Start by learning as much as possible about the condition affecting you. It helps to educate the people around you too. The more you understand your symptoms, triggers, and early warning signs, the better prepared you will be to deal with them.
Keeping a positive outlook can be difficult at the best of times, let alone when living with or experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. However, maintaining a positive attitude plays an important role in recovery. It does this by allowing us to recognise everyone’s journey through life has its challenges and upsets. It encourages us to be proactive in finding the best health professional or service and in continuing with treatment. A positive attitude helps us to maintain hope that recovery is possible and sustainable and worth all the effort required.
Follow your treatment plan
Whether this be taking medications, having psychological therapy or following another approach. When you find a mental health professional whom you feel comfortable with, keep up regular contact and be open and honest about your needs and progress. Sticking with your treatment plan generally offers the best chances of sustained recovery.
Be familiar with early warning signs and triggers
An episode of mental illness is often preceded by signs that symptoms are developing. Learning to recognise these helps you to seek help earlier. If family or friends recognise a change in behaviour, take their concerns seriously and don’t dismiss them. People close to us often notice changes before we see them in ourselves. Ensure you make an appointment to see your doctor straight away.
While triggers for a return of symptoms can vary, some common ones include poor sleep or not getting enough sleep, loss or grief, conflict among other people, disappointment or criticism, other stressful events, alcohol and other drug use, not following through on your treatment plan (such as not taking prescribed medications) and other health problems or concerns. Sometimes there is no obvious trigger.
Develop a plan
When symptoms come up suddenly or you feel you need some extra help, it is useful to have a plan already in place. Your plan may be a formal agreement with your health care professional, or it may be an informal plan among your support network. Whichever you choose, your plan will outline what will happen if you or others notice warning signs and what each person should do. It might include:
- the early warning signs
- at what point you want outside help (for example, as soon as possible or when you can no longer manage symptoms on your own)
- where to access help or who to contact in an emergency
- treatments you have found most helpful
- contact information for your health professional, the nearest hospital emergency department, and for those you want notified.
Dealing with stress
Stress is an unpleasant and unwanted experience in day-to-day life that can contribute to the return of symptoms. To help reduce stress as much as possible, make time to relax and do things you enjoy doing (that are not harmful). Some helpful ways to relax can include going for a walk, listening to music, watching TV or a movie, having a bath, meditation, aromatherapy, getting a massage, reading, meeting people or being with a pet. You may need to experiment to find the relaxation methods that work best for you.
Try to deal with one thing at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed, and create a system that helps you mentally shelve all the other things demanding your attention. This can be as simple as writing everything down, prioritising what needs to be done first, then working through your list, paying full attention to each task as you go.
Our physical and mental health are bound together. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals, and avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine will help you better manage your mental health. The same goes for regular exercise and mind-body therapies such as meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi. When experiencing mental illness, regular physical health checks by your doctor can sometimes be overlooked and so make sure you book a long enough appointment for this to be done.
Maintaining a positive attitude plays an important role in recovery.
Having someone around you to encourage healthy habits, to help you stick to your treatment plan, and to keep a friendly eye on your health can be helpful. This can be anyone from a neighbour, friend, family member, or health professional. You may also find support groups beneficial. They provide a setting for you to meet and talk with others who have similar experiences and are also travelling on the road to wellness. The SANE Forums provide an online space where you can connect with others in this way.
Sometimes when we are unwell, our instinct is to withdraw rather than take part in things. However, social isolation can get in the way of recovery. It is important to try to maintain your support network, and even go out when you don’t feel like it. Quite often you find yourself enjoying the time more than you anticipated.
The road to wellness is a life long journey that is unique to each person. Finding the strategies that work best for you can be a process of trial and error. Hopefully some of these tips, and other materials on the SANE website, have given you a good starting point. You can also contact the SANE Help Centre for more ideas relating to your specific condition and situation.