[Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. And the following is meant to be educational and is NOT intended to be taken as medical advice. Before trying any of the following tips, consider consulting your preferred medical provider. By reading further and/or trying any of the following ideas you are agreeing to take sole responsibility of your actions.]
One in five adults in America suffers from mental illness in any given year.(1) And those are just the ones that have been diagnosed.
May is Mental Health Month, so I want to do my part to help anyone who is affected by a mental health imbalance. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression for YEARS, you can be sure I’ve tried just about everything to pull myself out of it–therapy, medication, changing careers, and even self pep talks that usually just ended in me screaming at myself in the mirror while sobbing (not so helpful).
Finally, after nearly 15 years of battling depression and anxiety off and on, I’ve found a combination of techniques that works for me. And they are all natural. No expensive, mood-altering medication necessary.(2) Depression, even deep, debilitating depression IS possible to overcome. There is nothing to be ashamed of if medication is necessary for you, but it will not fix the root of the problem.
Before I continue, it’s important to note that ANYONE can benefit from these tips. They are great tools to help keep a healthy mental balance, which applies to anyone with a brain, not just those that have been diagnosed. We all experience stress and the struggles of daily life. And we all owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to take care of our minds and bodies so we can be the best version of whoever we are.
Everyone is different, so what works for me may not work the same for you. But the good news is there are MANY ways to keep a healthy mental balance. So try the ones below that intrigue you the most.
This is the single biggest factor in my personal recovery from depression and anxiety. If you’ve never tried it before, start with guided meditations (I like Jason Stephenson and most of the meditations from Hay House on YouTube). Working meditation into your daily routine, for at least ten minutes, will make a massive difference. Just don’t give up if you don’t feel that difference right away. If you'd like to learn more, I've written a two-part post all about meditation. The first part is here.
2. Magnesium oil
This was a big win for me. When I first learned of magnesium deficiency and what that does to our bodies, I thought, “Holy crap, most of that applies to me!” So I tried a magnesium supplement in pill form. Then a good friend informed me that our bodies process magnesium much more efficiently through our SKIN! That’s when I discovered magnesium oil. And I’ve used it daily ever since. Another way to absorb magnesium is through a relaxing epsom salt bath.
I doubt this is the first time you have heard this. Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. It releases endorphins that directly combat the hormones that stress, depression, and anxiety thrive off of. We’ll have a guest post all about this at the end of the month.
This also helps release endorphins, but more importantly gets you to focus on your breath and your body, which will center you and help quiet your mind.
5. Vitamin D/sunlight
This is why we are all a little bluer in the winter. And in Chicago, nearly everyone I know takes some form of Vitamin D supplement. But getting out in the sun for at least twenty minutes a day is super important to helping your body process this essential nutrient. And, bonus tip, the greatest absorber of vitamin D in your body is your EYES. So take off those shades and look around (just not directly at the sun…)
6. Good food
What we put into our bodies has a direct impact on our mood and behavior. Refined sugar spikes then depletes energy, gluten causes fogginess, and dairy has been linked to depression, aggression, and even anger. The more natural, whole foods (especially vegetables) you can incorporate into your diet, the better your brain will support your daily functions. I’ll go into more detail on nutrition and supplements when we take on the topic of food (coming soon).
7. Monitoring your self-talk
How do you talk to yourself? Would you say those things to a close friend? Would you even say them to someone you didn’t like? Your thoughts and the language you use matter profoundly. When you find you’re badmouthing yourself, stop the thought cold and think of how you would address a loved one in that situation. Are your thoughts even true? Show yourself the same love and compassion you show your best friend.
8. Stress reduction activities
Try something new, talk with a loved one, journal, say a prayer of gratitude, go for a walk, get one of those adult coloring books and color without trying to be perfect, or anything else that takes you out of your head and brings you joy. If your first instinct is to say, “but I don’t have time for that” I want to challenge you to find 15 or 20 minutes and do it anyway. Grinding on when your head isn’t in the right place does nobody any good. Just 20 minutes of doing something you love could change your outlook for the rest of the day.
9. Talk to someone
A therapist, a friend, a stranger. Letting out what’s on your mind can relieve stress and reduce anxiety and depression. However, be careful not to dwell. Studies have shown that some talk therapy is actually counterintuitive to depression because the patient is ruminating over the same negative thoughts repeatedly. The idea here is to air it out and let it go.
10. Listen to your own story
Is there something specific at the root of your distress? There may be something that is crying out for your attention (i.e. a toxic relationship is plaguing you, your job is just plain miserable, or you’re carrying guilt and shame for something you’ve done, etc). In cases like these, your best step forward is to recognize that something needs to be done and determine the most healing way through the issue. This may involve some major changes or actions that are uncomfortable at first, but denying the real problem will only make it worse. Pull off the bandaid and let the wound heal.
This is one remedy I have not yet tried, but I have several friends who’ve had success relieving anxiety with acupuncture. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the 'analytical' brain which is responsible for anxiety and worry.(3)
12. Do something for others
Often when you are in a deep funk, your thoughts all spiral around yourself, what you are feeling, and how much you don’t want to feel that way. The best way to break this loop is to do something good for someone else. When I was at the worst part of my depression over the last few years, I started volunteering for a small charity. Not only did it humble me and pull me out of my head, but being around others who were also giving of themselves to those in need inspired me, and helped me remember how good I really have it.
13. Break your routine
Take a vacation, give yourself a spa day, or even just take a walk! Again, if you think you don’t have time for these things, think again. Your mental health is more important than nearly all of the things you are putting it off for. Getting out of your daily grind can be just the thing you need to recharge your batteries. And it will make you more a effective and productive employee, mom, leader, whatever your roles may be.
14. Recognize your strengths
And let go of what you perceive as weaknesses. So many of what we call weaknesses–or things we just aren’t good at–are not necessary for us to be “good at” in the first place. Embrace what you do well and let go of the rest. If there are things you truly can’t let go of, but you can’t seem to improve (i.e. managing the books for your business, keeping your house clean) hire help or find a program that can do most of it for you. You are not meant to be brilliant at everything, and when you can see your strengths for what they are, it will help you see and appreciate the strengths in others too.
15. Take baby steps
If it is a major undertaking that is stressing you out or giving you anxiety (i.e. renovating a house, starting a business, planning a wedding, etc.). The best remedy is to stop viewing the project as one big whole. Instead, break it down into small manageable tasks. Many small things can be done in less than thirty minutes (choosing a paint color, writing a vision statement…). Some things will take longer, but knowing the individual tasks that need to be accomplished is much more manageable and less stressful than the weight of the whole entire project.
Whether you suffer from the winter blues, chronic stress, or major depressive disorder, these tips CAN make a difference for you. They key is commitment. Whatever you choose to try, stick with it. There is no quick and easy fix. Your mental health is NOT something that is wrong with you that needs to be “fixed”. It is a part of you that needs to be checked in with and nurtured regularly. Be kind to yourself.
If you found this list helpful, chime in below and let the world know what works best for you.
We’ll have more posts this month digging deeper into some of these life-changing practices, so be sure to come back.
1. [Original resource] Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-adults.shtml - See more at: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers#sthash.3R1ZsuIN.dpuf
2. There are definitely cases where medication may be your best option. This is not a medical blog, and I am in NO WAY advising you to ignore your doctor. Try these methods in conjunction with your medication first, then speak to your doctor about weaning off. Antidepressants treat the symptoms of depression, not the disorder itself. Many of the methods described in this post tackle the root of depression, thus giving you a better chance of restoring true balance that lasts.
3. British Acupuncture Council. Retrieved May 13, 2016 from http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/depression.html