Friday, September 20, 2019

Simple Self-Care Habits for Your Mental Health

During these past weeks, I have really made the serious effort to focus on self-care. After coming to terms withand feeling less shame aboutmy depression, I've been more open to receiving support and also allowing people to see and know how I'm tending to my mental and spiritual health.

Certain habits have proven effective for me, which brings me to an important point about self-care when it comes to depression, anxiety, or overall mental health: it's highly personal. No one should dictate to you how self-care should look like for you. You can listen to what's worked for others, try it, keep it if it helps, but don't feel guilty or ashamed if it doesn't. Choose something else. 

The most important thing is to own the need to replenish your peace and sense of self-worth. 

So, what tools have been working for me? Here they are and they're worth giving a shot if you haven't yet.

Prayer and getting more attuned to the Divine
Whether this means starting my day with Bible quotes or verses, or pausing any time of the day just to say 'Help me, guide me, show me the way out of the darkness', I've found that this habit helps me find my center. It's not that I always hear Wisdom literally talk back to me but more often than not, there is a tug, a hunch, a relentless helpful thought, that echoes inside. You can label this how ever you want but my faith calls it the Spirit, and all that matters is that it comforts me. 

Mindfulness Practice
This is about me taking pauses to be more aware of my thoughts, especially when negative self-talk happens. It's to force myself to focus on my breaths which helps, not to reduce the mind to a complete blank slate, but to create distance between my thoughts and who I am; to know that whatever thoughts I may be having, they will pass; and most of all, to know that my thoughts and feelings, though I accept them fully, are not all that I am. The voice in my head saying 'You are worthless' is just thata voice, an idea. I hear it, it's there, but with every mindful breath I take, I am able to create distance between the voice and Myself, until the rising and falling of my stomach with every breath taken, becomes the stronger focus and not the self-deprecation anymore. 

Exercise, and in particular, Yoga
I walk on the treadmill 5 days a week. But I suppose because it's fairly easy and mindless, it sometimes ends up just fueling my rumination. Yoga, on the other hand, has been the more effective friend and remedy for me as of late. The stretches and positions, no matter how basic, challenge me to focus my mind on my limbs instead of thinking of something else. The breathing, on top of my desire to make sure I'm executing the movements correctly, give me a welcome distraction. And most of all, I'm convinced that the yoga stretches and positions allow for a better flow of Qi (Chi) in my body, hence promoting a more positive feeling. 

Practicing Gratitude
I always thought writing gratitude lists was all BS. But you know what? I gave it a chance and realized that the items on my list don't have to be anything grand, they just need to be specific. Maybe I'm grateful for a friend giving me a heartfelt hug. Or maybe I serendipitously came across an inspirational quote. Perhaps it was a delicious cup of coffee from the cafe, or a calming tune I heard on the radio. When I start really making the effort to find things I can be grateful for, it makes me feel more present, less forgotten, more connected to the world.

The last one I want to share is probably one we easily take for granted but is extremely consequential in my view. Though it should be practiced by anyone, I feel it's paramount that those of us suffering from depression/anxiety heed this advice...

Be very selective with the people you surround yourself with

Yes, choosing who you spend your time with is a crucial part of self-care. We are all energy. And each of us brings energy to situations. I have always been quite intuitive, and when I meet and spend time with people, I can pretty much tell if I like how they 'feel' to me, the energy they emit or bring forth. Some feel too heavy for me, some too strong that they drain me, while there are those who I can feel just don't care, are insincere, or would rather be some place else. In other words, I end up feeling worse about my life.

The truth is, it matters how people make you feel about yourself. Why surround yourself with those who further minimize you or have no desire to understand the journey you're in? Self-care should always include being careful with the energy you interact with in your state of utter vulnerability. 

Depression and anxiety deplete one's mental stamina, and as ideal as it is to say we each choose how to feel about ourselves and that others should not have control over that, this view is also very naive and uncompassionate. Depression depletes your energy, your self-esteem, your patience, your interest, and many other things that unaffected people take for granted. It affects your sense of agency. In that state of depletion, what we need are people who are compassionate and will not be callous with their words and attitudes towards us; people who bring positivity even in just their quiet yet assuring way; people who can be equally vulnerable with us, which in effect makes us grateful because then we realize, unequivocally, that we are understood and accepted, and that we are not alone.

This is a journey I would never wish on anyone. But if you are in it, as I am, I hope you know that there are ways out of the darkness, and that a lot of us know how challenging it is. The world is more compassionate than we think. We just need to keep moving, one foot in front of the other, until we find the strength to reach out. I'm certain there will be a hand from the other side, to hold yours firmly, and assure you that you are absolutely worth holding on to. Hang in there. 

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