How to Improve Your Mental Health
Throughout my life I have had various mental health issues due to some traumatic life experiences. I don’t want this article to be triggering, so I am leaving the triggering specific details of my mental health struggles out.
If you want more about what my specific traumatic experiences have been, there is plenty on the site or Google. Soon, my About Me page will be updated with a video and more details so you can check it out there too.
Before I get into it all, I want to make it clear I am not a health professional. The advice is my personal experience.
If you are struggling with mental health, please see your doctor, get a mental health plan, get professional help. And if you need help right now, use a helpline such as Beyond Blue or Lifeline (13 11 14).
Note, this post contains affiliate links to a few products and services I personally use.
Throughout my life, I have seen a psychologist, counsellor, or psychiatrist as needed. Some were great, others caused a few issues or I found it hard to connect.
Therapy is not confined to talk therapies or one on one therapy, so keep that in mind when considering what you want to do.
Also, psychology, neuroscience etc are constantly evolving with more research. It’s fascinating what they know now compared to 20+ years ago when I was first diagnosed with ADHD.
Getting the right therapy or therapist can be a little tricky sometimes and you might need to try a couple to find the one you connect with.
While you cannot be sure they will be a great fit for you, recommendations from people you know or having a good relationship with your doctor can make it easier to get a good therapist.
There are different types of therapies, people who specialise in different things and not all of it is the same. If you know what you need help for, I urge you to do a little research yourself if you can to find what might work better and who matches that.
For example, I had extreme birth trauma after my fourth child and knew I needed someone who specialised in that. But they also needed to specialise in a few other things so it took a little research to find the right person.
EMDR came highly recommended from other mums so I decided to try that, along with some other therapies. Keep an open mind about therapy and be willing to find something that works for you.
2. Learning About and Accepting Myself
This included learning about my needs, my triggers, my traumas, all of it. It has been a rollercoaster ride throughout my life, changing as more research was done on things such as autism, ADHD, PTSD, trauma, body image issues etc.
At 16 I was diagnosed with ADHD by a psychiatrist after some traumatic events and behaviours. My father and stepmother dismissed it.
Later I was diagnosed with BPD then later ‘cured’ after some treatment and drastic life changes.
In reality, it was the traumatic situation I was living in that I was responding to. Not BPD. When I left that and created a safe, fulfilling life, I no longer had BPD they said.
During an extensive custody battle, I had to get a full psychiatric assessment because of that misdiagnosis. The psychiatrist was shocked at my previous diagnosis and confirmed it was trauma, not BPD.
My kids were diagnosed with ADHD and autism when they were in primary school. Research on that shows it is hereditary and going through the process with them was eye-opening.
I do have ADHD (diagnosed) and likely autism but have not gone through the official autism diagnosis for myself as yet. Let’s just say, my kids are mini me’s.
Throughout all that, I have also struggled with body image issues which at times were extreme and caused eating disorders.
So as you can see, different experiences impacted my mental health and at different times in my life, there were different labels applied to me.
How I Learned About Myself
The above experiences forced me to learn about myself, as did various therapies. Some books helped a lot too. A few I recommend are:
What Happened to You: Oprah Winfrey and renowned brain development and trauma expert, Dr Bruce Perry, discuss the impact of trauma and adverse experiences and how healing must begin with a shift to asking ‘What happened to you?’ rather than ‘What’s wrong with you?’.
It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle. Reading this in conjunction with What Happened to You helped me heal a lot and piece together why I am the way I am and how to change.
The Big Leap helped me see how much I self-sabotage and how to change that.
You Can Heal Your Life helped me overcome paralysis and other health issues as well as teaching me why I have these issues at times.
Women Who Love Too Much has religious undertones but was eye-opening as I have definintely been a people pleaser and needed help to change that.
I have so many more resources I will list in a full article later.
How I Accepted Myself
It is a daily work in progress and a choice I have to make constantly. With therapy, podcasts, support, books and a lot of work, I have learned to accept myself more and learned techniques to help when I am not so accepting.
My teenagers are confident, outgoing, determined and ambitious. Their example and the self-love they possess helped me see myself in a better light and be a better mother.
Applying all the things listed in this article and focusing on my needs, my health, healing etc all contributed to me being able to love and accept myself more.
