The current times have been kind to the idea of mental health, as more and more people are now talking about it. Steps are taken to end the stigmatization, and more so, there’s a surge in the number of people reaching out to help. These improvements see that those affected are now slowly being empowered to open up and get the help they need. Educating people on what mental illnesses are really like is the priority, and movements on social media have helped tremendously. Society is slowly becoming progressive and inclusive on mental health, and it’s been amazing. As great as it sounds, though, people still don’t quite understand how to take care of their own mental well-being. It’s so easy to call someone out for an insensitive remark on anxiety attacks on social media, but what do you do when a million thoughts invade your head before sleeping? Talking about it is one thing, but taking care of your mental health is another entirely different one.
You’re probably unaware that what you put into your system actually affects your thought patterns and feelings. An unhealthy diet, take for example the ultimate stereotype - greasy burger, fries on the side, and soda - can actually take a toll on your brain. Like a virus, this quickly spreads to your mood, sleep, energy, and even immune system. So, while the thought of eating an entire bag of Cheetos and an entire tub of ice cream for dinner seems sounds enticing, you must think of how it actually affects you – the long-term effects, so to speak. Perhaps your unhealthy eating habits make you cranky all the time, or might be the reason why you’re feeling weaker in the knees. Switching to a balanced diet, which is usually low in sugar and high in healthy fats, will boost your energy, sleep, and mood. Overall, it helps you feel and look your best, helping you take care of your mental health in the process. People respond differently to certain foods, though, and it’s important that you understand which whole foods will work best for you. To begin, here are things you should be avoiding entirely:
- Trans fats or any food labeled with “partially hydrogenated” oil
- Processed food or anything with added chemical preservatives
- Sugary snacks
- Refined carbs (white rice or white flour)
- Fried food
Eating better is a long process that entails patience and discipline, so remember to be kind yourself as you figure it out.
Studies have shown time and time again that exercising leads to releasing endorphins, chemicals whose sole purpose is to lift your mood and provides for a healthy source of energy. Building a habit of moving can help tremendously in your journey of taking care of your mental health. Studies have shown major impact on the improvement of emotional and mental health problems. It’s also been proven to relieve stress and help you sleep better.
But what if you hate exercising?
Don’t you worry, you’re not the only one. The thought of lifting weights, hitting that treadmill, or the horrible burpees is enough to make you scream a resounding “NO”. And that’s okay – being stuck in a gym with a trainer or strangers does seem overwhelming and boring. Lucky for you, you don’t have to force yourself to participate there – there are other ways of staying active! Your window shopping can turn into a walkathon. You can take your beloved pet to the park and play catch. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. You can also walk instead of driving to your appointment – there are plenty of possibilities! You don’t have to be drenched in sweat to get the exercise that you need.
You may be tired of hearing this, but - sleep better.
Alright, you have a busy life. And that busy life requires you to cut back from sleep, which seems the right thing to do. Your mental health is non-negotiable, though, which means your sleep is, too. As you find ways of taking care of your mental health, keep in mind that skipping just a few hours can drastically affect your mood, energy, and overall mental capacity. If losing sleep has already become a habit, think about the kind of chaos it will bring to your entire life if you let it continue.
Experts say that adults need around seven to nine hours of good sleep every night, but let’s face it – sleeping the moment you close your eyes is nearly impossible. That’s because your brain needs to slow down and unwind, too. While you have your hot bath and good meal, your brain may be glued to all that has happened within the day or distracted with that new show. Perhaps your idea of rewarding yourself is to catch up on cute cat videos on YouTube. Point is, failing to help your brain unwind will lead you to a poor night’s rest. Avoid screens two hours before sleeping. Put everything aside and work on arguments and controversies, brainstorming ideas, and yes, even worrying, in the morning instead.
Give yourself a mental health day.
Contrary to what many of us believe, busyness doesn’t equate to productivity. You can work forty hours a week, sometimes even on weekends. But that doesn’t mean you’re performing at your best. The only likely outcome is exhaustion, both mentally and physically. So, as you begin taking care of your mental health, make it a part of your plan to give yourself a mental health day. You’ll know when to take it, perhaps once a month off of work, or every weekend as you reconnect with yourself. Pampering yourself after feeling low can bring wonders, and you’ll come back ready to seize the day. And oh, fight off any feeling of “but this is selfish”. It’s natural, especially if you’re at that point in your life where everyone else is busy #hustling. That isn’t the case, though. You know deep down you deserve to slow down and recharge.
And yes, do practice mindfulness.
People mostly roll their eyes at the thought, because the practice seems ambiguous – what exactly does it do? And what do I get out of it? It seems difficult, but mindfulness is actually something completely innate. If you choose to spend a bit of time to appreciate it, it becomes readily available for use whenever needed. Practicing mindfulness means the art of creating a space for yourself – a safe space – to breathe, relax, and separate ourselves from emotions. Psychologists promote this practice, as it reduces the effects of anxiety and helps you in taking care of your mental health. When you feel an onset of emotional attack, mindfulness can curb it. It’s difficult to do at the beginning, so here’s a little guide for you.
- Sit down and find a quiet and comfortable place.
- Set the time limit. If you’re a beginner, choose a short time, anywhere from five minutes to ten.
- Pay close attention to your body. Make sure you’re comfortable.
- The key to mindfulness is to feel your breath. Inhale and exhale, and focus on thing but that.
- Your mind will wander, and that’s okay. As soon as you notice this, return your focus on your breathing pattern.
Don’t berate yourself for wandering, ever. Simply just come back to the exercise.
No matter how tempting, or how it would feel like it’s for the best, never isolate yourself. Human beings need interactions, connections, and warmth. When facing a battle against your mind, it’s integral that you hold on to your loved ones. You are not a burden to them, and will never be. Interacting calms your nervous system, and relieves stress. Just having someone around to listen to you and help you make sense of what’s happening helps you in taking care of your mental health.
Get help if you feel like you need it.
Your suffering cannot be labeled. Everybody copes differently, and feels differently. If you find that self-care just isn’t working as much as you’d hoped, no matter how mild your symptoms may be, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Taking care of your mental health is difficult, yes, but absolutely necessary. Start now, and get that life you’ve always deserved.