At a Glance 👀
To get the best out of your mental health care plan:
- there is no one-size-fits-all: you have to test mental health care plans and see for yourself
- sustainability is the name of the self-care game: make it fun, make it a second nature
- acknowledge different seasons of your life: your symptoms and corresponding goals are temporary
- you’re not a robot: get the basic human needs right and your life will improve dramatically
Everything is costly these days.
With an average day job, If I want to enjoy a poached egg and avocado on toast with a cup of coffee in a standard cafe, followed by a bit of shopping therapy and a cheeky sauna and massage trip in Sydney, I probably would have exhausted my #selfcare fund and not have any money left for a single psychotherapy session.
Even just getting groceries and fuelling my car feel barely affordable right now.
No wonder we choose to spend on things that bring immediate benefits (fuelling my body, making myself feel good) rather than arguably better things that you absolutely see no point doing in the short term (let’s admit it, going to the gym and therapy is HARD and PAINFUL).
^ yep, financial stress is real (2018 data)
You’re not alone. As a millennial music therapist, I can see how confusing and frustrating trying to find a solution for our mental health can be these days.
Self care comes in many forms though.
Today, I will provide a simple guideline for designing your best mental health care plan, based on research and my own experience working with clients while taking care of myself. I’ll cover everything from understanding anxiety and depression to identifying your specific needs and goals. You’ll learn how to design, track and tweak your wellbeing plan without going to therapy. I’ll also provide tips for overcoming obstacles and celebrating your progress #babysteps.
This is for you if you are not ready or interested to see a therapist but need support and guidance with your overall wellbeing. Stay till the end as I have a gift for you to gain insight on your current state and needs 😉
Understanding Anxiety and Depression 🔎
You Are Not Your Emotions ❌
Whether you’re here because you are diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression or you experience low mood on a consistent basis, hear me out:
Do not let any diagnosis define you.
You are feeling anxious, depressed, sad, or negative in general, but you are not an anxious, depressed or hopeless human being.
Feelings are fleeting.
They come and go, similar to the more “positive” emotions like happiness.
Clouds, storms and stars appear in the sky, but they are not the sky.
The same applies to our emotions.
That said, acknowledging your feelings and journey is important.
It sucks to go down the spiral and experience different symptoms on an ongoing basis:
- you might feel worried, fearful or a sense of unease; and experience physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling and increased heartbeat if you suffer from anxiety
- you might feel sad, hopeless and a loss of interest; and experience fatigue, loss of focus and changes in sleep patterns and appetite if you suffer from depression
How Anxiety and Depression Affect Young Adults 😶
Anxiety and depression can take a serious toll on the wellbeing and quality of life of young adults. Research shows that anxiety and depression are the most common mental health disorders among young adults, with around 25% of college students experiencing these conditions (American Psychological Association, 2018).
If we don’t manage our physical and emotional health, we cannot function properly, take care of our loved ones, achieve our goals or enjoy life.
When’s the last time you truly enjoyed what you were doing?
When’s the last time you did something just for yourself?
It’s important to seek help and develop a mental health care plan that works for you in order to manage these conditions and improve your overall quality of life.
Lucky for us to be in this particular time though – we are never short of options. But more options sometimes lead to more confusion and inaction. Keep reading for more clarity of your next step.
Mental Health Care 101 🖤
What are the mental health care options apart from going to therapy?
First thing first: don’t overcomplicate it.
Most of the time, you just need to get the fundamentals right in order to function at baseline level.
Prove You’re a Human Being (without checking off traffic light photos) 😬
Reflect on your past 7-14 days:
1 Have I been drinking enough water? 💦
2 How much time did I spend under the sun and/or in nature? ☀️
3 How was my physical activity level? 🏃🏻
4 How many people did I talk to face to face/online?🗣
Before you are convinced that you need that 1 hour fancy massage or 30-day detox challenge, make sure you’ve been acting like a real human being instead of a robot.
Before the pandemic, I was an accountant working a regular 9-6 day job. I felt a lack of energy and motivation every day. I faced numbers more than human beings, I didn’t hydrate enough, my diet was crap, and I wasn’t active.
Now I’m my best self – I’m a healthy individual who has a job I’m proud of, and I have a solid, non-negotiable morning routine that boosts my energy level regardless of where I’m at in my cycle.
When in doubt, think about what you ancestors used to do: gather around, spend time in nature, work hard (for survival).
There is no self-development without self-awareness.
When life gets busy or when we are in difficult situations, it’s easy to ignore our basic human needs and pour all our time, energy and attention into problem solving.
Hence building healthy habits and daily non-negotiables will be the biggest lever you can pull for optimising your health.
Behavioural and physiological changes can impact our mental wellbeing.
Get the fundamentals right, and you will have more energy and mental clarity to deal with whatever life throws you.
You will be more anti-fragile and bulletproof.
If this sounds like BS and you are scoffing, just think about this:
Mental Health IS Brain Health 💛🤝🧠
Mental health is a central part of brain health.
And the brain is a powerful organ responsible for everything happening within us.
You see, physical and emotional health are related.
Keep your brain happy, and your body and mind will follow.
