10 tips to Balancing your Mental Health
Sometimes, through no fault of your own, the chemicals in your brain become unbalanced. It's like catching a cold. Normally, you're pretty run down, and BAM, next thing you know you have a runny nose, you're shoving a cotton swap up your nose to test for covid and you're in bed with a hundred used tissues around you. Often, when I am a bit run down, I don't catch a cold, I can feel myself falling into a depression. You know the feeling? When flies buzzing near you infuriate you to the point of crying. When all the fun things you love doing bring no joy. When getting out of bed is just too much. Your body aches. Your anxiety as at a constant high vibration. When it feels like your brain can only think of one very simple thought at a time, and that thought can't involve fixing a problem, or committing to a task, or doing anything really. This, my friends, is depression. And it is ok. It's ok to get depression every now and then. Just like a cold, you know it's time to slow down and look after yourself. Depression and I have been dancing together for more than half of my life. I know it's dance moves well and I know when it steps on to the dance floor. Before it tries to do the tango with me I drag myself into my 'fuck off depression plan'. These are ten tips I follow to keep depression at arms distance. They might help you too...
Meditation Yes yes yes. I know. It's very obvious. My advise here is to try to build a strong meditation habit BEFORE depression creeps up. Fit 10 minutes of meditation into your daily life. If you find it hard to just start a new habit, or even maintain it, try to habit stack. This is where you add on your meditation habit to an already formed habit. For example, I do my ten minutes of meditation in my car when I pull up to the studio in the morning. Driving to the studio is already a habit, stacking the meditation habit onto the end of my drive is easy. You could stack your meditation on top of 'brushing your teeth' or 'after your daily stretches' or 'before you drink your coffee in the morning'. Also, sitting still and clearing my mind is not for me. So I listen to Calm's Daily Jay. Every day Jay Shetty has a 7min meditation where he talks about being your best self and takes you through some breathing. This means I don't have to talk myself into the meditation, I just stop my car, undo my seat belt and press my little Daily Jay button and there I am - meditating. Try it!
Exercise This can be a horrible cycle. You're depressed, so you have no energy, you need energy to get yourself to the gym, or to go for a walk. BUT! If you do exercise you will have more energy. I promise. Again, this is a good routine to start now, before you are depressed. It is near impossible to start a new fitness plan when you have depression. So start your fitness plan now, make it a daily habit. When you do get depression, you simply have to show up. I do Crossfit 3 times a week, basketball once a week and swim laps or go to yoga on fridays. This is my normal weekly routine. When depression sets in, it is not negotiable that I miss gym. I can miss work. I can miss having breakfast. But missing gym is unacceptable. Even if I'm injured, I will go to gym and just do a load of sit ups and time on the rower. I'm moving. I visualise my blood pumping the shitty brain chemicals out of my system. I often want to hit things (not people) when I'm depressed. I think it's a 'tantrum thing'. So being at the gym and being able to hit a boxing bag or pads is perfect.
Don't drink booze This is a simple one. Don't drink alcohol. It is the one substance that will tip me right into the depression hole. Replace that wine with a kombucha. Switch your beer out with the zero alcohol beer (my husband say Carlton Zeros are the best). Make yourself a tasty smoothie with nutrients that are good for you. Nourish yourself.
Chocolate (and nourishing food) I understand the last two words from the last section were 'nourish yourself' and here I am encouraging you to eat chocolate. This is my thinking right - if you're eating well: 70% fruit and veg, plenty of protein and fibre, only necessary amounts of carbs and fats and little to no sugar. Then having some chocolate when you're feeling low is fine. One block of chocolate never caused a person to become over weight. When I feel low, I buy myself one family block of cadbury chocolate. I have a row or two during the week when I feel like it, and I make sure I don't feel guilty about it. After the block is gone, usually the low mood has lifted and then, no more chocolate. Try to focus on eating whole foods and drink loads of water. Your body will thank you.
Catch up with Friends This one is hard too - I know. The last thing you want is to do is see people when it's hard to stop crying. You know you will feel better when you see them though. This happened to me on the weekend. My friends were all up on the Sunshine Coast for a basketball tournament. My hip is injured so I couldn't play. I was feeling really low about it but I forced myself to go to the games and all the hugs from my friends, all the jokes and yelling and cheering and high-fiving made me feel human again. I felt loved and included. Force yourself to go see a friend who is supportive and understanding.
