As a middle-aged man and Army combat veteran, some of the resources I share on this list have been hard for me to accept/implement. In saying that, the resources that were hardest for me to integrate into my mental health tool-kit have been the most helpful to prevent emotional free-fall and preserve my sanity.
Over the course of the last 20 years, I’ve tried a lot of different resources to help me cope and manage my mental health. I was first diagnosed with combat related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar 1 disorder in 2004, so I consider myself a veteran in living with and managing mental illness.
In an effort to do my part in helping others better cope with and manage their mental illness, here’s a list of the 10 best mental health resources I’ve discovered over the years.
1. Acceptance (As Needed)
This isn’t as obvious as it may appear at first glance. Acceptance is usually viewed as a “check-the-box” event at or around the time we first receive our diagnosis. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Acceptance is a process/journey that requires self awareness and maintenance. Acceptance is necessary any time we start blowing through caution lights and turning a blind eye to the emotional/psychological cues that have a negative impact on our mental health.
Why acceptance? Because without acceptance there is no understanding and without understanding we will remain naive and ignorant to the various ways our mental illness affects us and everyone around us.
Let’s be clear, acceptance doesn’t mean laying down, giving up, or giving in to our mental illness. Acceptance is the first step of self-empowerment in coping with and combating our mental illness to acheive/maintain mental health.
Acceptance breeds understanding; understanding breeds solutions.
As a man and Army combat veteran, I struggled with the idea of journaling my thoughts and feelings. It just seemed… too “soft” and “fluffy” for me.
It had been recommended to me many times over the years, but I didn’t open up to the practice until I felt like I had exhausted all my other resources, so I relented and gave it a shot.
Since doing so, journaling has been an extremely positive and therapeutic outlet for me. I’ve wished I would have started it sooner.
One of the most compelling reasons to begin journaling is because it is a form of energy transference. Energy transference is when we take how we think and feel and we convert it into another medium/outlet (writing).
This form of energy transference comes with a plethora of positive benefits. To explore some of those benefits in greater detail, Check This Out!
When done effectively, it’s possible for us to modify an emotional imprint and “re-write” the past using such techniques.
Breathing, what we take in, and what we expel is fundamental to life. Even in a moment of crisis, breathing techniques can help us hijack our nervous system and regain emotional/psychological equilibrium.
Breathing is the “ground-zero” of our existence. It serves as an intermediary between our conscious and sub-conscious minds. When we close our eyes and turn our awareness/focus to our breathing, we’re distrupting environmental stimuli and turning inward.
Many times, just this shift in focus softens the blow of whatever it was that was triggering us. Once we’ve made a conscious effort to hack our awareness, we can then work on using our breathing to induce a postive chemical response in our brains (dopamine bump).
I just induced a dopamine bump from the comfort of my office chair by closing my eyes, taking in and exhaling 3 deep breathes in quick succession, and then leaning my head/body back, with my arms extended out in a receiving posture (be advised, you may become light-headed).
Sometimes, I verbally accent my breathing with what I want to take in and what I want to release. Depending on how emotionally triggered you are when doing it, the more effective it is when you get more than one of your 5 senses involved. Experiment and integrate what works best for you.
Mediation is another technique/resource I struggled with implementing, at first. With time, it has become easier to do and I’ve found what type of meditation works best for me. The benefits far outweigh the challenges.
When I meditate, I get in a comfortable postion, close my eyes, focus on breathing deep breaths for the first couple of minutes, and when I feel the positive release of dopamine, I focus on how good that feeling feels and relax into it.
When the feeling fades, I take 3 deep/rapid breaths in succession while extending my arms and leaning my head back in a receiving posture. This usually does the trick and rewards me with a fresh dopamine release.
Some people play brainwave music softly in the background. Some burn candles or incense. Others do guided meditations. Some people do a combination of all these things when meditating. The key is exploring and experimenting until you find what works for you.
As our lives become more and more consumed with technology, the more effective nature becomes in helping us maintain mental health. Just 10 minutes outside provides enough natural vitamin D to postively impact your physiology. Combine nature with resource 3 and 4… Game. Changer!
If you’re having a stressful morning at work, just take a walk out to your car and get some fresh/breath on your lunch break. It doesn’t take much to hack your physiology and replace cortisol with dopamine.
The key is to understand that life isn’t happening to us; life is happning THROUGH us.
