Mental health is a deeply important issue, one that's often ignored or deeply stigmatized. Things are getting better, our collective voices are getting louder, but, somehow, we're still often discussing it in hushed tones—or neglecting our concerns about our own mental health completely. But according to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year. So, here's the thing: Now is the perfect time to have an open, honest conversation about how we're really feeling.
I reached out to a couple of experts on ways to stabilize and soothe feelings of doubt, anxiety, and helplessness. In essence, they both concluded it was best to create a "toolbox" of coping mechanisms and observe how you feel afterward. While some of these feelings may be fleeting (like a bad day or sad situation), many can be symptoms of a mental health condition. "Your immediate discomfort will be easier to bear if you have a long-term treatment plan because you can remind yourself that your difficult times are becoming fewer and less severe. Remember that you are not alone and help is available," suggests Katrina Gay, a director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
For your own set of tools, keep reading for easy, inexpensive ways to check in with yourself each day.
Talk to Someone
"Open up," suggests Rachel Brathen, a New York Times best-selling author, yoga teacher, and Philosophy brand ambassador. "Sharing how we feel is the most important part when it comes to emotional balance. Pain grows in the dark, so let it out." Talk to friends and family or see a mental health professional. I find that baring my soul when things get heavy immediately makes me feel lighter. Also, it reminds us that we are not alone. "Consider attending a NAMI Connection recovery support group," recommends Gay. If it's easier, you can go online to participate in a discussion group or make use of text therapy.
Make a list of things you are grateful for every day. If you're having a tough day, find just one.
Get Enough Sleep
"Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep," says Gay. In fact, studies have found sleep deprivation is associated with the onset of hypomania or mania in patients. Some machines can help you fall asleep faster, as will a number of workouts, foods, and apps.
"Meditate," says Brathen. "Spending just five minutes sitting in silence focusing on your breath in the morning can turn a whole day around. Most of the problems we are pondering and issues we are dealing with are amplified by our minds—what happens when you dive into silence?"
"Practicing yoga," Brathen continues, "is a wonderful segway into meditation if you find the idea of sitting in silence by yourself daunting. Find a studio and a teacher you resonate with and try a beginners class if you're new to the practice. In savasana, allow yourself to be. Watch what comes up. Know that you are an integral part of this world and everything you are feeling is valid! We all feel the same things, just not always at the same time. Remember—everything you are is good enough."
Remember that you are not alone and help is available.
Schedule time to walk outside or workout at home. Whatever you do, make sure it's fun. Exercise helps us regulate stress and improves your overall physical health. Brathen adds, "Get out of your head and into your body. Moving our bodies is a great way to clear our heads, and it helps to bring our awareness into the present moment. Get into the habit of moving your body every single day, no matter what you choose to do."
Manage Your Time
"Set aside time for yourself, accept your needs, and manage your schedule," recommends Gay. "Schedule something that makes you feel good. It might be reading a book, going to the movies, getting a massage, or taking your dog for a walk. Prioritizing your activities can also help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don't feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines.
Additionally, recognize what your triggers are. What situations make you feel physically and mentally agitated? Once you know this, you can avoid them when it's reasonable to, and to cope when you can't.
Make a List
Whether it's a journal entry or a gratitude list, get into the habit of putting your thoughts and emotions down on paper. "It's a great way to release things that might be bothering us—it can help us get a new perspective," explains Brathen. "Also, it allows for a quiet moment to reflect on the day. Light a candle, make a cup of tea, and just write."
"When things get tough, it's important to remember we still have beauty present in our lives," she continues. "Make a list of things you are grateful for every day. If you're having a tough day, find just one. We tend to take things for granted when we get stuck in a downward spiral so remind yourself of everything you have to be thankful for. It could be something as simple as the roof over our head, the taste of coffee in the morning, your pet, a loved one, or even just the ability to have time to sit and write down a list of what you're grateful for. Beauty is all around—don't forget that."
Nimh » mental illness.
Lewis KS, Gordon-Smith K, Forty L, et al. Sleep loss as a trigger of mood episodes in bipolar disorder: individual differences based on diagnostic subtype and gender. Br J Psychiatry. 2017;211(3):169-174.
Childs E, de Wit H. Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults. Front Physiol. 2014;5:161.