Most of my life I’ve had a sunny disposition. I’ve always been an optimist and tried to look for the good. But, we all have our trials. In my late twenties, I suffered from stress and anxiety due to an abusive marriage. Towards the end of my marriage, I was in a deep, dark place and overcome by fear. These feelings led to a short bout with depression which I eventually overcame with the support of a family member that helped me to finally put an end to the abusive relationship and build my self-esteem that had been eroded over years by mental and emotional abuse.
The statistics for mental health are sobering. One in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness. What compounds the problem is this- NO ONE WANTS TO TALK ABOUT IT. We’ve been shamed into thinking that we can’t admit that we are depressed. Oh, we can say that we’re “stressed out”, but no one wants to be thought of as “crazy.” There does seem to be a slow shift happening in recent times as many famous people have shared their own battle with depression: Lady Gaga, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, and JK Rowling, to name a few. Michelle Obama said, "At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it's still an illness, and there should be no distinction."
While it is important to seek the help of a professional if you think that you may be depressed, or have a mental illness, there are lifestyle changes that you can make that support good mental health.
Practicing The Four Seeds of Self-Care is about so much more than eating real food, meditating, exercising and getting enough sleep. The truth is that we don’t often make the connection to our mental health and our self-care. We know that “exercise is good for us”, but getting regular exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety (which can lead to depression) and improve your mood. Exercise releases the feel-good endorphins, which are nature’s analgesic, reducing the perception of pain. And as the term “runner’s high” suggests, triggers positive feelings in the body. Exercise can also improve another of The Four Seeds- sleep!
Sleep and mental health are intricately connected. Getting the proper amount and QUALITY of sleep is crucial to mental health. Just think about how you feel on those mornings that you stayed up WAY too late binge-watching your favorite Netflix series and eating more ice cream than you care to admit! It’s a domino effect- you wake up groggy, grab several cups of coffee (laden with sugar), snap at your spouse and kids, and make your way to work after grabbing something that barely resembles food. Then you pump yourself with more caffeine and junk food, blow off your work-out after a long day only to come home too tired to cook a homemade meal, opting for the drive-thru with several glasses of wine to “unwind.” Once again, these poor choices in nutrition affect your mood and your mental health. Diets high in refined sugar and processed foods can impair brain function. Conversely, a diet high in omega 3’s and fruits and veggies is linked to reducing the rate of depression.
And as our busy lifestyles having us dashing from work to after-school activities, all the while plugged into our mobile devices, we hardly have time to sit and JUST BE. In fact, it’s downright uncomfortable for many folks today! Meditation can be an incredible coping strategy that has been shown to alleviate stress and depression by reducing the hormone cortisol and protecting the hippocampus, part of the limbic system, which controls feeling and reacting. Taking just ten to 20 minutes a day to sit and be still can have an amazing impact on your life. We NEED that break from our busyness to take a breath! And as with all of the other practices, the more you build this muscle, the greater the results. The shift that is experienced with meditation goes far beyond stress reduction, helping us to truly find the joy in life.
As mental health issues are coming to light today, it helps to remember the famous quote by British poet John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We are all connected. It takes courage to be vulnerable enough to share our story of struggle. But so often when we do, we make that connection with another and allow them to heal a little through sharing their story.
If you believe that you are depressed, or are experiencing a prolonged bout with sadness or anxiety please seek the help of a medical professional. And know that there are many things that you can do to overcome mental illness.
And finally, I think this quote by Saint Francis de Sales can give us the grace and hope that we need to overcome our challenges. “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them — every day begin the task anew.”
With love and gratitude,
Kinda and Rachel