This will likely be the most honest and exposing blog post I ever write, but I feel an urge to write it in the hopes that it can help even just one other person. I’d like to preface this by saying that this isn’t meant to be a sympathy or pity post, but rather one to provide education, inspiration and motivation. I’ve had a lot going on mentally the past few weeks, hence the lack of regular blog posts. I, along with many others on this planet, deal with mental health issues, specifically anxiety, depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (or OCD, strong emphasis on the “O”). I’ve also had struggles with alcohol and self-harm. Those closest to me know this about me already, and I don’t hesitate to say it aloud now because I’ve realized that it’s not something to be ashamed of. These things are a part of me, which I don’t always like, but a part of me nonetheless.
I’ve tried my best to hide this part of myself, because over the past couple of years I’ve gained the reputation of being a “health nut” from family, friends and coworkers. The last thing I wanted to do was tarnish that by admitting that I’m not mentally well and I don’t actually have myself “together”. So instead, I put on my happy face and continued to energetically promote all things wellness. But you know what? Mental health is a huge part of wellness, perhaps the biggest part, and it falls by the wayside too often. We can eat healthy and exercise ’til the cows come home, but if we’re battling ourselves throughout, it’ll all be for nothing. Everyone has issues, and a surprising number of people have some kind of severe mental issue, but that doesn’t make us inferior or damaged. Its about time we stop calling “taboo” and speak up about this topic, without shame, fear or guilt.
My issues have taken a stronger hold over me in the last year than ever before, and I’ve been fighting them every step of the way, unfortunately with much difficulty. The daily obsessive and unwanted thoughts, constant worrying, panic attacks, questioning everything and complete lack of energy and motivation is draining. I’ve had several days where I was ready to just end it all, because that felt easier than trying to live with my demons, and I have both physical and emotional scars as a reminder of that. Last week I reached my breaking point, where I finally said “enough!” I opened my eyes and realized that this isn’t the real me and that I have to get my life back on track. And while these issues will always be a part of me, I don’t have to let them control me and they certainly don’t have to define me.
I’d like to share some of the methods that have worked for me to help manage my mental health. Whether or not you have a mental condition/disorder/issue, we all have stress in some capacity, so many of these tips can apply to everyday life. Nothing here is new, but they are proven to work and, therefore, worth mentioning again.
Proven Methods for Managing your Mental Health:
- Yoga – This is first for a reason. Yoga has been the one thing that has kept me the most grounded over the past few years and I consider it a life-saving practice that connects your mind, body and soul. In addition to providing physical benefits, like increased strength and flexibility, the mental benefits are incredible. It’s a solo activity, in that everyone’s practice is very personal, but it also connects you with other people in a spiritual and uplifting way. Plus, learning how to properly breathe is very calming. Regardless of your practice level, it’s empowering and beneficial for everyone. I practice daily at home, at work and at a local studio. Try a beginners class or check out some online videos to get started if you’ve never practiced before.
- Meditation – This is a very close second. Meditation is inevitably incorporated into yoga, but you can also practice meditation without yoga. It can be difficult at first, because we are all in our own heads so much that calming the mind can seem impossible. The key is to not block your thoughts, but allow them to flow in and out with ease and not place attachment on any of them, all while focusing on your breath. If you can practice this mindfully throughout the day, you’ll notice yourself becoming calmer and more compassionate. I also practice this daily at home, at work and at a local studio. There is a definite energy in the room when meditating with others, which I really enjoy. There are many guided meditation apps (I use Headspace and Insight Timer) and videos, or find a studio that offers meditation classes.
- General Exercise – Sweating, getting your heart rate up and expending negative energy all help your mental health. In addition to yoga, I enjoy kickboxing and most recently, running. There’s something therapeutic about punching and kicking the sh*t out of pads or zoning out to music while on a run. The best type of exercise is the type you enjoy doing; it should be fun, not a chore. Any kind of exercise or movement will boost your endorphins and leave you happier and more accomplished than when you started. And I think we all know the multitude of physical benefits exercise offers.
