Mental Illness is a Surmountable Obstacle

~ Guest post by Jackie Cortez

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 people suffer from mental illness. And while treatment is available, it’s often underutilized.

For many people, mental illness can be something that troubles them periodically in life but never something that incapacitates them. For others, mental illness can be completely debilitating. What’s important is recognizing mental illness and treating it with the best approach for people so they may live healthy, productive lives.

Inner turmoil

While there are social stigmas attached to mental illness, it is the self-stigma that can be the most dangerous to a person’s overall well-being. A person with a mental illness may feel ostracized from his peers and turn to outward or inward destructive behaviors to cope. These may materialize as bursts of aggression, depression, or isolation or as reckless actions including sexual promiscuity and alcohol abuse and drug abuse. A mental illness makes it difficult to see past the negative aspects of today to the bright and beautiful possibilities of tomorrow. It is estimated that more than 90% of suicides are committed by persons with a diagnosable mental disorder. Approximately half of these individuals will struggle with drug or alcohol abuse before their death.

Physical self-care

If you’re struggling with a mental illness, you should take extra care to take care of yourself. Stress takes a toll on the body and can cause headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, upset stomach, and fatigue. These symptoms’ impact can be lessened through protecting your physical health. It is easier to maintain good mental health habits when your body – your foundation – is strong.

It is important to exercise daily. This may be done individually or in a group setting as exercise provides the body with natural stress relief hormones. Maintaining a balanced diet devoid of processed foods, including sugars, additionally goes a long way toward whole-person health. Sleep is essential and most adults require between seven and nine hours each night; a brief 30 minute nap in the early afternoon can also offer a person with a mental health disorder a bit of a boost. Most importantly, drugs and alcohol should be avoided completely as, despite common belief, these substances actually exacerbate stress and depression.

A mental illness will not go away overnight. However, many people find they are less affected when they practice these good mental health habits:

Avoid guilt

Negative emotions happen and it is important not to dwell on them or pass judgment. Understand that it is how you react to these emotions that matters. Recognize them but don’t get caught up in the moment.

Pay attention to the positive

Even in your deepest, darkest hour, positive things are going to happen in your day. It could be as small as a glimpse of the mountains or fresh ocean breeze. When they happen, pause and enjoy. It may help to keep a journal and write down one good thing that happens each day. You can go back and read about your happy days when you’re feeling sad or stressed to remind yourself that not everything in life is bad.

Find strength in numbers

There are virtually countless support groups in every city in every state for people struggling with mental illness. You can perform a quick online search for groups in your area. Know that you cannot solve things on your own and there are people out there who, like you, are dealing with invisible and taboo issues. Spending time with others will not only help you get things off your chest but will keep you connected to the world around you.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health issue, such as depression or drug abuse, get help. Always remember there is no shame in asking for assistance from others, be they medical professionals, family, or friends. Tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to look at the world with a fresh set of eyes.

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~ Jackie Cortez works with The Prevention Coalition to identify and highlight resources on every aspect of substance abuse, ranging from prevention to addiction treatment. Her mission is to use her writings to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse.

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Is a Daily Routine or An Unstructured Lifestyle Better for Our Mental Health?

When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder my life was in complete chaos. I had a job that didn’t have set hours, with responsibilities and a caseload that changed on a daily basis. Plus, I had three small children with a husband who worked varying hours, including nights and weekends. My days were anything but routine.

Fast forward five years later, and I am a stay-at-home mom with a set routine of getting up at the same time every morning to get the kids off to school, work on house chores during the day as my illness allows me, rest in the afternoon, be there for the kids when they get home from school and in the evening for school and sport events. I also take my medications on a routine schedule and go to bed around the same time every night.

Researchers have demonstrated that routines can help those with bipolar disorder by balancing their sleep/wake cycles. Routines can also help those with anxiety by making daily activities more manageable and predictable. Routines help us get more stuff done by keeping us on task, thus providing more time for rest and relaxation, which is also good for mental health. And routines give us a sense of control over our lives since we get to choose what we include in them.

I do find that as my illness symptoms creep back into my life, there is sometimes the need for flexibility in my routine. For example, when I am fatigued from depression, I may spend more time in bed and less time on chores.

However, after a few days or a week, my routine usually kicks back in and I am at least doing a little bit each day. While I might not feel motivated to engage in my routine, my routine motivates me to get things done, because it is what I am used to doing. It doesn’t feel right to not do it.

