When it comes to mental illness, often our moods are “all or nothing.” We are either on top of the world or in the pit of despair. If we are not careful, our behaviors can reflect our emotions, leading to chaos in our lives and problems in our relationships with others.
When it comes to the emotional ups and downs of mental illness, we can fight the temptation to act on them by remembering the phrase “Keep the Pace.” In other words, let’s keep doing what we do when we are stable. Let’s keep showering and going to bed at a decent hour. Let’s keep eating as healthy as we can and exercising moderately. Let’s keep our social activities up, but not excessive, and our verbal and physical boundaries intact and closely moderated. Let’s maintain an appropriate number of projects, neither dropping them all due to inertia nor starting too many.
When I feel myself slipping into either an elevated or a depressed mood state, I will remind myself to “keep the pace” and not feed into the insanity of my disorder by changing my behaviors too drastically. Just like a marathon runner, who neither sprints nor ceases to run at all, I must pace myself to participate fully in the race, and then I will know peace.
When we have a mental illness, it’s imperative to learn all we can about it in order to understand it, because understanding leads to the best collaboration with healthcare professionals when making decisions for our care and medication and treatment choices. Understanding leads to the best advocacy for ourselves when dealing with employers, family, and friends who may or may not get how mental illness affects our performance and behaviors. Understanding leads to self-compassion and patience during times when we are feeling low and can’t do what we want. Knowing it is part of the disease and not part of our character can help save our self-esteem and self-worth.
Today, I will ask my healthcare professional for, or research on my own, two sources to learn something I didn’t already know about my mental illness.
Worrying is a natural part of life. There isn’t one adult person who hasn’t worried about something at some point in his or her life. It is when the worry starts affecting your mental health by way of anxiety and depression, and your physical health (your sleeping, your eating, ulcers, etc.) that it becomes a problem.
We live in a time-based reality. Past, present, and future. Worrying is a past and future minded activity. We are either thinking about something in the past that has already happened, or thinking about something in the future that hasn’t happened yet (and sometimes about something in the future that may or may not even happen.)
This leaves the present time as the only place for us to escape our incessant worrying. We do this by engaging in activities that distract us and keeping our focus on the task at hand; by paying close attention to our surroundings at all times – really listen to the birds tweet, fully take in the grass’ green and the sky’s blue; listen to each word of the song on the radio, each note that is played instead of daydreaming about your worries while driving in the car.
This is called being “mindful”, and it keeps us out of past and future time and out of worrying. The mind doesn’t like it and will try to pull you back into past and future, but you can fight it by consciously choosing to stay in the present moment by never doing anything on “auto-pilot” again. Feel whatever you do with all of your senses and you will be in mindfulness.
Today, I will practice mindfulness or present-time living, and I will know freedom from worry and anxiety, even if only for brief moments.
Mind, body, and spirit are all important parts of a person. When one is ill the others suffer as well. Sometimes those of us with mental illness become so focused on our mind and its problems that we forget to address body and spirit issues as well; issues that could help improve the mind.
What do we do each day to take care of mind, body, and spirit. Are we taking our medications as prescribed? Using positive cognitive skills? Exposing ourselves to healthy media and relationships? Are we eating well-balanced meals? Staying away from drugs and alcohol? Exercising? Do we take time for spiritual practice? Prayer? Meditation? Yoga? Mindfulness? Time alone with nature?
Today, I will pick one area – mind, body, or spirit – and research or think of one action I can take to improve my health in this area. Then I will begin this action within the week.
There are going to be times during the course of our illness when we need to take a break from our daily routine. Like it or not, our minds are different from those who do not have mental illnesses. Sure, everyone experiences anxiety, low moods, and irritability. However, those of us with mental health disorders do so at greater intensities. Our threshold for such mood states is much lower. Therefore, we need more downtime, more alone time, more time to process, more time to recuperate, more time to rest.
I will take the time I need to rest when I feel myself becoming overwhelmed with daily life, and I will know peace.
Neuroscientists now have evidence proving what meditators have been saying for years: Meditation can improve people’s physical and emotional health.
Imaging studies show that meditation increases certain areas of the brain responsible for memory and emotion. “Also the parts of the brain that respond the most to stress gets smaller with meditation. This means that anxiety and depression naturally fade with a meditation practice,” according to researchers.
I’ve been doing mindfulness and guided meditations using an app called “Insight Timer” on and off now for about a year, and I definitely notice a difference in my anxiety levels on the days that I meditate versus the days I don’t. Although on many of the days I meditate, my anxiety level is already low because I tend to have trouble focusing long enough to meditate when my anxiety is high. Go figure!
I do believe the effects of meditation last me a few days and are somewhat cumulative in that sense. So, even when I meditate on a low anxiety day, it could be helping me avoid a super high anxiety day the next day or the day after that.
Meditation hasn’t had an effect on my bipolar depression levels, but maybe it would if I practiced it more consistently since one of my depression triggers is anxiety. It’s probably worth a try, but to be honest, I have my doubts.
What about you? Do you meditate? What benefits has it brought to your health? Or in light of this recent research, would you consider trying meditation? Why or why not?