Hand holding keys

The four key aspects to managing mental health

By X-51 | Miscellaneous Debris | 5 Jan 2020

So, here we are, back to it....

If you haven't yet, I would recommend reading my introduction post to get a feel for why I'm talking about this stuff, and why I feel somewhat qualified to talk about it.



In life you can never go backwards

but you can choose which direction is forwards



The four aspects

In my experience there are four keys to improving your mental health. No single one is a magical "cure" for your problems, but together they have helped me to regulate mood swings, rebuild motivation, and prevent most of the extreme lows that were once an everyday occurrence in my life.

I will say now that for many people with depression, anxiety, or a related mental illness that none of these will be easy. I still struggle with all of them to different levels, and depending on the person, the motivation and ability to work on each of these will be different.

But the important thing is to try. Trying without success will always be better than not trying at all.


Self Analysis

The first aspect is self analysis - the ability to look at yourself and your own actions then reflect and meditate on them. And by "meditate" I don't mean sitting cross-legged on the floor chanting while incense burns next to you (unless that works for you, then it is fine). I mean meditation in the broadest sense - taking time to think deeply about the cause and effect of your actions, while keeping your emotions out of the process if possible.

There are a quite few different ways in which you can do this. Some are as a reaction to a specific trigger or event, and others are more proactive, things that you do at a specific time or on a specific day. I will elaborate on them in future posts, giving you options that you can hopefully try out and see which work for you and which don't.



You've probably heard it before - that exercise is good for depression, anxiety, and some other mental illnesses.

And it IS true.

Endorphins and other chemicals created by your body as a result of exercise are great for your mental health. Endorphins are essentially a morphine-like substance created by your own body as a reaction to certain stimulus - exercise being one of them - and endorphins make you feel good. Other chemicals created during exercise can also help with regulating mood swings.

I will go into the exercise side of mental health more later, but it will probably be the aspect that I go into the least amount of detail on. I won't talk too much about specific exercises since what I do may not work for you. I will however go into more detail on some ways you can find and keep the motivation to exercise.



I use the word "diet" here simply to mean "everything you eat", not a diet as in the usually structured and sometimes stupid ways people try to lose weight by changing what they eat.

Diet is another way to trigger endorphin release in your body, but beyond endorphins your style of diet can greatly affect your mental health too.

A typical Western diet featuring many processed foods (probably what a lot of us will be used to, I had a typically Western diet myself until mid-2018) are at higher risk of mental illness, while those who eat a diet with less processed foods and more whole foods are at a lower risk of mental illness.

Certain foods can also trigger specific biochemical reactions in our bodies. Sugar-highs (and the resulting crashes afterward) are a commonly known one.

As with exercise, this is another topic where I will not delve into too many specifics since my diet won't work for everybody, and could still do with some improvements by my own standard. But I will go into some detail on how I have managed cravings for bad foods, and just some general guidelines for improving your diet. I will try to keep these guidelines generic so that intolerances such as dairy or gluten, or vegetarian and vegan choices are easily worked in - I will mention the types of things I eat, but why I eat them is much more important so you should always be able to find an alternative that can fit as needed.



How many of you have or know some kids? And how many of them have you seen get so beyond grumpy when they don't sleep well?

Well, we aren't much better when we grow up either. We simply get better at keeping the emotional outbursts in check for a while, or covering it up with things like caffeine.

Getting good quality and consistent sleep is important to your mental health because sleep (or the lack of sleep) affects your mood as well as affecting your body, and it can definitely have a greater effect on existing mental health problems.

I'm not going to dictate to you what time you should go to bed and what time you should wake up, because it depends on what works for you in your life, and as my life has changed my sleep patterns have changed too. But I can definitely give you advice on how to set yourself up for successful sleep patterns.


Tying it all together

Something important to be aware of here based on my experiences, and this applies to all four aspects: the ultimate goal you want to achieve is consistency.

Eating mostly well all of the time is better than eating perfectly only some of the time, and the rest of the time you eat anything and everything you can find. Similarly motivating yourself to do a little exercise all of the time is better than doing an hour at the gym only rarely.

Consistency is the key to building habits, and building habits is the key to changing yourself for the better.


Also as I said earlier, none of these aspects will be a cure-all for your problems, it takes time and effort to make these truly work for you. For some the effort may be too overwhelming for even simple improvements, but you won't know if you never try. That first step - trying - is the most important step you will take, and even if it doesn't work the first time, don't stop trying.



Coming soon to Small Steps

I will start breaking down each of the four aspects into smaller, more specific concepts. I will probably jump backwards and forwards between each of those paths, which will help keep me fresh and will give you something to work with across each aspect.

I'm also planning a post on defining our perceptions of success and failure (most people get it wrong), along with some reviews of specific books I have found helpful along the way (there aren't many so that will be a short detour, until I read some more).

I also have a few other unrelated topics to talk about sometime soon, which I will be channeling into a different blog on PublishOx so I keep Small Steps on topic.



Until next time, keep on going folks.

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Software developer, musician, photographer, traveler, crypto enthusiast

Miscellaneous Debris
Miscellaneous Debris

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