Poor mental health can leave you feeling anxious, sad, or low in energy— but did you know it can also be a precursor to developing an addiction?
In fact, research shows those with mental illness are twice as likely to have a substance use disorder (1).
So how exactly can youths and teens take charge of their mental wellness to lower their risk for addiction? Let’s talk about five basic ways you can improve your mental health today.
5 Ways to Care for Your Mental Health
Exercise is a cornerstone of overall wellness. Countless studies show the benefits of exercise for mental health, specifically. And considering medical experts are learning just how powerful exercise is in preventing — or recovering from— addiction, regular and intentional physical activity may go far in lowering your risk for a substance abuse disorder (2).
To keep your body moving, join a school or recreational sports team. Or start small by finding an activity you enjoy and trying it for 10 minutes per day, working your way up to 30 minutes or more. It can be as simple as walking outside, swimming, shooting basketball with friends, or riding a bike.
Talk it out.
When life gets tough, you don’t have to go it alone. Sharing your struggles with someone else may help you feel heard validated, and supported. Find a friend, family member, or loved one you feel safe with to talk to when life feels tough.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking with someone you’re close with, consider opening up to a teacher, coach, school counselor, mentor, or another trustworthy adult. For long-term support, you can also ask a parent or caregiver to connect with a professional therapist.
Journaling is another healthy way to communicate and release thoughts without the pressure of sharing them with others. Each morning or night, take just five minutes to write down your thoughts, feelings, and concerns in a journal. It may help you find clarity and calmness as you navigate life’s curveballs.
A well-balanced, nutritious diet feeds more than your body—it also fuels your mind. Studies show diets rich in lean protein, unrefined carbohydrates, and healthy fats support more energy, clearer thinking, and better moods (3). When you have a positive mindset and feel good inside and out, you’re more likely to make smart decisions around substance use.
You don’t have to eat a super rigid or restrictive diet to gain the mental health benefits, though. Eat when you’re hungry, focusing on lean protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates and whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.Also remember to stay hydrated with plenty of water throughout the day.
Prioritize activities you enjoy.
Between school, sports, and other extracurriculars, life as a child or teen can be packed with scheduled activities.
Make sure to prioritize hobbies that bring you joy and release stress when you can. Why? Because research shows hobbies bring joy, purpose, stress release, friendship, and a sense of achievement— all qualities that lower addiction risk (4).
It can be as simple as reading a book, drawing, exploring nature, or playing an instrument.If you’re having trouble getting started, browse our list of hobbies for a drug-free life.
Get enough sleep.
It’s hard to stay positive or make sharp decisions if you’re not getting the sleep you need.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children aged 6 -12 years sleep 9-12 hours per night and teens ages 13-18 sleep 8-10 hours per night (5). The CDC also reports students who don’t get their required amount of sleep are more likely to have attention and behavior problems.
So how can you prioritize getting the sleep you need? Eating well, getting plenty of exercise, and relaxing before bedtime can help you wind down for a restful night’s sleep. Additionally, going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day can help set your circadian rhythm —your body’s natural “alarm clock”.
Take Charge of Your Mental Health
Youths and teens of all ages and backgrounds face stressors in school, sports, relationships, and more. Fortunately, taking charge of your mental health can not only build resilience to stress, but also lower your risk of addiction in the long run.
Learn more about GameChanger.
Created in 2018, GameChanger is a student-powered movement with focus on substance misuse prevention among youths. We connect students, educators, and communities with education, training, coaching, and support services to prevent opioid and other drug use before it starts.
- Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics. CAMH. Accessed from: https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics
- Can exercise help conquer addiction? Twark, Claire. Harvard Health Publishing. 26 December 2018. Accessed from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-exercise-help-conquer-addiction-2018122615641
- Eating to boost energy. Harvard Health Publishing. 26 July 2011. Accessed from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/eating-to-boost-energy
- How Can Hobbies Help with Drug And Alcohol Recovery. Gatehouse Treatment. 02 January 2019. Accessed from: https://www.gatehousetreatment.com/how-hobbies-help-with-drug-alcohol-recovery/
- Sleep in Middle and High School Students. 10 September 2020. Accessed from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm