Disclaimer: this advice is not meant to replace mental health treatment, medication, or therapy. For depression, serious mental illness, and more, you should definitely see a professional. AND try the things in this article.
Therapists might hate me for writing this. But here are eleven things you should do before seeing one of us. Each of them could take up a whole book – and there are plenty of good books out there. This is just the briefest of introductions. As a therapist myself, whenever I start to work with someone I examine all of these domains.
- Exercise: Exercise releases natural endorphins. They make you feel good. You probably know this already but it can be hard to motivate. It doesn’t have to be complicated – the New York Times has a free “Scientific 7-Minute Workout” which you can do at home, with no additional equipment.
- Drink Water: Yup, you’ve heard this too. Next time you’re feeling crappy try drinking a tall glass of water. Notice if your mood shifts at all. Make sure you are getting enough water every day.
- Eat Right: Greasy, heavy foods make you feel bad. Duh. Turns out we have neurotransmitters in our guts! A happy stomach can lead to a happy human. It makes sense – we are very literally made up of what we eat. Your body is exquisitely tuned to let you know when you’re not eating what you should be. Make sure your diet has plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in it.
- Get Outside: Nature is the great soother for many people. Take a walk somewhere with lots of trees, sky, or water.
- Be Of Service: The great wisdom traditions teach us that happiness lies in getting out of your own head. Find somewhere to volunteer – read to old people, walk a rescue dog, feed the homeless, whatever calls to you. Dedicate at least 2 hours a week to it.
- Get Mindful: Mindfulness is a great tool. Read more about in on my blog here.
- Get A Physical Exam: Yes, a physical. Explain any symptoms to your doctor. Get bloodwork. Find out if there is an underlying medical reason that you’re feeling the way you are.
- Learn Non-Violent Communication: This is a great system for improving your communication with others. It teaches you how to listen, and resolve conflict. It may feel artificial at first, but if you are having problems in your interpersonal relationships read this book and apply it to your life.
- Keep A Journal: A journal is simply a place for you to write down your thoughts and feelings. Getting it out of your head can be profoundly liberating. Commit to writing in it every day for a month. Find out if it helps. It’s not for anyone else to read. Note: many people find writing by hand (not on an electronic device) to be more rewarding.
- Turn Off Your Devices: In today’s hyper-wired age we are at the mercy of our smartphones, tablets and computers. And it makes us crazy. If yours is always on start by turning off your phone from 9pm-9am. Add in a whole screen-free Sunday. If you have a partner, keep phones out of the bedroom and see if it improves your relationship.
- Stop Drinking/Smoking: Here is where you’re going to start hating this advice – that’s why I put it at the end. But it needs to be said. Drinking, while social and fun, ends up making many people feel bad in the long run. So you drink again. The same applies to marijuana and nicotine. Once in a while, as a tool for celebration? Sure. But regular use might well be getting in the way of your long-term happiness.Take a break (at least a month). See how you feel. Find other ways to loosen up and have fun. If you’re having trouble stopping look in to AA, NA and other programs.
Of course, if you find it hard to motivate to do these things, and make the changes you want in your life then that is something to examine – perhaps with the help of a therapist. Additionally, some of these things can be used to mask underlying problems. Exercising whenever you feel bad is great, but it is only addressing the symptom (I feel bad) and not the cause or underlying dissatisfaction (because I’m unhappy in my relationship).
Choose one thing on this list and do it today. Try it for a month, and then add in another one. The results you see might just put me out of work.
XY Counseling specializes in working with men, couples and teens. Alexander Warnow, Licensed MFT # 92437, started XY Counseling because he saw a need for men to be supported by other men.
What a refreshing approach! Thank you for sharing this list with your patients and with those of us out here in cyber-space who embrace a more holistic approach to mental health!
Make sure your doctor tests you for low vitamin D and hypothyroid. As I learn what it means for me to have these I’m sure my Dad did too as he was always cold, had super dry skin, and was hungry more often than he ought to have been. Guys don’t get screened for this like women do.
Good advice! Back to the basics… So often the simple things are the most easily overlooked. There’s just no escaping that we have to take personal responsibility for our own happiness. You’re awesome~
This is wonderful advice! I would definitely choose a therapist who is as thoughtful and grounded as you are.