10 Tips to Improve Your Mental Health

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Mental Health is a hot topic these days. More and more people are recognizing that they suffering in some way with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental health issues.

Today I’d like to share 10 things that can help to improve your mental health. I hope you find these helpful.

1. Recognize There’s A Problem

The very first step to improving your mental health is recognizing there’s a problem. You may be feeling a sense of the blues that you can’t shake, or a generalized anxiety that you can’t control.

Perhaps you’re feeling out of control and going through severe mood swings from mania to depression. All you know for sure is that something is “off” and you need to figure out what it is. Whatever the case may be, recognizing something is wrong is the first step to making things better.

2. Ask For Help

Perhaps one of the hardest things we face in life is asking for help. We like to think we’re capable of handling whatever life throws at us, but it’s not always that simple. You may find that at work, you’re more than capable of tackling whatever you face, but at home it’s a different story. Or, perhaps you’ve faced challenges at home that seem easy, but at work, you’re struggling to find your place.

When you’re dealing with your mental health, you may already feel like you’re a failure. Asking for help could prove to be a very difficult thing to do, but if you don’t ask, you tend to stay stuck in the situation you’re finding hard to manage. Talk to your doctor about what you’re going through, or find a counselor or trusted friend that you can share your concerns with. Sometimes just the very act of sharing with someone can help you feel better without further steps.

3. Accept Help

Once you’ve asked for help, the next step is to actually accept the help that’s offered. This might mean medication for depression or Bipolar Disorder if diagnosed, or your doctor could have other recommendations such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Meditation, Yoga for stress, etc.

Accepting help doesn’t mean you will end up with a mental illness diagnosis. However getting a diagnosis simply means that your body may not be producing the right chemicals to help you feel the best you can. There are hundreds of diagnoses, including Depression, Schizophrenia, Narcissism, Bipolar Disorder, and more.

Basically, your mental health can be simple or complex. A doctor or counselor can help to diagnose what’s going on and offer you treatment options. There is no shame in having problems with your mental health. Mental health issues are not your fault and are no different than having a medical condition. With changing times, terminology should no longer hold the stigma it used to. We live in an age where awareness is everything and more and more people are admitting to mental illness in the hopes that we can eliminate the stigmas all together.

4. Get Active

It’s time to get active with your mental health treatment plan. Exercise is a great place to start and many doctors will encourage you to get out and do something physical to help you feel better. Biking, walking, swimming, golf, tennis…whatever you like to do is the best fit. Even 30 minutes a day of exercise can help to balance hormones, improve mood, lessen anxiety and encourage better sleep. Especially if you can do it in the sunshine!

5. Explore Medication

Your doctor may recommend that you start on an anti-depressant or other medication for your symptoms. Please realize that taking medication is not a sign of weakness…it simply means your brain isn’t producing the right chemicals and needs a boost.

I liken it to other diseases…you wouldn’t refuse medication for heart disease or a kidney problem and you wouldn’t have an issue taking something for Diabetes, so why would this be any different? If your brain isn’t creating the right chemical mix, medication is an easy way to correct the problem and bring things back into balance.

Of course ultimately, it’s your choice. Psych meds can have a range of scary side effects and it can sometimes take years to find one that will work right for you. There are also alternatives to medication use. For a list of options, click here.

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6. Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, improving your emotional response and aiding in the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems.

CBT rests on the idea that thoughts and perceptions influence behavior. Feeling distressed, in some cases, may distort one’s perception of reality. CBT aims to identify harmful thoughts, assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality, and, if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them.

CBT is appropriate for people of all ages, including children, teens, and adults. Evidence has mounted that CBT can benefit numerous conditions, such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and many others. Research also indicates that CBT can be delivered effectively online, in addition to face-to-face therapy sessions.

This link gives you a quick overview of what CBT is and how it works. Ask your doctor for a referral to a certified CBT professional if you think this type of therapy could be helpful for you.

7. Yoga* and Tai Chi

As discussed, exercise is a good way of helping you feel better about yourself. Some people find Yoga and/or Tai Chi to be of great benefit when they are struggling with mental health issues.

The discipline involved with following regulated steps in a slow and deliberate fashion helps to calm the mind and put the focus on your overall well-being. Feeling your muscles working together can be very soothing and the slow movements are safe for just about everyone. Mastering the various forms gives you a sense of success which can be great incentive to keep going.

