Though it may be a surprise for some, mental health problems are commonplace. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 44 million American adults deal with mental health symptoms on an annual basis. That’s nearly 20% of the country’s adult population.
Thankfully, similar to physical conditions like joint pain or eczema, mental health problems can be treated and managed before they become increasingly debilitating over time.
That’s why it’s so important to develop strategies for improving your mental health on a daily basis. This goes double for those who are actively working through substance abuse recovery. In the same way, a bit of daily exercise makes a big difference in long-term physical health, utilizing mental health tools helps to keep the mind as fit as possible.
This overview of mental health tips breaks down five helpful tools for dealing with life’s daily stresses, limiting possible trigger reactions, and keeping your cool when dealing with difficult situations. Lean on these critical problem-solving skills the next time the pressure is on and your anxiety is on the rise.
At the core of many debilitating mental health conditions is an internalized tendency to hold onto negative thoughts patterns. When individuals hold onto self-sabotaging thoughts and always picture themselves in an entirely negative manner, their ability to deal with and recover from mental health problems is compromised.
That’s why it’s important for individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, and addiction must develop and practice self-affirmation skills. It’s important to distinguish self-affirmation techniques from simple “positive thinking.”
While being generally optimistic seems like a fair response to an emotional low, there is significant research to support the idea that spending a bit of time each day practicing self-affirmation can make a big difference on your health. A stronger sense of confidence and improved self-esteem are two of the major benefits of mastering self-affirmation.
Developing Affirmations Strategies
What are some ways to effectively push back anxiety and negative thought patterns with affirmation? The following are just a few of the many strategies that different individuals can use to keep their mental health progressing on the right track.
- Draft an Affirmation Statement – The pressure of negative thinking is a constant one. It’s helpful to have a small, encouraging phrase that you can repeat in your mind or out loud. Reciting these personal words of encouragement, also known as an affirmation statement, helps individuals to build up their self-worth. Studies show that making changes in a thought process or behavior are easier when an individual has a healthy sense of self-esteem.
- Start Setting Goals – The process of setting goals and meeting them is extremely rewarding. Whether those goals are focused on work, school, relationships, or personal development is irrelevant. What does matter is that setting small, realistic goals and achieving them is a great way to affirm oneself on a regular basis.
- Schedule Self-Care – When was the last time you worked out? Scheduled a massage? Read an encouraging book? Setting aside time to dedicate to one’s own health, relaxation, and personal development is a powerful example of self-affirmation.
2. Writing and Journaling
Another important mental health tip to consider is the power of writing. The writing process is incredibly cathartic for individuals dealing with mental health problems. As a person gets their feelings out onto the page, they have unique opportunities to explore and understand their own emotions.
Many feel self-conscious about the idea of writing because they assume they might be judged for their grammar or vocabulary. In reality, writing can serve as a completely individualized exercise. The only one who needs to know what they’ve written is the person working through their feelings. That being said, many breakthroughs await through journaling and personal narrative writing.
Benefits of Journaling
Journaling on a daily basis is a great way to catalog a person’s feelings and investigate them at a later date with a greater perspective. One of the reasons that individuals struggle with treating their mental health issues is due to them feeling overwhelmed. They are experiencing so many emotions and strong impulses that it can be hard to track where they are coming from. This can even include addiction triggers.
Journaling allows those working through mental illness the ability to organize their thoughts and tackle the big questions at their own pace. Journaling also supports the success of other types of therapies.
Benefits of Writing
While journaling serves as a time for an individual to collect a record of his or her thoughts and feelings, there are other types of writing that can help someone manage their mental health in difficult scenarios. One style that is particularly helpful is personal narrative writing. In other words, a person writes about their own life in the third person.
Writing the story of your own life has two major benefits. First, this exercise allows a person to create distance from their own past. Taking an approach that is less personal and more introspective can help a person to learn deeper insights about themselves.
Second, self-narrative forces the writer to answer deep questions like “What was my real motivation behind this?” and “Who was the person causing the most problems in this situation?” This approach often reveals how the individual might be contributing to their own failures in life.