Read more brain health tips from Dr Daniel Amen here if you’re interested to learn more.
Mindfulness: the Basis of Most Therapies for Anxiety and Depression 🍃
Here are two quotes I like the most regarding anxiety and depression:
If you are depressed, you are living in the Past. If you are anxious, living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the moment.
– Lao Tzu
If you want to feed your anxiety, keep thinking about it. If you want to starve your anxiety, take more actions.
– Steven Bartlett
People seek therapy because they have a problem, and they need 1/ emotional support and/or 2/ solutions.
It then comes down to what therapeutic approaches work for them, depending on their lifestyles, preferences or learning styles.
No matter what you choose (CBT, ACT, DBT, EMDR, alternative therapies or even psychedelics), ultimately, it’s about mindfulness: being aware and conscious of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and environment.
From there, you shift your attention (and time and energy) from the situation you’re in to problem solving, or seeing it with new perspectives.
Of course, therapies are effective.
So are journaling and meditation.
Find what works for you to cultivate mindfulness.
It doesn’t cost a lot to write down your thoughts or to meditate.
You can even just take a walk in the nature without your phone and headphones.
This is how I like to think of mindfulness:
Unplug from the world so you can tune into your own voice.
Designing Your Ultimate Mental Health Care Plan 📝
Game on: trust me when I say it’s fun to create a mental health care plan that works for you.
One that is uniquely yours, open for tweaks, and makes you feel better.
Taking care of our emotional health is a never-ending journey.
Do you know which area you need the most help with to reclaim a peace of mind? Would that be building habits and routines, or emotion regulation?
Take the free quiz here to find out your next steps, with actionable tips and Notion wellbeing templates:
Taking care of yourself can be a challenging but rewarding process. Hence here’s a simple guideline to help you get started:
1/ Identify Your Specific Goals and needs 🎯
What do you want to achieve with your mental health care plan? Feel better? Boost your energy? Find more focus? Have more mental clarity?
Set your GPS before starting the navigation.
This applies to any care plan with or without a therapist.
Be specific. Remember, you can have anything, but not everything.
Try to focus on no more than 2 goals every 3 months.
2/ Choose an approach/medium 🪜
If you decide to work with a therapist, remember you can choose a therapeutic approach that works for you. CBT is the most common one (I personally benefited from that) but do you own research and trial. Finding the right mental health professional or medication can make all the difference in your treatment.
Here are a list of mental health care plan approach examples based on the goals set above:
1 Improve sustained attention on tasks
- define current pain points/bottlenecks
- e.g. distractions, worries, perfectionism, task difficulty level
- define what “important” means to you
- find out when, where and how you can focus on important tasks best (e.g. 10am-12pm, quiet place with headphones on)
- set short-term small rewards for completion
2 Have more energy throughout the day
- define what “energetic” means to you and the stakes of not being able to maintain energy
- find the source(s) of energy leaks (both physical & emotional)
- sleep, diet, boredom
- find the source(s) of energy boost
- nap, exercise, food
- check-in with yourself throughout the day – when do you feel a “dip” in energy and focus?
- define activities that require the most energy, prioritise and reschedule accordingly
3 Schedule self-care time
- define small and big self-care activities
- 5-minute breathing exercise, quick walk in the nature, bubble bath, core value check-in, weekly reset, 8-hour of sleep, solo road trip etc.
- observe triggers and automatic negative thoughts
- workplace, people, hormone fluctuation etc.
- rewire mindset
- you’re not selfish to make time for yourself. In fact, practising self-care is the most selfless thing you can do for yourself and for others 🙂
3/ Create a routine ⏰
You don’t go to the gym once a month. Your muscles need constant stimulation and relaxation to grow.
The same goes for your mind.
Creating a routine helps you manage symptoms and improve your overall well-being in a bullet-proof way.
The key is to find out what works for you, make it a second nature and result will come along the way.
I don’t even think when I get out of bed and work out. I don’t question my bedtime meditation routine.
Discipline eats motivation for breakfast.
4/ Test, Track and Tweak 🔬
Now you have a specific goal, an approach and a routine to test.
Start tracking your progress and making adjustments.
Read my blog post here for my detailed Test, Track and Tweak (TTT) Goalsetting method.
5/ Get Creative 🎵
Wanna spice up your mental health care plan?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but… use music! 😉
It’s all about your intention: learn how to create playlists that are tailored to your specific goals here.
Sticking to Your Mental Health Care Plan 📈
Remember, designing a mental health care plan is a personal process. What works for someone else may not work for you.
My top tips:
- Be patient. Muscles don’t grow overnight. That includes your brain and heart. Give enough time to test each approach/routine, and focus on one thing at a time.
- Find support and accountability. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
- Celebrate your progress. Small wins and baby steps!
Looking for more creative ways to manage stress? Read more here.
I hope you find this comprehensive guide to designing a mental health care plan for anxiety and depression helpful!
Now you have more awareness about your symptoms, you can set specific goals, choose different approaches and test what works for you.
Start small. Start today.
Don’t forget to take this free peace of mind quiz here to find out which area you should focus on first when it comes to your emotional health! Wellbeing templates included. 🙂 👇🏻