Top 10 Lifestyle Habits to Help you Kick Mental Health Meds
Updated: Jan 27
These 10 Habits Led This author to Stable Mental Health and led him to completely end medication use for 7 years (and counting)!
These 10 Habits are Lifestyle Methods and Techniques to Live Longer, Healthier, and Regulate your Emotional System. They can be useful if you've ever received a mental health diagnosis, or if you haven't but you're taking action to improve your lifestyle. This article is written through an autobiographical lens, and is informed by Evidence-Based Practices, academic research, with some information from financial entrepreneurs. The writing style was crafted through guidance from the Copy Cure, a program taught by author/entrepreneur , Marie Forleo.
'The transforming Painting' (painted in 2016, during its time in Bangkok)
Disclaimer from the author: If medication works for you, I am NOT saying to Go off your meds cold turkey and substitute them with these 10 habits! By law, I am required to say - please consult with your doctor before making any adjustments to your healthcare regiment. Although, personally speaking, I DO hope you get off ALL meds because of the potential side effects. However, the following ten habits are how I, the author, have gone from struggling every day to living med-free, happy, and loving it! It requires constant attention, and you must revisit your "Top Ten lifestyle habits" every day, throughout the day. I recommend you make this subject matter a lifetime study. Some people may say, "well - taking meds is easier... I'd rather not EXCLUSIVELY do the habits you suggest here." My response is - Do you honestly want to be dependent on a prescribing doctor for the rest of your life? This article explores how conversations concerning side effects from mental health meds are not explored as much as they need to be, and this communication breakdown leads to the loss of trust from people receiving services for the system providing it. It's necessary to open up the conversation to provide different options for mental health treatments, besides taking medications, because the side effects will surface in the conversation with the community. If the system providers do not address the side effects directly, there will be resentment that grows from the part of the care recipients, and it will be harder for healthcare providers to do their work. The system providing mental health treatment can be a critical and supportive resource, but if there is a withholding of information or a negligence to provide the full story about medications from the providers, this will create a divide, and the people receiving care may hold resistance to receiving necessary and life-saving support. That being said, this list provides a different path to take for those who strive to live their best life. As the author, I will speak in a voice at times to reference the academic research and evidence around the subject matter, and I will also talk directly to you as someone who receives mental health treatment. Let's dive in.
In a study published in the Journal of clinical psychology that explores the relationship between Meditation and positive mental health outcomes, research points to volumes of evidence that link meditation directly to better mental health, but the exact mechanisms for meditation have not been agreed upon.
I have heard from many people that they "just don't meditate." or they "hate meditation." This habit, although ambiguous in the literature in its technique, is a proven and effective method to improve cognition, social interaction, and to make progress as a professional. You can refer to it is a "breathing exercise", a "mind-over-matter practice", "mind strengthening exercise", or "witnessing techniques". But it really is meditation that I'm talking about.
As the author who has personally experienced easier ability to process thoughts, slow thinking down, a higher level of presence in social situations, and increase of ability to draw from memory to hold conversations, I will provide my own meditation techniques, with hopes that it provides benefits to you as the reader.
One way to understand meditation is view the activity to meditate as an exercise that allows you to witness your thoughts. There is generally a misconception about meditation. The misconception is that its purpose is to stop your thoughts. Where the meditator experiences no thinking. But thoughts do not just "stop". The mind can be considered a thought factory. Constantly churning out new ideas and concepts. BUT we can develop an identity as the "witness". As James Clear, author of evidence-based behavioral improvement book, Atomic Habits describes - once we change our identity, it's easier to change our habits. In fact the word "identity" comes from the Latin word "idem", which means "The same". In general, the traits that make up your identity are what remains the "same" under different circumstances. Start to identify as the "watcher" of your thoughts, and stop taking things so personally. Once we watch our thoughts, like scrolling rolls of text, passing by our minds, we stop identifying with these thoughts. We reclaim our lives from pesky outside conditioning. As a watcher, we live life on our terms, as opposed to terms we are exposed to from our environment and our smart phones.
See thoughts as scrolling text instead of who you are.
