How I look after my mental health
Mental health is a tricky subject.
There seems to be a lot of stigma around having mental health issues....even though most people have or have had mental health struggles. There are so many factors that go into mental health - genetics, situations, nutrition, medications, stress levels, etc, that it's no wonder that so many individuals deal with this. It's not shameful to have mental health issues...it doesn't make you weak, less than other people, or "not normal." In fact, I think if all of us were more honest with the state of our mental health, we'd realized that SO MANY PEOPLE are going through what we're going through. Yes, even supermodels and that dude on Instagram who takes pictures with his Lambo. Yes, your parents and friends and neighbours. Most people have had to deal with some kind of mental health issue - the few who haven't are in the minority, not the majority.
With that said, what works for me may not work for you and vice versa. It may be worth a shot to see if it will work for you - but if it doesn't, then no worries, try to find something that does. Alternatively, sometimes things work sometimes and other times they don't work at all. That's normal, too. Don't discount it too quickly. Give it a shot and if it consistently doesn't help then move on. I'm not "THE MENTAL HEALTH GURU" but I have been making more of an effort to take care of my mental health and it seems to be working so keep that in mind.
So, yeah. Let's jump into it.
I have never been diagnosed with any mental health issue. I don't take medication for depression or anxiety and I never have. I have self-diagnosed myself with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which hits me really hard in the Vancouver winter. I go through light-therapy in the winter to help with this and C and I will probably end up moving somewhere sunny eventually to help me deal with this. I've also recently been officially diagnosed with ADHD...though I've believed I had ADHD for a long time and I had many coping mechanisms to deal with it. I am currently trying medication and seeing where that leaves me as far as productivity and executive functioning goes. It's all a work in progress but I'm feeling positive I'm moving in the right direction. The tips below have helped me deal with these issues; however, if you are prescribed medication to help with your mental health then of course, keep taking them! Consider these a supplement to your meds, okay? And of course, if you're having issues with your medication, talk to your doctor about it and see how they can help you out. You can't just "force" yourself to get better when it comes to health so don't even try. Seriously.
Tip #1: DON'T DRINK
I like alcohol....probably a little too much. A glass of wine usually turns into 2...turns into 3....you get the drift. I'm a damn lush.
I never realized how bad it made me feel until probably about....1 year ago? I would wake up the next morning and just feel depressed. Completely depressed, lethargic, gross, crabby. And no, not the normal hungover feeling (though sometimes that too). Just like there was a gray cloud over my life and everything was dark in my life.
Sometimes this would happen even after 1 glass of wine. It was like playing Russian Roulette. Was this going to make me depressed?
Now that I've realized the correlation between my moods and the alcohol - I really try to reign it in. If I'm already in a bad mood, I don't drink. I know, 100% that it will make it all that much worse. I don't drink at home anymore - I don't have wine in my fridge and I don't even have a glass of wine with dinner. If I go out, I try to stick to cider or hard liquor (which seems to be better on my moods, for some reason?). I also eat while I drink and that seems to help as well.
For the most part though, I try to restrict my alcohol consumption to once every 2 weeks and I go into it knowing that the next day I'll probably feel really bad mentally. When I've got that awareness, it helps me get out of my funk the next day. I can just chalk it up to last night's shenanigans.
Tip #2: Cardio
I feel like this is the tip that you read in every single article ever.
But seriously. Cardio is the best mood enhancer ever.
Whether it's biking or swimming or running or hiking - whenever I need to blow off steam, my go-to is cardio. I think cardio makes you feel alive in some primal way...and it's impossible to feel bad when you're in the middle of it. I've gone for a run feeling SO ANGRY and come back whistling and thinking the world is full of rainbows and butterflies. It's amazing.
I try to do something that gets me panting and breathing hard at least 2-3 times a week. At the moment, I'm all about the running...but I like to switch it up. If I'm pissed off or stressed, I always try to get in some cardio. It seems to A) Calm me down and B) Gives me time to think about what I was so upset about...and then usually I realize it's not worth being upset about.
Tip #3: Nature
I live in a fairly big city but I'm lucky that there are plenty of places to go for hikes or walks. I live across the street from a large park and I walk around there on a daily basis - but even I didn't, I'd end up heading to the nearest green space to get some peace of mind.
