As some of you may know, I struggle with mental illness. Recently I had a bit of a relapse and realised that I need to take some steps to start my journey to recovery. In this post I will be sharing my tips and advice for staying on top of your game. Just so you know, I am not a doctor and this is not medial advice. What I am sharing are steps you can take that I have discovered from both professionals and from within myself.
Routine Routine Routine:
I have heard this over and over again and I stand by it, have a routine and stick to it! Having a plan helps take the pressure off you and makes you feel more composed. Somedays it’s going to be hard to stick to your routine but every time you say no to your illness and continue on your day is a small victory and baby steps are the way to go when improving your wellbeing. Now, when I was making my daily plan I was quite anal and rigid about it because well, that’s just who I am but once I feel more settled I will give myself some leeway so I can be flexible. In my plan I have set a time to wake up and go to bed, meal times, time slots to be creative and active and free time so I don’t go mad. As well as this, I have scheduled in time for self care. I have also allocated times to express gratitude and say daily positive affirmations but I’ll talk about those later. Have a think about what brings you joy and makes you feel calm and then create a routine based around that.
I would highly recommend getting some form of professional support on your journey to wellness. Whether that be a social worker or a whole team of psychiatrists and psychologists. Don’t be afraid to speak up and look for help, no one can do this on their own and this could be the very thing you need to get you up and running again. Depending on where you live, specialist mental health care is generally free unless you go to a private clinic. Most universities and polytechs have some sort of arrangement where you can get a certain amount of sessions with a social worker or psychologist for free so if you are studying go to the health centre and find out what they can offer you.
Eating clean can make a huge impact on your mental health. Myself personally, I follow a mostly vegan, whole foods diet and it makes me feel amazing. Unfortunately, in order to get the best results with your diet, you’re going to have to do some trial and error. Not everyone reacts to different foods that same way and you may find some foods make you feel worse instead of better. So pay attention to what you’re eating and try a find some correlation between food and your mood.
Get active people! Endorphins are a wonderful thing. In New Zealand doctors are now recommending exercise before attempting to be treated by medication, how amazing is that? You don’t have to run 10km a day to be active, even a 20 minutes walk is enough to get the heart pumping and the endorphins running. If exercise really isn’t your thing, try exercising with a friend, you’ll be talking so much you won’t even notice your exercising. If you can’t bear the thought of going to the gym, why not join a sports team? It’s social, fun and a great way to stay active. My personal favourite forms of exercise are hiking, rock climbing and yoga. I love walking out in nature, getting some sun on my skin (important for Vitamin D) and breathing in clean, fresh air, makes a world of different. Yoga is another great option for exercise as you can practice at any level. There are yin classes which are very slow through to power vinyasa which are intense. I love doing these classes in extreme heat, my favourite class being at 40ºC. Rock climbing for me holds a very special place in my heart, it’s one of the only activities where I don’t beat myself up when things go wrong and I am building myself up and absolutely crushing it! What I’m trying to say is, exercise shouldn’t be a chore or dreaded, experiment a bit until you find something you love.
Ahh sleep, my one true love. Having good sleep hygiene makes a HUGE difference in your mood and the way you cope with stress. Going back to what I said about routine earlier, choose a time you want to go to sleep and then wake up 7-8 hours after that, or vice versa, choose the time you want to wake up and calculate what time you need to go to sleep to get 7-8 hours. Have some wind down time before going to sleep. Try and avoid stimulants like screens, coffee, tea and cigarettes and instead having warm shower or bath, have a cup of chamomile tea and just chill. If you like reading, try reading a book although that is a double edged sword because I’ve said to myself, “I’m going to read for 30 minutes” and BAM it’s 4am. If you wake up in the night and find you can’t go back to sleep, don’t jump straight on your phone or pop out for a smoke. Instead, try lying in bed with your eyes closed or if you’re really restless, read the phonebook, it’s so boring you will probably doze off.
This is a bit of a touchy topic but there have been lots of studies showing how practicing mindfulness and meditation dramatically reduces stress and boosts your mood. Mindfulness is the practice of concentrating on only what is happening at that very second, here and now and blocking out worries from the past or concerns for the future. Most mindfulness exercises are done through meditation however there are some other ways to do it. I was once walked through an exercise where you squeeze your hands really tight for 5 - 10 seconds and then release noticing how your hands feel after your release them. If you are new to meditation, I would highly recommend starting with a guided meditation. There are plenty of apps, podcasts and youtube videos that can help you
Now I struggle with this a lot! I am definitely a pessimist and although that may never change, taking my negative thoughts and making them positive is a great skill to have. The ways in which I am applying some positive thoughts into my life are by having a gratitude journal and saying daily affirmations. Expressing gratitude is a great way to introduce some positivity into your life. Grab a journal and everyday write down 10, or as many as you like, things you are grateful for. Daily affirmations are something I have literally just started and although they are not a quick fix, eventually you will start believing them and thus begins the journey of self love.
So you want a more natural approach to bettering your mental health? Try aromatherapy. You can do this by either burning a candle or incense or you can by an oil diffuser (I want one SO bad) and add some drops of essentials oils to fill your room. I admit, oil diffusers are pretty pricey so if that doesn’t work for you mix some essential oils with a carrier oil and apply to the inside of your wrist, sniffing throughout the day.
Scents for depression: rose, ylang ylang, jasmine, clary sage, bergamot, grapefruit, lemon
Scents for relaxation/sleep: lavender, chamomile
Scents for anxiety: lavender, rose, ylang ylang, chamomile
Scents for anger: ylang ylang
Scents for irritability: sandalwood (my personal favourite)
Have an outlet:
Having an outlet to release all of those built up feelings and emotions is super helpful for your overall wellbeing. The best outlets are either creative outlets or physical outlets, such as exercise. I like to combine the two for the best results. Everyday I go for a walk or do some yoga as well as exercising my creativity by doing some writing, playing piano or making clothes. For me it is very important to express myself as I find I understand myself more when I do this and the more I understand myself, the more I can begin to find ways to support myself.