*Please note: Yoga is not recommended for people with hypermobility. Thank you.

8. Nutrition

Your body needs fuel to function and good nutrition is key to feeling well physically and mentally. By following a healthy eating plan and getting plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and protein, you are aiding your body in running in top condition.

Caffeine may or may not fit into your life – some people find it makes them jittery, others have no problems. Try adding more water to your daily intake – it helps lubricate your brain and joints and keeps you hydrated for optimal function. Avoid sugary beverages as much as possible – they don’t add any value to your health.

9. Spiritual Practices

Being spiritual doesn’t mean being religious, but both can have a place in your life. If you are religious, you may find prayer to be of comfort while you deal with your mental health. If religion is not your thing, spirituality can come from the sense of a Higher Power, Nature, Music or other practices.

Try to engage in your Spirituality/Religion on a daily basis – you may find a time of prayer, being in nature or listening to music to be of value when done at the same time every day. Some people like to do this in the morning, when the day is fresh in front of them. Others prefer to do this at night, so they can reflect on the day.

Whatever time you choose, it’s your time to be honest with your beliefs and to honor them in a way that feels authentic to you.

10. Journaling

Many people who live with mental health issues find journaling to be of value. Being able to honestly reflect on your life without fear of others reading your words can bring great comfort. The key is to write honestly about your feelings, not worrying about recriminations and criticism.

Choose a time to journal when it’s quiet and you won’t be interrupted. Set the stage with a cup of tea or other beverage, find a quiet writing nook and let yourself go. Don’t worry about impressing yourself with perfect grammar – just let yourself go and free flow with the writing. Unless you choose to share your journal with others, this is for your eyes only.

The freedom that comes with writing can bring clarity to your life and help you recognize areas that might need improvement, which then leads to greater understanding and happiness.

A Few Final Thoughts

I hope these 10 steps help you to realize that mental health issues are important and need to be taken seriously. You deserve to feel your best and when you’re not, everything else seems to get bogged down.

By attending to your mental health, you are actually doing your physical body a favor as well, since you’re bound to feel better in all ways when you’re feeling better mentally.

Recognize the problem, ask for help and try some of the steps above and see if things improve. Your doctor is always a great place to start and counseling is almost always worthwhile. You owe it to yourself to be your best version of you. Remember,

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Interview October – Jennifer Van Haitsma

I’m excited to share my next guest’s story with you…please meet Jennifer Van Haitsma!

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

Hi! My name is Jennifer Van Haitsma, the writer behind the blog Diffusing the Tension. I am 33 and I live in Northwest Indiana (about an hour from Chicago). I’m married to my love of 14 years, and we have 2 amazing children. (They are 4.5 and 2.5). In my spare time, I love to watch TV. I’m an avid binge watcher when I can. I especially love British period dramas, procedurals, and true crime documentaries. I also love to read. My goal is to read 35 books this year. I try to workout several days a week as well. 

One fascinating fact about me is:

I am terrified of heights. It is strange because I am not afraid of rollercoasters or airplane rides, but any other situation involving heights petrifies me. 

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

I live with bipolar disorder and chronic fatigue. Originally, I was diagnosed with depression, but my diagnosis changed about 10 years ago. 

My symptoms/condition began…

I began to exhibit symptoms of depression when I was 9 years old. I was a little more withdrawn at school and acted out a bit more at home, from what I can remember. 

My diagnosis process was… 

When I was 12 or 13 my mom took my to my first therapist. I remember not even wanting to talk to her at first. I had a lot of anger after my cousin’s death in 1995 (when my symptoms started) and really didn’t want to let a stranger climb the walls I had built inside. But ultimately, I was diagnosed with depression. In 2009, at age 23, I began to exhibit symptoms of mania (hyper productivity, irritability, and sabotaging relationships.) I sought treatment again, and in 2010 I was labeled bipolar 2 with rapid cycling mixed episodes. 

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…

Definitely the effects it has on those around me. I sometimes lose my patience when it’s not necessary, and take it out on my husband and children, which makes me feel deeply ashamed. Another incredibly hard part is the fatigue. I am so tired that it is hard to stay awake past 7:30pm. 