One meditation technique I find helpful is what I dub as the 4-part-breathing-technique, where you take a slow inhale for as long as you can (try five seconds), hold your breath for five long seconds, exhale for five seconds, and then wait post-exhale for five seconds. This is the fastest technique I know that brings me to a state I describe as "transcendence." Transcendence is when you rise above the thought factory (your mind), and you choose to exist. I notice I'm able to witness my thoughts and actions with significantly more ease throughout the day when I do this. I react less, and respond thoughtfully more.
How about you try one cycle of it now -
Breathe in 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... five...
HOLD for 1 ... 2 ...3 ...4 ... five...
Breathe out slow 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... five...
Wait for 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... five...
Breathe in .... (Repeat this cycle until your thoughts are scrolling, and you are the watcher).
If you want to upgrade your game - find yourself a hot sauna, and meditate in the sauna. Studies have shown that higher frequency and duration of sauna bathing are related to a lower risk of cardiovascular mortality, sudden cardiac death, stroke, hypertension, pulmonary diseases, and dementia.
If you're interested in creative arts therapy, and its effect on healing trauma, look into the research done by Kristi Perryman, Paul Blisard, and Rochelle Moss, and their literature on Creative Arts and the Neuroscience of Healing.
I know life is busy. Life is demanding with work, school, and relationships. And so many things that I'm not naming. But please- for the sake of your mental health, take time for a creative activity. It could be painting. Drawing. Singing. Chi-Gong. Yoga. Song-writing. Cooking. Photography. Story-writing. It could be instrument building. Boat building. Farming. Baking. Starting your own business. Collecting nature objects. Sculpting. Illustrating. Discovering new ways to recycle. Tap Dancing. Whatever!
It must be something you notice yourself get BETTER at. Creativity means it's something you create, and you build a relationship with. It's a daily practice you return to, preferably at the same time each day, so inevitably, you get better. If your entire life's work was to collect paychecks, and do work a supervisor asks you to do, you may realize you never cultivated your own decision-making on your terms, for your personal reasons. There must be something that you do for YOU. Something that you can show others, and most of the time, people will say, "wow, I can't do that." They can't because they haven't been putting in the daily commitment into it the way you have.
And share what you create. To be seen is to be validated in your existence and your efforts. Contribute to a collective of people where they relate to what you're doing. And when you share with them, you'll want to share their gifts as well. There are 7 billion + people on the planet, and yes, it's absolutely necessary that you develop your own voice, and become something special and unique, at least in a certain kind of way, to at least a fraction of the global population. This will do wonders for your mental health, but also your sense of belonging. You will have something to look forward to. Build your audience so what you do contributes to a community that not only cares about your work, but they care about you.
The Creator's Commitment, color pencil on paper, by Andrew Kaminski
Your artwork and creativity doesn't always have to make sense, and you don't always need an audience. You just need to keep making it. Keep sculpting it. Keep making it yours. And yours to share with the world.
8. Sleep Plays a Critical Role
In a study (Najafimehr, Hadis et al. “The Effect of Sleep Quality on Mental Health Among Clinical and Non-Clinical Staffs.”), sleep quality had such a critical role to play in the quality of mental health, that in Iran, where they conducted this research, their mental health policy was shaped by making sure their population had access to high quality sleep.
Sleep is not something to haphazardly toss around. Sleep is powerful restoration for the mind and the body. When you sleep, don't sleep as something you just gotta get over with. Sleep as if your life depends on it. Because it does. When you rest, don't regret it. But rather, treasure it. "Rest is resistance" against oppression, I heard during a plant medicine ceremony. Like all sacred acts, you must ritualize sleep. Ritualize rest.
Trigger your brain to sleep with ritualized cues.
You must trigger the brain to know - "hey, sleep is going to happen soon." So you must do the same thing every night before you sleep. It could be that you brush your teeth, and it sends a message to your brain and body. "Hey," your brain will realize, "Teeth brushing just happened. It's time for bed now!"
