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16 Small, but Significant, 'Lifestyle' Changes That Help 20-Somethings With Mental Illness

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If you are a 20-something who lives with a mental illness, you’ve probably had more than one run-in with unprompted (and unwanted) advice from folks who swear they know how to “fix” it.

And while it’s more than just annoying when people swear they have the “miracle cure” to mental health struggles, the reality is, there are day-to-day changes you can make that might help you manage your mental illness.

The following suggestions are not “miracle cures” that will automatically vanish any trace of mental illness from your life — they are real recommendations from real 20-somethings in our mental health community. We asked them what “small” lifestyle changes they made in their lives that made a significant difference in their struggle with mental illness. Is this there something on this list you’d try? Tell us in the comments below.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. Refusing to Compare Yourself to Other 20-Somethings

“Deciding that I don’t have to keep up with ‘what people in their 20s should be doing.’ If I have to go to school part-time, not take on a full-time job and live at home for a bit longer in order for my mental health to stay stable, then that’s what I’m going to do.” — Stephanie Q.

2. Using a Bullet Journal

“My bullet journal. My brain is an ever-swirling pool of thoughts and emotions that can be difficult to sort through. Getting it on paper in a fun way has helped a lot.” — Jo M.

“I’ve started using a bullet journal. I can keep track of dates, lists, anything and everything, plus it makes me use my creativity and gives me an outlet for my thoughts when I need it.” — Darcie T.

3. Taking Extra Time to Get Ready in the Morning

Taking time on my appearance. This sounds odd, but I honestly feel better when I’ve done my hair and put on some makeup. It doesn’t have to be drastic. Sometimes all I do is put on mascara, some lipstick and put my hair up. The little things can often have the biggest impact.” — Cecilia C.

4. Exercising

“Being active. Whether it’s going out with friends, going to the gym or even something simple like leaving the house for a walk, activity stimulates the brain. It allows someone like me with anxiety and depression to decompress and maybe find my center again.” — Michael R.

“I have always loved to dance… and I realized that when I take at least 30 minutes per day to dance, I feel soooo much better. I think it really helps when we give some minutes per day to something we are passionate about.” — Josky C.

5. Establishing a Routine

“Routine. Some sort of routine helps. I can mentally plan what I’ll be doing then, even if it’s a loose routine. It helps a lot. I know when I’ll be out socializing and when I can be home by myself. It helps me know when I can get to the gym, another thing that helps me manage my anxiety and depression.” — Hailey M.

“Getting up at the same time each day. Even when I hate it. It gives me the alone time I need to prepare my mind for the day.” — Laura J.

6. Making “To-Do” Lists

“Lists! Crossing things off that I’ve accomplished, even if they are everyday tasks, makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something! It helps with the anxiety and depression that comes when I do nothing in a day.” — Suzie L.

7. Practicing Mindfulness

“Mindfulness is a big one. Reminding myself to stay in the present moment and not constantly let my mind wonder about the future and unknown. The truth is I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, all I know is what’s happening right now. Reality.” — Tara R.

8. Prioritizing Skincare

“Skincare! It may be something insignificant to most, but at the beginning of this year, I made a vow to myself to use a full anti-aging skincare routine every day, no matter what. Not only does it start and end my day with a routine, but it proves to myself that I care about my future.” — Kristen H.

9. Listening to or Playing Music

“Playing the piano. There’s something so freeing about using an instrument to express what you can’t. The piano has always been there for me even in the darkest moments of my life, to remind me I love doing at least one thing.” — Jacinta M.

Music has been a great help with coping! Learning songs and writing my own has been an amazing way to channel whatever I’m feeling even when I’m not sure what I’m feeling. Concerts and going to shows have helped with my anxiety and pouring my heart into learning has helped my depression.” — Amber C.

10. Cutting Down on Caffeine and Sugar

“I stopped consuming sugar and caffeine after dinner. I have PTSD and my nightmares are worse with these, which lead to weeks of no sleep. It was a really small and simple change that drastically improved my mental illness.” — Tanna S.

11. Quitting or Limiting Alcohol and Smoking

“I quit drinking completely. I used to drink to feel numb and not be aware of the world. Got better to where I drank every now and then only when I was in a good mood, but it came back to wanting to drink when I was down. Been sober since February and I haven’t felt better. The temptation of drinking to forget isn’t there anymore.” — Austin M.

“Quitting smoking, limiting caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine and nicotine make my anxiety worse and alcohol makes me so much more depressed.” — Tia M.

12. Going on a Walk

“Walking my dog. I used to have a fenced-in yard and would just let my dog out, and now that I don’t, I find walks give me that little bit of extra time I need to clear my head.” — Ashley K.

“Going for a short walk. When things are really bad, I tend to stay in my house for way too long but I’ll force myself out. The fresh air, the sun, the breeze — it all feels so good and I feel a little less dead inside. Also helps me realize I’m able to be social again.” — Cheri H.

13. Traveling

“I make time to travel, even if it’s a small adventure at a park down the road. Giving myself that time to step away from routine and breathe does wonders for my ability to cope day-to-day.” — Alyssa K.

14. Setting Boundaries With Difficult People in Your Life

“Realizing that it is OK to set up boundaries and get away from toxic people, whether they are family or friends. It sounds so small to some, but something that took me a while to do.” — Jessica R.

15. Doing Something Artistic

“I use art to express myself when my words fail me. Mandalas are extremely calming, but even just scribbles sometimes help me get out any negative thoughts. I also bullet journal to keep my anxiety low.” — Devan U.

16. Waking Up Early

“Waking up early. It is hard. But when I get up early, I can have my breakfast and coffee in the peace and quiet and it’s easier to start the day when you’ve been awake for a while. Whenever I sleep late, the whole day is crap.” — Heather D.

What would you add?

Originally published: May 2, 2018
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