This isn’t going to be a neat ‘how to beat depression in 5 easy steps’ post because there’s no such thing as an easy way out of a major mental health episode. It’s a slow hard slog unfortunately.
As I’ve written about how it feels to be in the grip of depression, and it seemed to resonate with others, I thought I talk a little bit about what I’ve been doing these past few months to get my life back on track and feel better.
Before I launch into the importance of self-care, mindfulness and reaching out to other people, I have to stress that the most helpful things to me were and still are regular counselling and medication. They of course cost money and I’m eternally grateful to be in the privileged position of being able to afford and have access to adequate healthcare.
I say this because I know not everyone who is struggling with their mental health is able to get the professional help they need. I feel that often the burden of getting better is placed on the individual alone rather than focussing on improving the healthcare system.
Don’t feel bad if you are unable to practice self-care. I was only able to reach out, ask for help and look after myself after receiving professional help. That said, the following things may be helpful in general, whether you’re in a mental health crisis or not.
In order to quell the constant chatter in my head, the racing thoughts and never ending planning, I’ve been trying out different meditation and mindfulness techniques over the past couple of years. Being present in the here and now is a tough one for me. I’ve found Tara Brach’s free guided meditations and talks incredibly helpful. The buddhify app is also a good way of practising mindfulness in everyday life situations.
Listen to your body
Getting better at being present means I’m also getting better at noticing how I feel. It may sound strange but I often don’t know what I feel because I’m too caught up in thought. Suddenly I find myself really tense or stressed or sad and wonder where it came from. Now I make a conscious effort during each day to stop for a brief moment, take a deep breath and ask myself how I am. The point isn’t to alter any negative emotions that may come up, it’s just about recognising them.
It has been very helpful for me to make an effort to leave the house regularly and go for a walk in the park when I can. A couple of months ago that was a big task for me, and sometimes it would be the only thing I could manage to do during a day. Now it has become a necessity for clearing my head. If I really can’t muster the energy to leave the house, I try small things like having a shower and moving from my bed to the couch. Baby steps!
Do things you enjoy
As my energy levels are improving, I’m able to enjoy simple pleasures again like cooking meals for myself or lighting a scented candle. On days where I feel particularly tired, I stay in bed but make my room extra cozy and take joy in that. On better days, I look up new recipes to try out and take my time in the kitchen to prepare food. Putting together new outfits, thinking about what I should wear and putting on make up can also help me to feel better.
Stick to a routine
My natural body clock would have me staying up till 4am and not waking up before midday. That hasn’t been a particularly helpful routine to curb my insomnia or make me productive during the day. Going to bed early and getting up at the same time in the morning most days has helped me sleep better and improved my energy levels. Now that I’m back to work, I take my time in the mornings and do something I enjoy while getting ready, like listening to a podcast. Simple morning rituals like that help me to start the day in a calm and positive way.
Share the burden
When I started opening up to friends and family about my struggles, I was not only amazed by how many of them have experienced similar feelings but also by how helpful and kind everyone has been. My friends are certainly my biggest achievement in life. While social media may have many issues, I’ve found it quite helpful to share online as well as in real life. I’ve made some great connections in the virtual world that have helped me feel connected on those days when it’s too much to talk to someone in the real world.
I better stop here before the soppiness get’s out of hand. 😉 Let me know what helps you when you feel down and a bit lost. Get in touch with me if you need someone to listen. Hang in there if you’re struggling and remember feelings aren’t permanent, they will come and go. I wish you ease, gratitude and love! (Gone soppy again, soz.)