Repetition is the key to building new habits. Breakthroughs in neuroscience have revealed that just imagining yourself succeeding at a task can contribute to your long-term success. That’s why visualization strategies are so often recommended as a way to help manage mental health problems. Here are a few tips to help you learn how to problem solve through visualization:
- Start with steady breathing – The first step toward successful visualization exercises is to find yourself in a relaxed position where you can slow and control your breathing. Focusing on keeping your breathing at an even level will also help you practice shutting out distractions.
- Imagine every step in the process – Want to start changing how you react to a certain trigger? Start by imagining the scene, then work it through every step of the way. Imagine the scenario that produces the negative outcome, then begin adjusting your reaction in your mind. Think about how you’ll maintain the composure to say no to an old friend or how you’ll respond differently to a family member’s toxic behavior. The more detailed you imagine how you’ll respond in a more positive manner, the better.
- Keep practicing until you succeed – Nothing lasting happens overnight. Staying dedicated to visualization training will improve strategy effectiveness as a response to mental health issues. In the meantime, don’t be discouraged if the impacts are limited and focus on other mental health tools as you master the process.
4. Fitness as Self-Care
It may be overstated, but there’s no denying the vast mental health benefits of a solid exercise routine. This is especially true when it comes to substance abuse problems.
After all, many individuals get locked in a cycle of abuse and withdrawal that is made worse by a number of mental health symptoms the drug abuse worsens. A healthy relationship with the gym and fitness can help to address those symptoms without encouraging the core problem.
- Fitness Minimized Insomnia – A number of substance abuse problems make it more difficult to sleep. Others occur because individuals struggle to fall asleep naturally and become dependent on something else to make them sleep. Regular exercise during the day and relaxing stretches at night help to regulate sleep habits.
- Fitness Enhances Self-Esteem – Generally speaking, the better you look, the better you feel about yourself. Getting into shape and feeling comfortable in your own skins helps to raise self-esteem. Many turn to alcohol or drugs as a result of low self-esteem or lack of confidence when dealing with others. Addressing the heart of the problem instead of the symptoms is a great way to limit one’s dependence on substances.
- Fitness Improves Appetite – Similar to sleep deprivation, many individuals turn to substance abuse as a means of regulating their appetite. Alternatively, a person’s metabolism might be compromised because their long-term drug abuse curbs their hunger to a minimum. Either way, burning calories is a much healthier way of stimulating one’s appetite than abusing more substances. Additionally, good nutrition goes a long way toward long-term recovery and mental health improvement.
- Fitness Builds Mental Strength – A good workout is all about learning to push past one’s limits. While some may feel initial discomfort when running, for example, this discomfort will eventually be replaced with an endorphin release and a sense of accomplishment. The same mental fortitude that one learns to push through a tough workout can help a person to stick to their recovery plan after they are affected by an addiction trigger.
Meditation has been used as a mental health improvement strategy for centuries. The process of entering a state of mindfulness, where all external distractions are removed and the individual is completely focused on the present moment, has extensive mental health benefits.
Note that meditation is different from visualization. While visualization seeks to activate and excite the brain, as preparation for the future, meditation seeks to calm the brain and minimize tension. A mixture of deep breathing, focus exercises, and experience can help individuals to shut out all types of external influences, including cravings for substances.
Unique Benefits of Meditation
Many of the most common benefits of meditation overlap with some other mental health tips we’ve mentioned, such as improved sleep, greater focus, and extra energy. However, meditation has a long list of unique benefits as well. Here’s a short list of extra ways that a regular meditation habit can support those working through a substance abuse problem:
- Improve one’s memory
- Strengthen attention span
- Expand self-awareness
- Limit anxiety
- Control heart rate and blood pressure
- Positive affect brains chemistry
Need More Mental Health Tips?
Managing one’s mental health while recovering from addiction is nearly impossible without help. This is especially true when yourself or loved ones are dealing with multiple substance abuse and/or mental health problems at the same time, a condition referred to as a dual diagnosis. In these cases, specialized help through a dual diagnosis treatment center will go along way toward successful recovery.
Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books–written by men–barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.