What about you?  Are routines good for your mental health or do you prefer an unstructured lifestyle?

6 Foods to Avoid to Fight Daytime Fatigue and Other Things I Should Be Doing

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Anyone who has a depressive disorder knows the agony of bone-deep, stuck-in-molasses, ever relentless fatigue.  Day in and day out, dragging yourself around with that hundred pound weight chained to your ankle; barely being able to make it out of bed to use the bathroom let alone eat.

Or maybe your fatigue is not that extreme.  Maybe it is more of an annoyance; decreasing your motivation; making everything seem like more of an effort.  Either way, there are several foods that actually increase sleepiness that you may want to avoid during the day.

6 Foods to Avoid To Fight Daytime Fatigue

  1. Bananas because they are high in magnesium – a muscle relaxant that will make you tired
  2. Red meat because a lot of energy goes into digesting its high fat content, thereby making you feel tired
  3. Cherries because they are high in melatonin, a natural sleep aid
  4. White bread, including pastries, white rice, pasta, muffins, and processed foods because all of the flour and sugar in them causes drowsiness, and their lack of fiber causes them to break down too quickly to offer a constant flow of energy
  5. Fish like salmon, halibut, and tuna because the body uses the Vitamin B6 in them to make melatonin (the sleep hormone)
  6. Turkey because it is high in tryptophan, which is an amino acid that increases serotonin levels, a relaxing brain neurotransmitter

These foods shouldn’t be avoided all together.  Consuming them in the evening just might be a better idea.

 

Another way to combat fatigue is to maintain a healthy weight, which is something I struggle with.  I’d be happy to lose about 15 pounds.  I’d be ecstatic to lose 20.  Something that came across my mailbox today caught my attention, and I wanted to pass it along because its suggestions for weight loss are, in general, I think, good for overall mental health, too.

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7 Ayurvedic Secrets for Weight Loss

Ayurvedic Medicine is one of the world’s oldest medical systems, originating in India more than three thousand years ago.  The idea behind these “secrets” is that as you become healthier over all, the weight will naturally come off.

  1. Sleep from 10pm to 6am every night
  2. Exercise for 45-60 minutes vigorously, sometime between 6-10am each morning
  3. No snacking; three meals a day only
  4. Include all six tastes at each meal (sweet, sour, salt, spice, bitter, astringent. See resource link below for food examples.)
  5. Eat your largest meal at noon; finish your last meal 2-3 hours before bed
  6. Sip hot water or tea throughout the day
  7. Practice meditation

I think I could do some of these.  I am darn close to a few – sleeping from 11pm-6:30am already; having only one snack, at night after dinner, which I am planning on cutting out starting tonight.  I do hot coffee throughout the day, does that count?  I practice meditation, but not regularly.  Could easily change that.  Largest meal at noon won’t happen because family dinner is in the evening.  However, by cutting out the nighttime snack I will have finished my last meal well before the three hour mark before bed.

I think including all six tastes at each meal will be a huge challenge because I eat so little for breakfast and lunch.  Literally, for breakfast I have a bowl of Cheerios. That is a sweet food, according to the list.  This morning, however, I did have a swallow of citrus juice, which is a sour taste, and I do have my coffee every morning, which is a bitter taste.  I could have popped a few grapes in my mouth for an astringent taste.  Maybe this will be easier than I thought.  The hard one is the exercising.  I have a huge aversion to it.  Sigh.  Baby steps.

What do you think of these secrets?  If you try them and they help you lose weight or just make you feel better, let me know.

Resource links:
http://www.msn.com/en-us/health/nutrition/6-foods-that-always-make-you-feel-tired/ar-AAiD29S?li=AA5LBhu&ocid=spartandhp#page=1
https://chopra.com/ccl/7-ayurvedic-secrets-for-weight-loss

What to Do About Bipolar Disorder and Stress

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Bipolar and Stress

We all have stress. Can’t avoid it. Can’t get rid of it. Might as well learn how to deal with it. Right? Wrong. Let’s make a list of our stressors. Pretty long list, eh? I bet we can avoid or get rid of at least a few of them if we really wanted to. It may take some finagling, help from others and a lot of courage, but I bet we can do it.

