How mental health nurse practitioners promote healthy lifestyle choices

A mental health nurse practitioner (MHNP) is a medical professional who has acquired specialized degrees and certifications to work with ind...

How mental health nurse practitioners promote healthy lifestyle choicesA mental health nurse practitioner (MHNP) is a medical professional who has acquired specialized degrees and certifications to work with individuals in the mental health field. MHNPs are capable of treating patients without the supervision of a medical doctor because of their advanced qualifications and education, and they often set up practices in areas that need medical clinics and hospitals. 


These professionals fill a great need in underserved areas where mental health issues may go unchecked and families are in desperate need of assistance. Often, an MHNP will see many generations of a family within the communities they serve and are in a perfect position to detect mental health issues in each generation. 


Certain emotional problems are genetic, and nurse practitioners are trained to promote healthy lifestyles as well as other preventive measures so that these illnesses don’t become debilitating. 

How do MHNPs promote healthy lifestyles?

MHNPs promote healthy lifestyles in various ways, including lifestyle counseling, holistic health assessment, weight management, nutrition education, sleep hygiene, sleep disorder management and stress reduction techniques. 

Lifestyle counseling

MHNPs play a pivotal role in guiding individuals with mental health issues within their community and counseling them on healthy and safe lifestyle choices. They do this by offering patients personalized lifestyle plans that are tailored to their needs. Areas of focus in these tailored plans include nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management. The MHNP will ask questions of the patient to gather as much information as possible, and to make the plan unique and individualized. 


This makes it easier for the patients to follow as they are involved in the planning process. By using their expertise in mental health, these practitioners can help patients formulate coping strategies, develop healthy habits and promote overall well being. This approach allows the patient to take ownership of their own mental health while receiving needed support and guidance when they are in crisis. 


Different types of coping strategies that MHNPs may offer during counseling include mindfulness techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, social support networks, time management skills and healthy lifestyle changes. 

Mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness is a common mental health technique that teaches the individual to be in the moment when they are feeling stressed or in crisis without judgment. It involves focusing all of the patient’s attention on their own thoughts, feelings, sensations and their surroundings. The more someone practices mindfulness, the more they can be more aware of what triggers them, and through this awareness, reduce their stress. Mindfulness techniques often involve meditation and breathing techniques that help the mind reach calm and allow the individual to become more aware of their thoughts and actions. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves helping patients to identify and change negative thought patterns and impeding behaviors that contribute to emotional and psychological distress. CBT focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors and aims to modify any beliefs or behaviors that are dysfunctional and causing issues. 

Patients can develop healthy coping mechanisms when they challenge their negative thought patterns and start to restructure their way of thinking. There are several strategies within CBT that help patients to regulate their emotions more effectively and improve their quality of life

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques help patients to reduce their stress and promote a calm mind by stimulating the body’s natural relaxation responses. These techniques include deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises (where the patient systematically goes through each muscle while tensing and relaxing them), and guided imagery. Guided imagery usually consists of a narrator who will guide the individual through relaxing scenarios and peaceful images. 


Other relaxation techniques involve meditation and yoga, which can be done independently or with the help of a nurse practitioner or instructor. All of these relaxation techniques promote feelings of peace and stress-free environments. 

Social support networks

What often occurs with individuals suffering from mental health issues is that they feel isolated from the rest of their family, friends and communities. MHNPs are trained to provide counseling to individuals on how to access their natural support system and reach out for help from those around them. This involves recognizing their current social network and the people in it, and asking for help. 


This could also include reaching out to family and friends and bringing them into a session with the MHNP. By doing this, they can be educated on the mental health issues of their loved one and given tools to help them when they are struggling. MHNPs are skilled at communication techniques and encourage open communication within relationships to enhance understanding and empathy. 

Time management skills

For those suffering from mental health issues, time management problems such as always being late, not being able to finish tasks, or missing appointments and deadlines can exacerbate what can already be an overwhelming existence. By learning time management skills, a patient can improve their ability to properly manage their time and gain the confidence they need to maintain equilibrium in their life. 


Constantly being in a state of disorganization can wreak havoc on someone’s mental state, and those who suffer from mental health issues can quickly dissolve into a state of crisis. Nurse practitioners are trained in critical thinking and also develop strong time management skills to get through nursing school, so they are in a perfect position to assist patients with this challenging skill.

Healthy lifestyle changes

MHNPs are highly trained mental health experts who understand that even simple lifestyle changes can make the world of difference with someone suffering from mental health issues. Sleep patterns, exercise, access to natural light and social contact are all areas that a nurse practitioner can assess and make recommendations on to improve a patient’s wellbeing and emotional outlook. 


