Recently, my mother created a list of five things I need do daily to manage my mental health. They are medicine, sleep, food, exercise and relaxation. I, and those whom I have shared this system with, have found it to be enormously helpful and I hope that you, too, are able to gain something from it.
Obviously, if you do not take medication, this does not apply to you. However, to the people who do, it is of paramount importance that you remember to take it. On days that I forget my medicine, I can tell. I feel restless and on edge and snap at my family with little provocation. I also have difficulty focusing, which makes 8 hours of school (and the 4 hours of homework) painful to sit through.
If you have friends or family members whom you are comfortable with, I’d highly recommend asking them to check in on you every few days to assure that you haven’t forgotten.
I cannot stress the importance of getting enough sleep. If you are a teenager, your brain is actually rewiring itself, just like a baby’s. Think about how much time of the day babies spend sleeping; you don’t require nearly that amount, but you still need more than the average adult. Most teens need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a night; I personally get about 8.5.
I don’t have any science to back this up, but in my experience, people who are sleep-deprived tend to be more emotionally unstable, anxious, unfocused and easily frustrated. When it comes to managing my anxiety, I know that I need to prioritize my sleep.
It is important that you eat regularly and fairly healthily. I know that not everyone has access to the same quality of food, but if you do, it is in your best interest to take advantage of that. By regularly, I mean that you should be eating at least three times a day, if not more. I tend to eat 4 or 5 smaller meals.
Why is this important? Food, quite simply, gives you energy. When you haven’t eaten, you are low on energy, thus, you no longer have the resources to maintain a positive mental state. It’s a bit like trying to run a marathon after drinking one bottle of water. There’s simply no reason to put yourself through that.
I’m going to be candid: this is my least favorite rule. I hate exercise. I don’t enjoy being uncomfortable and exercise rarely energizes me. But I still do a little bit almost every day. Earlier this year, Scientific American Mind released an article on physical activity’s effects on mental illness, specifically depression. As it turns out, more and more professionals are including exercise as a component of therapy programs.
Aerobic exercises, such as running, walking, jump-roping, dancing, etc., are generally considered the best form of movement for combating mental illness, but start where you can. I don’t enjoy jogging, so I do 20 minutes of yoga every morning.
This one may seem obvious.
“You have anxiety? Just relax!”
But that’s not the message I’m trying to send. All I’m suggesting is that you take 20 or 30 minutes every day to do something you enjoy or find calming. When I come home from school, I like to make myself a snack and watch a YouTube video. Most days — and I’m a wee bit ashamed to admit this — I also read fanfiction. These are small things, they only take a few minutes, but they can have a big impact.
Bonus: It’s okay to fall apart
Technically, this isn’t a part of my mother’s five-rule system, but I think it’s very important for people, especially those coping with mental illness, to remember.
Honestly, even when I do actually follow these five rules, things can go wrong. At least one day a week, I start crying at 9:00 p.m. because I have too much homework or my day didn’t go well, I did badly on a quiz and so on and so forth. I don’t like falling apart, but it’s much better than the alternative. We need to express our pain, we need an outlet. And if that outlet is collapsing under stress, then so be it.
So, ask yourself: did you do your 5 things today?