Do you know how to take care of your own mental health? According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in five Americans experiences a mental illness each year and currently 1.1 billion people globally. Despite how common these illnesses are, self-care strategies are still a bit of a mystery. Here’s a step toward solving that mystery—four self-care techniques to help you manage your mental health.
Improve Your Sleep
Around 60 million people in America suffer from chronic or occasional sleep problems and nearly 1/3 of the population of Britain do too. This has massive health consequences because poor sleep has been linked to anxiety, depression, stress, and ADHD. The good news is that if you improve your sleep hygiene, you’ll see a noticeable improvement in your mental health. Start by stopping caffeine consumption at least eight hours before bed, and if this doesn’t help, switch to decaf. In your bedroom, keep the temperature at 60 to 75 degrees and use blackout curtains or an eye mask to minimize light. If the room is noisy, use earplugs or play white noise to block out the sound.
Lower Your Stress
Not all stress is bad. Sometimes stress can spur you on and help you perform at our best. Problems arise when you feel overwhelmed, like you’re not able to cope with your challenges. In this situation, there’s two things you can do. The first is to remove the source of the stress. For example, you could talk to your boss about your workload, talk problems through with your partner, or avoid certain people or situations altogether. The second method is to learn techniques that reduce your stress level, so you’re able to cope with bigger challenges. This might involve learning meditation, yoga, or cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques.
If you’re in recovery, learning to control your stress levels using techniques like meditation is particularly important because stress can trigger relapse. This is because people try to self-medicate to remove the stress; however, this usually has the opposite effect. The techniques listed above are more effective and better for you.
Learn to Say “No”
“No” might be one of the hardest words to say in the whole English language, along with “Sorry” and “Otorhinolaryngologist.” But if you don’t learn to say no and to put yourself first, you’ll end up unfulfilled, living a life you don’t want to live. Also, as self-help blogger Steve Pavlina points out, every yes inherently contains a no. If you agree to one thing, you’re saying no to something else, so make sure what you’re saying yes to is what you actually want. If you say no to someone and they persist in bothering you, make this explicit to them: “Thanks for the offer, but if I said ‘yes’ to this I’d be saying ‘no’ to my family/health/career, and that’s more important to me right now.”
When it comes to saying no to temptation, one study found that a simple switch from “I can’t” to “I don’t” helps people maintain their abstinence. For example, “I don’t go to parties like that anymore,” “I don’t eat ice cream,” and “I don’t miss workouts” are all better than the “I can’t” versions of each statement, because they put you in control—you’re framing the behaviour a choice, not an obligation.
Learn New Skills
You’ve heard the phrase “If you don’t use it, you lose it” applied to physical performance, but did you know it applies to the brain, too? People who continually learn throughout their lives are at reduced risk of dementia in their later years. This doesn’t have to mean book learning. You could learn a musical instrument, woodworking, or a foreign language—anything that provides a challenge. Learning new skills is useful in the recovery process, too. It helps you fill the void left by your past life and can provide a useful distraction in difficult times.
Using these self-care techniques is a bit like compound interest in a bank. That is, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out. Try to spend a little time each day working on each of these four areas. After a few weeks, you’ll notice a significant difference in your life.
About the author:
Brad Krause – Worked in a big company for a long time losing sense of his self and forgetting about the important things in the world. He was consumed by his work week and spent little time on himself. After a few years and saving some money Brad took time away from work to do something he loved, helping people. Today he runs a website called Self Caring where he offers resources to those looking to find balance in their lives.