We understand the importance of a regular exercise routine to our health. Not only does it help build strength, it also reduces the risk of chronic conditions as we age. But what impact does a regular routine have on our long-term mental health?
Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. While a daily routine cannot cure a mental illness, it can help alleviate stress, combat burnout, and prepare you for difficult periods in your life. Dr. Robert Small, Associate Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Premera Blue Cross, shared his recommended routines to improve your mental health, and considerations for when it is time to seek care.
Find the right mental health routine
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to building a self-care routine. Just like exercise, some forms of self-care might not be the right fit for you. It is important to try a variety of tactics until you identify a few that work. “It is very helpful to have one and preferably several self-care techniques – the more you have, the better,” said Small. “Try various techniques to see which ones help you to feel calm or happy and to be more focused.”
Some techniques you might find helpful include:
- Relaxation exercises
- Deep breathing exercises
- Visualization techniques
- Listening to your favorite or relaxing music
- Taking a hot bath or shower
- Going for a short walk
- Just spending a little time outside
- Spending a little time on a hobby
- Eating or drinking something you enjoy
- Talking with a close family member or friend
Once you have identified self-care practices that work for you, carve out a little time each day for one or more of them.
A healthy lifestyle can help with stress reduction
Although it sounds simple, eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep play an important role in your mental health. In addition, setting boundaries helps maintain a healthy stress-level. “Pay attention to being overloaded with too many things,” said Small. “Set reasonable boundaries for yourself by saying ‘no’ to things that you really don’t need to do.” If you notice yourself starting to feel overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, or other uncomfortable or negative emotions, try one or more of your self-care techniques. You can also reach out to a family member or friend you feel comfortable talking to, or visit How to Take Care of Yourself When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed – Mental Health First Aid.
Important: Be aware of specific signs that it’s time ask for help. These can include:
- Having difficulty doing the things that you normally do every day
- Issues with completing with basic tasks such as getting out of bed, getting dressed, or eating
- I Thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else or that “it is not worth going on,”
- Feeling as if you are losing touch with reality
If these come up, seek help from a professional. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 800-273-8255, or get help by texting “HEAL” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
How to seek care for your mental health
When you are ready to seek professional care for your mental health, visit the Premera website for information about the types of mental health services, and a link to the provider directory. If you have a trusted primary care provider (PCP), let them know the symptoms you are experiencing to see if they are able to help.
“PCPs have become increasingly capable of providing mental health treatment,” said Small. “Depending on their comfort level with providing mental health treatment, a PCP can offer brief counseling and treatment with medications.” Your PCP may also be able to refer you to a mental health provider that can address your symptoms. When searching for a mental health provider, ask family members or friends that you trust about experiences with the providers they’ve seen to help determine if they might be a good fit for you.
Advice for parents with children that are struggling
If you have a child that is struggling with their mental health, Dr. Small recommends being available, non-judgmental, and supportive. He also urges parents to get professional help early. “Tell the counselor or pediatrician what your child is experiencing and what you are observing, and let them ask the questions. Be completely honest and don’t leave anything out. Your answers will help them get a deeper understanding of what your child is struggling with, and to decide on the best course of treatment.”
Dr. Small also suggests parents educate themselves on youth and family mental health issues by exploring the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s Facts for Families.