It took me a long time to open up about my past battles with depression and anxiety, scared of the stigma that surrounds mental health.
I was worried people would think I that my mental health made me weirdo or a freak. I finally decided to come out after the death of Robin Williams.
I’d like to say that I can’t help but wonder how a man who appeared to be able to have anything he wanted could also want to take his own life, but the truth is when you are in the deepest pits of depression you don’t see anything or anyone else.
You can be surrounded by love, but feel unloved and you can be in a room full of you closest friends and family and still feel isolated and alone.
I spend over 10 years living with depression. This included several extended periods taken anti-depressants and various different counsellors and therapies.
At one point, my dependance on prescription medication was so significant that if I forgot to take my ‘happy pills’ on time, I would experience physical withdrawals within about 30 minutes.
I also self-medicated, drinking until I was drunk on a daily basis, often to the point of blackout.
There are no doubt many factors that helped me overcome the mental illness that plagued my life for years, but here are 6 key points that I believe made a huge difference.
1 – Eating less crap
A study published in the Public Health Nutrition journal revealed that consumers of fast food are 51% more likely to develop depression when compared to those who eat little or none and according to Dr Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, lead author of the study, “the more fast food you consume, the greater the risk of depression”.
I was not aware of this link when depressed and would often comfort eat – and let’s face it comfort eating tends to have us grabbing for junk food not healthy things like fruit and veg.
In addition to the links between junk food and depression, it is also important to know that 95% of your serotonin (the feel good hormone) in made in the gut. As result poor gut health can impact your mood. Look after your gut and your gut will look after you.
Cleaning up my diet and starting juicing helped me to achieve huge improvements in both my physical wellbeing and my mental health too.
2 – Getting active (especially in nature)
You are not designed to sit in a chair (or be inside) all day. I used to be a complete couch potato. I didn’t move my body unless really necessary, partly because I was so unfit that even climbing stairs could sometimes be challenging.
As I made changes to the things I was eating and drinking I started to lose weight and experience a surge in my energy levels. This gave me a desire to get more active and the more active I became the more my mood lifted.
Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have shown that physical activity helps to remove a substance which accumulates in our blood during stress and can be harmful to the brain. Their research suggests cardiovascular exercise probably has the biggest impact on mood and reducing stress.
For me this involves running and I find running in nature is especially beneficial to clearing my head. If you don’t like running then cycling, walking or rebounding are all great alternatives.
Whatever movement you do, try to do some of it outside, because spending time in nature reconnects us with our natural environment and I’ve found this too helps to balance mood.
3 – Let go of your ego
Do you know what ego stands for? Everybody’s Got One.
The ego is the part of the psyche that experiences the outside world and reacts to it. It is also the part of us that is afraid to ask for help, puts on a face for others and hides the truth of how we are feeling deep inside hoping it will somehow resolve itself (or go away).
Learning to be more open and vulnerable is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. When you let things that are making you depressed or anxious out of you they lose their power and you can reclaim yours.
Letting go of ego also makes us more open to the bigger vision for our lives.
4 – Accept the things you cannot change
So much stress and anxiety is caused by trying to control things that are beyond our control. The recovery movement teaches acceptance of the things we cannot change and the having the courage to change the things we can.
Why be depressed about things you cannot control or influence? This often makes depression worse because it creates feelings of uselessness and low self worth.
You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. The past is a great teacher. Use its lessons to create a better now.
5 – Practice gratitude
You cannot be grateful and depressed at the same time.
Making time each day to appreciate all you have to be grateful for shifts your focus to the positives in your life.
Even simple things, like being grateful that the sun is shining, being grateful for a hug from a loved one or being grateful that you are able to read this.
Gratitude is the antidote to fear, anxiety and depression. Practice it daily and you will see your life change.
I deliberately use the word practice. It may feel weird to begin with. You may find yourself arguing with your inner dialogue, but keep going. With consistent effort practising gratitude works.
I keep a gratitude journal and write at least 3 things every day that I am grateful for.
6 – Put the things you want to move away from into the past
Our bodies hear every word we say. When we describe ourselves as ‘depressed’ or say things like ‘I always get depressed at this time of year’ we strengthen those feelings.
Something I’ve learned to do, that has made a huge impact on my life, is to put the disempowering feelings and emotions into the past.
In other words, when you talk about them, say things like ‘I used to get depressed’ or ‘I used to suffer from depression but I’m getting better everyday’.
I started doing this by accident, but when I realised the impact it made I turned it into a practice.
Note: these tips are not intended to replace medical advice and remember that under no circumstances should the advice on this site be taken over that of your GP or medical doctor.
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