Positive affirmations and mirror work were part of it too. It felt stupid when I first started doing it because at the time, I didn’t even want to look at myself in the mirror.
Over time, I was able to do this comfortably, and with conviction.
Self-love and self-acceptance is a continuing journey for many and one I hope to always improve on so I can be an example to my kids.
3. Asking for and Getting Help
Both as a single mother and in a relationship, this was essential. I feel we all know how heavy the mental load is but some of us are more aware than others as to exactly how heavy it is.
Most people know there is a burden on one person in the household more than others. That person has to be, do and remember most things for the whole family or household.
On top of that, the physical load of all we have to do with work, parenting (if you are one), domestic chores, health such as working out etc. takes so much time, energy and mental space.
It is impossible to do it all and we need to stop placing those expectations on ourselves.
How I Asked for Help
First, I had to increase my confidence enough to be able to ask. Therapy, podcasts and books along with actually doing things to improve my confidence were essential.
With confidence and clear boundaries, I was able to work out what I needed and ask for it. A few things I realised I need are time to do my routines along with help around the house. Time off and hobbies, things that are for me instead of me being ‘just a mum’.
I lost myself in motherhood and that greatly impacted my mental health.
Sitting my kids down and discussing their needs, my needs and how we can make it all work was the first crucial step. I had already done the prep work of teaching them how to do everything within the home, the next step was enforcing boundaries and a schedule.
I made it clear to them and others in my life what I needed and how much I was or wasn’t available anymore.
Help I Asked for to Reduce My Mental Load
It does not need to be one person’s responsibility. Everyone in the household can help, within reason of course. My toddlers can’t do much but that doesn’t stop us from including them in everything so they can learn.
Things that made a huge difference to my mental load and reduce a lot of questions from other family members as well as taught them are listed below.
This was a tough one for me to do and it took over a year to get a spot in a daycare centre. Then it ended up being awful for my son so I had to find another.
Fortunately, I was able to find one for both my toddlers and they love it. They are absolutely thriving and it gave me the much-needed break to heal, focus on my mental health and career.
As someone who was raised by a stay at home mum in a heavily religious home, this felt like a failure to me and took some time to work through. Now, we see it as a positive.
I know my kids are doing better with a few days at daycare and then quality time with me instead of being at home all the time and my mental health continuing to decline.
Daycare was the right choice for us at this stage of life and without it, I don’t think I would have healed as much as I have.
Humans used to live in communities, villages and spaces where they helped each other. Parents were not on their own and mothers/the primary caregivers, were not expected to do all the childcare on their own.
Now, it seems mothers are often expected to do more than ever before, and parents are left flailing, even if they are partnered. They no longer have that community support.
We (most of the women I have spoken with) have to work, do all the housework, childcare etc while looking gorgeous.
They are expected to get fit, and ‘bounce back’ aka look like a 20 year old even though you’re 40 with 4 kids (ok, I’m 38 but close enough). Health is important but bodies change and that needs to be accepted.
This is why for me, daycare is essential. It is part of building a village for my kids and myself.
It is cheaper to meal plan, shop around and do all of that but it takes a lot of time and headspace. Both of which I was lacking when my mental health was at its worst.
Even when mentally healthy, the time and energy saved by having a meal kit delivered has been significant. We rotate through 4 of the major ones, using their discounted offers.
My kids pick the meals they want to cook and we get 4 meals for 4 people delivered every week. Since they cook twice a week each, they are learning easy recipes and no one has to plan those meals, shop for those ingredients or anything else.
We still have breakfast, lunch and 3 dinners to organise but since we often go out or away for weekends, or fishing at the beach, so this isn’t an issue.
Breakfasts are smoothies, cereal or occasionally pancakes so that’s easy to plan and buy the same thing every time. Lunches are easy as we have leftovers or my kids take the same things. The toddlers get lunch at daycare and it is so much easier.
I’ve alternated between rotating cleaning throughout the family and hiring a cleaner. Due to the mess the toddlers make, cleaning in the evening is essential and part of the evening routine.
Deeper cleans including the weekly bathroom, bedroom, dusting type cleaning can easily be outsourced though.