Communicate Talk to the people around you and just flag with them that you're not doing ok at the moment. It's amazing how much people love and support you and how valued they feel to be able to help. My husband and son can normally see the depression creeping in before I can (thanks to my very dramatic tantrums because there are flies in the house). My husband always steps up. He fixes any little problems that arise without me knowing, he organises outings to keep me busy and feeling loved and he gets me to bed early. Let the people around you help but you have to communicate with them. If communication is too hard, you could pre-organise other ways to tell your family you are not ok. I have a stuffed rabbit. My husband knows that if he comes home and I'm in bed hugging the rabbit, I'm not doing ok.
Sleep Ohhh gosh, lack of sleep is one of my major trigger points for depression. If I have a week of terrible sleep, I can almost guarantee that I'll be low for a few weeks afterwards. So I have a very strict sleep routine that I follow every single night. I know that I need at least 8 hours sleep and I thrive with 9 hours sleep. Before bed my son reads me a book in bed (he then tucks me in and kisses me on the forehead), I take my Kava and Gabba (as prescribed by my nutritionist), I do my physio stretches, I brush my teeth and take my CBD oil (for anxiety), I put my lavender oil diffuser on for 20 minutes, I watch TV (or read a book) with my husband for one hour while I cuddle my cat, Lilly. Then the lights go out and I fall asleep listening to a sleep story from Calm. Every. Single. Night. Find a sleep routine that works for you and practise it so that when depression hits, you simple revert to your wonderful sleep routine.
Nature I don't like bush walks. I get anxiety that there will be a snake, and I'm usually the one that gets ticks and leeches. So my version of 'nature' is the beach. I'm lucky we only live 20 mins drive to the beach. I walk along the beach and look for dolphins and smile at the dogs running around like chooks. Sometimes I throw myself into the water and let the salt water work it's magic. Maybe your 'nature' is sitting in the middle of a football field. Maybe it's driving with the windows down. It could be sitting next to a local creek. Just get yourself outside. Get some Vitamin D. Get some fresh air. Get some perspective on your life.
Rest If everything seems too hard. Then don't do anything. Let yourself do nothing. Give yourself a timeframe and let yourself be sad and cry and stay in your PJs. It's ok to not be ok. I often take the day off work and curl up in bed with my cat and a book (and my block of chocolate). I turn my phone off and rest. And that's fine. The world keeps turning. Don't let your rest go on too long though. Make sure if you are resting, you are still doing things to alleviate the depression. Still get outside (even if you're still wearing your PJs), still go to the gym, still eat well and drink loads of water. I am very productivity driven, so I give myself one task to do a day. It could be to book a vet appointment for my cat or to fix the led light strip in the kitchen.
Paint (or something that will get you 'in the flow') Do you have that one activity that you start doing and next thing you know five hours have passed? Do that thing. For me that is painting. I can put some music on and start painting and next thing I know my alarm is going off to pick up my son and 4 hours of the day is gone. It's like a meditative state of calm and simply being. To get into the flow you need to be mono-tasking and focusing all your energy on what you're doing - not thinking about the bills you need to pay and the client work you need to do. Being in the flow always lifts my mood and it promotes more creativity which makes me feel like my energy is flowing.
A few other smaller tips I find that work for me:
Listening to music - I often list to business podcasts or self help/business books in the car. Sometimes I find it motivating, and sometimes I feel the pressure to 'do more'. When I'm not in the right mental space, music is a good pick-me-up and a great alternative to the podcasts.
Watch a movie - this gives me 90mins away from my life and my thoughts and feelings. I can transport myself into someone elses' life and forget about mine. This is avoidance. So I don't suggest binging 20 movies - but the short break can be nice.
Call you Mum (or Dad or parental figure) - Sometimes I just need my Mum. Talk to someone you respect and you know will listen to you and validate your feelings. It makes you feel a little less alone.
Book a holiday - Having something to look forward to always lifts my mood. Make sure you have the money though - you don't want to be adding financial stress to yourself.
I have not included medicine in this list, but it is certainly an option - but this needs to be discussed with your GP. I have had experience with several different anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications. I am now on a natural CBD oil for anxiety and it works for me and gives me more control over the dose, with little to no side effects. You must talk to your GP. If you feel like you're not being heard, find another GP.
If you continue to battle depression please get in touch with Beyond Blue or Lifeline or open up dialog with your doctor. There are so many people out here who can help and listen and support - I'm one of them. No one should suffer alone.
Do you have any tricks to keep depression at bay?