A strong mind doesn’t come freely. Maintaining good mental health requires effort, especially if you’re predisposed to mental illness or have other health conditions. If you’re looking to improve your mental well-being, here are three key steps to take.
Manage Mental Health
Whether you have a history of mental illness or not, it’s important to care for your mental health. At the most basic level, that means taking care of your physical health through diet, exercise, and sleep, as well as developing strategies to minimize and manage stress. As tempting as it is to relax on the couch when you’ve had a bad day, going for a walk, cooking a healthy dinner, connecting with friends, or completing another act of self-care can improve your mood, energy and motivation.
For some people, mental health is more complicated. If you have a mental illness, self-care probably isn’t enough to quell the symptoms. Instead, a healthful lifestyle and self-management strategies should be paired with treatment from a mental health provider.
Physical conditions can also affect mental health. As The Mighty discusses, chronic health conditions can lead to depression and anxiety. For some people, the physical and mental anguish is enough to lead to suicide. If you’re struggling with an illness or chronic pain, it’s important to seek treatment so the symptoms don’t bleed over into your mental health.
Limit Drugs and Alcohol
Drugs and alcohol can be dangerous for those with mental illness — and those without. As the addiction treatment center Swift River points out, "Mental health issues such as anxiety, trauma and depression often co-occur with drug and alcohol addiction." The reason is twofold: People with a mental health condition may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of self-medicating their condition. This maladaptive coping mechanism not only stops people from getting appropriate treatment, but also exacerbates mental illness symptoms. Additionally, substance abuse can contribute to mental health problems; drug and alcohol abuse can trigger dormant mental illnesses, and the cycle of addiction can lead to trauma and mood disorders.
The interaction of mental illness and substance abuse has another dangerous side effect: suicide. According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, alcohol and drug abuse are the second greatest risk factor for suicide, and 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a mental illness, a substance use disorder, or both.
Know When it’s Time for Help
Staying mentally healthy means knowing when it’s time to ask for help.
If you’re living with a physical health condition that affects your daily life and causes you mental distress, seek treatment from a health care professional. Even if you’re already under treatment, your doctor can suggest self-management strategies to improve your quality of life.
If drugs and alcohol are interfering with everyday life, find help overcoming your addiction. Using drugs and alcohol to escape problems, neglecting other responsibilities in favor of using, and not feeling like yourself unless under the influence are some of the signs of a substance use disorder.
If you’re living with symptoms of depression, anxiety or another mental illness, look for help from a mental health practitioner. Even if you don’t have a mental illness, a doctor can help identify strategies to manage stress and negative emotions. If your depressive symptoms feel overwhelming and you’re thinking about hurting yourself, reach out to a crisis center. You can’t afford to ignore the warning signs of suicide.
Good mental health is never a sure thing. Even if you’re mentally healthy today, you could be putting your wellness at risk if you’re not doing these three things. The good news? Basic mental health self-management is actually quite simple, and when it gets hard, there’s help available.
Article provided by Melissa Howard