If you’re trying to get your head on straight, this is the most fundamental place to start.
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz
Our struggles with mental illness—anxiety and depression, at least—have been talked about and meme-ified into oblivion, so we can stop pretending we aren’t freaking out about the insurmountable piles of stress weighing us down. Young people are more anxious than ever before, and unlike previous generations, we are actually talking about it—recent research suggests that millennials are more accepting of mental illness, and more willing to be open about it, than previous generations. But Tweet all you want; that won’t fix the problem. What will?
We can’t change most anxiety-inducing situations—like a work deadline coinciding with a hostile breakup coinciding with a politics-induced migraine—but there are factors completely within our control that set us up to be our most unshakeable selves. Here, based on a combination of reporting and advice from David Klemanski, a psychologist and the behavioral medicine director at Ohio State University, are the four fundamental tent poles of mental stability.
Eight hours a night is still the general recommendation for a solid night’s sleep. Even if you feel fine after four or five hours, odds are you need more for optimal mental health and cognition (so-called “short sleepers,” who truly need no more that four hours a night, exist, but are extraordinarily rare). More specifically, the sleep-deprived are at a higher risk for developing or exacerbating anxiety and depression. If you can’t seem to fall asleep or stay asleep and you feel like it’s starting to take a toll on your mind, consider this advice from psychologists and sleep experts:
-Keep a pad next to your bed and at night and write down a list of things you’re worrying about. The physical act of setting these concerns aside temporarily may alleviate some anxiety and let you relax enough to sleep.
-Try simple deep breathing—in and out, slowly (about seven seconds each on the inhale and exhale), ten times in a row. By doing this, you’re re-focusing your mind, ramping down your anxiety, and slowing down your body to prepare it for sleep.
-Add white noise or rain sounds or whatever feels soothing.
-Don’t go to bed unless you’re actually ready to sleep, and if you’re not asleep after ten or 15 minutes, get out of bed until you feel tired again.
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