Sometimes we set a few hours each week to do all the cleaning but we all prefer having a cleaner. This wasn’t always affordable but when it has been, it was great.
Time to Myself
We made an agreement that on days the toddlers are homesick, I still get 3 hours to myself to do my workout, skincare and some work. This is the minimum I need each day to do what I need to do to maintain my health and my career.
Being able to do things with just my teens, friends or do things on my own is essential. Booking time at my local salon for treatments that make me feel good is something I used to do when mentally healthy, then dropped it when I wasn’t doing well and I noticed how that impacted my overall mental health so now we make sure that is scheduled in.
Scheduling time with friends, going on hikes or doing other activities we enjoy is important. How you spend this time for yourself is up to you, but you need it.
4. Exercise and Nutrition
When I was at my worst, I rolled my eyes at exercise and nutrition. I was sick of hearing that was all I needed to feel better.
They do help but it is so hard to implement when you are struggling with your mental health. The difference exercising and eating healthy can make is significant though so it is worth the effort if you can.
There is a lot of research into this, how sunlight, exercise and food all impact our dopamine levels and other things that help with mental health.
Exercise doesn’t need to be the gym and shouldn’t be a punishment. Find something you enjoy that you know you can stick to and start doing it.
Do it because you want a healthy life or to gain a new skill. Don’t do it berating yourself for being unhealthy/unfit/you ate bad. Make exercise a positive.
Even if it is only a 10-minute walk to start with, something is better than nothing. You can build on this slowly or take up a challenge like the couch to 5km run if you want.
The beauty of exercise is there are so many options and you get to choose what you enjoy. Standup paddle boarding, hiking, diving, playing at the park with my kids, swimming, weights, yoga and pilates are all ones I enjoy.
We also set up half the garage as a gym. Using Facebook Marketplace we got everything we wanted for a few hundred dollars. Had we purchased it all new, it would have cost thousands.
With nutrition, learn about what different foods do to our bodies, the mind and gut connection and how to use that knowledge to improve your overall health.
I know I do better taking some vitamins, using meal replacement shakes if I am struggling too much mentally to eat and getting enough protein, probiotics etc.
For meal replacement shakes, I typically used whatever was on sale but mainly Celebrity Slim as I liked the taste. You can get $15 off Celebrity Slim with this link if you want to try it.
To be clear, I am not recommending weight loss shakes as something to do long-term. I did this because when I was severely depressed, eating was too hard and at least I liked the taste of these shakes. That’s it.
Eating proper meals is a much better option. Numerous people I have spoken with who struggle with mental health, struggle to eat and found the shakes a good alternative while they worked on improving their mental health and building back up to eating.
Using the shakes, at least I got nutrition and could stomach a drink. Setting a timer on my phone to take them as recommended meant I was getting some nutrition which was better than none.
I’m sharing my morning routine and evening routine soon, both of which improved my mental health and overall life significantly. You can find the basics of my routine at Aspiring Millionaire.
Don’t feel like you need to do everything I do or for as long as I do, find what works for you. Add one thing at a time and see how it makes you feel. You can also aim to do each thing for 1 minute and build on that if needed.
Putting pressure on yourself to create a perfect routine will only make things worse. Having toddlers and teens means my routines are my ideal but they don’t always go to plan.
If I can manage either a minute or two of each thing or find some time to dedicate to myself, it all helps.
Routines also aren’t just for the morning or evening. Reading Atomic Habits and applying those tips to ensure I was creating mini routines for habits I wanted (also known as habit stacking and creating systems) made life much easier.
Quality sleep makes a world of difference to how I function the following day. Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture so if you’re not getting quality sleep, it will negatively impact your mental health.
Getting quality sleep can be easier said than done due to kids, living somewhere noisy, mental health and other issues. In fact, many mental health issues have the awful side-effect of insomnia.
Laying awake until all hours replaying events or stressing about upcoming things. Anxiety, depression and other things are debilitating and mentally exhausting.
Telling someone to “just get a good night’s sleep” is like saying to someone who has broken a leg, just go walk. It does not work that way.
However, there are things you can do to help increase the chances of a good night sleep. Even if you have young kids like I do.
Obviously, newborns and young children have needs and will wake etc. You need to care for them but if you can find ways to help them with their sleep, your chances of a good night’s sleep will improve too.
