I’ve been working as a Mental Health Recovery Coach for over two years now (in Human Services for five years) and as someone who was first diagnosed at 18 years old, I’ve been through many of the hurdles of trying to maintain mental health over the long-term.
There’s likely never been as much mental health awareness as we have today. We hear newscasters, public officials, teachers, and family members address it. Kids in school routinely go through mental health screenings and employers offer employee assistance programs in greater numbers than before.
Regardless of this, our lives will take crazy turns and I had to get a lot worse in my Depression before I eventually got better. But even as my life has mostly been on an upswing in the last years, there’s that quiet whisper:
What is something happens in my life that blows away the fragile house of cards on which I built, or what if something happens to someone I love or rely on… or what if I’m just burned out with life and just lost my shit one day?
In lieu of dealing with hidden fears, here are some useful tips that may help you as much as they’ve helped me:
- Have a social support system around you. This can be difficult if you’re someone who has a small social circle, but make the most of what you have. Make a list. Tap into certain parts of your community that you never considered at all. You may have someone you didn’t even consider who’s only a text away. You may even reach out to communities with common interests. If it’s too difficult to make friends, there are support groups around Mental Health, so you will share a common struggle with your new companions – it could be a good start.
- Make sure you’re on the right medications or treatments. – one thing that could easily go awry is being on the wrong medication or treatment. For instance, one way I changed my body chemistry was when I switched from Synthetic thyroid to Natural Dissected Thyroid. I happen to be born with a rare condition wherein I have no Thyroid gland and while I’d been taking Synthetic Thyroid since the age of 2 weeks, I didn’t even think my Thyroid meds could be an issue until I did more research on the matter and discovered many patients with no Thyroids struggle with fatigue, hair loss and weight gain, when their condition is not treated properly. Unfortunately, Natural Thyroid Dissected medication too often has a bad rap, even when many patients commonly prefer ‘NDT’, compared to its synthetic cousin. The process took some self-advocacy on my part to get the medication I needed to feel better. Once I was on a Natural Thyroid hormone, I lost weight, gained more energy and a number of metabolic issues I had at the time, vanished after only a few months of treatment.
- Take inventory of your diet. If you’re feeling low energy or agitated, part of the answer may simply be how you’re fueling yourself. Be honest with yourself about food that while not “bad” for you, may still not help in some ways. Maybe dairy gives you bellyaches or a meal with lots of grain makes you feel sluggish, then why let your cravings get the best of you? Make a shopping list of food you know works for your body and do your best to keep to it. The food you eat affects your mood!
- Exercise (and make it something you enjoy). In my own fitness journey, I’ve always made an agreement with myself that I wouldn’t bother with a regime if I didn’t find something genuinely enjoyable about it. It could be walking a pet, swimming or dancing around your room. No matter what it is – try to break a sweat! If you have mobility issues, there are many chair exercises you could find online. Consider incorporating High Intensity Interval Training ( or “HIIT”) workouts to your routine, if you haven’t already – who says cardio has to be long and boring? HIIT workouts incorporate short bursts of high intensity movement (like running or eliptical), followed by rest and then short bursts again. Also, strength and conditioning isn’t just for athletes (or men!) People tend to overemphasize cardio and overlook lifting weights, but studies have shown that strength training is an indispensable part of a healthy lifestyle.
- Practice gratitude… oh yes, this one can feel so cliche dispensing and reminds me of all the proud Spanish grandmothers of the world, along with all the dime-store mystics, yet… it’s true. Practicing gratitude is shown in study, after study, it reroutes neuronal synapses to create sensations of fulfillment and calm. And even so, it’s easily forgotten or taken for granted. One technique that can help is taking some time every day or coupling the occasion with some kind of ritual. It could be a walk, lighting a candle, or sitting quietly. Name three things every day for which you’re glad and write them down. The difference it can make may surprise even the most cynical of us.
- Break the rules (or your routine)! When you’re feeling burned out, do something out of the ordinary. It could involve getting a new tattoo or going for a random road trip in the middle of the week. Surprise yourself. Too much boredom and monotony can take a toll on anyone’s mental health. One day I’d like to be at a point when I can travel more for a living, but till then, I try to find other ways to break up my routine for the sake of my sanity (and my writing).
- Cut out the dead weight. Start to eliminate what doesn’t aid your growth… So what does that even mean? We all know we have things, or even people, in our lives who seem to pull at our emotions, without really bringing anything of value to the table – so why keep them around? This can be challenging – especially the more honest we are with ourselves and even more so when it comes to people. There may be someone who you feel is toxic, but you don’t know how to let them go. It may be a time for soul-searching and of course, if there’s some way to salvage a relationship, it’s best to try. But often, we know what we have to do or someone you may know immediately comes to mind, long before we work up the courage to distance ourselves. When I got the point of removing toxic people out of my life, I found a whole new wellspring of energy I didn’t even realize I had. As I let go of the things and people who no longer benefited my life, new opportunities began to open up.
- Choose Work You Actually Like (or a Cause to fight for). After some of the hardest years in my recovery, I was fortunate enough to find a unique organization that trains people to be ‘Recovery Support Specialists” in the state of Connecticut. Advocacy Unlimited not only trains people to be better advocates, but is run from top to bottom, by people in recovery (for people in recovery). From the Administrative Assistant to Organization Director: everyone has their own story of fighting inner demons. Being affiliated with ‘AU’ has helped enrich the work I do with meaning. This is crucial in getting and staying better. Even if the work you do is not exactly a passion project, ask yourself how you can find meaning in the work you do, and if not, whether it may be time to find some work or cause that could help you get out of bed in the morning with a sense of purpose. There are few things that will ignite your spirit like a life mission.
- Remember “The Big Picture”. One of the most cathartic moments of my life is the realization of just how unimportant I am in the grand scheme of things. That mindset could be off-putting to others of my Millennial ilk who’ve eaten up our social media narrative of high self-grandiosity, but there’s something liberating when I remind myself I’m just one person of many. My life is a tiny blip among many others, so I owe it to myself to live with authenticity. It also gives me permission to make mistakes because it certainly won’t matter 100 years from now. Sometimes we have to be reminded of how small we are, to give ourselves permission to live our most authentic life.