Unknowingly for years, and like many others, I searched for the answer to my own health and wellness (unsuccessfully I might add), surrounded by an overwhelming amount information, great motivation, inspiring people and help right at my fingertips.
Did I see this information? Did I take notice?
No, I didn’t.
I was of the belief that the issues I had and was dealing with, would go away themselves, and I could make them stop whenever I wanted. Wow was I wrong!
The real truth is I was actually hiding behind my own frailty and inability to accept who I was and where I was at the time. I didn’t want to show that I was actually human and had weaknesses – and, most of all, that I desperately needed help.
After years of self-medicating, with drugs and alcohol and trying to hide from judgment and wondering why I felt so different from everyone else, life got so dark for me that I tried to take my own life. As I sit hear and write these words, I ponder the thoughts and questions I now get asked regularly from students I present to, or clients I work with;
“If you could go back and change your life would you?”
“Do you regret doing what you did”
My answer is always “No way I wouldn’t change it! Because if I didn’t go through what I did, I wouldn’t be where I am today, helping others with the knowledge of my lived and learned experience, giving people hope and courage and to ask for help”.
After going through what some would say is the darkest time someone could ever go through, I came out the other side seeking answers and wanting to be a better husband, father, son and friend.
My recovery isn’t too different to others in that I asked for help from my loved ones, I went to the doctor, and I started to see a therapist. The part where my journey starts to differ is that I went the natural course and stayed away from medications and sought counsel from as many people as I could. I even went as far to announce to the world of social media that I was a drug addict, alcoholic and had been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and manic bipolar disorder.
Unknowingly, I was already starting my own strategy of SELF CARE.
WHAT IS SELF CARE AND HOW DID IT HELP ME?
Let me start by saying SELF CARE (looking after yourself) should be and is the most important goal or habit in anyone’s life.
I have 7 parts of my own SELF CARE that I feel have been instrumental in my recovery process, as well assisting me live with (not suffer from) mental illnesses.
- BE ACTIVE
The advantages of exercise for physical health have been praised for so long, however the benefits of getting sweaty for your mental health have only more recently made headlines.
Depression is perhaps the most high-profile mental illness in Australia, given that one in seven Australians experience it in their lifetime, and it has the third highest overall burden of disease both here and globally. Depression is also the poster child for the psychological benefits of exercise, there’s is so much robust evidence that physical activity boosts mood with moderate to large effect sizes. In fact, for mild to moderate depression, exercise is as effective as antidepressant medication, and can therefore be considered a viable alternative treatment in its own right. But let me say this (especially before our anxiety kicks in about going to the gym or going for a run) – being active/exercising is as simple as going for a walk, getting out in the garden and mowing the lawns, taking the stairs at work or even buying a bike and going for a ride. It really is that simple to get up off the couch and start moving.
Did you know that exercise is also associated with better cognitive functioning, including things like reaction time, learning, memory and academic performance?
- EAT HEALTHY
Eating well is important. It’s part of life. It’s part of a routine.
Here are 7 tips on how to eat well, whether that’s to keep yourself healthy and feeling good, or to help with mental health issues you are facing/experiencing.
If you concentrate on what you’re eating, you’ll probably eat more healthily.
For example, people who eat while watching television tend to eat too much at one sitting.
Practising mindfulness and being aware of what you are doing has its own benefits.
You might also like to try keeping a journal or using an app to track what you are putting into your mouth – whatever works best for you.
Getting enough sleep is important. Bananas, spinach, almonds, cherries and fish can all help you sleep better. Try to have your main meal 2-3 hours before bed. If you’re hungry, a piece of fruit is the best bedtime snack. Food late at night makes our body and our brain fight for control and create inner turmoil, resulting in trouble trying to get to sleep.
Less Processed, More Fresh
It’s no coincidence that fresh is best. Stick to whole foods and less processed food, and definitely stay away from sugar. Think of it this way, if you shop down the aisles of a supermarket, and the products are in a packet or a tin, then it highly processed and more than likely has bucket loads of sugars or synthetic sugars, which are like turbo chargers (in a bad way) for mental illness. If you shop around the outside of the supermarket, that’s where all the fresh produce I,s and that’s where the our inner body happiness begins. So stick to fresh whole foods, try to limit your intake of carbohydrates wheat, gluten, dairy products and complex fats.
Drinking plenty of water helps prevent dehydration. Mild dehydration can make you cranky and irritable. Learn more about the importance of hydration and drinking water and what is best for your body type and weight. Try to stay away from caffeine as this is a stimulant and will only make it harder for to control your moods.
Healthy Food Swaps
It can be easier to make small changes than big changes. They’re more likely to stick. Swap white breads for wholegrain breads. Swap the frying pan for the grill. Swap salted nuts for unsalted nuts. Think of healthy food swaps.
