too much time and effort. For example: Chicken, rice, and broccoli is a decently rounded meal that doesn't take too long to make. Keep different seasonings on hand so you can change it up a bit without effort.
Meal Prepping is also a great way to make your effort more efficient. Instead of just cooking and cleaning for one meal, cook enough chicken, broccoli, and rice for 3 meals. It doesn't take that much extra effort to prepare compared to cooking one meal, plus the next 2 nights you can chill and just enjoy the leftovers! That way, you just have to cook 2 nights out of the week. It makes the planning and clean up much simpler.
Again though, if you have no experience cooking, you can buy frozen premade meals at your local grocery store, or subscribe to meal delivery companies like Factor 75, Home Chef, or Nutrisystem. Try to learn some basics of cooking in the meantime.
Again, not gonna harp on this too much. We all know exercise is already crucial for good physical health. It can be a lot of pressure trying to be consistent with exercise. For some people, it comes naturally and provides a way to relieve stress. For people that are less enthusiastic, try to think of it as a way to improve your mental health instead of your body.
Taking a 15 minute walk through your neighborhood can really be grounding when you're feeling anxious. Studies show that just being outside around some kind of nature can be good for stress relief and focus.
Exercising regularly and taking care of your body can definitely build confidence too. Its hard though and again, I get it. We know we SHOULD do these things but we just don't stay consistent with it. Just remember, its not the end of the world if you're not able to stick to a routine. What's important is starting back up again if you have a setback.
Nobody is perfect... you will have off days, but remember that it's okay! Keep looking for new workouts that interest you and different ways to stay motivated. Try different gyms or workout spots. Try guided workouts or a personal trainer if it's not working on your own. Something will click that makes it easier for you to stick with it.
And again, if a workout is too much, just try to at least get in a walk around the block or a bike ride. It's crazy how sometimes the simple things can make you feel a lot better.
5. Sleeping Better
It's important. Get serious about it. 6 hours absolute minimum per night. No exceptions. Ideally, over 7 hours is best.
You have Insomnia? Here are some tips:
- Cut the technology. No phones, TV, or videos games within 1 hour of going to bed. Shower, brush teeth, have sex, read/journal, sleep. It makes a huge difference cutting the tech. Bluelight blocking glasses help amplify the results here too, since light can subconsciously keep you awake.
- Get blackout curtains if you room isn't dark. Darker room=better sleep. Ditch all the nightlights and turn off all technology with bright lights. Don't you dare leave the TV on while you sleep!
- No caffeine 6 hours before sleep. Shouldn't have to explain this one.
- Journal before bed if you experience racing thoughts. Putting them on paper can free your mind. Its seriously like dragging and dropping your thoughts into a new folder. Try it.
- Try guided sleep audios or white noise.
- Non habit-forming sleep supplements: CBD and CBN oils, Ashwagandha, Magnesium, Valerian Root, Kava Extract and Melatonin (last resort on extreme nights).
Lastly, try to keep consistent with your sleep cycle. I know it can be difficult, but try to go to bed and wake up at similar times every day. Unfortunately, this can include waking up early on your days off, but once you get used to the timing, it can help you feel more rested and alert through the day, since you sleep more deeply with regular cycles.
6. Work On Your Mindfulness
Mindfulness is sort of a buzz word thrown around a lot lately. Basically, it just means that you're paying attention to the things happening in your life. Being aware of your actions and how they make you feel can give you insight on how to improve yourself.
For example: Do you notice feeling tired and distracted after playing a lot of video games? Maybe you'd make sure you get your chores or other important tasks done before playing video games next time, so your life isn't negatively affected.
Some simple ways to improve your mindfulness:
- Meditation - 15 minutes of meditation can help you pay attention to your thoughts and feelings through the day.
- Journaling - Journaling at night can help you analyze the day. In the moment it can be hard to unpack what happened, but when you look back on your day, your mind is clear to review the events from the day.
- Apps - There are lots of app these days like Calm, that will give you exercises to practice your mindfulness.
- Yoga- Yoga is a great exercise to experience your body and mind. Where meditation helps you be aware of your mind, Yoga can help you be more aware of your body. And the better your body feels, the better your mind functions.
Surprised to see finances in a mental health article? You really shouldn't be! Finances are one of the leading causes of stress, but we don't talk about the two together. Especially in this economy, hardship and uncertainty can become a heavy weight on your shoulders. If you're not doing anything to improve your financial health, your stress will only keep getting worse.