A typical day for me involves…

Taking the day an hour at a time. I make the kids breakfast, then we do whatever we can to pass the time until lunch, etc. My fatigue makes it hard to stick to a schedule with them currently, as I often need to lie down for prolonged periods of time. 

The one thing I cannot live without is…

My phone! It is where I store my pictures, others’ phone numbers, others’ address, where I get my entertainment, where I keep my to do lists… My phone is the central hub of my daily activity. 

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

It had taught me resilience in a way that nothing else could. I have had to learn that each day is a fresh start, and it is possible to make the most of my situation. It has also taught me the power of speaking about my journey so that I can help others through theirs. 

My support system is…

My biggest supporters are my husband and parents. My husband is my best friend, and he is always patient with me when my illness gets bad, and always stays by my side. My parents provide a lot of support where my husband can’t. The girls get a lot of play time with their grandmas during the day when he is working and I need the help. 

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would…

It’s funny how hard it is to imagine myself without my illness! I think I would get in a long workout and then spend the day doing fun things with the girls. Maybe a trip to the zoo or a local amusement park, if the weather was good. 

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

It helps you have more empathy for others who struggle. Before my diagnosis, I’m sure I often looked down on people with chronic illness. Now, I know they are just that: people. 

One final thing I want people to know is:

I am not my illness. I am so much more than just bipolar. I am a wife, a mom, a bookworm, a TV addict, a fitness nut, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a person. 

My links are:

Blog: www.diffusingthetension.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jvan3610

Facebook: www.facebook.com/diffusingthetension

Instagram: www.instagram.com/diffusing_the_tension

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/diffusingthetensionblog

The Creative Side Of Chronic Pain

Some of the most creative people in the world live with Chronic Pain or some type of health challenge. I know, because I’ve gathered a bunch of them together to showcase their talents, right here. Read on!

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Meet Julianne Ryan

Julianne is currently working as an art mentor for an artist with disabilities whilst volunteering her time to Mixed Palette Inc. an inclusive art group in Rockingham.

Julianne uses natural substrates, wood panels and recycled papers and works mostly with watercolour, ink and pencil to create depictions of feelings and experiences. Her latest works are multilayered with overlapping images that explore her experiences of chronic illness while correspondingly relating to her connection with nature. She also produces digital drawings, illustrations of birds and poetry that link to her memories, experiences and to current wellness practices.

She is currently working towards her first solo exhibition to be held at Forest Heritage Centre Gallery, Dwellingup in July/August.

Here are four samples of her amazing art:

JulianneRyan

Art created with Inktense pencil, ink and watercolour on wood panel

Undergrowth series: Inktense pencil, ink and watercolour on wood panel

Julianne can be contacted via Instagram and through the website at Living With Functional Neurological Disorder . She is a proud supporter of this particular charity.

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Meet Christalle Bodiford

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Christalle Bodiford is an artist, advocate, writer, and adventure seeker. As an entrepreneur diagnosed with epilepsy, Christalle brings a unique perspective of empowerment that inspires others to embrace a positive mindset and live with purpose. When she’s not writing or advocating, Christalle enjoys puppy snuggles with her scruffy terrier and outdoor adventures with her husband.

Christalle was recently featured on this blog as one of my Interviewees for Interview April. Read more about her here.

Here are some examples of the work she’s done on her incredible book:

Woosah Warrior Mockup

Christalle has provided this next page as one you can print out and colour:

Woosah Warrior Cover Coloring Page-01

For more information, please visit Christalle at her website. She supports the Epilepsy Foundation which can be reached here.

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Meet deni

deni weber is a 67-year-old psychologist turned artist after major traumatic life events triggered multiple chronic illnesses.  A Christ-follower, she uses her God-given gifts of creativity to help and encourage others as well as provide healing for herself, while recovering from limbic system traumas. Formerly bed-ridden for years, she is now finding healing using neuroplasticity techniques – creativity being a major healing component.  She is an artist, singer-songwriter, and writer having several unpublished novels and screenplays hiding in a drawer. Giving credit to God, she declares her works are, “by His grace, and for His glory.”

