Now that you’ve made the decision to begin your journey to recovery, below are some tools to aid you in the process. Identifying tools and developing plans will help you be more prepared and empowered to take action when it comes to your recovery. Here are healthy steps to take:
Working Toward Goals
People in recovery offer the following suggestions:
- Focus on your strengths.
- Focus on solving problems.
- Focus on the future instead of reviewing hurts from the past.
- Focus on your life instead of your illness.
As you work on your recovery, you might want to write down some of your main goals. These goals can be short-term and easily achievable, or you can start identifying bigger, more long-term goals that you want to work your way towards. It’s helpful to think of small steps to take toward them over a certain amount of time, like a week or a month. Remember to congratulate yourself for any successes. Achieving goals – even small ones – is a sign of hope and accomplishment.
Developing goals for recovery can be tricky, especially if you aren’t sure what it is that you want to accomplish. Consider your interests, things that bring you joy and things that keep you motivated. Also, think about the things you want, like where you want your life to go or what you would do more of if you could. Having a deep investment in the goals that you set will increase the chances of completing them.
Once you have set goals for yourself, you need to figure out what things are necessary to accomplish those goals. Be clear about why you set this goal and how your life will be different once this goal is achieved. You should also consider the strengths and skills that you possess that will help you achieve your goal. Try to involve necessary support systems and resources that can help you through the process if and when you need it. Finally, remember to stay focused on the goal and not on the difficulties you might be having. Keep an open mind, and know that you may hit barriers along the way. Recovery is no easy task, and focusing on the negative experiences will only make things harder.
Create a journal or scrapbook with pictures and clippings to help maintain your goals. Keeping a journal or scrapbook is a good way to track your goals and remind you of the things you’ve accomplished and the things you still plan to accomplish. Continue to add new goals as they come up. Recovery is a constant process and continuing to set goals for yourself will keep you motivated to reach and maintain wellness.
Care for Yourself
Taking good care of yourself is paramount to the success of your recovery process. People in recovery find that their physical, spiritual, and emotional health are all connected, and that supporting one supports the others. Taking care of all aspects of you will increase the likelihood that you stay well.
To help support you in your recovery, you can access a three-minute screening tool and progress monitor for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD.
Some tips for self-care include:
- Live Healthy, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid drugs and alcohol. Manage stress and go for regular medical check-ups.
- Practice good hygiene. Good hygiene is important for social, medical, and psychological reasons in that it not only reduces the risk of illness, but it also improves the way others view you and how you view yourself.
- See friends to build your sense of belonging. Consider joining a support group to make new friends.
- Try to do something you enjoy every day. That might mean dancing, watching a favorite TV show, working in the garden, painting or reading.
- Find ways to relax, like meditation, yoga, getting a massage, taking a bath or walking in the woods.
Strengthen Your Connections
The importance of incorporating joy, spirit, and relaxation in your life has many implications in developing resiliency (the ability to recover from an illness) and staying healthy. The four C’s to joy, spirit, and relaxation are: connect with yourself, connect with others, connect to your community, and create joy and satisfaction. As you use these four C’s remember to continue trying to push your comfort levels and do things you may not have done before.
Connect With Yourself
It is important that you check in with yourself periodically. If you do not then you may not realize that things are changing or getting out of control. Checking in with yourself allows you the opportunity to evaluate where you are in your recovery. You may find that you need to readjust what step of your action plan you are on or try different coping tools.
If you have had low times in the past you understand how hard it can be to get out of those places. Learning all that you can about your mental health condition will help let you know that your hard times are not your fault. Making a list of accomplishments that you have achieved is a good resource to turn back to when you are feeling low.
Another tool that may help you is to journal about your experiences. Keeping a journal is a great way to learn about yourself. Being completely honest in your journal is important; in your journal, you should feel free to let your guard down. This will help you discover how you really feel and vent your stress in a non-threatening manner.
Another method of connecting with yourself is to become an advocate and share your story. There has been a lot of research that explores the power of storytelling as a form of therapy. Sharing your own experiences through writing or talking is an important stage of recovery. Just as you are supported by reading the thoughts and experiences of others you can also be the person that helps lift another.
Connect With Others
Spending time with positive, loving people you care about and trust can ease stress, help your mood and improve the way you feel overall. They may be family members, close friends, members of a support group or a peer counselor at the local drop-in center. Many communities even have warmlines (free hotlines run by people with mental health conditions) that you can call to talk to someone and receive peer support.
Research points to the benefits of social connection:
- Increased happiness. In one compelling study, a key difference between very happy people and less happy people was good relationships.
- Better health. Loneliness was associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure in a recent study of older people.
- A longer life. People with strong social and community ties were two or three times less likely to die during a 9-year study.
