Healthy habits won’t “cure” mental illnesses, but they sure help.
There’s an obvious role of a healthy lifestyle in your mental health. It’s unlikely that you’ll “cure” anxiety or depression with lifestyle changes alone. However, certain healthy habits can help improve your mental health and treat mental illness.
Think about it: Staying up late and having cocktails is likely to make you feel sluggish, tired, and grumpy the next morning. If you already have a mental illness, being in this less-than-ideal state could worsen your symptoms. On the other hand, healthy habits might help energize you and keep your mood up.
Healthy Habits to Manage a Mental Illness
Some healthy habits to help prevent, treat, or manage mental illnesses include:
- Getting enough sleep: When you don’t get enough sleep, you feel tired and irritable, have trouble focusing, and find it difficult to stick to other healthy habits.
- Connecting with others: Having a strong support system can have positive effects on both mood and physical health. Friends and family can help you feel less alone, and more supported, validated, and understood. Learn more about the health benefits of socializing here.
- Reducing stress: Things like meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and enjoyable hobbies can be helpful. Chronic stress can worsen both physical and mental health.
- Exercising regularly: Physical activity reduces stress, boosts mood, improves sleep, and increases energy.
- Limiting drugs and alcohol: Substance use can worsen mood and anxiety. It can also cause physical symptoms (like fatigue and nausea) that worsen mood. Of course, if substance use worsens, it can increase the risk of substance use disorder. Alcohol can also negatively interact with certain mental health medications.
- Eating healthy meals regularly: Diet doesn’t cure mental illness, but food can affect mood and energy levels. For example, skipping meals can lead to irritability and low energy, which can worsen symptoms of mental illness.
Mental Health Beyond Your Lifestyle
If you have symptoms of a mental illness, it’s important to talk to a doctor or a mental health professional. Starting treatment may reduce your symptoms and make it easier to stick to healthy habits. These treatments may include psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication, or a combination of both. Learn more about treatment for mental illnesses here.
Marc Lener, MD, is a psychiatrist and founder of the Singula Institute in New York City