What comes to mind when you hear the word “health”? For me, I think of eating clean, regular exercise, drinking more water than I knew existed, and sleeping 8 hours a night. Heard this list before? It’s well-known for a reason; these four key elements are crucial to living a healthy lifestyle. This list of tips to a healthier lifestyle also applies to achieving a healthier mindset as a way to help cope with mental illnesses and stressors. Thousands of studies have proved that exercise, enough sleep, and a proper diet can help to decrease feelings of anxiety, depression, etc. Unfortunately though, many of these studies fail to conclude that when someone is suffering from a mental illness, they may not have the energy, mindset, or determination to go for a jog (or at least I know I don’t when I’m anxious). Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to slam healthy habits by any means. I think a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep and water intake is extremely important, but I want to stress that sometimes, some people who suffer with mental (or physical) illness may feel like they can’t take on these tasks. If someone doesn’t have the energy to go work out, it’s obvious they aren’t going to work out. This means they won’t release the same endorphins which lead to pain relief and an uplifted mood, and the cycle repeats, the symptoms worsen, and so on. Some days it’s a struggle to get out of bed and brush my teeth. Some days I don’t have the motivation to spend the extra 15 minutes in the kitchen to make something healthy, so I swap to the quick, easy, unhealthy foods in my fridge. Some days I do nothing but sleep, other nights I don’t sleep a wink. As much as I know I want to have a consistently healthy lifestyle, life and my mental illness can get in the way.
As a result, I’ve put together the following list of mechanisms that I have found helpful to cope with mental health struggles, especially when an attack hits or on those really bad days and all else seems impossible.
Talking: If you feel as though you experience your symptoms in a way that prevents you from doing regular daily activities like errands, preparing meals, and acts of self care (like bathing), I would suggest starting by making an appointment with your doctor, a professional, or with someone you trust. This helps to end the stigma associated with what you may be feeling, and helps you realize you are not alone in this journey. And trust me, it works. I used to never want to bother anyone with my problems because it always felt like it ‘wasn’t the right time’. I eventually opened up to a few people I trusted and it really helped to build a solid foundation for my own healing. By talking about it as if it was any other health condition (because that’s EXACTLY what it is- a health condition, of equivalent importance to everything else), it made me realize that we don’t need to act like the term ‘mental illness’ is a curse word or taboo subject we are forbidden from discussing. It’s time to prioritize your health, and yourself. We need to talk about this as a community.
Alternative Health Care: Another good starter step is going to see an ‘alternative’ health care professional. Massage therapists, acupuncturists, and/or chiropractors help kick-start the healing process in the physical body, but the changes they help facilitate can also help the mind. These approaches to care help to combat symptoms of mental illness by stimulating the neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord via touch, needle stimulation, or joint adjustment to release endorphins (among other benefits) which help to elevate one’s mood.
Meditation: Developing a daily meditation practise is a great way to start feeling better, and it can be as easy or as in depth as you want. If you have never meditated before, there are some great podcasts available to help get you started (find one that suits you and your needs that particular day!), or you can begin on your own. Dedicate 10-15 minutes every day (or when you start feeling an attack coming on) to sit or lie down comfortably and start with some deep belly breaths. After a few minutes of this, allow your mind to take a break from the daily stresses of life and tune into your body. Bring the focus internally, and if you find your mind drifting off, simply bring your focus back to your breath. Meditation helps to calm the body and the mind. It also helps to bring a focal point to your thoughts and helps to distance you from the toxic thoughts tinted by mental illness. I personally love meditating because it forces me to be completely present in the moment, and this is what makes meditation an especially useful tool against my anxiety.
Gratitude: Another simple thing I usually do when I’m feeling overwhelmed or sad is focusing my attention to one thing I’m grateful for in that very moment. One day, I had an anxiety attack and I felt frozen, almost as if I was stuck while everything else continued on. I tried showing gratitude for the clean air I breathe, the easy access to water I have, but I found myself actually showing the most gratitude to my bed, of all things. When I thought about it though, my bed was the one thing that was physically supporting me in that moment when I was all alone, and there’s no cozier place than your bed, am I right? As jokingly as I tell it now, it was quite real in that moment and calmed me down surprisingly quickly. Showing gratitude makes it easier to put things into perspective and regain connection with yourself and your thoughts.
These ideas may sound silly, but if you ever find yourself experiencing the overwhelming symptoms of a mental illness like these (this list focuses more on dealing with stress, anxiety and depression, as those are the ones I know how to talk about from experience), these seriously have helped me and others I know get back to a clear state of mind. Everyone is different, and everyone copes differently, so make sure you always do what works best for you; hopefully these mechanisms of coping can help you reconnect with your real self, even when you’re feeling at your worst.
This week, we want to remind everyone that you are never alone; no matter how alone you may feel, you are not alone. We are here for you. People care about you; WE care about you. No matter how terrible you feel in a given moment, it will get better… you just have to give it the chance. If you are experiencing a mental health struggle, an illness, or just need someone to talk to, please feel welcomed to message our Primitive Patterns team via the Contact Tab. We are more than willing to listen and connect you with the right health care professionals in our community. We are here to listen if you ever need us.