There are many factors that influence mental health, but lifestyle factors such as sleep and exercise are often overlooked. Sometimes lifestyle factors can be a quick or short term fix to help with symptoms while working through a lengthier intervention, or could be just what a young person needs for symptom relief. Being tired, hungry, or in pain can make the stress of anything else feel so much worse.
Lifestyle and Mental Health
Here are some lifestyle factors to consider:
- Sleep – Is the young person getting enough sleep? Do they feel rested when they wake up? Are they napping a lot throughout the day? Are they going to bed at a reasonable time? Are they sleeping too little or too much?
- Eating – Does the young person eat three meals per day? Are they getting enough water? What does their junk food and caffeine consumption look like? Are they struggling with a low appetite or overeating? Is the young person dieting or restricting food to lose weight?
- Physical Illness – Are there any underlying medical conditions that need to be treated with medication? If there are chronic conditions like diabetes, is the young person following their doctor’s instructions for treating them?
- Exercise – How often does the young person move their body? What type of exercise and how long?
- Drugs and Alcohol – Is the young person smoking, vaping, using alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs? How much and how often? Is their use impacting their ability to function, or causing them to make poor decisions they regret later?
If any of these areas is a problem, guiding young people toward a manageable goal like “I am going to increase my sleep from 3-4 hours per night to 5-6 hours per night,” “I am going to take my dog for a walk 2x a week,” or “I am going to smoke marijuana one night on the weekend instead of two” is more attainable than trying to achieve perfection right away in some or all categories. Successfully achieving small goals can be baby steps towards a larger healthy lifestyle goal.
Author: Emily Johnson, MSW LICSW, School-Based Mental Health Supervisor