At any moment, we can change our environment, interpret circumstances differently, shift our awareness/focus from a problem to solutions. If where we are and who we’re surrounded by is the trigger, maybe it’s time to step outside?
Often, a change of environmnet is all it takes to create more desirable outcomes. Get some fresh air, let your bare feet touch some earth, and listen to natures symphony.
When it comes to exercise, the positive benefits it has on our fitness/mental health far outweigh the challenges. It doesn’t take much. Just 15-30 minutes of aerobic or cardiovascular exercise 3x per week will do the trick. In starting, remind yourself that the hardest part (80% of the battle) is showing up.
If 15-30 minutes 3x a week proves too ambitious for you, just do an exercise that elevates your heart rate as needed. Instead of ruminating over what is stressing you, walk up and down a flight of stairs a couple of times, do 25 jumping jacks, dance to your favorite song, or walk the dog.
The key is to receive the dopamine release you experience when you complete a task or feel accomplished. In taking on any amount/form of exercise, remind yourself that you’re after that positive chemical release. That often helps you push through the minutiae and receive the prize.
Exercise is also healthy distraction from what ever it is that’s ailing you. Exercising may not fully solve whatever it is that you’re facing, but it can help you come back at it in a healthier/clearer headspace.
Most people would have said Diet here. There’s a big reason I didn’t. Dieting is a loaded term for most people, so I’ve chosen to brake nutrition related solutions up into smaller, easier to manage tasks.
That gray matter sitting between our ears is 73% water. Adequate hydration and brain function go hand and head. Each day, my goal is to consume at least 64 ounces of water.
Upon waking up, I have a 16 ounce bottle of water. Some time after (usually after a bathroom break), I refill that bottle with water and add a flavored b-vitamin mix to it. In the afternoon. I refill it again and add Emergency (for C and D vitamins) and more flavored b-vitamins to it.
In the evening, I refill that bottle with water one last time (with no additives). That final bottle brings me to my required daily water intake. Staying hydrated also helps me to not feel like I need to over-eat. Win, win!
8. Healthy Fats
Not only are our brains over 70% water, but 60% of our brains solid weight is fat. Since fat makes up a significant portion of our brains structure, there are specific fatty acids that our brain craves/needs.
In fact, the essential fatty acid DHA makes up a quarter of all our brain fat, and it’s our brain’s preferred fat for building membranes.
Without boring you too much with the science behind this, I will point you to this resource that is far better at explaining why this is so. After DHA, another fatty acid EPA, plays a more significant role in helping support mood and promote emotional balance.
If you’re not a fish eater, Omega 3’s (fish oil) are a great form of supplementation. But, keep these considerations in mind when deciding which ones to get.
I encourage you to consider these products.
Outside of providing our brains with the nutrients it needs to function properly, we also need to pay close mind to the mental diet we feed our brains. The term I use as a catch-all for our mental diet and what it’s made up of is innertainment.
This isn’t merely semantic. Entertainment is the popular media we give access to our mind and consume. Innertainment is when we are more careful about what we let ENTER(tain) our minds.
Our eyes and ears are like gateways to our soul (heart and mind), we should hire trustworthy watchmen to gaurd the gates of our minds. Innertainment is when we make healthier choices about what media we watch and listen to.
If we’re feeling down, we don’t reinforce how we’re feeling with music that matches our energy. We use music as a tool to influence the way we’re feeling. If we’re manic, we watch something light-hearted and funny instead of that documentary that will tie our minds up in knots right before bed.
10. Accept Help
Here at our final step, we’ve come full circle. We started our journey with Acceptance. The brand of acceptance that leads to greater understanding and self-awareness. In accepting help, we focus on forming a support network that can help us remain self aware.
Let’s face it, sometimes we don’t have the best vantage point to know what may be going on with us. Sometimes other people, preferably those closest to us, are able to pick up on cues and see things that we may miss. Having a second head and pair of eyes to help us maintain our mental health is crucial.
A relative, sibling, parent, spouse, teacher, counselor, co-worker, therapist, support animal, or hotline is better than trying to white knuckle it alone.
As someone who has been suicidal multiple times, homicidal/5150, and institutionalized once… complete strangers have surprised the hell out of me. More than once, complete strangers have been there for me when all else failed and I had given up on myself.
Don’t underestimate the power of prayer/God neither. Use whatever resources you need to get through to your breakthrough.
Let me know in the comments below what resources have helped you the most. If you’d like to receive more great content like this, subscribe/follow below to receive content directly to your inbox.
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