How to Take Care of Your Mental Health with a Holistic Approach
Is life starting to get you down?
Do you feel like you’re not your usual cheerful self these days?
You’re not alone.
The past couple of years have seen the entire world tipped on its head and everyone is just trying to cope as best as they can.
Now, more than ever, it’s super important to take care of your own mental health.
You might think “well, I don’t have a mental health illness, or I’m not clinically depressed, so why should I worry about my mental health?”
Anyone can suffer from a mental health issue from time to time.
If you’ve ever had periods of anxiety, depression, self-criticism, perfectionism, anger, overwhelm, stress, worry, and loneliness, chances are you could benefit from mental health self-care.
So, how do you look after your mental health?
It’s easier than you think.
Taking care of your mind and soul is just as important as taking care of your body. You can achieve this through a holistic approach to self-care and mental health.
What is a holistic approach to mental health?
Part of living a holistic lifestyle is treating your body and mind as a whole being, rather than as separate entities that don’t affect each other.
A holistic approach to mental health incorporates your body, mind, and soul to help you work through your psychological challenges.
Why does a holistic approach work?
Looking at your health as a whole person, and your response to your body, environment, circumstances, and life experiences, allows you to understand how all these elements in your life affect your mental wellbeing, rather than just treating stress or anxiety as generic conditions.
How to incorporate holistic healing into your life
Taking care of your own mental health can be a constant battle.
Life was challenging enough before 2020. Now, the global pandemic has affected all of us, in one way or another. Being isolated from friends and family, facing employment uncertainty and the ongoing pandemic fear crisis is taking its toll.
In fact, the United Nations has warned that Covid-19 may cause a global mental health crisis.
This is why it’s more important than ever to look after your mental wellbeing as part of your overall lifestyle.
You might not be at the stage where you need professional help, but you want to take care of your mental health on your own.
Or maybe you are getting help and want to incorporate your own self-care into your mental health plan.
Mental health care isn’t just about talking to a therapist. You need a holistic approach to your mental health!
Either way, you can benefit from my 11 holistic ways of looking after your mental health.
Switching to a holistic lifestyle helped me recover from a mental health disorder
My biggest struggle in life was mental health.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager, and my treatment mostly involved Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). I wanted to do everything I could to get over it. So, I purchased a Bipolar Disorder Workbook from Amazon, which was somewhat helpful.
When I recovered from bipolar disorder, I first felt like I solved a lifetime problem and wouldn’t have to struggle with mental health issues anymore.
Boy, was I wrong!
I really struggled with anxiety during my 4th year at university. Everything went online because of Covid and there were so many uncertainties about how things would go.
Like many people, these two years have been quite stressful for me. I’ve felt overwhelmed with uncertainty, worry, anxiety, anger, and self-criticism.
While I have been in recovery from bipolar disorder for a long time now, I’ve come to realize that taking care of my mental health is a lifelong commitment!
Rather than focusing on CBT, as I did in the past, I now incorporate the following 11 holistic ways to look after my mental health.
If I could go back to when I was 18 or 19, I’d take this approach to mental health self-care, and this is what I want to share with you now.
Are you ready to nurture your mind, as well as your body?
Let’s get started!
1. Eat foods that improve your gut health
Did you know that what you eat affects your mood?
Scientists call this the gut-brain connection, and it may contribute to anxiety (as well as digestive problems).
Basically, your digestive system is very sensitive to emotion. When you feel happy, sad, stressed or excited this can trigger symptoms in your gut.
This is why you can get stomach pains or nausea when you’re emotional, and not because you’ve eaten something bad.
On the flip side, sometimes you feel emotional BECAUSE you’ve eaten food that’s messing with your digestive system. Or stress can make your existing stomach pain feel even worse.
You don’t need to rely on expensive multivitamins or go on a strict diet to improve your gut health. You can help improve your mood by making a few simple changes to your everyday diet:
- Incorporate whole grains, nuts and more fruit and veggies into your meals.
- Increase your good bacteria with fermented foods.
- Eat foods rich in polyphenols (micronutrients) such as dark chocolate, red grapes even a glass of red wine, blueberries and green tea.
- Use spices in your cooking, for their immune boosting and bacteria fighting properties.
- Try to avoid artificial sweeteners. These mess with your gut microbiome, which is important for your overall health.
