I love sharing funny and informational posts, but lately a topic that’s a bit more serious was on my mind. It’s a topic that’s important to me, because it’s a long personal journey I’ve been on and something that I know affects a lot of people out there.
So today I want to talk about mental health and my personal experience with it. I want to start by saying I’m not a professional in this field, just someone who has dealt with mental health for several years and someone who has found peace and happiness after several year of working through it and learning what works best for me.
So to start, mental health issues affect 1 in 4 people. That’s a lot of people! Probably everyone has either experienced a mental health condition or knows someone who has. And it’s one of those topics that isn’t widely talked about and some people feel embarrassed or the need to hide it. This breaks my heart, because I’ve been there, I used to feel so awkward and a that I was a burden asking for help, so I know how isolating it can feel. I’m thankful my "bad days" are fewer and farther between, but not after several years of working through it.
I was first diagnosed with anxiety at the end of my first year in university. My symptoms were quite varied. Anxiety and depression showed up in strange, unexpected ways.
Some of my symptoms were:
· I felt sad, irritable and had intense mood swings
· I had stomach pains/cramps, and it felt like I was going to throw up
· I was exhausted, had no energy and brain fog (never felt sharp or motivated)
· I couldn’t focus on tasks, especially in school
· I felt so worried about something I said in the past or concerned with the future that I couldn’t focus on the present
· I felt very unaccomplished and I would punish myself by hurting myself
· I felt worthless at times and would have suicidal thoughts
· I physically felt like I was going to die but I wasn't (it usually felt like I was having a heart attack or had a blood clot)
· I had panic attacks
· I would gasp for air, and it felt like I couldn’t breath
· I frequently had UTI’s from stress/anxiety
· I experienced sleep apnea, I would wake up because I stopped breathing
As you can see from my list, I experienced many mental and physical symptoms with my anxiety and depression. It's not simply feeling sad or stressed. Just recalling all these symptoms makes me remember what a difficult and utterly exhausting time it was coping with everything.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why it got so bad, I don't think a doctor can ever give a clear answer when, why, or how a mental disorder came to be like they can with a physical aliment (ie. they can tell you all those details if you broke your wrist).
Below is the list of several things that I suspect triggered my anxiety and depression, and these are things I am hyper aware of managing in my current life to prevent my anxiety and depression from returning.
What Triggered my Anxiety & depression
· My environment. This is such a big one! Living in residence, a certain professors class, a bad part time job, being around people who are controlling, these are just some of the negative environments I was subjected to while in university that stressed me out
· Putting all my self worth in my grades. I always got 90’s in high school and during university I was having a hard time maintaining my scholarship and felt immense pressure to do so
· Eating unhealthy food, and not exercising or taking care of my body
· Letting my happiness be controlled by other peoples actions
· Studying for tests and pulling all nighters
· Being diagnosed with hypothyroidism
· Having very high expectations for myself, felt extremely disappointed when I didn't meet them
· Not sleeping enough
When things Got worse
First and second year of university were the worst years for my mental health. I went to the hospital for a panic attack, but at the time it felt like a blood clot was in my neck and moving up to my brain waiting to pop. (this feeling of having a blood clot is actually a symptom of anxiety)
This was the scariest moment of my life (I actually thought I was going to die) BUT it was also a huge moment of change. Especially when I woke up and was alive. It all felt like a weird dream, but I was changed from that experience.
My improved Perspective
I stopped being so obsessive about my grades. I would work hard in school and study lots, but I no longer pulled all nighters and I didn’t beat myself up if I got a less than ideal grade. I stopped prioritizing school over my mental health. Sometimes if I didn’t feel rested enough I would skip class to sleep longer. My priority become how I felt.
What I realized is that NOTHING is more important that your mental health. Obviously you can’t call in sick to work every day because you need more sleep. But you can make different decisions in your life that prioritize your mental health. Your mental health comes before family, friends, partners, children, your job, school, etc. Because you can’t be a good daughter, friend, partner, parent, employee, boss, student if you aren’t in a good mental space. This all clicked for me after that experience.
My struggles with it didn’t end there, but things got better. I quit a job that was giving me a lot of stress (boss was just a mean person, I couldn’t deal), I stopped talking to a manipulative ex and started dating the sweetest guy I had been with. I planned a trip with my mom to NYC, I started working out more often, juicing and went vegan. (this lasted 6 months but I was wanting to improve my health overall)
Being in a happy environment, around kind people and taking care of my health became my new priorities.
Did all my mental health struggles go away? No, I still experienced different symptoms. Less severe for sure, but up until last winter was when I really stopped having most issues. So that was about 6 years of it going from really bad to almost gone. Now I almost never feel anxious or depressed. And if I do feel that way again, I’m quick to recognize it and take action.
Now I think of my mental health and brain as a muscle. (I know it’s not, it’s like nerve endings, electrical signals or something like that lol) People train their muscles to be stronger in the gym, and if it’s injured they do certain things to take care of it and let it heal. I do the same for my mental state.