- Healthy Diet – I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally indulge in ice cream or other sweets when I’m feeling low. However, I try not to make it a regular habit. Keeping a steady, healthy diet is important for mental health, as the food we eat nourishes our bodies and minds. Eating less processed food and more produce, protein and whole grains is ideal. Again, pick healthy foods you actually enjoy eating. If you hate kale, you don’t have to eat kale 🙂
- External Support – I have no shame in saying that I see a therapist regularly. Getting therapy doesn’t mean you’re weak. On the contrary, it means you have the strength to acknowledge your issues, but you just need a little extra help. It can take some trial and error, but once you find a good one it makes all the difference, as it is really helpful to have an unbiased third party listen to you and provide gentle guidance. I am also fortunate to have an amazing family and very supportive friends to talk to. Despite the fact that most of them live in different states, they are just a phone call away. My two cats are also very comforting, even if they don’t realize it. There is always at least one person (or animal) in the world who cares about you and wants you on this earth. You’re not a burden, so reach out to them. They’ll be happy that you did.
- Positive Reinforcement – A lot of this has come directly from my therapy sessions. I’ve found that the more I surround myself and engage in positive reinforcement, the more I’m able to stay positive throughout the day. I mainly do this through journaling, as writing out my thoughts each day relieves a lot of stress. I also hang motivational/inspirational quotes in my workspace and kitchen, write positive notes to myself on post-its and hang them on my bathroom mirror and receive daily inspirational quotes on my phone. I’m particularly partial to Notes from the Universe, Buddha Quotes and Inspirational Quotes Daily. All of this sounds cliche, but if it works, then who cares!
- Hobbies – Everyone has at least one hobby, so engage in it and take time to enjoy it. Reading is probably my favorite hobby. I recently read Eat Pray Love, which is my new favorite book, and I’m now reading Wild. I signed up for a library card just so I can fulfill the long list of books I want to read. My other hobbies include blogging (duh), gardening, hiking, volunteering, painting/drawing and traveling. On the days I just don’t want to do any of these things, I get into my pajamas, pull my cats in close, grab a blanket and turn on Netflix. Sometimes that’s all you need and that’s okay.
- Sleep – This is the most disregarded method, but possibly the most important. Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep to help your mental state and recharge. If you have trouble falling asleep, have a cup of tea before bed and read a book. Meditating before bed can also help you to relax. Try to turn off any screens, like your phone and TV. Also, try to get into a sleep routine and carry that through the week. If you normally go to bed early and get up early on weekdays for work, try your best to do that on the weekends too so your schedule doesn’t get messed up.
- Medication/Supplements – As much as I use the above methods to help, there are times when you still just need more. I put off taking medication for a LONG time because I worried (big surprise) about the side effects. It wasn’t until I was hitting rock bottom that I gave in and went to the doctor, who took the time to educate and determine what was best for me. Similar to therapy, taking medication does not mean you’re weak or giving up. It just means you need some extra help. Medication is certainly not for everyone, and this can also take some trial and error, but if it works for you then by all means, do it. There are also some supplements I take daily to help manage my mental health, including a Probiotic, Vitamin D and an Omega-3.
- Find & Love Yourself – Last, but certainly not least. Honestly, this is the one I’ve struggled with the most, and still do. What does it even mean to love yourself? What I feel it means is to be yourself and accept who you are. I’ve found it difficult to love myself when I’m dealing with my mental issues, because it is SO easy to believe your own negative thoughts. If I let myself, I can easily become a weak, pessimistic, emotional mess, and I was for a long time. I’d continuously beat myself up over this; it was a vicious cycle of negativity. But this isn’t my true self. My true self is a calm, peaceful, spiritual, compassionate, positive and optimistic person, who I’ve only found through the above methods. This is the self I’m most comfortable with and that I can certainly learn to love. And the best part is when you really love yourself, others notice and you can spread it to them too. It’s truly contagious.
If you, or others you know, are dealing with mental issues, hopefully some of the above methods can help. Please feel free to share this post with anyone who needs it. Now I’d love to hear from you. What methods do you use to manage your mental health? How have you helped support others dealing with mental issues?
Thanks for reading ~ Michelle