Here are some examples of deni’s work:

“Welcome to My Garden Series – Purple Butterflies” Acrylics on Linen Canvas – 2.5” x 3.5”

 

“Forgiven” Graphite on 140# Cold Press, 12” x 12”

 

“Hidden in the Woods” PanPastel on Colourfix Board 2.5” x 3.5”

 

Please visit deni on her website to view more of her work. She’s also a huge supporter of The Flute Maker Ministries.

 

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Meet Alisha

Alisha Nurse is a trained broadcast journalist, and enjoys sharing stories. She lives with various chronic health problems including fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, complex post traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder. These often challenge her creativity but they’ve also been her greatest inspiration to tell stories that make a difference.

She is interested in stories that change the narrative about ethnic minorities, chronically unwell people and those often cast on the sidelines.

Her favourite things include cheese, curries, and interacting with the world around her.

She has graciously allowed me to share one of her poems here:

~~~~~~

I do not recognise myself standing in the many shadows of you.
You, towering, all-consuming, ever present but hidden away,
in plain sight.
Yet I feel you in every part of me. Trying to become me.

Not all monsters lurk like you.
Once awakened, you thrive, clamour, steal, reverberate …through the length and breath of my mortal body,
Silently leaving deadly, indelible traces of your mark, like on a cracked egg, ready to fall apart,
any, anytime now, but still holding itself together as the lines spread and spread,
Until I am finally broken.

Your crack lines emerge in places impossible.
From earthen shell to the soul and heartland of me.
Breaking, smashing, pillaging anything and everything, until I am nothing of my former self; nothing of possible Me(s).

But even broken things can be beautiful.
With floods of tears and streams of blood I shall, I shall put me back together again.
I emerge not the ‘Me’ that once was, was to be or had been imagined with dreams for the future.

I rise as someone, something else entirely–Pained but persevering. Flawed but fluid. Broken but beautiful and believing that I shall conquer.
I am and will be the ‘Me’ that never was imagined.
I am the ‘Me’ that’s emerged from the ashes of pain.
I will not fit your cardboard cutouts or your nicely stencilled stereotypes.

And I am not sorry.

To survive, I change. Constantly.
As the monster morphs so will I – imperfect still, but ready to give bloody hell in all battles to come.

~~~~~

Wow! That’s powerful. To find out more about Alisha, visit her website. She blogs about overcoming chronic illness on www.theinvisiblef.com and shares other fictional works on www.alishanurse.com

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Meet Chrissy Joy Bell

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Meet Chrissy Joy Bell. She lives in Columbus, Oh, USA. and says “I’m married to an awesome guy named Ryan. I received a fibromyalgia diagnosis in 2008 after a serious illness, and I live with chronic migraine. I own a hand made business where I create all sorts of fun and snuggly things out of yarn. I originally used creativity to handle the changes that were happening in my life. Now it gives me a serious sense of fulfillment to know “Hey, I made that!””

Most recently Chrissy self published a coloring book of hand drawn mandalas, a project she began for her own enjoyment that others are now also sharing with her. My hopes for the future are to continue making, and to help others understand their journey in life and with chronic illness.

Here are some examples of the different work that Chrissy has done: 

Can with crocheted

Can Cozy

Crocheted animal

A Favourite Friend

Black & White Mandala

Mandala designed by Chrissy

See more of Chrissy’s work at The Pink Woobie or learn more about her at Find Joy Be Well

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Meet Sergio Garcia

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Description: Sergio Garcia is a Writer at Travelevil.com , he is a music, travel and writing lover, can’t stop thinking about the new article to publish. Sergio believes that travel can heal both soul and body, this is why he joined Travelevil community where both writers and readers share their stories and exchange knowledge about the various travel experience they had in the past.
Beside Blogging and Marketing, Sergio is a certified scuba diver, another world that a lot of people need to discover and enjoy.

Here are some of his favourite photos to share:

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You can reach Sergio via email at travelevil.com@gmail.com 

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I am in serious awe of these talented people! I hope you are too! Please feel free to leave your comments about their work as each of them will be happy to answer questions as well. 

And what about you? How do you show your creativity, whether you live with Chronic Illness or not?  Share in the comments and tell us what you like to do. 

If you’d like to be considered for a future post showcasing even more talent, please fill out the contact form found here and let me know. I’ll be in touch to discuss a second post for later in the year. 

Thank you for joining me. Remember…

There is always hope