Saturday, October 10, 2020, was World Mental Health Day. I should have had this blog post turned in by then. But every time I started to write, something stymied my “oomph.” I wasn’t down, I wasn’t blue, I just didn’t have the ‘get-up-and-go’ in my fingers to type out anything of note. The weather yesterday didn’t help. It was smoky and therefore gray all day. Even The Zoo (my pets) didn’t have a lot of energy yesterday. So, I gave myself a break, I rested and I prayed for the right words to come this morning. Rest is indeed part of the way I tend to my Self, and it seems to have worked. I was going to write about mental health policy, but when I sat down to write this morning, the following is what came out of my heart. I hope it helps.
Most people I know have felt a bit (or very) lacking in get up and go or at times overwhelmed this year -in large part because of COVID-19 and its impacts on our daily living. Too many people have faced tragic losses as a result of the virus. Too many have felt isolated because of it. Too many have experienced an increase in their mental-illness symptoms and conditions. So what can we do to help those whose spirit feels dulled, those whose get-up-and-go doesn’t return after a short break, or when the smoke clears? As someone who overcame a mind and spirit that was dulled, crushed actually, I want to share with you a few things (“The Basics) that helped me heal from the emotional un-wellness that plagued me daily for nearly two decades.
The Basics. Before I share The Basics, I want to mention that, prior to when I regained my emotional wellness, and back when I was suffering the worst years of my life, deep in the throes of severe depression because of an eating disorder that ravaged my body, mind and soul, I would have thought you were clueless if you told me I could feel truly happy again. I would have felt that way because those dark days had become dark years, and those dark years had culminated with me coming all too close to extinguishing my life by suicide. Back then, every day felt overwhelming, yet also underwhelming. Every day felt pointless. I felt pointless, worthless, meaningless. And yet, I also felt like the most heavy and ugly burden. The emotional and mental un-wellness that I had to overcome, well, it was nothing short of a miracle. So, while I do feel truly happiness and joy most every day now, it is not because my life is with zero trials or hard times (trust me). I feel happiness and joy because I worked incredibly hard to heal my body, brain, guts, and emotional well-being. A big part of healing was that I learned to make wellness a daily priority, without compromise. Also, part of the reason I am happy most every day is because I do not have a chemical imbalance that causes depression or anxiety. Many people live with those imbalances and take medicine every day to help alleviate those imbalances. We need to honor every person’s brain chemistry, just as we honor every person’s insulin. We need to recognize that even if we all did “The Basics,” we will not all feel the same way –because we are individuals who experience life uniquely. What feels happy to me might feel lackluster to you, and vice versa. There is no comparing our life’s experiences and there is no perfection in how we live. I am sharing The Basics only because I hope that in them you might find something that speaks to how you will keep your light lit. That said, here are The Basics:
1. Take a hot shower and get dressed for the day. My grandma (and mom) always said, “You’ll feel better after a hot shower.” It is wisdom that has never let me down. I can’t really explain all of the how's and why’s behind a hot shower and how it helps me have a good day, or refresh in the middle of the day, but I always feel better after one. I think part of it is because I feel blessed every time I get under the hot water –blessed because so many people don’t have water, clean water, let alone clean hot water. Now that many are working from home, you know that you have a choice –work in pj’s or get dressed. Whatever makes YOU feel better is what I recommend. I personally can’t work in pj’s –and though I don’t get super dressed up, I do get dressed for the day. Goal: I reach this goal not 100% of the time, but I’d say 90% of the time. The other 10%, I’m dressed for Zoom on the top, and am sporting running clothes on the bottom (with my trademark socks and sandals, of course 😉).