Go Easy on the Alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant. While it can make you feel good for a while, overall it makes you feel bad. If you are taking antidepressant medication, alcohol interferes with how they work. Drink in moderation. I suggest to my clients that having a sustained period away from drinking is always good for your body as a detox, but if you can’t do that then think 2 drinks not 10.
Go Easy on Yourself
Change doesn’t usually happen overnight. Take small steps to improve your diet, make lifestyle changes and practice positive self-talk. Some of those changes will be easy, others will be harder. You’ll stick with some, and not stick with others. In time, they will become healthy eating habits that come naturally. For your awareness, it takes 21 days with repeated good behaviours to create habit, so remember just take it one day at a time.
- BE MINDFUL
Mindfulness is about focusing on the present. Mindfulness can help you feel better and reduce stress. Mindfulness and related techniques such as relaxation are the gateway to helping all types of physical and mental health conditions. Mindfulness is paying full attention to what is going on in you/outside you, moment by moment, and without judging. It means you observe your thoughts, feelings, and the sensations of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. You are also fully aware of your surroundings.
Yes, Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation principles. However, anyone can practise mindfulness to improve their self-awareness and wellbeing. Many people have routines in their daily lives, such as waking up and going to work or school. If you are doing something familiar in normal surroundings, you may tend to operate on autopilot and not notice what’s actually going on. For instance, you might eat a whole packet of chips in front of the TV without actually noticing the taste. Some people spend a lot of time thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Being too caught up in your thoughts may even make it hard to fall asleep at night.
There are so many great apps out there for guided mindfulness sessions, I’ve found these all very useful to help me relax and become more present when I’m having a turbulent moment or getting over anxious, or even when I need to time to sit down a reflect on a big decision.
Check out SMILING MIND, HEADSPACE and CALM – these are 3 great mindfulness apps I recommend.
- KEEP LEARNING
There are so many ways we can keep learning and challenging ourselves to get out of our comfort zones, which help our brain become active in a positive way. Things like a new line of study or a qualification for your field of work, reading self-help books, listening to podcasts, taking up new hobbies like drawing / painting – these are all great ways to keep your mind focused and active. I find the most important part of learning is actually listening to others and getting a better understanding of life from someone else’s perspective. So, practicing the art of listening to learn and not listening to respond.
- STAY CONNECTED WITH SOCIAL SUPPORT
If your social calendar isn’t as full as it used to be, there are things you can do to help bring people back into your life. Make social connections a priority. You know you need to schedule time for exercise, but you should also schedule time for friends. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day responsibilities and lose touch with others. Don’t allow that to happen. Make it a point to call, email, or meet up with friends or family members on a regular basis.
Pay attention to your mental health. Some people become more socially isolated because they’re suffering from depression. Especially in our later years, for many people experiencing late-life depression, talk therapy can be very effective, so you may not even need medication to treat it.
Get out of the house and connect with people, pick up the phone and call a friend, start attending those family events that you would otherwise normally steer clear of. When we take continual small steps out of our comfort zone, those steps become easier, leading to the more we will want to explore life outside our inner space.
- ASK FOR HELP
Asking for help is its own kind of strength, and it is probably the most important step in the process of self-care. If you ask for help, you’ve acknowledged you may have a problem that you need help with, and it will also provide an instant release of carrying the burden yourself. Remind yourself that asking for help means you’re strong enough to admit you don’t have all the answers. And that’s a real sign of strength. It means you’re trying to deal with uncomfortable emotions, like humility, fear, and embarrassment, head-on. It also means you’re willing to be vulnerable.
- CREATE ROUTINE WITH DAILY RITUALS & STRUCTURE
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.
Aristotle is credited with saying these 15 famous words. And for most of my life…I didn’t believe him.
I fought against cultivating good habits and routines because I didn’t want to feel like I had to live my life by other people’s rules. I wanted to be my own person and do my own thing. Besides, keeping a routine was hard work. Know what I discovered?
Having no routine or structure is so much more draining mentally, physically, and emotionally than any routine could ever be!
By not doing the things I knew would make me better — habits like exercising, meditating, and creating gratitude lists—I deprived my body and mind of the energy that these types of positive activities create. I felt tired…inside and out. And to make matters worse, my dreams and goals were just slipping away.
Establishing a positive daily routine is both a self-investment and a way to do your best for the rest of the world. It also provides additional benefits, such as giving you structure, building forward-moving habits, and creating momentum that will carry you on the days when you feel like you don’t have the strength to carry yourself.
Following a daily routine can help you establish priorities, limit procrastination, keep track of goals, and even make you healthier.
Today, I have more drive, motivation, and passion, which makes reaching my goals easier…and more fulfilling. I have more physical and mental energy to make it through my days…even the really tough ones (which still show up). I feel happier and more satisfied with the quality and depth of my life.
I admit it though; it isn’t always easy to create good habits.
There’s a saying, “Good habits are hard to form but easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form but hard to live with.”