There's something about hiking under big trees that is very relaxing and kind of puts things in perspective. I think the fresh air and the animals and the outdoors is just so...important. Sitting inside staring at a computer all day isn't going to make you feel good mentally or physically. The human body was meant to be free...it was meant to explore and move and feel sun on the skin. You know, humans didn't evolve to live in caves 24/7. So I try to get outside once a day....especially in greenspaces. Hiking trails or walking around a lake or even a park makes a big difference when I'm feeling upset. It also gives me some much needed time to figure out what's going on in my head.
Tip #4: Nutrition
When I neglect my nutrition, my brain feels it.
I know that it's very easy for me to become iron-deficient so I take B12 and iron supplements. I also know that when I'm iron-deficient I'm lethargic, negative, and depressed. I know that dairy and gluten messes up my stomach and stops me from absorbing other important vits and mins so I stay away from it. I know an excess of meat in my diet makes my PMS unbearable and makes me moody as hell...so I don't eat it.
It's been a lot of trial and error with these foods and everyone handles foods differently. I have a ton of food allergies and GI issues - so eating fairly clean is very important to me. With that said, I think that people focus more on how many calories they should be eating, but don't focus on the kinds of foods they should be eating. The more vits and mins you can pack into your life, the better you'll feel. Your body needs fuel and that should come from healthy sources. Your brain needs these things to function and when it is deprived....you will feel it mentally. That's when it becomes a cycle - Feel bad ---> Eat Garbage ---> Feel Worse ---> Eat more Garbage. You get my drift.
Tip #5: Limit Social Media / Negative Media
I don't go on Facebook much.
I don't watch cable news.
I only follow people on IG that leave me with a smile on my face.
I actively walk away from media that makes me feel terrible.
Some people may think that I'm burying my head in the sand...and maybe I am. I am well-aware that the world is a terrible, terrible place - I don't need to hear about it every second of the day. I used to get so upset and angry about things that were completely beyond my control...but the less I focus on those things, the more I time I have to fill my life with more positive things and people. That doesn't mean that I never pay attention to current events - but it means I've cut down on consuming it significantly. The same goes for FB - I'll check it once a week at most and leave it at that. I don't find either of these things brings much value into my life at this time, so I try to limit my emotional response to them.
Tip #6: Mindfulness
I'm not good at being mindful...but the good news is, I'm getting better at it.
I try to do yoga a few times a week (which I'll go do after I'm writing this article, actually!) so that I can focus on my breathing and moving through the poses. I've found this has translated beautifully in my life. When I start to get stressed, I concentrate on my breathing and being in the present and it somehow seems to help. This has also helped me get to sleep easier. I used to stay awake, tossing and turning. Now I just focus on my breathing for about a minute and Voila! Sleep!
Yoga isn't for everyone and I get that. Neither is meditation. And damn, whenever I try to meditate, I end up feeling like I'm the worst at it. But I think if you're going through some stuff...it's worth a shot. I started doing yoga a few years ago and I found it tough and frustrating and thankless at the beginning. I thought it was too hard. But if you stick with it and do it fairly consistently, you start to see the changes in yourself and it becomes easier. I'm not a guru by any stretch of the imagination but I've seen progress and I get a lot more back from it now.
Tip #7: Prioritize my happiness
This tip sounds really, really easy - but it becomes increasingly hard the more responsibilities you have.
I'm also not sure if this is controversial or not...but whatever! It works for me!
I try to do things in my life based on how happy they will make me. I'm dating someone who makes my life better in every way, I exercise because it makes me feel good, I'm a vegan because it brings joy into my life, my friends are all people who make me smile. If I come home and want to relax and I don't want to do the dishes immediately, I don't do them. If I feel like cleaning the whole house from top to bottom, I do it. If I want to eat chocolate, I eat chocolate. If I want to eat salad, I eat salad.
I try to do things that make me happy, for the most part. I feel as though a lot of people feel that they HAVE TO DO LIFE a certain way. They become slaves to their life. And yeah, we all have responsibilities and I get that. But these people become martyrs because they feel that their needs aren't getting met and they refuse to change the situation. They'll stay at a job they loathe because they need the money. They'll stay with someone that makes them miserable because that's how it's always been. They'll wait on everyone else and forget who they are in the process.
