Let’s start with the numbers. One in every six Americans is dealing with mental illness. Women are more likely to be affected than men. In any group of 100 women, 21 of them are fighting for their mental health. But the stigma we place on mental illness works against our recovery. No one tells you to suck it up and deal with it if you’re stricken with cancer. No one tries to hide a broken bone and set it themselves. The first step in dealing with your mental illness is to admit that it is an illness and that you need a doctor. But just like a doctor will tell you that taking better care of yourself will help your recuperation, there are things we can do to support our treatment and speed up our return to good mental health.
Pay attention to your body. Is it tired, sore, hungry or sleepy? You have to meet your physical needs in order to meet your mental ones. Make a commitment to feed yourself better and to get enough sleep. Many of us sacrifice rest to meet social expectations, so practice saying, “no.” Your friends will still like you, even if you turn them down occasionally.
Focus on making your body grow stronger and more resilient. Commit to an exercise regime that you can stick to. Is there a physical activity or sport you enjoy? Even if you can’t schedule a class or a workout session, you can fit in twenty minutes a day of walking, stretching, and moving your body. That’s all exercise is, just moving your body. Studies show a 20-minute walk can have the same stress-relieving effect as some medications. Break it up into short bursts; five minutes climbing stairs; a five-minute walk in the sunshine; and five minutes dancing in your pajamas when you wake up.
For people who are recovering from addiction, the benefits of regular exercise can be even greater. Research indicates that it can return hormone levels to their pre-addiction state. Move, breathe and listen to what your body is telling you every day.
Start your day with a mini-meditation: spend one minute focusing on your breathing, one minute focusing on your body as a whole, then let your mind wander, let thoughts flit through it without your conscious control. Other techniques for relaxing your mind involve relaxing your body including setting aside time to just do nothing. You could also curl up in a bath with a book. New ideas and creative inspiration find their way in in just this way.
Conversely, you can commit to take action on some part of your life that’s been irritating you. Do a declutter, chucking out anything you haven’t worn in a year. Join a yoga class, take up a new hobby or learn a new skill. Take control of one aspect of your life.
Whether or not you are religious, a focus on your emotional health and spiritual sustenance can help to put balance back in your life. Start the day with a morning ritual. Pray or meditate. Write down what you dreamt last night. Throughout the day, engage your senses with beauty and cultivate joy. Buy yourself flowers. Wear clothes that feel good to your skin. Eat foods that wake up your palate. Re-engaging your senses will make you feel more alive and energetic. At night, unplug the electronic devices, draw yourself a warm bath and luxuriate in silk pajamas.
These are just a few self-affirming methods to help you regain your physical and emotional health. Set aside special time that is spent just for you, on you, every day. Engaging in self-care can relieve stress and provide you the emotional resources you need to combat the challenges of your daily life.