I'm not promising that you'll be a master of finance by the end of this, but I do hope to encourage you to learn the importance of financial planning and to encourage you to put time into that part of your life.
Here is where you can start:
- Budgeting: Planning where your money will be spent is a game-changer. Paying attention to your bills can help you identify where to cut back and how to use your money more wisely. It may feel like you're broke, but maybe you can save yourself some money by shopping smarter or lving more frugally. You'd be surprised how savings can add up.
- Saving: In this paycheck to paycheck economy, saving is extremely difficult. Still, even if it's just $5/month, you need to get into the habit of saving your money for emergencies. Having 3 months worth of expenses is usually the goal, but even having one month can be a big difference in hard times.
- Eliminating debt: Another tricky one, but eliminating debt can take some burden off your shoulders and put you in a much better financial situation. One method is the snowball effect: start with your lowest debt amount and pay that off first. Use the momentum to continue with the bigger debts you owe. Don't ignore your debt, or it will keep growing!
- Investing: With inflation running rampant, it is important to protect your earnings by investing in things that rise in value. Your savings will actually lose some purchasing power due to inflation, so investing can help reverse that effect once you are prepared for emergencies. Index funds like the S&P 500 are typically a low risk investment for beginners. You can open an account on websites like Fidelity, E-Trade or WeBull quite easily. Investments are risky, but they're a way to grow and thrive, as opposed to just trying to scrape by and survive.
These things may not make you rich, but again, taking action to solve a problem is how you can reduce the stress associate with it, even if the problem doesn't completely go away. These steps will at least help prepare you for uncertainties and your future.
8. Career/Life Purpose
Being lost in your career can take a toll on your mental health as well. We all want to feel like we're contributing something positive to the world. If we don't, we feel lost and unfulfilled. You might not have to make a major career change, but it could be a sign that you do need to make some adjustments.
In typical careers these days, most of us probably feel like we're not living up to our potential, or helping as many people as we could. It's important to feel this sense of accomplishment, so if we don't find it at work, we need to look outside of our jobs for fulfillment.
We as humans can choose our own life purpose. If you don't believe in a grand higher purpose, make one for yourself! It can be as big or small as you want. Some good focuses are world issues like poverty or global warming. It could also be as simple as just "helping people". The way I see it, if you can make even one persons life a little better, your efforts are worth it. Focusing on those who need help can also bring a different perspective on your own issues. Sometimes thinking about you greater purpose helps you minimize your own struggles. You have to find the social cause that means enough to you that you'll face your issues and commit to overcoming them.
I know it's a lot all at once, but just keep that purpose in mind as much as you can and let it grow. A strong purpose can really help pull people from their depression and anxieties. Remember your purpose when thinking about all of these 9 areas. Sometimes, thinking of your purpose can motivate you to sleep better or exercise more because you realize you need to be healthy to accomplish your new greater purpose and be able to help others.
Lastly, therapy is of course a great option for improving your mental health.
It can be a hard step to take, but it's the most surefire way to really dive deep into what is holding you back. Self reflection can go a long way, but talking to a professional can teach you a lot about yourself and can help you answer the tough questions in your life.
Most people believe therapy is only for serious mental health illnesses, but therapy can benefit anybody. Look for someone local, or try an online therapy service like Better Help or Cerebral.
You've Got This!
There's a lot you can do for your mental health. You probably already know what you need to do. The hard part is staying dedicated. Keep looking for ways to improve. Keep looking for things that spark joy and excitement in your life. Keep trying to serve a purpose greater than yourself. Keep looking for ways that your unique experiences can help people. I'm not sure if things happen for a reason, but I do know that you can choose to make the most out of your situation, even if you get dealt a shitty hand.
Life can be beautiful if you keep trying to see it that way. Find the good things even on your bad days. Find things you're grateful for on the days where it feels you have nothing. Find things that excite you when it feels like the world is trying to bring you down.
I'm not going to pretend that all is good in the world and you shouldn't either. However, when we let the negatives break us down, we are letting them win. We often get down because life is not going the way we hoped. Unfortunately we can't always control that. However, we can change what we focus on, and we can make efforts to correct the things the we see are wrong. Putting effort into correcting the things we are unhappy about is exactly how we find strength and energy when we're down. We need to keeping working towards the things we care about. Even if it feels hopeless, we can rest knowing that we're trying all we can to fix these problems we face.
Keep trying. Remember you're not alone.
You've got this!