- Pay attention to processed foods and try to avoid harmful additives such as artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Diets rich in processed foods have been linked to chronic diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.
- Keep your teeth clean and get regular dental checkups to make sure you don’t have nasty bacteria build up in your mouth.
If you are interested in learning more about whole foods, check out my guide!
2. Nourish your mind by growing your own foods and taking care of plants
Got any plants at home?
How about fresh herbs in a pot, like rosemary or thyme?
Growing plants, particularly edible plants, in your home doesn’t just improve your dinner. It can contribute to happiness and improved mental health!
That’s right, studies have shown that caring for indoor plants can reduce stress by promoting comfortable, soothed, and natural feelings in young adults.
I grow herbs, kale, green onions, and some plants. It brings me joy and a sense of responsibility to take care of them and keep them healthy!
You don’t need a backyard or even a large apartment to grow your own edible garden. All you need is some plant pots, water, and some sunlight.
I used to live in an area that had very limited access to nature, so the plants I grew were just about the only green foliage I ever got to see. I was counting on them!
Even now, while I live somewhere with lots of trees and shrubs around my house, I still really enjoy growing plants and herbs.
3. Limit your caffeine intake
I’m a big coffee lover! Who isn’t?
In fact, I used to drink so much (8 cups of espresso per day!!!!) I felt like I was almost dying because I was so shaky and anxious.
After realizing this was terrible for my health, I dropped down to a couple of cups a day. But even this amount still occasionally made me feel anxious.
If you’re sensitive to caffeine like me, one cup of morning coffee may affect you more than you think.
Try reducing your caffeine intake down to an amount that doesn’t make you jittery or keep you up all night.
You can even try making half decaf and half caffeinated coffee at home. I’ve found a delicious organic decaf on Amazon, it tastes just like regular coffee!
Or, if decaffeinated coffee doesn’t appeal to you, try making this lovely lemon ginger tea at home to feel relaxed.
Find out how you are sensitive to caffeine here.
4. Pay attention to your sleeping habits
Do you get enough sleep?
Are you sleeping too much?
How long and how well you sleep has a massive effect on your mood.
If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, you can wake up tired and cranky. Your body isn’t resting enough to rejuvenate or heal from injury or illness. Lack of sleep even affects your memory.
Most of us could use a better night’s sleep, but maybe you don’t know how to?
If you’d like to create better sleeping habits, check out this guide.
5. Be physically active it’s good for your soul
Did you know that exercise is just as good for your mind as it is for your body?
Studies have shown that regular light exercise can reduce your risk of depression, anxiety, and even dementia.
Well, when you exercise, you’re reducing your stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. You’re also stimulating endorphins, chemicals in the brain, which are your body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
You don’t have to be a cardio junkie to benefit. Different exercise has different effects on your mental health.
Light cardio can be helpful for anxiety.
Or, for a way to improve your core strength and soothe your mind with a more gentle approach, try yoga.
I recently started doing Vinyasa yoga, which involves some strength and core movement.
Now I practice Vinyasa yoga for 20-30 minutes in the morning to feel energized and awake!
If starting a new exercise regime seems overwhelming, you can boost your physical activity by simply walking more.
Walk to work or the supermarket, if you live close by. Or get off public transport a couple of stops early and take the rest of your journey on foot.
You can even try walking to your nearest park and doing some gentle stretching. Getting outdoors and breathing fresh air will also help calm you and make you feel better!
6. Try guided meditation to be more aware of your emotions
Being conscious of your thoughts and feelings is an important part of holistic living because it helps you be more aware of your mental health.
Sometimes your mind likes to play tricks on you, or you just don’t trust your own feelings. Especially when you’re low in confidence or experiencing self-doubt.
Learn how to recognize the thoughts that build you up. Write these on a piece of paper and come back to them when you’re feeling down.
Meditation can help you become much more aware of your emotions.
While you meditate, you can begin detecting exactly what your feelings are and where they come from. Scientists call this strategy Name it to Tame it, where you can reduce stress by up to 50% by simply noticing and naming your emotional state.
Once you can recognize your emotion, you can think of what you can do about it. Maybe try guided meditation, take time off, or spend some time on self-care!
Not sure where to start?
Try these videos to use meditation to guide you through the following emotions:
Want to learn more about meditation?
I highly recommend this masterclass by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
7. Develop your self-confidence
Are you hard on yourself?