I love reading peoples tips whether they be about beauty, fashion, business, social media, marketing, etc. and I love sharing what I know. So I have a list of tips/techniques that help me personally cope with anxiety and depression. If this is something you deal with maybe some of these will help you too! I’ll admit now, some are strange, but hey if it works for me maybe it will work for you too!
My Tips to be Happy & Healthy mentally:
· When I’m anxious I crave the feeling of safety and security because it feels like I’m in danger even though I’m not, what helps me is having people I trust and can express my feelings towards
· Physical touch relieves stress and grounds you, so cuddling with a partner or a hug from a friend or family member helps me
· Sometimes it feels like I can’t breathe or I’m gasping for air, I find breathing in cold air helps which is easy during the winter because I can just go outside, or if it is the summer I stick my head in the freezer until my breathing returns to normal
· When my heart feels like its racing (it’s not actually) I do some physical activity, this tip I learned from my doctor and find it works well! The reason behind it is if I increase my heart rate through exercise it will come back down, the feeling of my heart slowing down calms me down
· Meditate or focus on slow breathing, breath in deep and slow for 7 counts, hold for 3 and exhale for 7, helps especially if hyperventilating and are breathing too fast
· Having someone talk to me while I’m having a panic attack, I just need to be distracted because all my attention is on my thoughts and feelings in my body. I try calling someone or talking with someone around you, and I just say tell me about your day or tell me a story of something that happened to you (I don’t want to talk, I just want to listen and be distracted)
· Goes back to having a trusted person to talk to, but I tell them I’m not feeling well or having a panic attack and I just need to hear that I’m going to be okay. Even though I’m not dying or in any danger having someone say I'm going to be okay out loud is comforting
· Get enough sleep, because when I don't I can tell my body feels off. My chest feels tighter, my breathing is more shallow, and my heart is racing when I’m overtired. To cope I cancel things in my schedule so I can make sure I get 8 or more hours or I make sure I have time for a nap. I also don’t plan things for early in the morning, because if I know I have to wake up early I get stressed when trying to fall asleep
· Remove myself from stressful environments, this usually means removing toxic people from my life, and being unapologetic about it! (literally drop that course, quit that job, & stop spending time with that friend that only brings stress and negativity into your life)
· Get my health checked, if I feel anxious and that I may have issues with my heart or be at risk for blood clots I make a trip to my doctor to ensure I’m healthy and these paranoid thoughts are from my anxiety
· Get blood work done to make sure everything is normal. I found out I had hypothyroidism which can increase feelings of depression, so going on medication to treat that helped with my mental health issues
· Fill my mind with positivity, watch funny shows/movies, listen to inspiring podcasts, have uplifting conversations, I aim to nourish my body with healthy food so I do the same by nourishing my mind with good thoughts
· Limit caffeine, ok I love coffee and how it energizes me but I know to limit myself to one per day. It increases my heart rate and too much makes me jittery and increases feelings of anxiety
· Nourish my body with healthy food, it’s hard to feel bad when you eat extremely healthy, it affects every organ in your body including your brain
· Pay attention to what makes you feel bad then avoid it, or purposely do things to uplift your mood if you can’t avoid it (an example for me is cloudy weather, it really brings me down, I plan cozy days in and when it’s nice out I go outside and soak up as much sunshine as possible)
· Exercise, it increases endorphins which are the 'feel good' hormone
· List what I’m grateful for because life feels overwhelming at times and that we aren’t doing enough or have enough. When I focus on what I’m grateful for I feel more relaxed and content with where I’m at in life
· Do peaceful activities. Everyone is always on the go therefore it’s no wonder why so many people are stressed out! To combat my busy schedule I make more time for calming activities like being around nature, going for walks, listening to music and reading
· Do more fun activities, again counteract stress with joy and laughter! I started being more purposeful and spent more time with friends that I have fun with, and dancing because it makes me happy!
· Be aware of the thoughts I’m thinking. A belief dictates our actions and all a belief is is a thought we repeatedly think about, so I check in with myself and see if I am thinking negative or positive thoughts, if it’s negative I shift it to be more general until it doesn’t make me feel bad anymore (this takes a lot of practice, no one teaches us how to be mindful of our thoughts)
· Affirmations, repeat good thoughts, say them out loud several times until you believe what you’re saying
Those are all the tips and practices I do to make me feel better! This list has been years in the making and now I try to incorporate as many as possible into each day so I can prevent anxiety and depression.
We all have busy and sometimes stressful lives, so I believe weather you’re a business owner or someone pursuing a challenging career path we all should be taking extra good care of our minds and bodies so we can be happy and thriving!
Also I know this post was a bit different from other I've written, but so many people swap fitness and weight loss tips, so why not openly share mental health tips as well! This post was just a little step at making this topic less taboo to talk about <3