I am so excited to share this incredible guest post which was written by Liz Greene! Liz truly went above and beyond with this post filling it with actionable advice to help you take care of your mental health!
Without further ado, let’s turn it over to Liz!
The 10 Best Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health
Living with a mental illness can be a real struggle. Each day comes with its own unique challenges, and simply projecting a facade of “normal” can be incredibly exhausting. I’ve battled mental illness for 25 years (you can see my story here), and let me tell you, sometimes getting a handle on it can be tough. However, there are a number of reasons why I refuse to give up the fight. The statistics alone paint a terrifying picture:
- 1 in 5 adults have a mental health disorder. [source]
- 56% of American adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment. [source]
- People with mood disorders are twice as likely to abuse to drugs and alcohol. [source]
- Approximately 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition. [source]
- Mood disorders are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for adults aged 18–44. [source]
- Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. [source]
- The mortality risk of people with mental health disorders is 2.22 times higher than the mortality risk of individuals free of mental illness. [source]
When looking at statistics like that, it’s easy to see why it’s so important to do whatever it takes to triumph over your mental illness. Though victory can be hard to come by, there are numerous ways you can tend to your mental health.
Find Your Happy Place
What makes you happy? Is it participating in one of your hobbies? Volunteering? Cuddling your pet? When we’re happy, our bodies release a number of hormones that can have a positive impact on our mental health.
- Dopamine: Dopamine motivates and encourages you to persist in the actions required to meet your goals. The anticipation of a reward triggers dopamine (resulting in a feeling of pleasure) and gives you the energy you need to move towards the goal. When you successfully meet your goal, you’re hit with even more dopamine.
- Oxytocin: Oxytocin (sometimes referred to as the cuddle neurochemical) is released through closeness with another person or animal — either through skin-to-skin contact or social bonding.
- Serotonin: Serotonin controls your overall mood and is released when you feel significant, important, or respected.
- Endorphins: Endorphins help you power through situations where your body is under stress. They’re released during strenuous physical exertion, sexual intercourse, orgasm, and, oddly enough, stretching.
Spend a couple hours each day devoted purely to happiness. Exercise, listen to music, craft, have sex, do a puzzle, read a book, cook, volunteer, garden, pet a dog, embark on a DIY project, watch a movie — whatever it is that makes you happy, do it.
Mindfulness is all about living in the moment — it’s a state of active, open attention on the present. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere at anytime. All you have to do is intentionally bring your awareness to the present by becoming aware of your breathing, noticing your thoughts, paying attention to sounds, and focusing on sensations in your body. That’s it!
When we live in a constant state of stress, we get stuck in a fight or flight loop where we’re only operating out of our amygdala (the alarm part of the brain.) By practicing mindfulness regularly, you can stimulate your prefrontal cortex, leading to an increased feeling of happiness, as well as a decrease in anxiousness and stress.
Rest When You Need To
As I mentioned earlier, constantly battling mental illness can be exhausting — and sometimes you just need a break. If the thought of being social, attending functions, or simply interacting with other people seems like too much, let yourself off the hook. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or tell you what you have to do — it’s your brain and you know it best. If you need to rest, rest.
Be Social When You Can
When your energy is up — even if it’s only a little bit — take some time to hang out with friends or family. Strong relationships (the good ones, that is) help you to live a happier, healthier, and longer life by relieving harmful levels of stress. And don’t forget that mood boosting bump of oxytocin! Laugh as much as possible and get plenty of hugs.
Seek Medical Providers That Make You Comfortable
Going to the doctor is stressful — especially when trying to manage a mental illness. Medical professionals who make you feel uneasy or fail to listen to your concerns only motivate you to avoid taking care of your health. That’s why it’s imperative you seek medical providers that make you feel safe and comfortable.
I’ve only had one male doctor (out of dozens) that I ever truly felt secure with, and unfortunately, he passed away. After his death, I decided to look for female medical professionals that were trained to work specifically with women and their health needs. I now have a female general practitioner and therapist. I feel comfortable sharing the truth of my mental illness with them, and, with their help, I’ve been able to make giant strides toward becoming healthier.
Consider Seeing a Therapist
For the longest time, I didn’t feel the need to see a therapist. I figured that I could handle my mental illnesses on my own, and there was no need to bring a second party into the mix. However, when I finally did make the move, I quickly realized that I should have done so long before.
Therapy helps you cope with feelings and symptoms, change behavior patterns that contribute to your illness, look at things from another perspective, and learn new ways to react to events and people. Not only do you talk through your problems, you also work toward solutions. You’re given the chance to learn about and really understand your illness, identify the triggers that worsen your symptoms, and develop a plan for coping with your issues. It’s truly cathartic.
Get Preventative Care
Since mental illness is associated with an increased occurrence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, it’s vital you get preventative care.
Preventive medicine is where doctors anticipate a disease and treat it before it occurs — think educating patients on diet and exercise, providing immunizations, and encouraging the intake of vitamins and supplements. These small changes can have a large impact on your overall health, which is incredibly important! In fact, a study found that if 90% of patients used preventive medicine, up to 100,000 lives could be saved annually.
Give Medication a Try
If you feel medication may be right for you, it’s definitely worth investigating. Talk to your doctor about which medications may be right for you, and ask about the benefits and risks of each drug. Sometimes, you won’t know how a medicine will affect you until you try it, and you may have to try more than one before you find the right fit. It will take some time before you feel better as many medications take a few weeks before they kick in. Most importantly, medications often provide the most benefit when they’re part of an overall treatment program — i.e. combined with therapy.
According to a study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, quitting smoking may improve your mental health! Though scientists are still unclear whether the participants’ mental health improved first and they were subsequently motivated to quit smoking — or if the participants quit smoking and it led to an overall improvement in mental health — either way, the findings showed a strong connection between smoking cessation and improved mental health.
One of the best things you can do for your mental health, and that of others, it to communicate what you are going through. Tell your doctor, your therapist, your family, friends, Twitter followers, and complete strangers. Write about it in journals, open letters, or post it to your blog. Speak openly and often about the struggles you face, the successes you have, and the unique way you see the world. Do everything in your power to spread love, acceptance, and validation. Help others like you, and be helped in return. Most of all, fight with everything you have at your disposal to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.
You can do this — we’re all rooting for you.
Liz Greene is a writer, rabid feminist, and full blown pop culture geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, ID. When not stalking the aisles of her local Ulta, she can be found shoveling down sushi while discussing the merits of the latest Game of Thrones fan theories. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene, or check out her latest post on Three Broke Bunnies.