October 1–7 is Mental Illness Awareness Week; and that’s as good a time as ever to start prioritizing your mental health.
Millions of people around the world are affected by mental illness.
In fact, mental health issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all on the rise, with an estimated one in every five people currently affected. And no one’s immune – whether you’re rich and successful, happily married, or young, fit and physically healthy, anyone can be touched by a mental health condition at any time.
So why do we so often pretend mental illness doesn’t exist?
As pervasive as it is, many of us still feel a lot of shame around mental illness; there’s a stigma surrounding it that’s tough to shake; a feeling that our employers won’t understand, our friends and families will just think we’re being dramatic, or that it’s something we should simply be able to “snap out of”.
So, each year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI, use the first week of October to promote Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) – improving understanding around mental illness, providing support for those affected and advocating for more accessible, better quality mental health care.
Whether you suffer from depression, anxiety, or something else, know that you are not alone. If you’re in the United States, you can call the NAMI helpline at 800-950-NAMI, or text “NAMI” to 741741 to be connected to someone who can help. And if you’re in another country, stay tuned to the end of this article for relevant helpline contact information in your area.
In the meantime, here are 19 things you can do to take care your mental health right now…
1. See a therapist
You don’t need to be in crisis to be in therapy; anyone can benefit from it. Being able to talk things over in a safe environment, with a professional, is something no one should be embarrassed about, and everyone should try.
2. Get plenty of sleep
Lack of sleep, or of good quality sleep, plays havoc with your system. People who are sleep-deprived are more prone to moodiness; it can trigger manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. Inability to focus, anxiety, and depression can also stem from poor sleep.
3. Drink lots of water
Dehydration can not only make you feel foggy and sluggish, it can make you depressed and anxious. So drink up.
4. Eat well
Too much sugar and other junk food isn’t just bad for your body; it’s bad for your brain. Add lots of dark green leafy veggies and omega-3 fatty acids to your diet – they’ve been shown to support mental health.
5. Get some exercise
Endorphins are the body’s natural antidepressant. Aim to get your heart rate up and break a sweat for 30 minutes at least six days a week.
6. Go outside
Fresh air and sunshine will do wonders for your mental health. Going for a short walk or sitting in the sun for just 15 minutes can turn your whole day around.
7. Nurture your friendships
People who are lonely and isolated are at far greater risk of depression. Reach out to your friends and make sure they know how much you value them. Here’s an idea: throw more spur-of-the-moment parties.
8. Shut down negative self-talk
When you catch yourself saying things to yourself that you’d never say to a friend, knock it off. Don’t get caught in the self-defeating trap of negative thinking. Instead, do things that build your self-esteem.
9. Learn stress-management techniques
Meditation, hot baths, running, doodling, gardening, yoga – find something that relaxes you during stressful times. Everyone gets stressed out; the key is knowing how to deal with it. Because if you ignore it, stress can make you seriously ill – both mentally and physically.
10. Steer clear of toxic relationships
If you feel drained after hanging out with a friend, that may be a sign that the friendship isn’t healthy for you. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate your relationships and say goodbye to the ones that aren’t feeding your soul.
11. Spend time near the ocean
Researchers have found that staring into what they call “blue space” can ease depression and anxiety. So start planning that beach vacation now.
12. Be grateful for everything
No matter how bad things are, there’s always something to be grateful for. Start your day by focusing on three things you’re thankful for (coffee can totally be one of them). Take things up a notch by using a gratitude journal to record your positive thoughts, so you can reflect back on them when you’re caught in a negative thought cycle.
13. Practice natural methods for relieving anxiety
If you suffer from panic attacks, there are lots of ways to manage your anxiety naturally. Xanax and other prescription meds have their place – and thank goodness for them – but making some simple lifestyle changes can help you need them less often.
14. Cut down on your alcohol intake
Alcohol is a depressant, so contrary to popular belief, if you’re feeling down, drinking isn’t likely to help. Even one drink can trigger depression in some people and lead to dependency issues; so try going sober for a while and notice what happens to your mood.
15. Set aside time for self-care
You can’t be a good partner, parent, or friend if you don’t take good care of yourself. Stop putting yourself last. Self-care isn’t selfish.
16. Take up a new hobby
Creativity and learning new things improves your mental health: science says so. Learn to play the piano, take a pottery class, or write a poem: it’s good for you.
17. Spend less time online
Staring at screens from the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep, scrolling Instagram on our phones, is not good for our mental health. In fact, cutting down can be as hard as quitting drugs. Try to do it anyway.
18. Prioritize your sex life
Having regular hot sex isn’t just good for your relationship, it’s good for your whole self. Along with food, water, and air, sex is one of our basic human needs. Don’t let it fall by the wayside.
19. Laugh more
There’s nothing like a good belly laugh to cheer you up, no matter what else is going on in your life. Laughter is good for the brain, body, and soul. Watch this for inspiration.
For 24/7 mental health support in your country, head to:
Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Samaritans: 116 123
Image via pexels.com
Comment: What do you do to take care of your mental health each day?