May is National Mental Health month, which is a topic very close to my heart. Throughout my life, mental health is an aspect I continually struggle with. I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for 10 (or more) years, and even when I think I am in a good place, mentally, bad habits can come back and kick my ass and knock me down. I’ve learned that for me to stay stable, it’s important to keep up with some good habits. Better mental health can be something that you have to work hard for, but taking care of yourself is always worth it.
If you’re struggling, here are 5 habits that can help you get yourself into a better place, mentally.
SET A SLEEP SCHEDULE
Oh, sleep. This one is vital to me. In high school, I had horrible insomnia, and it certainly took a toll on me, my brain, and my ability to learn. My ability to function well and handle my emotions. In college, my sleep was all over the place; I’d often be up until 3, 4, 5 am and sleep until 1 pm the next day.
Now, I generally always wake up before 9 (usually between 7 and 8) just because it makes me feel productive and good to wake up early. Waking up early means I get tired early, and I’m usually ready to go to sleep between 9:30 and 10:30. Of course, there’s always exceptions, like the concert we went to last weekend and I was up til 2 am… But I could tell my body wasn’t happy with me.
A good sleep schedule = a happy brain and body. Try to get on one and see how much better you feel!
Up until I was fourteen, I always played sports, but after quitting them my freshmen year my mental health really started to go downhill (among other things, it was certainly not the only reason). It was actually my dad who encouraged me to start working out and going to the gym because he knew how much exercise helped my state of mind. Throughout high school and even college, he’d always remind me I should go run a mile, lift some weights, whatever, because he hated seeing me feeling low and knew what activity did for me personally. I’m always thankful that he even noticed that, let alone how much he cares, because it’s a big reason why I’ve made fitness such an important part of my life now.
Moving your body releases endorphins. Endorphins make you feel better. If you aren’t in great shape, don’t even worry! Even going for a 20 or 30 minute walk, doing some yoga or gentle stretches, or chasing your kids around the park counts.
CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF
One important skill I’ve learned the past few years is to be able to know how I’m feeling. If that sounds so weird, let me elaborate: sometimes I get so anxious and so overwhelmed, I really don’t know what’s wrong but I’ve burst into tears and have turned into a sad pile of blankets in my bed and don’t know what to even do. I don’t know how to fix it because I don’t even know what my problem is.
Now, I’ve gotten a lot better at this. Usually, I can tell when things start to go downhill, and either:
1. Come up with a solution (ie, I’ve been in an anxious and irritable mood, before I go off the handle, I decide I’m going to go for a quick workout to bring me back up)
2. Just let it go (usually in the form of crying it out. There’s nights I warn J: I had a really bad day. I’m probably going to cry. And then when I do, he isn’t taken aback and knows it just is a way to relieve my stress)
EAT REGULARLY & EAT WELL
Food is stressful. Especially now, with all the eliminating and pain and “I can’t eat that” and blah blah blah, food really stresses me out. If I get hangry, I very well may have a meltdown.
This means I generally need to plan ahead, because a lot of the time there isn’t food I can when we go to restaurants or family events, so I need to either eat before or bring something I can eat, depending on the situation.
If you don’t have any food intolerances/allergies/sensitivities, one issue you may have is lack of appetite due to depression. This makes it really tough to eat, I know. If you’re struggling with this, remember: if you see a flower that’s starting to wilt or is looking a little dry, would you say, “well, who cares. It doesn’t need to be watered/fed.”
Probably not. Think of yourself as the flower, and even if you’re feeling wilty and sad, you still need to nourish yourself. Try to stick to food with more nutrients rather a than processed foods, because eating good quality, healthy foods will make you feel much better than a package of processed crap will.
If you don’t have the energy to cook yourself anything, usually a parent, significant other, or friend will be willing to help you out, or there are plenty of healthy foods you can eat raw, like fruits, veggies, and nuts.
I know some people just aren’t into the idea of therapy at all, but hear me out: I recently had my last appointment with a woman I’ve been seeing for the past year, and while at first I was doubtful, I made leaps and bounds of progress I really don’t think I could have made without her. I was nowhere near my “worst” when I started seeing her, but I was struggling and knew I needed more help than my medication offers.
At first, I would see her every other week, then every three weeks, then eventually once a month, but how often you go is very dependant on what’s going on with you. I was in a relatively stable place when I started going, and financially, couldn’t afford to go more often than twice a month.
One thing that surprised me about therapy was that once we started delving into my past, things got worse for a while. There was a period of a few months where my anger and anxiety had sky-rocketed and I was in a very bad place. I specifically remember crying at work in the bathroom most days because I was so incredibly overwhelmed by all my feelings, I didn’t know how to handle myself. Old, bad habits began to re-emerge and I had to fight hard in order to keep them out of my life. I would fail, but with the help of a professional, I would pick myself up again and keep going. I know if I were to have been doing it alone, I could have easily stumbled back down into the rabbit hole and a few slip-ups could have translated into a full blown relapse. Having someone to guide you and help you to learn how to deal with your thoughts and compulsive habits (for me, skin picking was a big one) is a really great tool in recovery.
I hope these helped if you are struggling. Please, feel free to email me if you’re having a difficult time and don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to. I’m not a mental health professional or a doctor, just a girl who has gone through her fair share of mental health struggles.
What has helped to improve your mental health?