Mental health is just as important as your physical health, but many Americans fail to monitor, keep track of, or even remain aware of how they are doing mentally. At the same time, 46.6 million U.S. adults, or 18.9% of the adult population, struggles with a mental illness of some kind. Mental illness can range from mild to so severe that the individual cannot live or work but remains disruptive and life-changing no matter the severity. And, while many people struggle with chronic mental illness, most of us experience mental illnesses in ways that we can prevent and recover from with proper treatment.
With studies showing that 1 in 3 Americans will experience mental illness during their lifetime, it’s vitally important that we keep tabs on and track our mental health. This is even more true for individuals moving out of recovery after mental health treatment, because you will always be vulnerable to a relapse. Self-monitoring is promising for helping individuals to be more aware of mental health, how it impacts them, and even how they feel. As a result, actively tracking your mental health can be an important step in helping you to stay healthy, because you can reverse negative trends before they become problematic.
These 10 ways to track your mental health include information and tips on staying healthy and staying aware of how you’re doing.
Journaling is a powerful and easy way to keep track of your mental health over time, providing you’re honest and straightforward in the journal. Journaling can take many forms, ranging from documenting your entire day to simply rating your mood for the day. Many stores also sell bullet journals designed to track mental health, with slots for sleep, mood, self-care, triggers, exercise, and other factors for mental health.
Journaling to track your mental health should include:
Mood (total, high point, low point)
Comment about how you feel
How much you slept
Whether you met expectations for yourself and achieved your goals for the day
Whether you participated in self-care
Depending on your history of mental health, you may also want to add triggers or appearance of symptoms for a diagnosed mental illness to this list.
2) Using Apps
Apps can be used for journaling. They can also be used to create more complete pictures of your mental and physical health. For example, some apps will measure blood pressure, attempt to determine stress levels, and will help you track sleep, exercise, and mood over time. Smartphones including Apple and Android typically have health and mental health tracking tools built into the operating system and you can simply utilize these them without downloading anything else. Apps can take the place of paper journals, can add to journals with biometric data, and can, in some cases, directly share data to your physician or therapist.
There are also many apps available through marketplaces. Many apps attempt to focus on recovery and improvement with lessons, CBT, and other tools delivered alongside tracking. However, apps are not monitored or maintained by any health body. It’s important to discuss an app and its contents with a mental health professional before proceeding with it as a long-term measure. It’s also important to keep in mind that no app or online tool will replace therapy, because therapy requires evaluation and a personalized approach to assess and treat actual issues.
3) Taking Care of Your Physical Health
Your physical health can and does impact your mental health, and considerably so. Taking care of physical health with good nutrition, an average of 30 minutes of walking or other light to moderate exercise per day, and by getting enough sleep can greatly improve both your mood, emotional wellbeing, and your awareness of your moods. Over the long-term, this will help you to be aware of how you are feeling, and to separate when you are tired or drained from when you actually feel depressed or upset.
Mindfulness is increasingly popular as a mental health tool, because it asks practitioners to step out of daily routines of worry and engaging with negative emotions and to focus on the present. Studies show that people who consistently practice mindfulness are more aware of their emotions, more capable of emotional regulation, and more aware when they begin to struggle and have problems. Most people should start out taking an in-person mindfulness course. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBTR) is a good place to start and typically includes an 8-week course. You can, eventually, shift to a home practice, with apps like Headspace or similar.
5) Become “Mental Health Literate”
Mental health literacy, or your awareness of mental health, how mental health works, and its terminology, is defined as one of the largest obstacles to individuals seeking help. Studies show that many people simply don’t have the tools to recognize mental health disorders, aren’t aware of how or when to treat them, and aren’t aware of how symptoms interact and feed into each other. Becoming mental health literate means reading, taking workshops and classes, attending therapy, and taking time to actively learn about mental health and how it impacts people, what treatment options are available, and what long-term recovery looks like.
6) Improve Communication Skills
Emotional regulation, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, awareness of interpersonal relationships, and awareness of the emotional states of others are skills that can help you in managing and tracking your own wellbeing. If you’re aware of how communication with others is going, if you can view yourself and your interactions with others against their emotions, and if you can train yourself to be aware of emotions in communication, you can much more easily keep track of your mental state. Workshops and classes like Emotional Intelligence will deliver much of this, but many therapists offer specific communication building skills, family therapy, and relationship therapy to help you be more aware of yourself and others.
7) Engage in Complementary Therapy
Complementary therapies such as music therapy, yoga, equine therapy, etc., are often less about treating a mental disorder and more about giving you an outlet to share, create, and express emotions. These can be immensely helpful as maintenance therapy and to improve your awareness of your emotional state as a whole. While not everyone will have access to complementary therapies, they are especially helpful to individuals who have already gone through a behavioral therapy program and who want to ensure they continue following up.
8) Periodically Talk to Your Doctor
It’s important to schedule regularly talks with your doctor about your mental and physical health. In most cases, you can consider talking to your doctor on a yearly basis. If you have symptoms or feel that something is wrong, you and your doctor may decide to increase the frequency of talks or to move them to a mental health specialist.
It’s important to talk to your doctor about mental health, because mental health ties into sleep, nutrition, stress, and other physical problems. Your doctor can help you to rule out habits, nutritional deficiencies, and illnesses as a cause of unwanted emotions or behaviors, so that you can work to be as healthy as possible.
9) Periodically Visit a Therapist
Most people think of therapy as something you do when you have a problem. But medical science more frequently suggests therapy, including behavioral therapy, as a powerful preventative measure. Periodic visits to a therapist can help you to analyze behavior and emotions, to cope with trauma, and to build behaviors that contribute to a happy and healthy mindset. You don’t have to wait till something is broken to take steps to improve.
10) Take Time Out
Most of us are busy. We rarely take time to stop, think, and just be. That’s fair considering that modern life can be demanding and hectic. At the same time, it’s difficult to stay on top of how you feel and why if you never take time to take a break and just relax. Schedule time to do very little and to be alone with your thoughts and emotions. You can make this a walk, time spent alone washing the dishes, whatever you want. The important thing is that you take time to think, to be alone with yourself, and to understand where you’re at.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and the two tie in together. It’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling, so that when something does consistently go wrong, you can seek out treatment and help.
If you need any help, the Gooden Center is here to offer a personalized mental health treatment program designed around your physical and mental needs. We focus on offering individualized care, delivered by an experienced and empathetic mental health treatment team ready to guide you through recovery so you can get your life back.