Self-Care in the Midst of Mental Illness

Last week, I wrote about exercise and mental health. Following up on that, I wanted to share some mental health tips that have been helpful for me!

  • Develop a bedtime routine and stop looking at screens before you go to sleep.

Insomnia really messes up my night and the following days. Often when I can’t sleep at night, I start thinking about all the things that are stressing me out and end up digging myself a hole of spiraling negative thoughts.

Staring at screens tends to be the biggest cause of my insomnia – if I’m on my phone right before trying to fall asleep, it wakes up my brain and then I lie awake for hours. Another thing that causes me not to sleep is if I have to get up earlier than normal the next morning; I get worried that I won’t wake up soon enough, and then I can’t sleep. The combination of both of these things has led to some rough nights.

Developing a bedtime routine has really helped, though. Mine looks like this: I stop looking at screens at least half an hour before I plan to go to bed. I set an alarm on my phone and plug it somewhere where I can’t reach it from my bed. Then I put on pajamas, get my lunch, outfit, and backpack ready for the next day, brush my teeth, wash my face, and read a book or journal before sleeping. Having things ready for the next day eliminates the stress of rushing around the next morning, while reading or journaling calms me. I also like to have a skincare routine that ends the day with a little bit of self-care.

  • Spend less time on social media.

Lots of screen time makes me feel icky and sets me on edge, especially if I’m spending minute after minute mindlessly scrolling. I feel especially terrible when I see something on social media that I got left out of or that I wish I could be part of. As it turns out, social media has been proven to have a negative effect on mental health. I try to limit myself to half an hour per day on social media – less than that if I can swing it. It’s even better to exchange time spent on social media for time spent doing things such as making art, reading, or being with friends. These things make me feel present and alive and save me from FOMO or comparison.

  • Eat whole foods and limit processed snacks.
A heart-shaped bowl on a pastel blue background holds some strawberries and blueberries.
Berries make a yummy, wholesome snack! (Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash)

Diet has also been shown to have an effect on mental health.

Although sugary snacks are probably my greatest weakness, I just feel better when I eat more whole foods instead! I like making fun snacks with combinations of different healthy foods – unflavoured yogurt and berries (offers protein, antioxidants, and calcium), sliced apples or celery with a little bit of peanut butter, walnuts and raisins, or a plain banana (full of potassium!) are some of my go-tos. Choose fruits and veggies or foods with whole grains (some cereals, brown rice, oatmeal), or essential fats (almonds, eggs, olive oil, avocados). It’s also good to eat foods high in protein (tuna, peanut butter, cheese, chickpeas) which will make you feel full for longer. On that note, drink plenty of water rather than sugary drinks!

I learned how to care for myself after a lot of trial and error, and these are the things that I’ve found helpful. Not caring for myself often makes symptoms of mental illness worse. Little tips like these haven’t solved all my mental health issues, but they have made me feel overall healthier. I hope they help you, too!

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