“While mental health hygiene habits may vary from person to person, it is important to identify those that work best for us and to integrate them into our day – every day – through reminders and practice until they become a routine we anticipate with pleasure.” – Jessica R. Dreistadt
Whether you’re the one struggling with mental illness or trying to help someone you care about who does; the confusion, fear, and anxiety can feel overwhelming.
Mental illness is perplexing. Between trying to understand an enigmatic condition, evaluating treatment options, and contemplating the future of your loved one, it’s easy to experience a sense of hopelessness.
But there is hope.
While mental illness may or may not be treatable by lifestyle changes alone, such changes often mitigate a number of symptoms associated with the illness. In conjunction with a physician-supervised treatment plan, changing one’s life habits can quicken the recovery process.
At the very least, the afflicted person will feel much, much better.
So let’s go over some ways that we can improve mental health, naturally!
1. A stable home life
Living in any emotionally damaging environment; whether it’s abuse, constant arguing, financial difficulties, or something else, makes treating any mental illness much more challenging – if not impossible.
Abuse of any kind – emotional, mental or physical – is a common catalyst for the development of mental problems. Children, our most cherished yet vulnerable people, are particularly susceptible to the severe aftereffects of abuse. In the U.S., a child abuse case is reported every 10 seconds.
If you’re among the abused, it is important to find a means of escape. Furthermore, if you know of a child victim of abuse, do the right thing and get the authorities involved. Treatment is available for everyone.
2. Diet and nutrition
Diet and nutrition aren’t the first things that come to mind when many think about mental illness; however, diet and mental health are – at the very least indirectly linked.
Diet systematically affects mental health by first causing physical health to deteriorate. Processed foods, along with foods with little to no nutritional value all contribute to this systematic effect.
Foods rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 (e.g. avocado and fish) can aid mental health and improve cognitive functions.
Adequate levels of exercise not only helps your physical health, but it can also serve a preemptive role in warding off symptoms of mental illness. Some research has shown physical activity to be more effective than antidepressants in many patients.
Again, exercise needn’t be arduous or time-consuming. A brisk walk, bike ride, or stair-climbing are all viable alternatives to “traditional” exercise routines.
4. Sleeping well
Important as it is to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night; a regular sleep schedule may be as much, if not more of, a benefit to a healthy mental state. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule normalizes the body’s circadian rhythm (i.e. “sleep/wake” cycle).
Getting adequate sleep and sticking to a regular sleeping routine may lead to faster results when treating mental illness, as well.
5. Meditation or relaxation practice
More and more medical professionals are “on board” with the interconnection between meditation and relaxation techniques and mental health. Research from institutions such as Harvard and Stanford University have consistently established the mental and physical health benefits of meditative and relaxation practices.
One needn’t commit to any particular program, either. A focus on developing mindfulness for 20 to 30 minutes per day can induce significant health benefits. Popular practices are mindful deep breathing, meditating, or concentration-based mindfulness.
We already know that smoking may cause severe physical damage, but it can also exacerbate any mental health problems. In fact, the introduction of various toxins into the body through smoking may manifest into mood disorders.
The body/mind connection, established above in the “Diet and Nutrition” section, works against the smoker here. Quitting or drastically reducing the intake of nicotine – in any form – may be one of the best things you can do for your mental health.
7. Physical health
Relating to the mind/body connection (which is gaining further acceptance in the medical community) is overall physical health and its impact on mental illness.
Common conditions such as an infection, chronic headaches, or hypertension adversely impact the ability to cope with stress. Of course, chronic stress can lead to several mental illnesses: anxiety, depression, and insomnia, among them.
Preventing or promptly treating any physical illness can both help with and avoid potential mental illnesses. Scheduling an annual or bi-annual physical exam can assist in this regard.
8. Community and social involvement
It’s been repeatedly said that “human beings are social creatures,” and related research has established this fact.
Friendship is one of the best antidotes to mental distress. Even a day or two away with a friend or loved one may be enough to improve our outlook for days; this notion also applies to any community involvement.
When it comes to mental health and relationships, there are two popular opinions: (1) the individual should work on their mental health before committing to a relationship, or (2) a healthy intimate relationship can drastically improve a person’s mental state.
As it turns out, new research sides with the second viewpoint.
In a study at the University of Jena in Germany, individuals aged 18 to 30 years were accompanied by researchers and individually interviewed every three months. Those that scored high on a questionnaire measuring neuroticism (a long-term tendency to experience multiple negative mind states) showed improvement.
“The positive experiences and emotions gained by having a partner change the personality – not directly but indirectly…the perception of presumably negative situations change,” says lead author Christine Finn.