I’ve written, deleted and then re-written this post a couple times. Mental health is something I’ve chosen to keep off of my social media & only talk about with my boyfriend and very close friends. Not because I feel ashamed, but because I don’t want people to pity me. 42 million American adults struggle with their mental health annually & 1 in 6 of those adults are taking medication to treat depression or anxiety or both. These are statistics I’ve heard from my doctor & college professors in Psychology classes. I’ve known it’s common, & I thought.. Maybe people don’t talk about it enough. So many people choose to be on medication to better their mental health & I understand that medication works for a lot of people, it just didn’t work for me. It gets expensive over time & my body became so dependent on it, I would have severe withdrawal symptoms if I missed taking my pill by 4 hours (crazy right?). I was lucky enough to be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder & Chronic Stress Disorder when I was 18. Anxiety is something I’ve dealt with since I was a kid, Depression was one that crept up on me through my middle school years & Chronic Stress was a result of multiple, significant events that occurred throughout my adolescent years. For those who are not aware, Chronic Stress is defined as “A response to extreme stress suffered for a prolonged period of time where an individual had no control.” As a result of this, daily life stressors (for example hitting all the red lights on your way to work or needing to meet a last-minute deadline in college) become big stressors & I can’t control how my body reacts to them. Even something as simple as walking from my car to my apartment building door is a stressor for me (I’m a little girl in a big city so you do the math on that one). My cortisol levels, heart rate & blood pressure rise & it’s difficult for me to calm myself down. Some days are great, but like anyone who struggles with their mental health, the bad days are.. bad. As I mentioned above, I was on medication for 3 years. I ended up getting off of them, which my doctor & therapist at the time were super salty about (sry doc + Tracy). I’ve successfully been off of them for 4 years now & been able to manage the symptoms well. I decided to explain what I do to naturally cope with my struggles & figured that maybe others could benefit from these tips, medicated or not.
- Routine, routine, routine: When you struggle with anxiety, you can have fear of the unknown. When you keep to a routine, you know exactly what you’re going to do & when. I like to keep the same routine in the morning & the evening & found that it helps me a ton. I get up at the same time, I get ready for bed at the same time. I do the exact same things when I get ready for work or get ready for bed. It might sound excessive to some people but it honestly works for me. I’ve been lucky enough to work in jobs that give a strict schedule, which also helps me stick to routine.
- Get enough sleep: I’m gonna go ahead & assume that you already know that this is a given. Lack of sleep screws with our energy levels for the day ahead, messes with our hormones making us more irritable & even more anxious the next day. In order to help myself wind down, I follow a routine as I said above. I get ready for bed at 9:00 every night, make tea then bring my iPad to bed to watch Boy Meets World & King of Queens with Brian till around 10:00-10:30. I’ve been doing this since college & keeping the routine really helps me wind down & fall asleep more quickly.
- Exercise: Endorphins anyone? I notice a major difference in my mood when I work out vs when I don’t. Studies show that even 20 minutes of simple exercise (yoga, pilates, a walk outside) per day can significantly improve moods. I wouldn’t say to force yourself to do things that you truly don’t want to do. But even on my bad days, I still choose to go to the gym because it gets me in a good head space & I know that I’ll feel better once I do.
- Eat a healthy diet: Duh guys. What we choose to put into our bodies significantly affects our moods. Certain foods can either positively or negatively affect our bodies. Choosing clean, healthy, whole foods that nourish your body will nourish your mind. Proteins & healthy fats help balance our hormones & support neurological function, while carbs from whole foods (fruits + veggies) give us natural energy, boost our serotonin levels & provide our body with nutrients it needs to function at it’s best. Ever reach for junk food when you’re mad or upset because it makes you feel better afterwards? Yeah guilty. I’m going to explain this in a simple way because there is a lot of science behind it. I learned in one of my college Psychology classes that we reach for food when we are sad due to a drop in serotonin levels in our brain (duh right?) But what foods boost serotonin levels? Carbs. This is linked to why people feel sad a couple of weeks into their crash diets: a significant drop in carbs = a drop in serotonin levels. But when we’re sad & want carbs, we want desserts & tacos, not clean whole foods. You binge on junk food, get a boost of serotonin & a bit later your instant gratification is gone & you feel worse. When you reach for clean foods, you get the same serotonin boost, but won’t feel the crash in your mood later on. An example of something I like to reach for when I’m craving something sweet is a thinly sliced apple with warm peanut butter melted on top + cacao nibs or homemade oats with chopped pineapple + coconut shavings.
- Talk it out: Like sleep, this should be a given. We were never created to live an isolated, lonely life. Find your person & talk it out. My boyfriend knows me like the back of my hand, can tell when I’m feeling down & will take the time to just sit with me & listen to whatever is bothering me. If you don’t have a boyfriend, talk to your girls. Girl talk gives me so much happiness. I love talking with my old college roomie or spending 1.5 hours at work talking with my healthy, happy, fit, zen Californian co -worker (srsly she’s so cool). They both always have killer advice on putting your happiness first & ways to deal with any life problem I got! For real tho. Find your people who understand you & have your best interest at heart.
- Simplify your life: This is the best thing I have ever done. When we were in Maui last month, we spent our time living like locals & I was able to see how the islanders live day-to-day. They are so free, have little stress & are just happy. They take everything one day at a time & don’t have a lot, but they have what they need. Is that the secret? I read a study on how Psychologists linked stress & anxiety to clutter & having too many belongings. I don’t have a cluttered home, but I do have a lot of “stuff.” Shoes, clothes, makeup, etc. Things that I don’t wear & things that I don’t truly need. Hawaii is on a list of the top 10 happiest states, but can you blame them? They have sun, they have the ocean, they have access to all of the fresh pineapple you could ask for. I came home inspired by how the Islanders choose to live their day-to-day lives & got rid of everything that I felt complicated my life. Personal items & relationships (ain’t nobody got time for negativity). I purged my closet, purged my makeup I didn’t wear, got rid of home items that I felt that I didn’t need. I don’t need 5 different sweaters in the same color or multiple pairs of the same type of shoe (Fun fact about me: I’m obsessed with Sperrys & owned the same pair.. in 5 different colors). Since purging what I don’t need, I feel like I can be more creative with my outfits because I have minimal pieces to pair together, I spend less time getting ready in the morning & feel less stress over all. I now have the mindset that if something or someone doesn’t serve my life in a positive way, I change it. Live Aloha, people.
As always, thank you for reading how I choose to cope with my mental health struggles. This was very difficult for me to write & very difficult for me to post. But my blog is all about helping others, so if what I do can help one person, I’ve succeeded. Feel free to share my post or leave a comment.