Most of us would like to feel better. We would like to have more energy and have a better mood. We would like to feel calmer and be able to concentrate better. While as a psychiatrist I focus on the mind, paying attention to your body can help you feel better. Often it can help you feel a lot better.
While it is easy to generate a list of things that will help you to be healthier; getting yourself to do them is hard. Many people with serious mental illness also have serious medical problems. Many people are overweight, do not exercise enough, and smoke. Some medications increase the risk of medical problems including obesity and diabetes. Many people with serious mental illness are poor, which adds an entire layer of health risk. And as a result, people with major mental illness dies 25 years younger than the rest of the population.
On the other hand, you can get healthier, you can take better care of yourself, and you can feel better.
Exercise: Anything that gets your heart rate up for 30 minutes at a time, three or four times a week will help you feel better both emotionally and physically. You can take a walk, ride a bike, follow a Pilates routine on a DVD or dance, as long as you keep it up for 30 minutes and doing it regularly. Keep a calendar of which days you exercise so you can keep track and try to get better at exercising more regularly. Find a friend to exercise with.
Diet: If we eat the right amount of the right stuff we will feel better. This does not mean giving up all chocolates or all dessert. It does mean thinking about what you eat. If you are eating frozen dinners, you can find some that are healthier with less fat and fewer calories. If you eat in fast food restaurants you can skip the “super size” and pick out a lower calorie option. If you cook, you can learn to make foods that are healthier. This does not have to take longer or cost more, but it does require some thought.
Sleep: Regular sleep helps. If possible, sleep in a dark, quiet room. Get in the habit of allowing yourself the time to get enough sleep. Some people already sleep enough or even too much, but for those people who do not sleep enough, this can really help.
Regular physician checkups: Many people with mental illness avoid going to the doctor, either because of insurance or embarrassment or just because they do not like seeing doctors. A regular checkup is important for all of us, but especially if you are taking psychiatric medication that can increase your cholesterol or increase your risk of diabetes.
Stop Smoking: Smoking is bad for your lungs and your heart, makes all other illness worse, and is expensive. It is also very hard to quit smoking. Join a local stop smoking group, use nicotine patches or nicotine inhalers, ask your doctor if there are medications that might help you to quit. Think of all of the things you would like to do with the money you would save. Try to find a friend to quit with.