The problem is we may be too worried about what other people think or hurting someone’s feelings or feeling too guilty to make the changes necessary to reduce our stress. We may be too proud to ask others for help or too embarrassed to let others see how we really are, so we put on our masks and act like everything is fine, thereby increasing our stress.

For those of us with bipolar disorder, this is especially dangerous because stress can trigger mood episodes. According to an article on PsychCentral, “people with bipolar disorder are more prone to stress than the average population.”

Along with the danger of triggering mood episodes, chronic stress can over-produce stress hormones resulting in “chemical imbalances and physical changes in parts of the brain already vulnerable due to bipolar disorder. The prefrontal cortex shrinks, leading to emotional instability, self-regulation problems, and mood changes.”

So, you can see how important it is to reduce the amount of stress in your life! My doctor told me just that and my response was: “Yeah, right! I’ll just get rid of my kids then.”

There are some stressors we obviously cannot eliminate. However, I have made changes to reduce my stress, even with my kids like making them do more for themselves and not saying yes to every activity they want to do.

I go to support group meetings for people in recovery from drugs and alcohol. In one meeting, there is this one lady in particular who causes me a lot of anxiety whenever I see her. So, I now avoid that meeting even though I like the other people who go there. The stress is not worth it to me. There are too many other meetings I can go to where I don’t feel stressed.

I say “no” to seventy-five percent of the parties I am invited to because of my social anxiety. I know I offend some people because I say no so much, but I don’t care. I used to force myself to go and then get panic attacks while there and sick with anxiety and migraines for days afterwards. I have to eliminate the stress that I can from my life in order to stay balanced and healthy.

Let’s not forget about positive stressors, too. A recent weekend trip to see friends, while fun, left me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I came home and crashed for two days straight just to mentally and physically recuperate from lack of sleep and over-stimulation. Fortunately, my husband helped around the house so I could do this.

Before I understood how bipolar works, I would have continued trying to do everything for and with the kids until I crashed into yet another severe depression. I also would have returned from that weekend trip and went on with my week like any “normal” person would have. Only unlike a “normal person,” by week’s end, I would have been in full manic irritability and dissociation. This would have lasted for a week or two followed by a depressive episode lasting for who knows how long. Now, I know good self-care is the key to managing my stress.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to play shrinky-dink with my brain, so

My basic plan when dealing with stress is this:

  • Identify my stressors
  • Get rid of them when possible (e.g., say, “No.”)
  • Avoid them when possible (e.g., remove self from situation)
  • Ask for help
  • Practice good self-care (eat well, sleep well, take meds, have routine)
  • This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – when I am stressed I write.  (Guess you know how I am feeling right now.) 😉

What helps you deal with the stress in your life?

How a Detox Bath Can Help Ease Depression Symptoms

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Anyone who has experienced depression knows how tired it can make you feel.  Surprisingly, metabolic toxic build up can make us feel pretty lousy as well.  Sluggish.  Run down.

In fact, when metabolic waste from toxins builds up in our body, we get sick. Functional medicine expert, Dr. Mark Hyman, says, “problems with detoxification is one root of illness. If you feel lousy, it’s likely you’re toxic.”

We all are exposed to toxins on a daily basis from the medicines we take to the foods we eat to the fluoride in our water to the pollutants in the air we breathe to the chemicals in the soaps we use to clean our bodies and clothes.

The liver does a great job of getting rid of toxins by sending them out through our bowel and bladder. Our skin releases toxins when we sweat as well, which brings me to the Detox Bath…

Typically, a detox bath is made with Epsom salt also known as magnesium sulfate, which not only draws out toxins, but has physical and mental health benefits of its own:

  • Eases stress and improves sleep and concentration
  • Helps muscles and nerves function properly
  • Regulates activity of 325+ enzymes
  • Helps prevent artery hardening and blood clots
  • Makes insulin more effective
  • Reduces inflammation to relieve pain and muscle cramps
  • Improves oxygen use
  • Flushes toxins
  • Improves absorption of nutrients
  • Helps form joint proteins, brain tissue and mucin proteins
  • Helps prevent or ease migraine headaches

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Vanessa Romero of Healthy Living How To provides the following guide to

How to Draw a Detox Bath

1. Add 5-10 drops essential oil (I love lavender) to 2 cups Epsom salt, then add to a standard tub full of water.

2. Ideally, you want the water quite hot as we are looking to create a nice sweat.

3. If your bath water is not filtered, add 1 cup of baking soda as this helps neutralize the chemicals, primarily chlorine, as well as increase mineral absorption.

