May is an important time for the world of mental health. It’s the designated Mental Health Awareness Month, and people are often more open to talking about mental health issues during this time. It’s also a great opportunity to refocus yourself and put mental health at the forefront. With that in mind, we’re going to reiterate some tried-and-true lessons we’ve learned about self-care, especially as they pertain to teenagers.

These tips aren’t only useful in May, of course. They’re not only for adolescents, either – self-care is a lifelong endeavor. So if you’re a parent coming across this blog, don’t simply think this is advice for your kids. Tr  some of these hints out for yourself – mental health is an essential part of everyone’s life, not just teenagers’. With that said, onward! Here are some useful tips to balance your mental health through self-care with the needs of daily life.

Don’t Neglect the Mind, Body, OR the Soul

People toss around the term “holistic” a lot when it comes to discussing mental health and self-care. But what does it really mean? It’s more than just a buzzword – holism is the intersection of taking care of all parts of a person. That means addressing the mind (mental processes, thinking patterns, behaviors), the body (physical fitness, eating and nutrition, medical care), and the soul (relationships, emotions, spirituality). Virtually every therapist and clinician promotes a holistic approach to self-care for addressing mental health needs from depression to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, ARFID, and binge eating disorders.

Just like mental health conditions are often interrelated (NEDA points outthat more than half of people with eating disorders also have an anxiety disorder, for example), our bodies, minds, and spirituality are also interconnected. Holistic approaches to self-care address all of these. Here are some ways to promote self-care in each of these spheres:

Take Care of Your Body

It’s a fact – your brain can’t operate properly when your body is suffering. Taking care of your physical health is one of the keys to improving your mental health. Here’s what you can do to promote self-care for the body:

  1. Get enough sleep – This is true for everyone, but especially so for teenagers. Sleep allows you to heal, rejuvenate, and for adolescents, to grow. Everyone has experienced a foggy, irritable day after not getting enough sleep the night before – compounded, it can lead to depression and worsening of other mental health symptoms. According to NAMI, approximately 50% of insomnia cases are related to depression, anxiety, or psychological stress. To counteract this, try to not only get enough sleep but to regularize your sleeping patterns. GO to bed at the same time daily, stay away from caffeine and electronics after a certain time, and stick to the same routine.
  2. Eat well and eat intuitively – as eating disorder treatment specialists, we at Clementine are naturally big proponents of proper nutrition and eating for satiety and enjoyment. Just like sleeping, eating should be regular and routine. Make mealtimes occasions. It also can’t hurt to check in with a nutritionist – they’re a standard part of eating disorder treatment, but anyone can benefit from learning more about nutrition. Lastly, eat for enjoyment! Food is one of the great pleasures in life – it’s not all about calories and vitamins. Eat what you enjoy and enjoy what you eat.
  3. Get outside and get some movement in –Another area where pretty much every doctor and clinician agrees. Exposure to sunlight boosts mood and provides vitamin D, and regular exercise (even just taking a walk) helps just as much. Mindful movement can act as a form of meditation (see below) and help clear the mind as well as strengthen the body. Please note, as eating disorder treatment specialists, we often encounter cases of exercise addiction, or a compulsion to exercise. In these situations, definitely check with your therapists and doctors about how to manage your movement.

Take Care of Your Soul

So much of self-care is taking time out for yourself. Stressors have a way of piling up on us. Adults have their money worries, careers, and often childcare responsibilities. Teens have school, dealing with changing bodies, and uncertainty about the future. And everyone has self-doubt and relationship struggles. This is essential for your mental health to take care of the soul. Here are a few tips to help:

  1. Self-reflect daily – Stop the daily grind for a few minutes and do something that helps you process your life. For many, that takes the form of mindful mediation, which we teach at Clementine programs. But it doesn’t have to be so structured as that. As we mentioned, going out for a walk or a bike ride can be a form of meditation. Journaling is another great way to help process your day.
  2. Engage in self-expression – This is a lot like journaling, but it doesn’t have to be directly related to what happened to you that day or even in a coherent form like a journal entry. Make a drawing, write a poem, practice an instrument. Making art of any kind helps you process emotions and express yourself. Even listening to a favorite band or watching a classic, favorite movie can do the trick.
  3. Spend time with friends (and pets!) –Did you know interacting with others can help release dopamine and serotonin? Our brains are hard-wired to crave interaction and relationships. Hanging out with a friend or family member and doing something you enjoy, even if that’s just talking, helps you fulfill this basic human need. And don’t forget that if you have pets, they can help you improve your mood They are very attuned to your emotional state. Pay back their love with your own.

Take Care of Your Mind

Take advantage of the increased publicity and support available this May to engage in mental health improvement practices. Part of this is keeping your mind and thinking on the straight and narrow. There are many ways to do this, but all include some kind of self-assessment and exercises that keep your brain in top shape. Here are some examples:

  1. Ask for help if you need it –One of the things preventing mental health is a natural inclination to resist getting help. It’s hard to remember that therapy is a viable option when mental health troubles seem overwhelming. So, try to take advantage of the open discussions during May to ask for help if you’re struggling. Your parents are an important first choice, but if you’re not comfortable asking them right away, talk to a friend, a coach, or a counselor. In the same vein, be available to help others. Not only are you being a good friend, but it’s also thought that helping others is a way to boost self-esteem and mood.
  2. Stay away from social media – Social media presents an idealized version of people’s lives. Although it’s a good way to stay in contact with people, too much browsing of photoshopped images, less-than-real stories people want to tell, and accounts that have a vested interest in making you feel bad about yourself can trigger a variety of mental health difficulties. Limit yourself to a small amount daily, or keep your accounts private.
  3. Self-assess and stay non-judgmental – In clinical circles, therapies like CBT and DBT are used t change what’s called “flawed” thinking patterns. Remember, though, this is not a value judgment – no therapist thinks you are a bad person because you have a mental health disorder. They are instead tools to help you identify, objectively, thought patterns and behaviors that are affecting you negatively – and to change them. Take the time to self-assess, and let therapy help you achieve a happier, healthier life.

 

Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.