How Healthy Behaviors Support Mental Health
Although many mental health patients need therapy or medications to feel better, healthy habits can also play a critical role in recovery. In some cases, new behavioral patterns can change a patient’s brain chemistry, making the recovery process easier.
Healthy behavior changes can target a person’s physical, emotional, or social health. Some examples of habits to improve mental health include:
- Getting proper exercise
- Eating nutritious foods
- Practicing good sleep hygiene
- Socializing with supportive friends and family
- Taking medications as prescribed
- Practicing mindfulness or meditation
- Talking about your emotions
Therapists often encourage patients to make some of these changes. Which habits clients focus on first depends on the person’s individual needs and lifestyle. It’s essential for patients to set realistic expectations for themselves. Change does not happen overnight. Instead, it is a process that takes plenty of work. Although changing habits for mental health can be difficult, it’s often well worth the considerable effort.
Stages of Behavior Change
The time it takes to make a behavior change can depend on the person’s mental state, the difficulty of the habit, and how long the unhealthy behaviors persisted before. Although the journey looks different for each person, patients can think of behavior changes taking place in six stages, based on the Transtheoretical Model:
- Precontemplation: Someone is oblivious to the problem or in denial
- Contemplation: The individual becomes aware of the issue and begins to consider making a change.
- Preparation: The person does research on making the change and may even start with small steps.
- Action: Someone starts making substantial steps toward the ultimate goal.
- Maintenance: The individual continues the new behavior after the initial rush.
- Relapse: The person slips back into their old habits. He or she may feel frustrated or guilty.
After relapses, people may make plans to get back on track. They should also identify what caused them to get off track and devise strategies for such triggers in the future.
Mental Disorders That Improve with Daily Healthy Habits
Patients with many types of mental disorders can benefit from making healthy lifestyle changes. Therapists recommend such adjustments when they think it will help and that the patient can handle it. For example, a counselor will not prescribe these changes the moment a patient says they are thinking of suicide. Instead, they will deal with the immediate threat and recommend healthy habits when the time is right.
- Below are just some of the disorders that behavior changes can help:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Eating disorders
- Low self-esteem
Many of these changes can help people with no mental illness at all. Creating healthy habits is a good idea for most people, so long as they do not make it an unhealthy obsession.
Types of Behavior Change You Can Start Today
It takes time and repetition to start a new habit, but people can take the essential first steps today. Over time, these small steps will add up to significant changes and amazing results. If you want to make behavior changes for your mental health, you can try some of these things today:
- Do just one thing that moves you toward your goal
- Commit to falling asleep at a reasonable hour
- Make one substitution at meal time that is healthy
- Call a supportive friend
- Go for a 30-minute walk
- Set alarms for your medications
- Journal about your emotions
- Finish a 10-minute guided meditation
Develop Healthy Sleep Habits to Increase Energy
Several mental health disorders cause patients to feel exhausted and suffer from low energy. Medications and therapy can help lift that feeling. However, patients can undermine the effects of these treatments with sleeping habits that further their exhaustion. Instead, practice these positive sleeping habits:
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends
- Plan for at least 7 hours of sleep each night
- Make your bedtime routine as relaxing as possible
- Create a calming sleeping environment
- Eat a healthy snack about 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime
- Only use your bedroom for sleeping, dressing, and sexual activity
You do not need to change all of these things at once. Small steps make a big difference.
Healthy Eating Habits Can Improve Mood & Focus
Not only can healthy eating improve energy, but it can also correct nutrient deficiencies that may contribute to mental illness. Changing one’s diet all at once can not only prove difficult, but it can also lead to significant setbacks. If you want to make this change, you can try one tip at a time, such as these:
- Replace one junk-food snack with fruit
- Switch one side at dinner with something nutritious
- Replace the sugar in your coffee with a replacement
- Join a support group
Extreme diet changes, such as fad diets, can create more harm than good. Be sure to talk to a medical professional before changing your diet.
Start a New Exercise Routine
Most people know that exercise is excellent for your physical health, but fewer people understand how much it can help your mental health. Just a few minutes of exercise can increase the flow of endorphins, which improves mood. If you are physically healthy enough to do exercise, try starting with these steps:
- Gentle yoga
- Walk for 30 minutes per day
- Play with children in your life
Pick something you enjoy. The more you enjoy the activity, the more likely you are to keep up with it. Most importantly, do not start a new exercise regimen without the approval of your doctor.
Get Help Changing Your Health Behaviors
It can be difficult to know how to start when you decide that you want to change your habits. OBH professionals can help. These mental health counselors can come to understand your current lifestyle, then make personalized recommendations for change. If something doesn’t work for you, let them know at the next session.
When you’re ready to develop healthy behavior changes, find an Orlando therapist near you.