Connection happens when you get:
- Concrete help, such as having a friend pick your kids up from school;
- Emotional support, like hearing someone say, “I’m really sorry you’re having such a tough time”;
- Perspective, like being reminded that even the moodiest teenagers grow up;
- Advice, such as a suggestion to plan a weekly date with your spouse;
- Validation, like learning that other folks love reading train schedules too.
Do you have enough support? Ask yourself if you have at least a few friends or family members who:
- You feel comfortable to be with;
- Give you a sense that you could tell them anything;
- Can help you solve problems;
- Make you feel valued;
- Take your concerns seriously.
Connect to Your Community
A great way to feel emotionally strong and resilient in times of stress is to feel connected to a broad community. Think about the things you like to do. You can expand your social network by looking into a community organization that brings people together who share the same interests. For instance, many communities have local biking, hiking, or walking groups. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do like learn a new language? Take a class, or join a local group. You also may find the support you need through local support groups for a specific issue like parenting, dealing with a health problem, or caring for a loved one who’s ill.
Or consider volunteering with a community organization that helps fill a need. Here are some tips to make sure your volunteer experience works for you, and does not become an additional source of stress:
- Get the right match. Think about what kind of work you like to do, based on your interests, skills and availability. Consider making this a list for easier readability. Do you like to read, write, build things, repair things, or sort and organize? Do you have a special field of knowledge that you could teach to struggling students as a tutor or coach? Are you especially concerned about homelessness or pollution? Do you love to garden or work in an office? Do you speak another language? Do you need to be at home, and bring your volunteer work home with you? Whatever your situation and your interests, there is probably a volunteer opportunity to make a great contribution in your community. Volunteering will help you build strong connections with others – a proven way to protect your mental health.
- Make it count. You want your volunteer time to make a difference, so ask questions to make sure the organization uses volunteers efficiently and productively. Ask what volunteers do, where and when they do it, and whether an employee is available with information and guidance when needed.
- Find a connection. To find a volunteer position that’s right for you, contact your volunteer center. Your local Mental Health America affiliate office also may be looking for volunteers. You can also contact your city or county information line to ask for a referral to a volunteer coordinator service in your area.
Create Joy and Satisfaction
Living with a mental health condition can be taxing emotionally, physically, and mentally. Experts have found that good feelings can boost your ability to deal with stress, solve problems, think flexibly, and even fight disease. Taking care of your body emotionally, physically, and mentally through creating joy and satisfaction is an important part of living with or without a mental health condition.
Studies show that:
- Laughing decreases pain, may help your heart and lungs, promotes muscle relaxation, and can reduce anxiety.
- Positive emotions can decrease stress hormones and build emotional strength.
- Leisure activities offer a distraction from problems, a sense of competence and many other benefits. For example, in one study observing twins, the one who participated in leisure activities was less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia than their fellow twin.
Some tips to enjoy life and relax:
- Do something you loved to do as a kid. Run through the sprinklers, hang from the monkey bars, or make a mess with finger paints.
- Do something you’ve always wanted to do. Bake a soufflé, build a tree house, or learn to knit. If you’re not sure how, take a class or look for a local group dedicated to the activity.
- Watch or listen to comedy. Via video, podcast, or website. Or get a laugh the old-fashioned way – through the comics section.
- Therapeutic massage. A massage can relieve muscle tension, stimulate the body’s natural painkillers and boost your immune system. It can also help you feel less anxious and more relaxed.
- A nature break. A blue sky, lush bushes, a scenic lake. Walking in – or even just looking at – nature calms our nerves and relieves mental fatigue. In one study, workers with views of nature were happier with their jobs than workers with similar jobs but no nature view.
Research shows that meditation offers not only calm, but also helps with anxiety and depression, cancer, chronic pain, asthma, heart disease and high blood pressure.
To get started, all you need is a few minutes each day. Later you may want to work up to 10, 20, or 30 minutes. You can find one of many meditation options in a book or CD, online, or in a class. Or you can try some suggestions below. If one doesn’t work, stay calm…and try another.
Types of Meditation:
- Deep breathing. Sit or lie down comfortably. Rest your hands on your stomach. Slowly count to four while inhaling through your nose. Feel your stomach rise. Hold your breath for a second. Slowly count to four while you exhale, preferably through pursed lips to control the breath. Your stomach will fall slowly. Repeat a few times.
- Mindfulness Meditation. Focus on your breath. Notice anything that passes through your awareness without judgment. If your mind starts to tackle your to-do list, just return to focusing on your breath.
- Visualization. Close your eyes, relax and imagine a peaceful place, like a forest. Engage all your senses: Hear the crunching leaves, smell the damp soil, feel the breeze.
- Repeating a mantra. Sit quietly and pick any meaningful or soothing word, phrase, or sound. You can repeat the mantra aloud or silently. Experts say the repetition creates a physical relaxation response.
- Participate in a meditative form of exercise. Try tai chi or qi gong, which use soothing, flowing motions.