Whether you are living through a traumatic event or suffer from ongoing mental health struggles, it can be hard to prioritize taking care of yourself when things feel dark. Unfortunately, this is usually the time our bodies need proper care the most, which can make the challenge of taking care of everything seem even more overwhelming.
Here are some strategies to help you support your nutrition and physical health while navigating your mental health:
Make Things Easy
The key to taking care of yourself when you are dealing with poor mental health is to make the healthy choices easier than the unhealthy choices. When we find ourselves in a low period, it can be easy to reach for junk food and comfort food, which typically end up making us feel worse and exacerbating the problem.
If the barrier to entry is low, you’re more likely to do it, so try to make taking care of yourself as easy as possible so that you don’t unwittingly make things harder on yourself.
If you can make it to the grocery store, stock up on simple, healthy options so you can easily feed yourself without having to think about it. Aim for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
Consider protein shakes and bars as a quick and easy way to make sure you are getting protein in if cooking feels like too much. Avoid excessive consumption of caffeine, sugary snacks, and processed foods, as they can exacerbate mood swings and energy crashes.
Consider having your groceries delivered so you can still enjoy fresh food, even if making it out of the house seems impossible.
Sometimes, simply deciding what to eat is a mental burden that feels like too much; instead of trying to force yourself to be a chef while you’re struggling, consider a meal service such as Factor, Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, or other services that will bring ingredients or fully cooked meals right to your door.
It can be difficult to remember in the moment, but studies show that a balanced, healthy diet is directly linked to better mental health. If you can stick with a healthy diet, you’ll find this rough time easier to navigate in the long run.
Dehydration can impact your mood and cognitive functions. Ensure you drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and maintain your overall health. Try to keep a water bottle with you so that you don’t have to force yourself to the kitchen every time you want a drink of water.
Another well-known study links improved mental states and exercise, so if you find that you can make it to your workouts - keep it up! Sometimes, that can feel like too much, though, and if you find that is true for you, then do what you can.
Get out for a walk, follow a yoga video on YouTube, go for a run, dance to your favorite song, do some body weight exercises on your living room floor, or simply jump up and down for a few seconds to get your blood moving.
Exercise releases endorphins, which can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, and you’ll find a little goes a long way with movement. If you can make yourself start moving in any way, you may find that it’s easier to keep going rather than stop.
And remember, some movement is always better than no movement!
Quality sleep is crucial for mental health. For many, sleep is one of the hardest things to balance when suffering from poor mental health - either sleeping too much or not enough. Establish a calming bedtime routine and ensure you get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Avoid screens before bed and create a comfortable sleeping environment.
Try journaling before bed to put your anxieties to rest or reading to give your brain something else to focus on as you wind down. Set a sleep timer on music or an audiobook if you need something to keep you distracted until you finally fall asleep.
If you struggle with not being able to get out of bed, try keeping your phone across the room or in another room. Move to a couch or chair so that you are still at rest, but you have left your bed. It can make the transition to going about your day a little easier and help you gain forward momentum without putting pressure on yourself.
Limit Substance Abuse
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption or recreational drug use, as they can worsen symptoms of poor mental health and interfere with medication effectiveness.
Remember Your Hygiene
Sometimes, even making it to the shower can be difficult when you're struggling. Don’t pressure yourself or beat yourself up if this feels like too much.
Take it step by step – try washing your face if showering feels overwhelming, brushing your teeth, or changing into fresh clothes.
If you can, simply stand under the warm water; don’t bother with soap or shampoo if it feels like too much.
If even that is difficult, try swishing with mouthwash or water to freshen your breath, using dry shampoo to make your hair feel fresh, and some deodorant to freshen your body. It can make a difference just feeling cleaner, even if you didn’t get to everything.
Remember, you’re not being lazy – you're struggling. There is nothing to be ashamed of, but you deserve hygiene and health even when you are struggling. Do what you can to give yourself that, and be kind to yourself as you work through this tough time.
Don't hesitate to reach out for professional help. Therapists, counselors, or support groups can offer valuable guidance and support in managing mental health challenges.
Additionally, confide in trusted friends or family members who can provide a listening ear and emotional support.
If you know you need accountability to keep your health prioritized, consider a nutrition coach or personal trainer. Mint Condition Fitness has holistic programs, and professional nutrition and fitness coaches who can help you prioritize your physical health while you sort out your mental health.
Be Kind to Yourself
Remember, it is not uncommon to experience poor mental health. Sometimes it is easy to tell what is causing it, and sometimes it is a more chronic condition that takes more work to balance.
Treat yourself with compassion and patience. Allow yourself time to heal, and don't be too hard on yourself during difficult times.
Remember, these tips are not a substitute for professional advice. If you're struggling with mental health issues, seek guidance from a qualified healthcare professional.
Stay strong, take care of yourself, and remember that you're not alone on this journey towards better health.