by Jennifer Zmurchyk – Prairie Sky Wellness
One of the most important things for anyone whether or not they are dealing with mental health issues is self care. Often in life we put ourselves last and fall into the category of martyrdom where we prioritize the needs of everyone else over our own and then we blame these people for our unhappiness.
Unfortunately when we put more importance on the well being of others in our lives, our own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health suffers. It is not wrong to be greedy and put ourselves at the top of the list, and when we do this everyone around us benefits as well.
When I was first diagnosed with Type 1 Bipolar Disorder, I was at the lowest point a person could be – complete rock bottom. I was no longer able to work, I was completely financially broke and facing homelessness, very sick, and due to the fact that the illness had caused me to isolate myself from family and friends I had little support. This all changed in 2016 when I decided enough was enough and I took responsibility for my own health and made a commitment to change things. Below is a brief list of some of the tools I used to get to a place of being happy, healthy, productive, and able to effectively manage my Bipolar symptoms.
Dietary Changes – This does not mean that I went on a ‘diet’, what this means was that I completely changed what I was eating. Mainly, I cut out all of the processed foods that I could after coming across current research into how chemical additives and preservatives in processed foods affect mental health. I adopted a policy of eating food that was closest to its original form as possible and almost exactly two months later, I began to experience an astonishing level of mental clarity that I had never experienced before.
Retraining Thoughts – There is a very interesting thing the brain has called neuroplasticity. Basically what this means is that we are able to create new neural pathways and in effect can re-train our brains. This does take time, however if a concerted and consistent effort is made, within a month a person can experience a ‘rewiring’ of the brain. In my own experience I used the science of neuroplasticity to get my mind out of that continuous negative loop of thinking it was in and was able to replace that constant negativity with positive thinking. The greatest help to me was a free website recommended to my by my psychiatrist called Mood Gym which is a great resource full of tools to help people retrian their thoughts.
Balancing Energy – Anyone who has ever experienced a manic episode will understand when I say that energy imbalance can be a large contributing factor for serious mental health symptoms. A good way to balance energy is to develop a meditation practice. There are a lot of good free guided meditations on YouTube for balancing energy and in my own experience a daily meditation practice has been life changing.
Feeding the Mind With Positive Things – This tool almost seems like a no-brainer. If a person is in a state of depression, then watching negative TV shows and the news, or listening to depressing music is only going to feed the beast. Some great things instead? Corny funny cat videos (or dog videos if you don’t like cats), positive uplifting music, and basically anything upbeat and humorous. It isn’t a mistake when they say ‘laughter is the best medicine’.
Understanding That I Was Not a Victim – This is a big one. If a person is suffering from mental health issues then there is a large probability that they have been victimized at some point in their lives or have faced serious psychological trauma. I am not trying to downplay this; it is absolutely not ok for another person so victimize someone else. However, staying in victim mentality only serves to keep people stuck. Understanding that you are not a victim and pulling yourself out of this thinking is very freeing. As long as any of us are playing the role of the victim that means that whoever or whatever victimized us still has power over us – take your power back! If needed, please see a counsellor or get professional help for any trauma you have experienced. Dealing with trauma is very difficult and can often be painful to talk about and re-live with a mental health professional however, once we can heal from these things they no longer have the power to affect us.
Exercise – After I changed my diet and began to feel great, I started a ‘light’ exercise plan. When I was experiencing acute Bipolar symptoms the last thing I wanted to do was go to the gym and get on an elliptical, so walking for me was a good choice and I made a commitment to walk every day no matter how bad I felt. There were many days when I wasn’t feeling well and it was extremely difficult to put on my walking shoes and get out there, but no matter how bad I was feeling every single time I went for a walk I felt better after.
Developing an Emergency Plan – This was one of the most important things I did and was a recommendation from my counsellor. I made up an emergency plan when I was feeling well with the understanding that there would be a chance that someday I would not be feeling well and having this list was empowering for me, and gave me a sense of security. It included who to contact, what symptoms another person could recognize in me if I was not of sound mind to recognize it in myself, what to do when I was having these symptoms, where to go etc., and I gave a copy of the plan to my family members, counselor, psychiatrist, and family doctor. Having an emergency plan is important, especially if you are experiencing acute mental health symptoms and may not have the capacity to get yourself help. This list is also empowering for loved ones to have as it gives them a tool so they don’t feel so helpless when you are having an episode.
Having a Support System – Anyone struggling with mental health issues absolutely needs a positive support system. Unfortunately turning to family and friends is not always effective as they often do not possess the tools or understanding to deal with mental health symptoms. Thought these people may care about us, they might say things like ‘why don’t you just cheer up’, or ‘how about you get out of bed and do something it will help you feel better’. People who aren’t suffering a bout of severe depression or don’t understand what mania is are not able to give support in an effective way, though they may have good intentions. There are many wonderful places you can turn to online where there are communities of other people struggling with mental health issues and in my personal experience hearing other’s stories and battles, and being able to share my own helps a lot with the isolation and helplessness you often feel. Also, developing a good relationship with health professionals such as counsellors, family doctors, and psychiatrists is vital for your well being.
There are many other things I use on a daily basis to manage my mental health, however again the most important thing is putting myself and my own care first and foremost. Do any of you have tools that you use for mental well being? Please share in the comments, it’s great to hear what others do in regards to self care.