How to Increase the Chances of a Good Night’s Sleep
Optimise your bedroom for sleep with a comfortable mattress, quality linen, nice pillows, comfortable pj’s and if you can, an eye mask. Some recommend earplugs too but as I have kids, I don’t.
Check the temperature of the room and set it to between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius as scientists have found this to be the optimum temperature. Experiment with it to find the right one for you.
Only use your room to sleep. Avoid work, watching TV or anything else in there and try to keep devices out of the room.
I bought a separate basic alarm clock so I no longer have my phone in my room. Doing this has significantly improved my sleep as my phone is not within reaching distance and I don’t check it if I wake up during the night.
Have an evening routine to help you wind down and signal to your brain and body that it is time for bed.
7. Life Declutter (Including People)
Clearing out stuff I don’t use, cleaning up my house and creating routines for that, decluttering my online life AND clearing out the toxic people in my life made a huge difference.
I could not have gotten to this step and been able to implement it if it weren’t for the other steps. Getting rid of things and people is difficult.
For me, this was the easier part of the decluttering process. Moving, travelling and having a nomadic lifestyle means I am not overly attached to stuff generally.
Clearing out the things we don’t need or use is something I do on a regular basis. I have noticed when I am struggling with my mental health, this task is much harder.
Cleaning is more difficult and takes me much longer. Things pile up and then it all gets on top of me, which is another reason outsourcing cleaning at times helped us.
Working with one space such as a drawer or shelf and doing it one at a time makes this easier. Too often, we try to tackle a whole room, get everything out then are overwhelmed.
Start small, do what you can and be proud of what you achieve. I find having a few boxes: sell, donate, bin and elsewhere (meaning items that belong elsewhere) helps a lot when trying to sort an area.
Sometimes I don’t bother with the sell box because it feels like another thing I have to do and when my mental health isn’t great, I don’t want to add things to my list.
While doing this, I also made a little space in my home I love. Pictured below it has some books, a few plants and is between our lounges so we can sit here with the sun streaming in. I love it.
For some, this might sound harsh and that’s ok. I used to feel that way because I was a major people pleaser, struggled to create and enforce my boundaries and felt obligated to be a ‘good girl’ because of my religious upbringing.
At this stage in my life, I can look back and see there were many people I allowed into my life that weren’t good for me. I see the ways I let people use me, didn’t stick to my boundaries, took the wrong advice and overall, became miserable because of the people I surrounded myself with.
Recognising who deserves to be in my life and who doesn’t then taking action on it has been extremely difficult but incredibly rewarding.
Those who I have allowed to remain have all commented on the noticeable difference in my stress levels and overall happiness. My energy has completely changed since letting go of all the ‘shoulds’ and releasing people from my life.
Decluttering this part of my life was about getting rid of toxic people but also ensuring I am surrounding myself with people who love, support and provide value to my life and that of my kids. Making sure I am spending time with them, being social and expanding my life.
It was not about getting rid of everyone and locking myself away. I made a conscious effort to get outside with my kids more, make time for lunch or dinner with friends, go swimming and hiking in groups etc. It improved my social life and mental health.
Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
I was also raised with the saying “Actions speak louder than words.”
Both of those are great, if you understand what actions are healthy and supportive vs red flags, damaging actions or inactions and abuse.
As someone from a religious background (I am not anymore), I struggled to learn and understand a lot of that. Without going into too much detail, unpacking many aspects of my core beliefs that stemmed from my religion and conservative background almost broke me.
Coming out the other side, understanding boundaries, how I deserve to be treated and more has completely changed my life.
I’ll share more details on this and getting rid of toxic people in another post.
Bonus: Alternative Options
Treatments such as acupuncture and alternative medicines can be worth looking into. I hesitate to recommend too many but have had great success with them for various issues, including my mental health.
I aim for a holistic approach in everything I do and am always open to trying things that might benefit me or my family.
There are many alternative medicines and practices out there. Ask friends and family about their experiences, do some research and decide for yourself which ones you want to try or which ones aren’t worth it for you.
What helped your mental health?
Resources I Mention
Here is a list of the things I mentioned that I use or that helped me.