The concepts of self-help and open conversations surrounding mental illness have massively grown in popularity in recent years. Among a boom in online communication tools, anonymous conversations, and a genuine interest in how modern-day Western society is affecting the mental health of those living within it, there has much exploration into the mind in the past few years.
And yet despite working to help identify the problems, we’re not quite being successful at addressing them. There where mental health is an identified issue, the opportunities and resources needed to combat said issue are often lacking. On one hand, it’s expensive and time-consuming to get help for a mental illness. On the other hand, too many people deny struggling with thoughts of anxiety or depression, because they know they cannot afford to.
This is what makes self-help so attractive. It gives millions of Americans an alternative to involving the healthcare system and a professional therapist, by selling the dream of healing yourself. However, it may be a little misguided to consider self-help a primary form of treatment, when it is more so meant to be supplementary to treatment, or a form of preventative medicine, preventing mental health issues before they fully manifest.
This hints at two larger issues: people are still reluctant to seek treatment, and many people think their mental health isn’t big enough of a deal to seek help to begin with, or they might try some of the tips in a self-help book and give up on them after a few weeks. Mental health is as serious and universal as physical health, and just how we pay attention to when one knee feels worse than the other, or when we’re starting to come down with a flu, we also need to be aware that mental health issues can be just as ubiquitous, and that asking for a therapist doesn’t make you ‘loony’ or weak.
Everyone Needs to Prioritize Mental Health
One can’t work without the other. Take the processor out of a computing machine, and it won’t function. Take the engine out of a car, and it won’t get you anywhere. Without a functioning mind, we just can’t work – in every sense of the word.
It’s important to see your mental health as fluid – not in a constant black-and-white state of ok or not ok, but as a complex system of potential issues. The mind has an immune system of sorts, and everyone’s immunity is individual in terms of strength and versatility. There’s only so much we can take before we break down – but there is a variety of ways in which you can address minor problems, minimize the damage of traumatic events or stressful periods, and generally maintain and supplement your immune system to prevent yourself from getting ‘sick’.
Sometimes, we can’t avoid sickness. Some things are just too contagious to avoid an infection, and sometimes, we’re simply more likely to be affected by a specific event or issue due to a variety of factors surrounding our nature and our nurture. Sometimes, being around someone with a mental health issue can increase our chances of developing similar issues. There’s no shame in that, either. But it’s important to get help before the sickness gets worse.
Perspective is everything, and it may be time to change yours. By prioritizing your mental health and turning it into something that really isn’t that big of a deal – much like a regular doctor’s check-up – you’re more likely to feel much better, much sooner.
Not Just When You’re Feeling Down
Taking care of your own mental health isn’t something you should be doing only when you’re starting to feel sick. Ideally, we don’t only engage in healthy habits when we’re starting to come down with something. Everyone has their fair share of vices, whether it’s one thing or another, but we all generally understand how important it is to stay healthy and avoid something like a cold or an infection.
So, we set hygiene standards, we clean our homes, we change the sheets and pop a multivitamin. It’s important to maintain a similar routine for your own mental health, always, and not just when you’re starting to feel worse. Not everyone has the resources or the time to substantially invest in their mental health, but there are many little things that you can do to have a great impact on your mind.
Eliminate Screens Before Bed
Getting a better start to a night’s sleep and waking up in the morning feeling refreshed rather than groggy can make a big difference. While it might seem like a very unimposing rule, it’s surprisingly difficult for many to follow. Avoid screens late at night – no phones, no TV, not even as much as an eBook. While these might seem like sleeping aids, they’re more likely keeping you up rather than letting you sleep.
It can take a while to adjust to this type of late-night routine, and you might need to account for a few days of restlessness before things get better. But after some readjusting, you’ll find that you’re going to get a much better quality of sleep by quitting screens before bed. If you’re having a lot of trouble, consider melatonin supplements (if your doctor okays them).
Get Lots of Sleep
Don’t glorify being too busy for sleep. If there’s one thing we need to make time for, it’s quality shuteye. Sleeping needs are different from one adult to the next – most people need 8 hours, some do well on 6, others genuinely would do much better if they had 10.
Don’t feel guilty about your sleeping needs, and just find a way to make room for them. Getting better sleep can vastly improve your start to the next day, which can do a lot to change your overall mood and outlook.
Be Okay with What You Have (And Who You Are)
Gratitude, reflection, and self-love are more important than many might realize. Too often, we hinge our happiness and our fulfillment on goals we can’t reach, or we set a goal for ourselves and wallow in the disappointment of not meeting it. While goals are undoubtedly important and it’s crucial to remain motivated to set them, life will always have its fair share of failures and losses, and we must learn to live with them.
Instead of seeing happiness as a reward, think of it as something we can maintain just by being content with ourselves. Take a step back and think on the things you have, the people around you, and the privileges you live with. Even things as simple as a soft bed, clean clothes and access to the Internet can be reasons to be happier in life. Most importantly, count yourself lucky if you have someone to hold and be with day after day, or week after week. Take some time before each meal to reflect on just how great it is to have something to eat every day. It’s the simple things we take for granted that make all the difference, if we stop and think about them.
Sometimes, being happy with what you have and sleeping in every now and again isn’t an effective strategy for feeling better. When you’ve been feeling down for weeks in a row or are genuinely searching for ways to explain your erratic and negative thoughts, it’s important to seek help.
Mental health professionals can help you address the troubles on your mind – you don’t need to struggle before you can get help. And even if it doesn’t end up being anything, it never hurts to ask for advice.