From my experiences in the mental health field and working with multiple types of populations and mental health conditions, there is no one way to treat. Many mental health therapists recognize this, and take on a more eclectic approach with their clients. What this means is that therapists must tailor their treatment plans to meet the client where they are, and working from there. Each session brings new challenges, concerns and states of mind. Therapists know that one day their client may be receptive to feedback, and other days they may be resistant. And that's okay! As humans, it is normal to have good days and bad days, and our main goal should be to manage these days as they come, and not get down on ourselves if it doesn't work the first time.
Although there is no one surefire way to help ease mental health symptoms, there are definitely precautions that everyone, to their own capacity, can work on managing before seeking out therapy, or in between sessions. By the way, you do NOT need to have serious mental health condition to reach out for help. Therapists see all types of people for all types of problems. Don't ever feel like your problems are too small, because I guarantee you they are not. Everyone experiences problems in their own way, and need varying levels of care based on their ability to cope.
But I digress.
Managing a healthy lifestyle has always been a "go to" when trying to address mental health concerns. I'll list the most common things that you can change in your life, right now, in order to help the process. Most of the time, doing these basic habits can help with coping on their own. Other times, these daily habits will help you build a more solid foundation when trying to address mental health symptoms. These basic habits include sleep, exercise, nutrition and self care.
1. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep. Think about the last time you tried to function after pulling an all-nighter. How did that go? My guess is, unless you're Superman or a very small percentage of the population, it was really hard to deal with anything, let alone your basic living activities. Sleep deprivation has been shown to worsen mental health symptoms, simply because lack of sleep does not allow the brain to function well enough to be able to cope with common stressors. 7-9 hours of sleep is typically what is recommended for most adults to adequately function throughout the day. Experiment with this range and find what is best for you. A good way to determine this is to notice how you feel when you wake up, and how you feel throughout the day.
2. Make sure you are exercising at least once per day. Once per day?! I must be crazy! Well, that depends on your definition of crazy. Seriously though, you should be doing SOME type of exercise every day. Our bodies were made to move. Think about how active you were as a kid. That didn't come from nowhere. Chances are, you're thinking of exercise as something that "sucks" or something that makes you feel "crappy". My answer to that is you are not doing the correct exercise for YOU. Find something you enjoy doing so that you are more likely to continue doing it. Another thing I hear a lot is clients will try to do intense exercise right off the bat, and then quit because it felt terrible. If you are going from a sedentary lifestyle immediately to high intensity workouts, of course you're going to hate it! It's not something you're used to, and you have to start slow. Many people try running for the first time in an all out sprint, and don't consider that maybe they need to start with a fast walk or a jog before they can sprint. Either way, daily exercise has been shown to help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety so get out there and find something you enjoy!
3. Make sure you are eating foods that are going to help your body function properly. Now, I'm no nutritionist, but through my own experiences, as well as the experiences of others I know, eating a balanced diet greatly helps to improve food and overall wellbeing. This means eating less processed foods and sugars, and eating more whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and proteins. Now, everyone is different, so not every food is going to affect you the same way as others. Its important to consult with an expert to figure out what foods are going to work best with your body to help it function the way it should be. Also, it is important to understand that food is not a coping mechanism. Focus a little more on "eating to live" instead of "living to eat". Also, make sure that you are staying hydrated. Swap that pop for water and see how much more focused you are throughout the day. Will you have to use the bathroom more? Sure! But I guarantee that water is doing more good things for your body than that Pepsi is.
4. Make sure you are taking care of yourself. Self-care includes so many things! And again, not everything is going to work for everyone. Going to the doctor and dentist on a regular basis should be one of your self-care activities. Get your eyes checked. Practice mindfulness. Read a book. Binge watch mindless TV (in moderation). Sit outside on a nice day and play with the dogs or kids. Have some friends over. Cook a meal with your partner. Cuddle your dog. Cuddle your cat. Cuddle your emotional support emu. Do a daily gratitude journal. Whatever makes you happy do it and do it often! Self care is just as important as working hard towards your goals, and sometimes you just need a break. Take that break, and then get back to it. I've noticed that taking breaks every once in a while not only refreshes you, but also helps you produce quality work!
5. Coping skills. I could probably do a whole separate blog post on coping skills, but I'll keep it short. Coping skills do not work if you wait to use them when you are feeling down or anxious. Like any habit or skill, coping skills need to be practiced on a daily basis in order to be effective. One of my pet peeves is when clients come back and tell me their coping skills didn't work. I'll ask them how often they used them, and they'll tell me while they were having a panic attack. Let's think about this. If you are going to try a new coping skill that you have never practiced before when you are in the middle of a panic attack, are you going to be able to think clearly enough to attempt it for the first time? Absolutely not! So, find a coping skill or two, such as deep breathing or muscle relaxation, and practice it. Practice it until it becomes habit. Practice it until it becomes a reflex, or an automatic response to a stressful situation. Only then will you be able to use it appropriately to deter a panic attack. And even sometimes then it may be difficult. That's okay! Keep practicing until you find what works best for YOU.
One last thing I will leave you with. So many people are so quick to judge themselves when they don't get something right the first time. Or they compare their progress to the progress of others. I think all too often we have these unrealistic expectations of ourselves to live up to some standard that we or someone else have created for ourselves. Please, please, please: take a step back and figure out what YOU want YOUR life to look like. This is YOUR journey and no one else's. Therefore, no one else is allowed to set standards on your life without your permission.
Take these 5 habits and see how they work out for you. Have fun playing around with new ideas, and make sure you are taking care of yourself. If you can get these 5 things down, then I guarantee you will create a solid foundation for yourself to address any stress that may come along in your life. Also, your therapist will be really impressed with your ability to cope :)
Until next time, be well and wag on!