Taking Care of Your Body

Maintaining good physical health can help your mental health as well. Below are some ideas about how to maintain a healthy lifestyle that can lead to better mental and physical health.

Get Active

Studies have shown that exercise can reduce anxiety and depression and improve mood, self-esteem and cognitive function. Some medications cause an increased risk for obesity. Working out can be a healthy way to combat the troublesome side effects that may come with the medications you take. 

In addition, exercise can prevent or treat medical conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes, and it improves your overall quality of physical health, making you more resilient to illnesses. 

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

Don’t worry if you aren’t a gym enthusiast. A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that all it takes is 30 minutes a few times a week to produce these benefits. All you need to do is hop on the treadmill and turn on your favorite show. You’ll be done by the time the credits are rolling. Other options for getting active can include:

  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Jogging
  • Competitive Sports
  • Aerobics

Find what motivates you and try to find a partner to go with you. Working out with a partner can help encourage you both to stick to a routine.

Eat Healthy

Eating healthy is important because the nutrition we take in is translated directly into benefits for our body. Poor nutrition can result in issues like obesity and diabetes.

A healthy diet emphasizes having the appropriate portions of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free milk products and should include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts. Fats and sugars should be limited.

Studies have shown that people who consume nutrient dense diets report higher levels of happiness, so try consuming more fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Drinking enough water is also important. For more information about how diet can affect mental health, visit Choose My Plate.

Become Mindful

Mindfulness can simply be translated to "self-awareness." It is the process of focusing the mind, body and soul on what is being sensed in this moment, and it gives you the insight to observe and understand negative feelings from a distance.

Mindfulness practices can help relieve stress, improve sleep, and reduce chronic pain, blood pressure and symptoms of heart disease. It also has the power to change the way your brain functions. Studies have found that activities such as meditation and yoga increase the number of signaling connections in the brain and provide better control over processing pain and emotions.

Avoid Smoking and Substance Abuse

In addition to being extremely bad for your physical health, smoking is especially damaging for people being treated for a mental health condition. Certain antipsychotic medications cause an increased risk of heart disease. Smoking will elevate this risk even further. Medications are also broken down faster in people who smoke, meaning that smokers being treated with medication for a mental health condition have to take higher doses than nonsmokers, which can lead to more unpleasant side effects.

Research has shown that quitting smoking doesn’t worsen mental illness symptoms. Though it can seem daunting, quitting is important for both your mental and physical health. For more information on quitting, visit smokefree.gov.

Like smoking, the rates of substance abuse are also higher among people who experience mental health conditions. People living with a mental health condition are often more sensitive than others to the effects of alcohol and other drugs. Many medications which are commonly prescribed for mental health conditions have a combined effect with drugs and alcohol and can create dangerous, toxic situations for users.

Abusing drugs and alcohol may seem like an effective way to cope, but they can actually make a condition worse. Talk to your primary care doctor or a mental health care professional about treatment options that can help.

Find out more about how avoiding smoking, drugs and alcohol can improve your overall well-being.

Try to Think Positive

The thoughts and perceptions we have of ourselves influence how we feel and behave. Low self-esteem is associated with many mental health conditions including (but not limited to) depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and personality disorders. Having low self-esteem can cause someone to feel depressed or angry and cause negative, critical thoughts. It also causes people to neglect their health, work and relationships for fear of failing.

Developing a healthy self-esteem can improve the quality of life for people affected by mental health conditions. Here are tips to improve your self-esteem:

  • Eliminate negative thoughts or counter them with positive affirmations. Everyone can be a little too hard on themselves sometimes but for people with low self-esteem it is especially damaging
  • Find something you love doing and embrace it, whether it’s painting or water skiing or anything in between
  • Learn a new skill. Always wanted to learn how to juggle? Now’s the time! Have pride in your achievement
  • Look after yourself. When we feel down it’s often easy to neglect ourselves. Have a spa day or buy a new outfit!
  • Spend time with people who bring you up
  • Set goals and reward yourself for accomplishing them

Get a Good Night's Sleep

Sleep problems and mental health conditions can become a vicious cycle. A person experiencing an anxiety disorder could feel too anxious to fall asleep at night, leaving them feeling frazzled the next day and increasing their anxiety, eventually making it even harder for them to fall asleep the next night. It’s important when living with a mental health condition to treat your body right and get at least 7 hours of sleep per night for adults and around 9 hours of sleep per night for adolescents. Everyone is different though, so you'll need to see what's right for you. Talk with your primary care provider if you have any questions about sleep.

Have a Support System

Being affected by a mental health condition can sometimes make you feel isolated and overwhelmed. Since dealing with a mental health condition can already be tough it’s important to find a support system that you can rely on. Being able to talk to a trusted friend, family member, support group or mentor can provide relief and assistance in times of need.

Planning Ahead

A psychiatric advance directive allows you to state your preferences about your psychiatric and medical care in the event that at some point in the future, you’re determined unable to make those choices. Depending on your state’s laws, advance directives can be a living will of written instructions and/or a health care proxy assigning an agent who makes decisions on your behalf. The National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advance Directives offers more information about each state and how an advance directive may support you.