Like, unreasonably hard?
Do you look at the amazing things other people are doing and think “well I can’t do that, I’m not good enough”.
If you lack trust in your own qualities or abilities, you could use a self-confidence boost.
It’s not as daunting as you think it might be.
Building up your confidence can help you with stress, anxiety and help you perform better at work, college and improve your relationships with other people.
Here are a few simple ways to boost your confidence:
- Stop comparing yourself to others. There’s no point in being envious of someone else’s life. Everyone has their own problems and challenges, many we don’t even know about.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Make time for those who make you feel good about yourself.
- Be kind to yourself. If you have a setback or fail, it’s not a reflection of you as a person. We all fail from time to time. Practicing affirmations (positive statements that challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts) can help.
It’s okay to judge or feel critical of yourself. It happens.
If you feel like you’re being too critical of yourself, you could try practicing compassion meditation to recognize when you’re being too harsh. Once you understand your feelings, you can practice self-compassion.
8. Find positive ways to cope during tough times
Do you find it hard to cope when life is more down than up?
You’re not alone.
Getting through a rough period, when life just keeps throwing more obstacles in your way, can feel impossible.
Sometimes you might feel like you’re never going to get a break. While you know logically that this isn’t true, it can be really hard to keep your spirits high during a crisis.
The best thing you can do is to recognize and acknowledge that you’re going through a tough time and put a coping strategy in place.
It also helps to use a healthy outlet to process your emotions, such as exercise, getting creative, or unwinding with Netflix or a good book.
For more ideas on coping strategies, check out my guide on healthy coping mechanisms.
9. Immerse yourself in a hobby
Do you have a creative outlet to get out your frustrations or anxiety?
If not, think about getting one.
When you do an activity you enjoy, you feel more positive and happy.
Studies have shown that people who did leisure activities had lower blood pressure, total cortisol, waist circumference, and body mass index. And had perceptions of better physical function.
Not sure what to try?
I love cooking and DIY stuff. After 30-60 minutes of doing something creative, I feel calm, relaxed, rested, and rejuvenated.
If you’re struggling to think of a new hobby, you can start by taking some online classes with world-renowned experts. So far, I’ve taken gardening, cooking, better sleep, and meditation courses. It’s been a lot of fun!!
10. Stay connected
Do you get lonely?
While it’s easy to forget about your friends and family when you’re focused on work or study, isolation is not good for your mental health.
And if you’re feeling stressed or depressed, staying connected to your social networks and loved ones can improve your overall happiness. Connectivity can even help you navigate tough times.
I was chronically lonely in my early 20s and felt scared to say goodbye to people. Looking back, my mental health was terrible when I was extremely lonely.
Now I’ve moved to Vancouver, where everything is new, and things differ completely from Japan. Here, I still feel lonely from time to time.
My tips for easing loneliness:
- Practice guided meditation.
- Spend some time doing what you love. I found boredom is the worst enemy for loneliness.
- Connect with your friends. If they don’t live close by, reach out online. Being in the same space isn’t important, but feeling connected is.
- Try to make new friends via meetup.com or join local events. I signed up for a walking buddies ad I found in the town magazine.
- Get out and do stuff. You can acknowledge your feelings, but don’t dwell on them. By leaving your home to do an activity, like going for a walk, you’re physically moving forward. This helps elevate your mood and puts you in a better mindset.
Remember, it’s okay if your loneliness doesn’t completely go away.
Try to be compassionate with yourself and reach out for support when you need it. You can try looking online to read about other people’s experiences with loneliness or speak to a therapist or counselor.
11. Use affordable counseling when you need extra support
Mental health counseling doesn’t have to be expensive.
If you’re on a budget, you can benefit from support and guidance from a professional online therapist, rather than spend money on expensive psychology appointments.
I’ve been using a telehealth app called Wysa for a year now and I’m getting unlimited message counseling for around $100! (the price differed depending on where you live, in the US it’s $144 for 3 months)
Once you begin the holistic approach to looking after your mind, you’ll find it easier to manage your mental health.
Sure, there are days I feel like things are out of control. But having useful ways to treat my mind holistically helps me get back on track.
Remember, your mental health journey won’t always be flat.
You may have hills or steep mountains on the way. Or there may be days when you feel like there is a blue sky over your head.
Be gentle and compassionate with yourself 🙂