During my time working at People USA, as a recovery specialist, a speaker came into a seminar named Leah White. Leah white was a discharge officer. Her position meant she helps transition people to leave the incarceration system, like a prison facility, and supports them to integrate into non-incarcerated society. You can imagine how difficult that was! She would often keep people on their medications, and I remember her saying it was because the ritual was so powerful. She also emphasized the importance of sleep. In particular she mentioned how important a nighttime ritual is right before you go to sleep. You need something, she said, to tell your brain that you are going to be asleep for 8 hours. She stressed even how important brushing your teeth is as a mental trick to communicate with your brain to shut off and go to bed.
People USA, where I met Leah White provided invaluable experience, and led me to pursue a career in social work and advocacy. If you are an employee of People USA, you are asked to draw upon your lived experience with mental health struggle, your recovery, and use that story to inspire and provide your personal model of recovery for people who are trying to figure it out for their own life.
This color pencil drawing, titled "Trinity", done with color pencil by the author, depicts essentially what three states that relate to sleep. The figure on the left is symbolically frustrated because the chemicals produced in the brain are depleted to produce a smile, and he has become non-approachable for social engagement. A lack of sleep can lead to a zombie-like state, which can lead to a feeling of utter disconnect. The person in the middle who is "over-the-moon" ecstatic, is experiencing an adrenaline surge, which happens when there is an unstable sleep cycle. Adrenaline can be released at irregular times and intervals to compensate for misregulated sleep rhythms. Finally, the figure on the right has a regulated sleep cycle, and expresses stable emotional mental health, and this stability has been attained through regular physical exercise as well.
7. Social Relationships require time, and heart.
In a study that looks at the development of residents that once had a mental health disorder, and moved into a housing unit with now regular social interactions, the question that became common for them was - "what's next?" As in, they were able to make moves to advance their lives, to improve their standing to a better position in society with finances, career, and their relationships when they were living in a housing situation with routine social interaction. During times of isolation, less people asked "What's next in my life?" or "What's the next move I can make?". This study was done through (Henwood, Benjamin F et al. “What’s Next?...)
Three questions for people living through or in a recovery from a struggle with mental health are-
Who is in your inner circle?
Who is in your peripheral circle?
What do you do to nourish 'your people' every week?
Your network of social connections is vast. With social media, you can connect to everyone you ever make contact with. You can connect with everyone they've ever met, and then you can connect with people the digital world provides tin front of your eyes. The options of who you can connect with are limitless.
But just because you can connect with them, doesn't mean you will connect with them. Just because their face pops up on your feed doesn't mean they'd arrive at your funeral if you suddenly passed. Social media gives us the illusion that we're tapped in, when we're really, unless we consciously take time to drop in with these people, they aren't thinking of us.
No one wants to be around you if you don't show up with your heart. People have better things to do. They're already stuck inside their thought factory minds - they don't need another mind to add to their incessant thoughts. They need someone who shows up with heart. And look, no matter how you show up for your relationships, when you show up with your heart, it's a tell-tail sign that you will be healthy mentally. We are social creatures to our core. We cannot escape this. If you're not social and you're reading this... then, hello alien. Welcome to our planet.
Those who isolate themselves have mental struggles. They might even develop a pride in their aloneness, which perpetuates loneliness, which causes more deterioration in mental health stability.
So make sure you answer those three questions above. Who do you want to be in your inner circle? Who is in your peripheral circle that you want in your inner circle? What do you do to nourish your connections every day? Say you have 15 people you care about. Do you call one of those people every day?
6. Food: Carbs slow you down. Greens give you more energy longer
This one study looks at how food preparation and meal kits can impact social togetherness, food literacy, and mental health. It's worth looking into if you're interested in topics such as the correlation of nutrition, the psychology associated with food, home cooking, and food habits, to name a few of the topics. The article is by Fraser, Kylie et al. and it's called “Meal Kits in the Family Setting: Impacts on Family Dynamics, Nutrition, Social and Mental Health.” Appetite 169 (2022).
