10 Basic Steps to Mental Health Recovery

There are a few basic things you can do to help improve your overall quality of life.  While some of these things may seem small, you may be surprised just how much they can impact your mood.

1. Get Enough Sleep: Sleep plays a huge role in both our mental and physical well being. While you sleep, your body and your brain rests and recharges for the next day. Without it, your whole system is altered. In fact, disturbances in sleep is one of the diagnostic criteria for depression, among other mental health illnesses! If you find you are getting poor sleep, not enough sleep, or too much sleep (yes, there is such a thing!), assess your sleep hygiene. What does your bedtime routine look like? Is the TV on all night? Do you go to bed around the same time every night or does it vary? Think about what gets in the way of sleep and work to reduce those barriers.

2. Get Exercise: Engaging in some form of physical activity can have an impact of your mental health. Indeed, exercise actually releases a neurochemical in the brain which positively impacts mood. Exercising can also help you sleep better too! The great thing about this step is that you do not have to run a marathon to get the mental health benefits of exercise. Just doing something that gets your heart rate up for 30 minutes, a few days a week can help you on the road to overall wellness.

3. Eat Well: The media is inundated with messages about eating healthy, getting to the “perfect weight”, and dieting to get there. That is not what I mean when I talk about eating well. While eating healthy is important, there is so much more that goes in to eating well and mental health. Sometime we forget how our basic need to eat can impact our mood on a day-to-day, or even moment-to-moment basis! The perfect example is this is the word hangry, a combination of hungry and angry. Those two words go together so well because often hunger can negatively impact mood. Think about the last time you had a stressful conversation. Now this about the last time you had a stressful conversation AND you were hungry. Chances are that the conversation was even more difficult and stressful when you were hungry!

4. Breathe Deeply: Take time out of your day, throughout your day to take deep breaths. This can help you slow down and collect yourself before moving on to the next thing on your to-do list. Deep breathing impacts your physiology. Buy, slowing your body down, you are then able to slow your mind down.

5. Avoid Drugs: This can mean mind-altering drugs, like alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine. It can also mean less “intense” drugs like caffeine. Drugs can disrupt appetite, sleep, ability to get exercise, and physical health, all of which are important building blocks to achieving a positive overall state of well being.
6. Treat Physical Illness: If you are sick, or suspect you are sick, go to the doctor. This seems simple enough, but often our physical health falls to the wayside in times of stress. While going to the doctor can sometime be stressful, it may be the step you need in order to start feeling better.

7. Treat Yourself: Think about all the “shoulds” you have in your life. These are the things you need to do, either for yourself, your job, your family. They are the responsibilities you have on a day to day basis. Now think of all the “wants” you have in your life. Are there things you want to do just for yourself, for your own pleasure and enjoyment? Finally, assess whether you have a balance between your “wants” and your “shoulds.” Too many “wants,” and you can feel lost and bored. Too many “shoulds,” and you can feel overwhelmed and stuck. If you find that you have a lot of “shoulds” in your life, try treating yourself to something nice or kind every day, whether it is setting aside time to relax, going to a movie you really want to see, or starting a hobby you are interested in.

8. Talk to Someone: Sometimes talking to a trusted friend can improve mood. Oftentimes, when we keep our problems to ourselves, the problem can start to snowball and feel overwhelming. Talking it out can help the issue become more manageable. However, be cognizant of what you need when you reach out to a friend. Do you want someone to really sit with you and listen? Do you want someone to give you advice? Do you want someone to joke with and distract you? Think about what you need, and call the friend that is able to provide that!

9. Think Positive: Be your own cheerleader! If you find you are struggling with negative thoughts, either about yourself or the situation, try changing the conversation! Negative thoughts can impact our feelings, which can impact our behavior. This cycle usually only perpetuates the negative mood. By changing your thoughts, you can stop the cycle, thus altering your mood.

10. Engage in therapy: If you have tried to make adjustments to the previous steps and nothing has changed, or if making some of these changes proves too difficult, it may be time to talk to a psychologist. Through therapy, you will learn strategies and skills for managing distress, regulations your emotions, and getting back in control of your sense of well being. Whether it is group or individual therapy, you can start feeling better!