4. Immerse yourself in the water, all the way up to your neck. You want as much of your body underwater as you can. Close your eyes, do some breathing exercises and soak for at least 20 minutes.

5. Once you are done soaking, rise out of the tub very slowly and cautiously. You may feel a little dizzy and light-headed, this will go away as you shower off quickly in cool water.

6. It is important not to use harsh soaps or shampoos as your pores are open and will just absorb the chemicals found in those products.

7. Once dry you can apply a natural moisturizer like body butter, shea butter or coconut oil and some aluminum-free deodorant, but again no lotions with perfumes, dyes or chemicals.

8. Do not eat immediately before or after taking a detox bath.

9. Instead hydrate yourself with filtered water before and after.

10. Allow time after your bath to rest and rejuvenate.

I took a detox bath last night after a day overshadowed with depression and a slight migraine. Afterwards, I felt relaxed, lighter, airier, less stressed, and pain-free. I added mood lighting and music to my detox bath, so the whole experience was a great gesture of self-care which totally combats depression. So, yay! Score one for me! The detox bath wasn’t a lot of work and it had many benefits. I’ll definitely be doing another one again soon.

Psychiatric Medication and Heat Illness

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There are many medications that affect the way your body cools itself during extremely high temperatures that could put you at risk for developing heat-related illnesses. Beta-blockers and amphetamines are examples. Many of these medications are ones taken by psychiatric patients, yet rarely do we hear warnings on the news to check on this population along with the elderly and children during extreme heat like I think we should.

I am on propranolol (beta-blocker), Adderall (amphetamine), Cymbalta (antidepressant), Risperdal (antipsychotic), Ativan (antianxiety), and Topamax (anticonvulsant), all of which increase my sensitivity to heat.

So, when we were boating last weekend in the 95F degree weather and stopped for lunch to which the group “leader” thought it would be a great idea to sit outside and eat, I said, “Are you crazy?!”

I didn’t really say that, but I did ask if everyone would rather eat indoors, to which the leader responded, “No way!” and everyone else followed suit by sheepishly smiling. So, I got up, recruited my husband to walk with me into the restaurant and we sat in the air-conditioning until our food was served. By this time, I was cooled off and probably saved myself from the beginnings of some heat exhaustion.

Even though my friends know I am on psych meds, they don’t get the seriousness of the side effects. It’s up to me to be assertive enough to take care of myself, and that’s what I did.

The next morning we went on a hike, and while the morning temperatures were cooler, the steep hills got my heart pumping and pores sweating. We took a 15-minute rest break on a bench by the lake.

After our rest break, I noticed my friends’ faces were no longer perspiring or flushed. I, on the other hand, felt like I was running a fever and was feeling light-headed and nauseous. I decided it would be best to call my husband to come pick me up rather than continue on the rest of the hike with them, so that is what I did.

It bums me out that I can’t keep up with my friends in the heat, but without my medications I wouldn’t be able to do anything with them regardless of the weather.

Here’s a brochure by the Ohio Dept. of MH which includes a list of some of the medications that can impair the heat response, as well as what to look for and do in the case of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

RxList is a comprehensive drug index that provides in-depth information on probably every drug you are on. Search the medications you are currently taking to see if they make you sensitive to the sun or heat, or ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Heat illness is very serious. Make sure you know if your medication is putting you at risk. Let’s keep summer safe!

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Daily Meditation – Fantastic Things

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Life can often seem so mundane. We drag ourselves out of bed to carry on the same old routine day after day after day. When will it ever end? When will something exciting and new come our way?

What we don’t realize is that it is our own mind that makes these tasks boring and unassuming. It is our own preconceived ideas and unconscious conditioning of going through life without gratitude for what we have, what we are capable of doing.

Did you know that in most places in the world there are no indoor toilets? People go in the streets, in front of everyone else! Did you know that millions die of starvation each year? Many do not have running water for drinking or bathing.

Today, let us do something fantastic for ourselves. Take a warm shower, eat a meal, flush a toilet, visit a friend, brush your teeth. Be grateful for every little thing that you can do, for every little thing that is available to you. These are fantastic things! Things which are hard for us with mental illness to do at times – to eat, bathe, groom, socialize – but nonetheless, fantastic. Rejoice and delight in this fact.