I try not to do that. I try to balance the crappy responsibilities with the fun things to the best of my abilities. And yeah, that means that sometimes the laundry doesn't get done on time. Oh well. It's just laundry.
Tip #8: Sleep
I always joke that I'm an old lady because I consistently go to bed around 10:30pm and wake up about 6:15am.
But this has actually become a necessity in my life and one of the things that has helped me deal with moodiness and lethargy. Everyone else has a set amount of time they need for sleep - and mine just happens to be a solid 7 hours. I prioritize this like nobody's business because I know if I don't, I'm going to have a rough day. Even on Friday and Saturday, I try to stick to this schedule (if I'm not hanging out). I find that exercise helps me get to sleep so that's another reason I try to get in some cardio, yoga, or weight lifting in during the day....especially if I feel I've got a lot of energy after work. I think that getting enough sleep also helps me with my nutrition - when I'm tired or hungover, all I crave is sweet, oily food (which in turns makes me feel like garbage). When I've had a good night's sleep, I could care less about junk food and I've got more energy to do the things I enjoy.
So I find sleep has become a big part of my mental health routine.
Tip #9: Vit D
I find Vancouver nearly unbearable in the fall, spring, and winter. 3/4th of the year, it's raining, cloudy, and overcast.
I'm a sun baby. I could easily be happy living on a beach for the rest of my life. If it was summer every day....I would be more than okay with that. That's actually my dream. I'd love to be a snowbird - have a nice place in Mexico to retreat to during the Vancouver winters and then come back to Vancouver in the late spring.
However, that's a long way in the future.
How I deal with it now is I take liquid Vit D in the morning. Every. Morning. And yes, I find the liquid Vit D helps much more than the tablets. I also make an effort to go out into the sun when it's sunny. Whether that means going for a run in the sun or reading on the grass - I try my best to get a bit of a tan when I can. I would also suggest getting your Vit D levels checked with your yearly blood panel. A lot of times when your Vit D is low, you can experience depression so keep on top of it. It's helped me a lot.
Tip #10: Pets
Pets. Pets are the answer to happiness.
At the moment, C and I have pet rats. Yes, you read that right, pet rats. We have 2 baby girls, Mint and Aloe. I'll be honest - I never thought I'd ever own pet rats. Turns out, they're amazing pets that bring both of us a ton of joy. They're perfect for our apartment (clean and quiet) and they fit into our life and work schedule. Eventually, we'll probably have pet dogs and who knows what else, but at the moment, our rats scratched our pet itch.
My point is, having a furry companion seems to make life just a little bit brighter. Pets won't judge you if you stay home all day in your PJs eating (non-dairy!) ice cream. They'll give you the companionship that you crave when you're lonely and feel like the world doesn't understand you. They'll make you laugh. So, if you can, adopt a pet or spend some time around pets when you're having "one of those days". It'll do wonders.
Tip #11: Have an outlet
Find something you're passionate about and pursue that. Whether that's writing or dancing or collecting stamps - have something that gives you a sense of accomplishment outside of work.
Life starts to feel very shallow when you're living through other people's creations. When you consume other people's products or ideas instead of creating your own...things get boring and repetitive. Sitting at home watching Netflix is all well and good....but I don't feel satisfied after binge-watching Stranger Things 2. That's not to say I don't enjoy it in the moment, I do. But that happiness is very fleeting. Compare that to writing an article or hiking a new trail or cooking a delicious new meal - those things bring me a deeper happiness that transcends the moment. Often this is because they're challenging and humans love overcoming a good challenge. On top of that, these things usually have a piece of me in them. Writing....well, that's obvious. But even hiking a new trail speaks to my adventurous side...and cooking may encompass my new-found love of plant food.
So I would strongly suggest finding a hobby that speaks to the things you love. And when you're having a shitty day....well, throw yourself at that hobby. It will leave you feeling a lot better than you would feel if you just hung out on the computer all night. Trust me on this one.
So, those are my top....11? tips for keeping my mental health in decent shape. I totally get that sometimes you just can't. Sometimes it feels easier to just lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and cry a bit. I've been there, too. I just find that doing these things makes those days further and further apart.
Now, what about you? Do you have any tips? I'd love to hear them if you do! Anything to help me put one foot in front of the other is always appreciated.
And as always, have a wonderful day, whoever you are! :)
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