Just as doing all the recommended things to maintain physical health doesn’t guarantee you’ll never get sick, there is no fool-proof formula to keep your mind from going sideways. But there are things we can do to give our minds their best chance to be as healthy as possible.
Check out these five basic things you should be doing regularly to maintain your mental health.
#1 Checking on Yourself
Sometimes you need to ask what seems a silly question: Am I okay?
There are a million or more things vying for your attention every day. Taking proper care of yourself often barely registers at times, right? It’s easy to shove off your mental to-do list when there are so many other more pressing, or fun, things to do.
When life get busy, we run on autopilot. It seems it would be easy, but we often don’t notice unhealthy shifts in our mood. The apathy that oozes in with depression makes it difficult to realize we’re pulling back from life and the people in it, let alone admit it. If you’re bipolar, the beginning of mania can just feel too good to activate your warning system. Or your brain is just too busy to realize it’s too busy.
Think about what you’re thinking about. Argue when necessary. You’re not worthless. Things will change.
#2 Evaluating your choices and habits
When you know how you’re feeling, or even when you’re not sure, evaluate what you’re doing.
What helps? What could make things worse? Am I relying on anything that makes me feel better in the moment, but is ultimately unhelpful?
Bad habits are so much easier to establish than good.
What we do affects how we feel. Don’t minimize the mental health benefits of a healthy diet, maintaining the right levels of nutrients, hydration, getting up and moving, staying physically active and a good sleep schedule.
Am I fulfilling my usual responsibilities? Am I taking time to do things I know I enjoy even when I’m not enjoying them as usual? Am I making time for family and friends?
If you’re letting certain things slide, or fixating on anything that seems healthy or otherwise, consider why? and revisit #1.
Humans are relational beings. We establish relationships because we’re wired for them. Relationships can be difficult. After all, all of them are between flawed individuals. I find the vulnerability of close relationships almost physically painful at times… but also know my life would be detrimentally sterile without them. I also know I’d probably be dead if not for the people who loved me through the darkest times.
We need to keep in touch with those who care, even when we don’t want to hear them call us out when we need it. It’s especially important to listen to people who care and understand your issues when they notice you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Our unhealthy thoughts and behaviors should be challenged. It doesn’t feel good, but it is good.
In the whirlwind of a mood disorder, it’s difficult to think outside yourself. As you shouldn’t isolate from your loved ones, you shouldn’t cut yourself off from the rest of the world. We’re all part of multiple demographics, and what we have in common with various people we care about or enjoy spending time with varies. Our involvement feeds different aspects of our selves.
My Christian faith is a big part of my identity. As well as healthy personal spiritual practices, corporate worship with my local church on Sunday, fellowship at events like our annual church picnic, and more intimate gatherings for Bible study feeds my soul to give my mind its best chance to be as healthy as possible.
Part of Biblical faith is serving others. Inside and outside church-related service, reaching out, encouraging, and helping others are important to mental health. Depression is morbidly self-focused. Noticing the needs of others, and responding, is healing. When struggling with hopelessness, or in the psychic explosion of impending mania, remembering that our actions affect others is redemptive.
#4 Making something
As we’re wired for relationship, we’re wired to create.
We make things. We have ideas.
You’ve probably found yourself getting lost, in a good way, in some type of project.
Don’t consider yourself an artist? You probably don’t realize how creative you are, or understand how important taking time to make something is. Some people have natural talent to draw or paint or sculpt. We recognize those activities as creative. But look around you at all the things people have made…
It may not be what you consider a work of art, but you enjoy making something, don’t you? Maybe you build, or cook, or bake, or decorate. Maybe you fix things, or notice better ways to do things.
Many find photography therapeutic. I’m one of them. What’s your thing? If you never take any time doing it, you need to. Haven’t found your thing(s)? Try something that sounds interesting.
#5 Challenging yourself
What do you need to do next? It may not be something as stimulating as creating something the world has never seen before. It may be something as monumental-mundane as brushing your teeth. Maybe it’s making a change in your eating or exercise habits. Is it time to take up an old hobby, or look for a new job? There are often things that would be good for us to do, that we just don’t feel like doing.
Like maybe something on this list?
If there’s something you want to achieve, but don’t know how to get there, set small measurable goals. They may seem too little too late to get you where you want to be, but setting them gets you on the road. Each is one step closer to your larger goal.
Small, measurable goals will get you where thinking, wishing, and dreaming can’t.
What do you need to change? What’s the first step?