A nurse practitioner can assess the individual’s lifestyle and environment and create a plan that works within the patient’s capabilities with small steps that can be achieved daily. By taking small steps, the patient can feel confident that they are achieving these goals and are motivated to continue making the necessary changes for a more productive life. 


These techniques are just some of the approaches taught when a registered nurse studies an MSN Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner online program at an accredited school such as Wilkes University. The online delivery provides flexibility so that working professionals can dive into the curriculum while still working and supporting themselves. This program provides a specialized curriculum for individuals who are interested in helping patients with mental health issues and need support and guidance from a medical professional.

Holistic health assessment

A holistic health assessment takes many factors into account, including physical, emotional, environmental and social factors. The aim is to gain a complete understanding of the patient’s status so that a personalized treatment plan can be created. All individuals have unique needs and MHNPs are trained to assess patients holistically for a more accurate picture of how to help them. 


The assessment may include looking at previous medical records and history, including mental health history, current symptoms, lifestyle, social interactions and environmental influences. Nurse practitioners are trained to take the whole of the patient into account, rather than just treating the symptoms without looking at mitigating factors that could contribute to a decline in mental health. 

Weight management

MHNPs understand that certain factors such as weight can have a dramatic effect on emotional wellbeing. When it comes to mental health issues, weight management is important in helping patients achieve physical wellbeing and better mood regulation. 


Exercise and a healthy diet can promote the release of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that regulate feelings of happiness. When a patient achieves goals related to weight management, it helps to boost their confidence and makes them feel better about themselves, which improves their outlook on life. With weight management comes a balanced and healthy lifestyle, which reduces stress, increases mental acuity and promotes mental resilience. 

Nutrition education

Nurse practitioners provide guidance to patients by educating them on healthy nutritional habits that promote emotional wellbeing. Certain foods can trigger emotional responses in individuals, and if someone has too much of these types of foods, then they could experience a mental health crisis. MHNPs understand that a well-balanced diet full of healthy foods can have a dramatic effect on the mental outlook of their patients. This also helps to prevent the feelings of guilt and anger that can come from a poor diet and binge eating. 

Sleep hygiene

One of the worst triggers for poor mental health is a lack of sleep. When an emotionally healthy person is sleep-deprived, the effects are obvious, and their mental health suffers. When someone who already suffers from mental health challenges doesn’t get enough sleep, it can become almost impossible to improve their situation. 


MHNPs understand that sleep is one of the most important areas when looking at improving someone’s mental health, and they can provide resources and advice on how to improve sleep hygiene. Some techniques include reducing the amount of screen time or exposure to blue light before bed so that the mind has time to wind down before sleep. 


Other techniques include guided meditation or peaceful music before bed so that the brain is lulled into a sleepy state. Sleep hygiene can also include the temperature in the room, or the amount of outside noise or light. All of these factors can be considered and dealt with by the MHNP and the patient collaboratively. 

Sleep disorder management

There are some individuals who may have severe sleep disorders that might need managing with medication or more intense sleep therapy. MHNPs are trained to recognize when a patient may need interventions beyond the regular relaxation techniques and sleep hygiene. For some patients, a full sleep assessment may be required, including a sleep test, during which they are studied for signs of disorders such as apnea. Sleep disorder management is an area where the MHNP may consult with other medical professionals while creating a treatment plan that is tailored to suit the individual patient. 

Stress reduction techniques

MHNPs can provide patients with stress reduction techniques by teaching them methods of decreasing stress, such as meditation, mindfulness and breathing techniques. Reducing stress in a patient’s life can also mean looking to their support system to reduce the burden on them if they feel overwhelmed. Also, learning time management skills can help them make better use of their time. 


Stress is one of the leading causes of physical and mental distress, so even the smallest changes in lifestyle can bring great relief to someone who is suffering a mental health crisis. MHNPs can also provide resources that can help individuals deal with stressful situations, such as being a single parent or being unemployed. The nurse practitioner can contact other members of the community, such as social workers and career counselors, who can help with areas that are increasing the stress of the patient.

Conclusion

An MHNP is not just a medical professional who treats the symptoms of mental health – they also recognize that there is a distinct connection between mental health and the physical and social wellbeing of a patient. MHNPs are trained to assess patients holistically and consider factors such as social contacts, environmental conditions, physical health and lifestyle choices to create a treatment plan that is suited to that individual. With their specialized knowledge and skills, these nurse practitioners can develop relationships of trust and respect with their patients so that they can collaboratively come to a treatment plan that is obtainable and effective.

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