For most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with bouts of anxiety, stress and depression that can make day-to-day tasks feel impossible. In seeking advice from doctors over the years, I’ve heard just about every suggestion: eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, take the right vitamins and exercise regularly to boost feel-good endorphins. And hey, these are all great tactics to try if you’re looking to manage your mental health. I typically take vitamin D to deal with seasonal affective disorder, and doing Pilates provides a healthy distraction if I’m feeling anxious.
When turning to friends and acquaintances, however, I was told to try less conventional methods to improve my mental health. Ideas for dealing with my moods ranged from trying meditation and prayer to crystals and aromatherapy. Some of these ideas made my eyes roll, and I dismissed nearly everything that didn’t sound remotely medical. But now, a lot of these techniques have flooded into the mainstream and are showing serious results when it comes to coping with blue moods.
Looking for effective ways to turn bad days around, I’ve become more open to new ideas and have tried a lot of the things I previously dismissed as “new age” silliness. Turns out, some of these methods really work, so I’ve narrowed it down to the ones that have helped me the most.
I used to think that meditation was the act of sitting around, chanting “om” and staring into space until you forgot your own name. Turns out, I was majorly wrong. With modern life becoming increasingly stressful, meditation has become a popular practice for anyone looking to cut out distractions and focus on mindfulness. Apps like Headspace and Insight Timer make it easy to meditate anywhere, with the latter offering guided meditations tailored to a number of topics. Insight Timer also offers a customizable timer that allows you to find your zen whether you have two minutes or an hour to spare.
When I’m feeling low, one of the last things I want to do is talk about all the things I’m grateful for, but that’s just what I force myself to do. Feeling down can cause me to focus on everything that’s going wrong, but taking time to take stock of what’s going right — no matter how big or small — helps me to stop negative thoughts from spiralling.
If I’m feeling particularly lazy, I’ll simply run through a mental checklist of the good stuff: how lucky I am to have my physical health, a roof over my head, and great friends and family who support me. If I’ve got more time than that, I’ll take a pen to some cute stationery and get specific. I’ll list off the great coffee I drank at breakfast, an adorable dog I saw on the street, or the fresh sheets I’ll be putting on my bed that night because, for once, I remembered to do laundry.
While the things I add to my gratitude list can sometimes seem trivial, it’s often the little things that remind me just how wonderful life can be. Taking the time to remember these happy things re-routes my brain from its negative path and puts me back on track to feeling better. Any blank notebook will do, but a journal specifically tailored to this purpose makes practicing gratitude an easy, daily task.
Self-Care Sundays (Or Tuesdays, Or Thursdays …)
The term “self-care” has largely become associated with sitting around and sometimes indulging in unhealthy whims, but that’s a far cry from what a true self-care session should be about. As someone who works full-time, it can be difficult to find time to focus on myself and recharge my batteries. That’s why I try to have at least one day a week where I fully put myself first. But that doesn’t mean sleeping in and eating my favourite snacks.
Instead, I make sure my environment is clean and relaxing. I burn candles and I put my favourite oil blends in my diffuser. I try to avoid checking my email, or fussing over any upcoming calendar obligations, and instead catch up on podcasts or stream a few episodes of a new show while taking care of myself. These self-care days are when I finally get around to doing a face mask, painting my nails or soaking in the tub with stockpiled bath bombs. While I set aside these days for relaxing, giving myself small, focused tasks helps to keep me from feeling guilty or anxious, and allows me to conquer the next few days feeling refreshed and clear-headed.
“I am strong” — three small words with a big impact. On days where my bad moods seem to be getting the best of me, and I don’t have the energy to try any of my calming techniques, I try to turn around the narrative of what my negative thoughts are saying.
Instead of letting that little voice in my head tell me to give up, I remind myself that I am strong, I am smart and I am valuable. Even if I don’t believe it in the moment, repeating positive affirmations helps stop the flood of hurtful self-talk. Because sometimes, the best method is to fake it till you make it.
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 30, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message (not iMessage) sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada, Bell Aliant and Bell MTS customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.