Self Care: 4 Mental Health Tips
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The phrase escaped me for a long time. I always knew what it meant but never connected the dots for myself: take care of yourself smartly and you’ll be healthier. Honestly most of my friends ignored the advice too. We ate a lot of fast food and sat around playing video games in our adolescent years.
And what happened? I ended up with a weight problem and the inability to run for more than 10 seconds. After a trip to the cardiologist I changed my diet. I started working out. My lifestyle, it became clear, needed a complete overhaul. I didn’t eat my apple a day so the doctor didn’t stay away.
Mental health is no different. While a single apple won’t cure or prevent disorders, a few lifestyle choices could alleviate symptoms and support treatment. Along with help from a professional these wellness measures make a huge difference.
Articles about mental benefits of exercise are easy to find. The science is in and it not only helps with mental health but virtually every other kind, too.
Even with a busy life it’s not hard to find ways to exercise. It’s free and open to your schedule, plus there are plenty of activities from which to choose. Don’t like running? Try swimming. Don’t like the water? Try playing basketball with some friends. Don’t like sports but love music? Try dancing!
The exertion level is also up to you. One mustn’t always grind to exhaustion – in fact for some disorders it’s recommended to engage in light activities spread throughout the day.
Aerobics like jogging, cycling, swimming, etc. facilitate blood flow to the brain while calming stress reactions. This can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Other ways in which exercise improves mental health are self-esteem improvement, sharpening of the mind, and prevention of weight gain as the side effect of certain medications.
The recommended dosage for exercise is at least 30 minutes per day three days a week at a moderate level.
This is where the “apple a day” metaphor becomes more literal. Except it’s not just apples. It’s all sorts of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and grains. Sugar and fatty processed foods are the enemy. Regarding my personal life, to say it took some getting used to is understatement of the year.
The science is pretty new on this one but studies show unhealthy eating habits can exacerbate risk for depression and anxiety. At the very least a poor diet can lead to sluggishness and health problems. This gets in the way of mental health progress.
On the other hand, therapies and medications are helped along by brain-friendly foods. Nutritionists and doctors recommend foods for the brain which echo those for heart health or weight control: nutrient dense, unprocessed foods with a minimum of excess sugar and calories.
It should be noted that while food is important to all aspects of our health, it should not replace needed medications without at least consulting with your psychiatrist/psychologist.
Sleeping. We all do it. Without it our bodies wouldn’t be able to heal properly and our minds couldn’t process the day’s events or refresh itself. In a sleep-deprived country with skyrocketing mental health diagnoses, it’s prudent to get that sleep schedule on track.
Sleep problems can mean too much or too little, of course. Extended periods without sleep are straight up hazardous to our health while excessive snoozing can be a sign of depression or any number of other health problems.
With benefits to emotional regulation, productivity, and alertness it’s no surprise good sleep helps mental health. Sleep deprivation can worsen the symptoms of many disorders and may even partially cause them. Anxiety, ADHD, and depression have strong correlations to one’s sleep patterns. Getting enough can maximize the benefits of treatment and medication.
Additionally, those suffering from mental disorders are significantly more likely to have difficulty sleeping. To treat a sleeping disorder could improve your mental health while treating a mental disorder could improve your sleeping.
A few tips: avoid using the tablet or cell phone before sleep, never pull an “all nighter,” wake up and go to sleep consistently at the same times each day, and take 15-45 minute long naps for an energy/alertness boost…however napping too late can interfere with sleep.
We’ve all heard the term “self medicate.” Except there’s nothing medicinal about drug and alcohol abuse. Using recreational substances to drown out mental illness actually does the opposite of medicine: it makes the condition worse. If not addressed it could easily lead to addiction. In fact addiction itself is a disorder (aka “substance use disorder”). It changes the brain, making drug use top priority. This undermines ambition and relationships, and wreaks havoc on one’s life in general.
Experts admit it’s hard to tell when drug/alcohol abuse causes mental illness or the other way around. However there are common genetic and environmental risk factors to both, and it is recognized that one can indeed cause the other.
Important to note: cigarettes are also a drug and there are links between it and various mental disorders. The downsides of smoking are well known, and people with mental illness are 70% more likely to light up. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to help patients quit smoking as well as using other drugs.
At it’s very worst, addiction and drug/alcohol abuse can result in injury or death. If you or someone you know is in serious need of help, here are a few resources:
– SAMSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration) Hotline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
– National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/
– The Recovery Village (Drug Abuse hotline): https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/drug-rehab/drug-abuse-hotline/#gref or 844-244-3171
Note: For assistance with behavioral health issues, contact us at 305-740-3340 or schedule an appointment with BregmanMD.
Harvard Mental Health Letter. (2009) Sleep and Mental Health. Retrieved on October 7, 2018, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health
Madaan, Petty, Sharma (2016) Exercise for Mental Health. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), 106. PMCID: PMC1470658
Miller, Kelly. (2015) Can What You Eat Affect Your Mental Health?. Retrieved October 7, 2018 from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20150820/food-mental-health#4
National Alliance on Mental Illness. Drugs, Alcohol, & Smoking. Retrieved on October 8, 2018 from https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Living-with-a-Mental-Health-Condition/Taking-Care-of-Your-Body/Drugs,-Alcohol-Smoking
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018) Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses. Retrieved on October 7, 2018 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/comorbidity-substance-use-disorders-other-mental-illnesses
National Institute of Mental Health (2016) Substance Use and Mental Health. Retrieved on October 8, 2018 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/substance-use-and-mental-health/index.shtml
Student Life, University Health Service, University of Michigan. Sleep. Retrieved on October 8, 2018 from https://www.uhs.umich.edu/sleep
Student Life, University Health Service, University of Michigan. Ten Things You Can Do For Your Mental Health. Retrieved on October 7, 2018 from https://www.uhs.umich.edu/tenthings