Do you struggle to escape from symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges?
Sometimes it can feel like you don't have the power to change your experience. While none of the information below is meant to replace working with professionals to find the kinds and quality of treatment you need, the following are some things that you can try today, on your own or together with professionals, to help yourself in this process.
Here are SIX things that you have the power to change that may help you see improvement in your symptoms:
There is no perfect prescription for the right kind or intensity of movement for any individual, but the science is clear "movement improves mental health", and health in general. Our bodies are made to move, and movement helps the brain and body function at it fullest.
Something as simple as getting up and standing throughout the day, walking in the morning, mid day or after dinner, or getting your heart rate up for 20-30min 3x/week all have incredible potential benefits.
Nutrition, like exercise, is not one size fits all. The important thing to note here is that eating the right amount and kind of foods to fuel your body and brain is critical in helping you function both physically and mentally. If you never eat fat, for example, your brain would have a hard time working, as it needs healthy fats to function. If you don't hydrate well your neurons don't fire well and your blood isn't able to get oxygen to your body or brain as effectively.
The specifics may depend on your physical makeup and needs, but the premise is clear. You need to give your body and brain the kinds of fuel they need to function in order for them to function well, and what you eat and drink is often something that is within your power to change.
There is loads of research out there linking appropriate sunlight exposure to health. Not only do we know that it helps with levels of Vitamin D, we also know that sunlight absorbed through your retinas increases serotonin levels in the brain. Sunlight exposure early in the day also supports healthy circadian rhythm and often helps improve sleep patterns for people.
Just like everything, it's healthy in the right amounts. Soaking in the sun in the heat of the day may damage your skin, but starting the day by walking or sitting for 20 min in the mild sunshine with no sunglasses may improve your sleep, your stress, your mood and your immunity. All in all, it's a pretty simple thing to try that may have great benefits.
Regular quality sleep may be the most underrated and important strategy for improving your mental health that there is. The experts have agreed for years now that adults need a regular routine of 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a day in order for their body to rest, recover and build what is needed for both physical and mental health.
Some circumstances may prevent this from being possible for a time or at points in life, but as much as it is in your control, setting a sleep routine for yourself may be the single best thing you can do for your mental health. It is really difficult to continue to patch a ship that never goes to port long enough for the repairs it really needs; eventually it will start to sink.
Humans don't tend to fare well in isolation. We thrive as humans in safe company. Even the most reclusive introvert needs some connection. Our nervous systems are wired to co-regulate with those around us, and our brains quite literally mirror those we are around. In other words, you really do become like those you hang out with. The more we learn about brains and genetics, the more we can see the physical impact of our relational realities. If we didn't believe this already, the shifts of the past few years are highlighting even more the risks to our mental health that disconnection can bring.
There is not magic formula to building safe and meaningful relationships, but a great first step is sending a text to someone you already know or stepping out of the house for a chance to meet someone new. Unless someone happens to be the plumber who comes to fix the toilet, there's not a lot of chance for developing relationships sitting at home alone.
We're not talking about adding stress here, but working to reduce stressors and develop skills for stress management. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
"What are the most stressful things in my life right now?"
"Is this thing that feels stressful mostly good or mostly harmful?"
"Is there anything I can stop or remove from my life to help stop or remove stress?"
"Is there a small change I can make to my schedule or habits that may reduce my stress?"
"Who can I ask for help?"
Please reach out for additional resources or if you need help finding professionals to walk with you as you work to change your experience and improve your mental health.