I have struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember. Day to day I live with an anxiety disorder and depression. I have most recently suffered from a panic disorder and agoraphobia as well. On top of that, I have IBS which plays its part in all of the above. What I am trying to get at is I have a lot of shit going on and I have been a really bad place for a really long time. But not so much anymore.
Following all of the things that I am about to share with you are what keeps me mentally healthy despite everything I struggle with. Whether you are someone who struggles similar to me or not these things can help you stay mentally healthy too. That’s not to say you won’t have bad days because we are human and everyone experiences bad days. What these things will do is prevent so many bad days and stop allowing your mental health to dictate your life.
More importantly than doing all of these things is to understand why you are doing them. Following them blindly is one sure way to resent doing them and to stop before you are able to reap the rewards. Having a therapist or another healthcare professional to help you is something I definitely recommend. Implementing such big lifestyle changes can be daunting and a little bit of help goes a long way.
The Big 3 Essentials
8/9 hours sleep a night
Sleep is of the utmost importance for me. I have known since I was a young kid I am unable to function without sleep and that stays just as true today.
Between 8 and 9 hours is what works for me and you should figure out your own optimum amount of sleep. Some people can get by on a lot less and others need more. The recommended amount of sleep varies on age but typically as an adult, the sleep foundation recommends between 7–9 hours.
Sleep is a vital part of our health and well-being and something we do every single day and will always be relevant in our lives.
There are a vast amount of benefits to getting a good night sleep including helping to reduce stress, taking care of your emotional wellbeing, maintain a healthy weight, keeping your immune system strong, improving your memory and a whole bunch of other stuff.
Getting into a good sleeping habit now will only lead to a better quality of life going forward.
3 meals a day
After making sure I am well-rested, fuel and nutrition are where I turn my focus to. We’ve all heard phrases like; “you are what you eat” and “eat well to live well” but how often do we actually pay attention to them and do something about what we putting into our body.
Up until a year ago I very rarely ate breakfast, I had pizza more or less every day and takeout was a staple part of my diet. I used food as a coping mechanism to feel better but in doing so I was actually making myself feel worse.
To put it simply food is fuel for our bodies to function. A part of our bodies is our brain which is the key to our mental health. So putting the right fuel into our bodies we are going to see improvements in both our physical and mental health.
It can be hard to figure out the right nutrition we need but the simplest thing we can do is make sure our bodies and minds are fuelled correctly throughout the day is by eating 3 meals a day. That means no more skipping breakfast.
I started off with making sure I had breakfast every morning within 1 hour of waking up so usually around 9.30 am. I then have lunch between 12.30 pm and 1 pm. Finally, I have my dinner between 5.30 pm and 6.30 pm. This is what works for me and my schedule but it is what helped me initially get into good habits.
Having formed those good habits I am now working on implementing better nutrition into my meals but having that structure and fuel throughout the day helped massively compared to how I was living before.
Walking every day
What started as a way to get me out of the house when I was agoraphobic has turned into a staple part of my daily routine in keeping me mentally healthy.
Spending time outside of the house is something I find quite difficult so a lot of my time is spent indoors which is not good for anyone, let alone me with the problems I face.
Exercise is great for your well-being and also an effective anti-anxiety treatment. Exercise releases powerful chemicals known as endorphins in your brain that energise your spirits and make you feel good.
I was infatuated with sport growing up and played just about every sport under the sun. When my depression first started I took a step back and turned inwards listening to what my mind wanted rather than staying engaged and doing what was actually good for me. But I didn’t know this at the time.
Going for a walk is something I feel comfortable doing as of right now. It also gives me the chance to slowly build up a little bit of fitness whilst also working on mindfulness and taking my anxiety with me. As well as that it allows me to spend time in nature and green spaces which are proven to give individuals less mental distress, anxiety and depression whilst leading to greater wellbeing.
My next step is to get back to the gym or start running and incorporate more exercise into my daily routine.
The Smaller Things
If I had to try to explain why creativity is so important to me for my mental health I would simply have to say it is the best way to express myself and the things I enjoy. Majority of my creativity is for me and my own benefit. There are of course times when I use my creativity for the benefits of others or monetary purposes. But for the most, it is for my wellbeing.
Creating something in whatever form it may be; a photograph, a piece of writing, a design, altering some clothing, creating a video, a blog post or whatever it is, the feeling I get when I finish and seeing the results is incredible. There is such a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction which I don’t get anywhere else in my life.
With creativity, there is always room to improve or a different direction to take. It is completely up to you what you do and how you do it. There are no rules. Simply use what you have available to create and express yourself and no one ever has to see it unless you feel like sharing.
Meditation was first introduced to me about 5 years ago. It was brought to my attention in the form of mindfulness through a group therapy I was apart of. Before then I thought it was nonsense and something only highly spiritual people took part in.
At first, I didn’t really have a good understanding of what I was trying to achieve. It was taught to me for the use of preventing a panic attack by slowing down and concentrating on my breathing. It helped sometimes and other times I seemed completely useless. And so I engaged with it here and there but relied more so on other means in order to help me.
That was until recently and I feel I have a much better grasp on meditation and how to use it effectively. I’m a student and my understanding may be off the mark still. But with my newfound understanding meditation plays a much bigger part in my life and helps me tremendously.
So my understanding of meditation is about ‘being’. And what I mean by being is simply just allowing myself to be fully present in the moment. Allowing myself to feel everything going on and accepting it. Letting the thoughts flow through my mind without attaching to them. And so being present in the moment and no longer struggling with my thoughts and feelings.
Meditation then becomes less of an act and more of a mindset and lifestyle. This is to be worked on continuously to be able to be more present and less attached to the mind.
The most effective way to achieve this is through controlling the breath which can be done at any point of the day during any activity. To start off with it is easiest to carve out 10 minutes and find a place you feel comfortable to engage in meditation and also if it helps follow a guided meditation whilst you get familiar with it.
I already touched on the writing part a little bit above when I spoke about creativity but that was more of an external process whereas I also write for an internal purpose.
Rumination is the action or process of thinking deeply about something which is something I engage in often and in my experience can be costly to my mental health.
There are many different ways to counteract ruminating and what worked for me was journaling and writing. Rather than spending hours and hours going over and over something I decided to write it down. That way I can always go back to it if I need to.
Getting whatever it is out of my head whether it’s through journaling about what happened that day or a specific event that took place or how I’m feeling or thoughts I am having, getting them down on paper makes them seem real and can then be put into perspective easier. Or as I said I can come back to it and that puts my mind at ease to no longer need to obsessively think about it.
Tracking My Mental Health
I have tracked my mental health since the start of 2018 and I’m so glad I started doing so.
Mental illness and even poor mental health can be exhausting to live with. Days and weeks blur together and your memory turns to mush. At one point in time, I couldn’t even have told you what day of the week it was let alone how I felt on a specific day or how many days in a row I had felt a certain way.
Now I use different apps to track different things such as how much sleep I get, how bad my anxiety and depression were on a scale of none to severe as well as when I attend therapy and doctors appointments.
I no longer have to worry about my memory quite so much as I always have something to look back on to clarify these things which minimise the amount of stress I then have to experience daily.
None of these things instantly worked on improving my mental health. It was through being persistent and committing to doing them every day which lead to the success I have found.
I didn’t start doing them all at once either. I tried one at a time and adding new things into the mix when I felt comfortable with the previous ones.
There were also lots of things which I have tried and didn’t work for me so it is important to try your hand and at different things which may help you. I am continuing to add new things to my daily life in order to keep progressing forward and improving my mental health so bear in mind this list reflects where I am at right now and what has helped me get to where I am.