2. Begin your day with nourishment for the body and soul. Your nourishment might look different than mine and that’s OK! Find what’s best for you. For me breakfast is full-fat Greek Yogurt, Keifer, granola with raspberries and blueberries, and nuts (and a cup of strong coffee). I eat those things because they taste good, and they also help keep my gut biome happy. When the gut’s biome is happy, it can help you be happy. For my soul, I spend time reading a chapter from the Bible -and while I’m reading it I write out some of the verses, and then I take time to pray and write out my prayers in a journal. I realize that might sound cheesy, but it is what works for me because my faith is central to my well-being. Goal: My morning routine is not perfect. There are days that I wake up late and don’t have time to read/pray, there are mornings when The Zoo requires all my time and attention because of whatever reasons (ie: each cat puked, twice, or all the dogs are muddy) so I don’t have time to sit down for breakfast and instead I have a protein bar. I would say that I meet my desired morning body and soul nourishment goal around 90% of the time…and that’s good enough for me!
3. Smile. When I was unwell, I had long forgotten that smiling was a natural thing to do during the day. My brain had become used to not smiling. And so, I started smiling. I encourage you –if you have lost your smile, set a mirror by the base of your computer screen and every so often, glance at yourself and smile. If you’re like me, when you first start doing that, you’ll probably feel silly, or maybe you’ll even cry because maybe it has been a while since you smiled at yourself. That’s OK. Feel whatever you need to feel and know that when you smile, your brain likes it and even releases neuropeptides to help combat stress. Goal: Know that you are worthy of smiling! And, allow your brain to bask in the positive impacts that it feels when you smile your one and only beautiful smile!
4. Nourish and Hydrate. Dehydration might seem subtle, but its effects range from lethargy to decreased ability to make blood. SO much within your body is dependent on not only food, but also on hydration in order to function well. Goal: The amount we need to drink in order to be hydrated is different for everyone. Do your best to nourish well and sip on non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day.
5. Stay away from substances that aren’t good for you. Put things into your body that give it a fighting chance to function well and feel good. Our emotions, from happiness to anxiety and everything in between, are triggered and maintained by many things, including chemicals in our brain called neurotransmitters. When we don’t have enough, or if there is too much of one kind of neurotransmitter, we can feel less than good. Our brain’s circuitry and functioning is highly complex, and is different for each of us, but we all know that there are some things that can depress the brain, including alcohol and drugs. Even if alcohol or drugs produce a temporary good feeling, once the ‘high’ wears off, your neurotransmitters need to regroup and in the meantime, all too often, you feel anxious or depressed until the next time the substance hits your brain. Goal: Drink in moderation. Don’t drink if you shouldn’t, especially if you’re taking medications that you shouldn’t drink while taking. And, please, get help if you know you should stop drinking but can’t. If you’re taking other substances that are numbing your emotions, please stop. And get help if you know you should stop but can’t.
6. Guard your mind from negative media. Even though my faith helps guard my mind and soul, I still take care to buffer and protect my mind from being subjected to negative media. I listen to music that fuels emotions that are positive for me, I do not spend a lot of time reading political arguments on Facebook, I balance news with something funny or cute on YouTube or TikTok. Goal: In a world saturated with negative news stories, depressing songs, and uncertain COVID days ahead, be kind to your brain and tend to it with goodness and love by inviting and choosing a balance of media. Again, this is all about balance and finding what works for YOU. If you need a day off from the news, or a week or more off from social media, do it. Whatever you need to do in order to protect your emotional well-being, that’s what you get to do.
7. Rest. Practicing sleep hygiene was, and remains, key for my well-being. It was hard at first for me to learn to relax and rest deeply. But eventually, because I was treating my body and mind well during the day, resting at night became a given. Sleep is not always easy. You might be afraid to sleep, live where it’s not dark at night, or where there is construction noise early a.m., etc.. Just like the other basics, what is important is that you do whatever you can to get the sleep that is necessary for you. Goal: Do one thing to promote healthy sleep hygiene. For example: turn your phone on silent and set-an auto response at night –or, try putting your cell phone in a different room. Give your mind and body a fighting chance to relax, rest and REM.
The Basics are not a panacea for all that goes into tending to mental health and wellness -but hopefully they offer you a few tips for how to take good care of yourself on this day, the day after World Mental Health Day, and beyond.
If you need help, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273-TALK (8255) or text “CONNECT” to 741741