It’s no secret that mental health and addiction are growing problems in the United States. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 46.6 million or approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in any given year. Addiction is a similarly widespread issue. The results of the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 21.5 million American adults reported a substance use disorder in the previous year. 

With so many people struggling, it may seem like these behavioral challenges are an inevitable reality. However, there are simple, impactful steps you can take to help manage or prevent them from taking root in your own life.  For many, the best way to bolster yourself against mental health challenges is to practice self-care.

The Importance of Self-Care

Preventing and treating mental illness and addiction starts with you. How do you prioritize and attend to your physical and emotional needs? The old adage is true — fill your own cup first. Before you can take measures to support others, you have to take care of yourself.

Self-care is an essential part of maintaining your overall health and well-being. Self-care doesn’t always come naturally to most people, but everyone is capable of learning self-care. It can be practiced, taught and improved. Every day is another opportunity to take small but crucial steps to protect your mental and overall health. 

Self-care involves two key components: mental and physical health.

Mental Self-Care

Over time, the troubling thoughts, feelings and emotions that everyone experiences can spiral into addiction or mental health problems if left unattended or ignored. By taking the time to understand your needs and process your personal experiences, you can learn how to take care of yourself, find acceptance, and make time for the people and activities you love.

  • Take time alone. In a fast-paced, competitive world, it can be difficult to take time away from friends and family members. But finding time for quiet, calm reflection is essential to mental health. Even if it’s only for a few hours a week, carve out time in your schedule for solitude.
  • Spend time with people you love. Close social ties with family and friends can make you feel loved, cared for and supported. Because of this, spending time with loved ones is an essential part of maintaining mental health. Every day, make sure you have at least one interaction with someone you love. Whether it’s a telephone call, coffee date or short visit, this small effort can go a long way.
  • Practice gratitude. It can be easy to let negative thoughts dominate your headspace, or forget about all the things in life that you have to be grateful for. But by setting aside just a few minutes a day to reflect on what you have, you can put your struggles back into perspective, improve your mood and even sleep better. Making a list or keeping a gratitude journal is another way to practice gratitude and gives you something to refer to when you’re having a hard time thinking thankful thoughts.
  • Find hobbies you enjoy. Part of understanding yourself includes knowing what you like doing. If you already have hobbies you enjoy, make time for them. If you don’t, explore what interests you. Whether it’s painting landscapes, reading historical fiction or practicing taekwondo, activities that you find fulfilling can enrich your life.
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs to cope. While these may seem like a tempting way to relieve stress and blow off steam, they actually worsen it in the long term. Instead of turning to drugs and alcohol for comfort, practice better coping skills to comfort yourself in difficult times, like talking to a close friend, writing in a journal or watching your favorite movie.

Just remember, scrolling through social media is usually not ideal self-care. If you’re having trouble finding time for self-care, try devoting some of the time you’re normally on your phone instead. 

Physical Self-Care

When it comes to your overall well-being, physical health is just as important as mental health. It’s significantly easier to maintain an even keel when you take care of your body (and incidentally, your mind) by practicing physical self-care habits.

  • Exercise regularly. Regular exercise produces stress-relieving hormones that improve your mood and boosts your well-being. Whether it’s going for a walk, joining a yoga class or following exercise videos online, a consistent exercise routine is crucial to overall health.
  • Eat well. The foods you eat are fuel for your body and mind. Sticking to a diet with lots of vegetables, fresh fruits and whole grains can stabilize your energy and mood, and even lower your risk for several chronic diseases.
  • Get adequate sleep. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night to function at their best. Sleep hygiene practices — like limiting daytime naps to 30 minutes and avoiding caffeine close to bedtime — can help prepare your body for deeper, more restful sleep.

Whatever your approach, finding balance is key to reaping the benefits of physical self-care. Practice moderation to avoid committing too much energy to a particular habit.

Knowing When to Ask for Help

While self-care may be able to lower your risk of struggling with mental health or substance use disorders, it is not a clear-cut or perfect antidote to these conditions. Many external factors, like genetics, family history and trauma, have a large influence on the development of these conditions. However, what self-care can do is allow you to know yourself well enough to realize when you have a problem, and seek help when you need it.

If you struggle with addiction or a mental health disorder, know that help and healing are closer than you think. With locations across the country, The Recovery Village provides quality addiction and co-occurring disorder care to clients of all ages. Reach out to one of our caring intake coordinators today for more information.