For my peer readers - I refer healthy eating habits to Medical Medium. I didn't get into his process and suggestions for years, as there is a lot of unproven data, and there has not been extensive institutional research on his claims. But, as he has amassed a following of millions of people, and has written multiple NY Times best selling books, you begin to realize that he's not just a good salesman, but his insights do change lives. When I looked into his suggestions, it changed my relationship to food. He brings a spiritual association to food. When I say "spiritual", I mean you return to the activity of eating and food preparation with an eager curiosity. You hold a playful attitude to the activity of dining as you refine the efficiency in which you prepare your food. For mental health, if you are like me or any of the people his writing has affected, your energy levels, mood, and behavior will start to improve. Before Medical Medium, I was confused as to what to eat, with all the conflicting advice on social media, the changing opinions of "experts", but when I committed to him, I started to make corrections to my rhythm with my food, where I store food, how long food will last in the refrigerator, and my own motivation levels and cravings with food started to improve. My eczema disappeared when I started eating the food he suggested. I have four medical medium books in my kitchen, and I am committed to read 30 minutes of Medical Medium every day.
It takes patience and forgiveness while you acclimate the practices Medical Medium suggests into your eating habits. I notice eating carbs such as breads, and high sugar foods slow me down. They even make me sluggish. Whereas greens give me lasting energy and presence in social situation. I can keep up with the conversation, and I don't take it personal when someone loses interest in a conversation we share. I've noticed that even though salty, high sugary, and fatty foods may have been tempting and delicious at one point, the after-effects they leave on my mood, my skin, energy levels, and behavior aren't worth it. I choose his 3:6:9 cleanse, and I make celery juice every day, and I drink a heavy-metal-detox smoothie every day! My mother drinks celery juice too, and it has helped lower her blood pressure dramatically to the point where she now drinks a glass of celery juice every day.
5. Learn something daily
In a study about peer workers integrating into the mental health system, peer workers integrated more effectively when they had distinct roles. There were less hierarchy problems in the organization when their role was clearly defined. People with lived experience with mental health crisis have so much to offer into a mental health clinical setting which includes relating to their clients, and providing a non-judgmental environment that creates a safety for care-recipients to open up, and ultimately decrease the rate of which they drain resources from hospitals and agencies. Peer workers need to learn every day how to refine their contribution, how to phrase what they're doing, and how to act adaptably in a variety of social interactions. There are things that are appropriate to say, and things that are inappropriate to say, and to understand the difference requires daily learning on the peer's role.
In a statement to Peer workers:
Learn something every day. But there must be a reason why you learn. There must be an end goal. What is the vision you hold in your mind that moves you to sit down and read every day? Or to watch a video. There isn't one "best" way to learn. You can learn through direct experience - where you shadow someone who is excellent at what you aspire to be good at. You can sit down and carve out 30 minutes of your day to read something. If you sit down, and force yourself to read on a particular subject each day, consecutively for an ongoing time, you work on yourself in multiple ways. You build an identity where you commit to learn a specific subject. You maintain a mindfulness. Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness in that you don't jump from one subject to another. You sit still. You exercise your ability to focus on one task at hand, and you're mentally strong enough to stay on it for however long YOU decide. You do not let shiny things distract you, like they would an unconditioned mind. Your consciousness is in the driver's seat, and not your animal instincts that run off to every interesting direction.
So when I say "Learn something Daily," I also mean develop your ability to focus on a singular topic repeatedly, until that subject can make you rich. Rich in knowledge. Rich in your ability to speak of the subject with conviction. To learn something daily alludes to building towards something. Towards accumulating progress in any one area. All of the areas listed can make you rich if you allow yourself to be refined in that area, if you focus on them long enough.
4. Play outside. (outside of your "cave")
Examining face-to-face interactions versus online support groups, a group of people with prostate cancer were reported to have greater distress in the online groups than the group in person. Study participants that were in person showed greater levels of caring for others, among other benefits (Huber, Johannes et al. “Face-to-Face Vs. Online Peer Support Groups for Prostate Cancer: A Cross-Sectional Comparison Study.” Journal of cancer survivorship 12.1 (2018): 1–9. Web.)
