In the previous installment of Mental Health Monday, we covered some basics on stress, anxiety and depression and shared useful, professional resources for seeking help.
Seeing a therapist, whether a psychologist or psychiatrist, is a step in the right direction to helping you better handle your mental health.
If you ask them for tips on coping while you’re out of the office, they would likely tell you to exercise, eat a healthy diet and cut back on caffeine and alcohol. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America compiled a long list tips.
And while all of those recommendations do the mind and body good, every person is different and has their own habits and hobbies that can serve as a distraction or way to get their minds focused on something healthy and productive, and those activities are especially important for people who might not be able to afford therapy or medication or might not yet feel comfortable speaking out about their mental health.
I am not a professional; I’m a real person who struggles with mental health daily at various ups and downs. I can’t go to therapy every hour of every day, so I need to learn a few ways to cope on my own, and I’d like to share those with you.
Read and Watch
Reading can be a form of escapism, transporting you from your current situation to a place that’s filled with wonder. While escapism isn’t necessarily a healthy tactic, I do recommend reading books that are open about mental health. Exposing yourself to mental health and mental illness in books can give examples of how people and fictional characters deal with it, and it reminds us that we’re not alone. One of my personal pastimes is reading at the gym. I get lost in the words while fighting off stress and keeping my body healthy.
|It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini||
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
|The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath||How to be Happy by Iain S. Thomas|
|Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell||Note to Self by Connor Franta|
|Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher *||Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur|
Many books that discuss mental health—from John Green’s “The Fault in our Stars” to Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”—have been turned into movies or TV shows. If you’re not the kind of person who can sit down and read hundreds of pages, watching the stories unfold on screen might be the way to go. Throw in a few movies that inspire you or make you laugh (ie: “Legally Blonde” and “Freedom Writers,”) or binge a season of “Friends” for those days you need a little extra help getting out of bed.
*Author’s note: There are some major differences between “Thirteen Reasons Why” and the Netflix original series based on the book. The show contains graphic scenes that may trigger the viewer. Please watch at your own discretion.
Submerge yourself in music.
Whether it’s angsty pop-punk from your middle school days or sounds of the ocean, if it calms you down or helps you feel connected, listen to it. Make a few playlists, at least two: one for allowing yourself to feel the way you do, and another one for moving on and motivating you to keep going. Then get out of the house. Take the first one with you on long car rides and lying in the sun. Take the second one to the gym or on walks to class before a big test.
I recommend classical music and anything by Explosions in the Sky. For ridiculous feel-good music, give “Because I’m Awesome” by The Dollyrots a listen.
If you can, go outside, even if you just stand there. Find solace in nature and fresh air. Exercise. Go to the nearest gym. Walk or bike there. You don’t have to go in, but at least you got there.
Paint. Knit. Craft. Use your hands. Build a table or bake a cake from scratch. Write or start a bullet journal to track your progress and set goals. Focus and channel your feelings into something creative.
Play video games.
There are countless studies on the positive and negative effects of playing video games, but I won’t lecture you on that.
Instead, I’ll tell you about “No Hands Ken.”
After an accident at a construction site 20 years ago, Ken Worrall woke up fully paralyzed in the hospital. He became severely depressed due to his condition and asked to be disconnected from the machines keeping him alive.
Not long after, a nurse introduced him to the Jouse, which is a type of computer joystick operable by chin movement or mouth. Worrall then began playing Diablo and spent a month learning how to master the Jouse. In his introductory video above, he talks about how the ability to play video games changed his life and his live-stream game play on his Twitch account.
Sometimes you can find purpose and inspiration in the most unlikely places.
When you’re busy and on the go, it can be tough to make time for mindfulness and focusing on yourself. Unsurprisingly, there’s an app for that.
One that I’ve been using for more than a year is Pacifica. It provides psychologist-designed tools to address stress, anxiety and depression, including mindfulness, meditation, relaxation and health tracking. It has an in-app journal that teaches the user how “distorted thinking patterns contribute to your anxiety,” and has an open forum for users to post their thoughts and help each other through their experiences. The forum does require a nickname, but it is completely anonymous. The app is free to use and offers paid premium benefits listed on their app page.
Other apps include RelaxLite, MindShift, 7 Cups and Calm. If you’re looking for something a little more colorful, try adult coloring book apps such as Recolor and Colorfly, which are similar to Instagram and allow to publish, comment and like artwork.
To find the best fit for you, search for mental health apps in your device’s app store and try them out.
Form habits that revolve around the activities that help you cope. Make time for yourself, at least 30 minutes a day, and create a self-love routine that you practice first thing in the morning and right before bed.
Write those activities down in a list, as a set of protocols for friends and family to help you when you’re feeling down. Always remember to reach out to someone. You are never alone in the battle against mental illness. Don’t be afraid to open up and explain away to the people who are willing to try to understand. And when you’re ready, when you’re able, seek out therapy. Profession help. We can only help ourselves so much.
Here’s what my protocols look like. What about yours?