Mental illness and mental health have become hot topics in the past few years. Plenty of research suggests the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for mental health counseling and resources. Yet, in many places, access to these behavioral health services is limited.
That means it’s more important than ever to learn how to support your mental health during times when you aren’t with a therapist. “Self-care is the first thing that falls off when you’re busy or stressed,” says Amanda Warden, MSW, a behavioral health specialist at Henry Ford Health. “You need to give yourself permission to make self-care a priority because that’s what is going to help you get through hard times.”
Check In With Yourself Between Therapy Sessions
Even when mental health services aren’t stretched thin, it’s typical to see a therapist for an hour or so, once a week (or less). That leaves a lot more time that you’re on your own. “Between sessions is when a lot of the work and change is happening,” says Warden. “The sessions are guidance, but you need to take charge of your behavior in between those sessions.”
She suggests checking in with yourself for a daily self-care assessment. “Look at basic things like your sleep, your mood, your diet, your activity level. Notice any changes in those areas and pay attention to how well you are taking care of yourself in each of them.”
Identify What Self-Care Means To You
Self-care is a very personal thing. No one solution will work for everyone. That’s why it’s important to recognize what makes you feel good, brings out your best self and brings you joy. “Self-care means intentionally engaging in those things that make you feel good,” says Warden.
Take stock of the types of activities that constitute self-care for you. It could be taking regular walks, reading a good book, watching a funny movie, spending time with friends, getting outside in nature, relaxing in a bath, doing yoga or meditating.
“It doesn’t have to be something that takes a lot of time or costs a lot of money,” says Warden. “Making time for five minutes of self-care is better than zero minutes.”
How To Use Apps To Support Your Mental Health Between Therapy Sessions
Yes, even when it comes to mental health, there’s an app for that. Or, more accurately, dozens of apps. “Apps can be helpful tools because they are available 24/7,” says Warden. “They are easily accessible at times when your therapist isn’t.”
She recommends trying a variety of different types of apps to see which ones best suit you. You can find apps for:
- Daily affirmations
- Gratitude journals
- Mood tracking
- Thought diary
What To Do In A Mental Health Crisis
It’s important to talk to your therapist about what they recommend you do in a crisis. “Some will have an after-hours number you can call, but many will expect you to rely on other resources,” says Warden. “Discuss ahead of time what their expectations are and how they can help you put together a safety plan to be prepared.”
Signs of a mental health crisis will look different for everyone, but some common red flags include:
- Aggressive behavior
- Changes in mood
- Engaging in risky behaviors (such as substance abuse)
- Trouble with basic functioning (no energy to eat or shower, for example)
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Suicidal thoughts
- Thoughts of hurting someone else
If you are experiencing any signs of a mental health emergency, there are several resources you can reach out to:
- The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988 24/7 or text “home” to 741741 to reach a volunteer crisis counselor.
- The Trevor Project: For LGBTQIA+ youth in crisis. Call 866-488-7386 or text “start” to 678678.
- Vets4Warriors veterans’ help line: Call 855-838-8255.
If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself, you can also call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room for help.
Reviewed by Amanda Warden, MSW, a behavioral health therapist who sees patients at One Ford Place in Detroit.