The point I am making by including this research about patients with prostate cancer is that you have to get out into the world. This is challenging now because with the internet, social media, your twitter account, it may feel like you don't need to leave your home. I've noticed though that I get way better of a response from people, and I actually get things moving in the direction I need them to when I meet people face-to-face. When I'm out in the real world and I'm in the same physical space as others, and I breathe the air they breathe, there's a connection that occurs that doesn't happen online. People feel me, and I feel people in a whole other way. There's a realness and a vulnerability when we exist with others in the same physical environment. We can't hide behind our avatars, or take all the time we want to craft a smooth email. No. We are exactly who we are, and people must respond to us in that moment. There's a transparency. An honesty that is irreplaceable when we are present, in the flesh.
3. Drink lots of water. Make tea your thing.
As the Harvard Health Publishing says, drinking lots of water can make or break your health, depending on how much you drink. People in general forget to drink water. So many physical health problems come from not drinking enough water. So, here's a trick to make sure you are hydrated. Every hour, top of the hour, make sure you fill up your glass or mug with something hydrating. Doesn't matter what you're doing. Fill up that water holder with something to go down and hydrate your body and mental health!
2. Build towards something.
When you see your tiny actions building towards something bigger, it's satisfying. Through the philosophies of Atomic Habits and The Science of Getting Rich, the whole thought process is that with one small habit over a long period of time, the change you can make can be life-changing, or even world-changing. We need to know how what we do affects the greater picture.
1. Movement (Swim, Run, Recover)
Personally speaking, after I had a tough time in life, I started to swim every single day. It was the ritual - returning to it every day that helped me go from dependence of medication to complete removal of all medications, and thus the probability of medication side effects drastically dropped.
In the study (Gronwald, Thomas et al. “Increasing Exercise’s Effect on Mental Health: Exercise Intensity Does Matter.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), exercise has been shown to increase the health of cognition. It really does have an impact. Cognition is linked to the functionality of thought, memory, experience, and the senses - meaning, if you exercise, your cognitive abilities function better. I personally attribute swimming and running to be the main contributor of my stable mental health, and the most critical substitute for medication.
***Bonus: Make the 8 Dimensions of Wellness your mantra you repeat every day.
Originally developed by Mary Ellen Copeland, the WRAP plans stand for Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP®) is a personalized wellness and recovery system born out of and rooted in the principle of self-determination.
Physical Strength - Make sure you strengthen your ability to sleep, and get a consistent amount of sleep each night. Go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time every day. Make sure your food intake is nourishing you, and eat so that toxins are being removed from you body, and provide your microbiome the necessary nutrients it requires. Make sure you have a specific time in your schedule that you commit to physical exercise.
Emotional Stability - Take time each day to acknowledge how your emotional stability is being taken care of. You might be walking to class, or to see a friend, or going to work. From where your car is parked, to entering the building, energize through focused thinking attention how you stabilize your emotional equilibrium.
Environmental organization - if you rate low on conscientiousness, try environmental design. The world has been set up for you to consume, and if you tap into the power of environmental design, you can be the architect of your environment, and choose what you take in.
Spiritual guidance/pervasiveness - To believe in something greater than yourself places you within the context of a larger world. Imagine sitting at a table with 5 people (alive or gone) that you admire. People you'd want to receive advice from. Imagine sitting down with these 5 people every day, and asking them what to do with your life. You may be surprised if you dial into the perspectives of these people. 5 spiritual guides you can draw from may be Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Mirra Alfassa, and Buddha. Ask these 5 people, using your imagination, what they would suggest you do in your day-to-day life. You might have a broader perspective than before you asked them.
Financial abundance - Develop financial habits that will lead you to never stress about money ever again. Some books to look into are Think and Grow Rich, Atomic Habits, The Science of Getting Rich, and Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Occupational completion can make the difference between depression and satisfaction. Whatever you occupy your time with in life, make sure you complete it. Forgive yourself if you don't reach a level of completion
Social happiness is key. As the Dalai Lama says, humans are social creatures. We need one another to function, to be validated, and to measure if our actions, thoughts, and words are relevant, helpful, and contribute to the greater collective. Make sure you consider how you can integrate into the social world as often as possible.