Warning: this post is the most personal I have written and is about the sensitive subject of mental health. I encourage comments if they’re constructive and helpful. This is a summary of my experience only, and shouldn’t be taken as specific advice or a specific treatment for any condition. Please find links/phone numbers at the bottom of this post if you require immediate help.
Every day on my drive to work, I drive past this sign:
The more I think about it the bigger it gets
Like all good artwork, this sign can mean different things to different passersby.
As someone who has always been rather anxious, I always thought this sign symbolized anxiety fairly well: the more anxious you are about something the more you think about it which makes you even more anxious about it. This can be a destructive cycle.
I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
can happen to you.
You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.
You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.
And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
is not easily done.
~ Dr Seuss: ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’
You may or may not be surprised to hear that I’ve spent about five of the last six or so years of my life in a slump, suffering from a generalised anxiety disorder and depression.
Unlike many physical ailments, mental ailments can take years to mostly resolve, and I think that’s one reason why there’s still stigma associated with discussing such things.
Anxiety and depression is often not highly visible from a distance. Some close friends I’ve discussed it with were surprised to hear that I had this. After all, I still managed to hold down jobs, speak at conferences, father three children and write a successful blog whilst having these issues. But it makes doing every one of these things so much more difficult.
By recognising my condition, seeking professional help and taking actions for my mental health, I was able to un-slump myself as much as possible over the last 18 months, and I wanted to share my story to inspire anyone else in a slump, because this isn’t something that’s easy to talk about with others.
I found there were three stages to un-slumping myself (with some overlap between the stages):
- Addressing the symptoms – taking medication allows you to function day to day
- Addressing the underlying causes – cognitive behaviour therapy allows you to address some of the underlying causes through reshaping negative thought patterns
- Adjusting lifestyle choices for a healthier mind – lifestyle changes mean your body’s ecosystem works better
Addressing the Symptoms
Taking anti-depressants (SSRIs) allows you to function day to day, but there’s a number of downsides to them. They aren’t a long-term fix for underlying mental health issues, and I wouldn’t recommend just taking these and doing nothing else. I took these for about five years, and they’re safe for long term use, it is not recommended to just stop taking these as you really need to have made mental and lifestyle changes. I personally found these to be good to avoid the low-lows but also cut out the highs which makes life quite dull.
Addressing the Underlying Causes
I found cognitive behaviour therapy with a psychologist to be useful in addressing some of the underlying causes of anxiety and depression. This therapy involves identifying triggers and learning to manage negative thought patterns and behaviours before these escalate to an attack. I also have practised on occasion ‘philosophical meditation’ which is great for ‘organizing’ anxious thoughts and situations
Adjusting lifestyle choices for a healthier mind
Activities/lifestyle choices we make greatly effect our physical and mental health.
“Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent yet underutilized antidepressant.”
~ Bill Phillips (link)
I have found both physical and mental health to be interlinked, so improving physical health improves my mental health. Some changes I made to improve my physical and mental health:
Diet: reduce/eliminate junk foods (salty and sugary), reduce/eliminate caffeine intake. Drink lots of water, green tea. Food diary to find foods that work for you.
Exercise: lunch time walks, hiking in nature on weekends (time out), fitness group for strenuous exercise.
Social Network Sites: I’ve found limiting/avoiding social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to be very useful – especially Twitter which is full of people who like to bully/harass others which is very unhealthy for your mental wellbeing. These sites encourage you to compare your insides with others outsides which is always a losing game.
I can’t overstate how great strenuous exercise is for mental health as a mental release, and how great walking in nature is good for mental clarity/anti-brooding.
“…city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.”
~ How Walking in Nature Changes The Brain (NY Times)
Today is My Day
I write this on my 34th birthday. I eagerly anticipate my 35th year, and I am about the healthiest and happiest I can remember being. I have been medication free for about a year, and with my lifestyle changes I have managed to lose over 25kg (55 lbs) over the last 18 months. I know that I won’t ever be 100% cured of anxiety (it’s in my personality), but with support of my family, the lifestyle changes I have made, and having the knowledge and awareness on how to manage it; I am more confident than ever.
Now all I can do is think about how bright the future is, actually, the more I think about it the bigger it gets.
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!
~ Dr Seuss: ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’
For help or information on mental health
- Lifeline: 131 114
- MensLine: 1300 789 978
- Beyondblue 1300 224 636