I know firsthand how hard it can be to suffer from depression, and these tips are by no means an alternative to seeking professional guidance if things become serious. However, I’ve also learned over the years that I can take the power back from my depressive episodes by being intentional about creating habits that help me when I’m struggling, in order to prevent myself from falling back into a mindset that it is hard to remove myself from.
With the show 13 Reasons Why hitting the web and seeing the online response, I thought now more than ever is a great time to spread some advice and open some conversation regarding mental health. If you’re starting struggling at the moment and need a bit of inspiration on how to take the baby steps to improve your mindset, here are 13 ways to do so.
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How can you help yourself when you don’t know what’s wrong? Journaling has been an absolutely powerful way to get more in touch with how I’m feeling. I combat the issues that are coming up for me by truly identifying the root causes of my problems! Through stream-of-conciousness writing, and reading back what you’ve written, you’ll be surprised how eloquently you’ll state some of the things in your life. Especially a day or a week or even month later, you’ll be able to look back on your entries and think: “Wow, she really needs to get outside more!” or “She’s spending altogether too much time focusing on the guy in her life, when she should prioritize her own needs!” When you can read back your internal monologue it becomes easier to give yourself advise like you would a friend.
2. A Light Exercise Routine
I know, I know. Exercise can seem like the worst thing in the world, especially when you’re struggling or experiencing a depressive episode. For me, I’d try to run when I was depressed and it would feel like my legs were made out of lead bricks and I’d not even feel better afterwards at first. Trust me, committing to a light and sustainable routine of movement (you don’t have to even call it exercise) helps a ton. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, start with small habits like an evening walk. It gets your blood pumping, and allows you to feel the breeze on your face and think about things outside of your own life and head.
3. Schedule and Structure
A life without structure is a life without hooks to hang things on. I know that when my life lacks structure, I lack happiness. When I graduated high school was the first time I fell into a depressive episode, and I look back and can see the causes clear as day. I was in a new city without a job that required me to leave the house, classes to attend, or any real social group. Therefore, I had too much time at my disposal and much too much time to ruminate about the negativity in my life. After you leave school structure is your responsibility, so create it! Schedule things to do during the week, get a part-time job (any part-time job – I got one at a BBQ store of all places) and remind yourself how much it’s helping your mental state whenever the alarm clock rings in the morning.
4. Random New Hobby
When you’re thinking, “My life is so boring, I don’t have anything to do, and I’m not talented at anything,” the power is in your hands. You can start learning something new, or get into a new hobby, at any time you want. It may be rare to get into playing violin or learning a new language in your mid-20’s, but I’m doing it! It has been the best idea ever (I’m learning violin and Japanese) because it makes me excited about learning, and puts me in a mindset in which I have things I love to do just because I enjoy them – not because I have to do them or they make me money. Find something like this that makes you excited!
5. Jumpstart Your Sleep Pattern
Sleep can be a huge influence on your mental well-being. If you’re constantly staying up late (I used to stay up until 3 AM every single night) and feeling absolutely destroyed the next day, or sleeping your weekends away, then it may be a time to take drastic measures. For me, the only thing that worked to fix my sleep pattern was making solid commitments in the morning, so I couldn’t back out.
6. Give Yourself Some Compassion
Remind yourself that if your internal monologue is constantly negative, this will inform your reality. Focus on how you’re talking to yourself in your own head. It may seem productive to constantly berate yourself for all your failings (the whole “tough love” approach), but take my advice: switch it up, and become your own cheerleader instead. It will feel a bit odd at first, but being positive and treating yourself how you would a friend, actually will result in more benefits. You’ll feel more content in your own mind, when it isn’t constantly attacking you, trust me.
7. Personal High-Fives
Creating a list of high-fives for yourself can be so powerful! I was feeling a bit overwhelmed a few weeks ago, and a bit like everything was crumbling around me. I always found the whole “find gratitude” thing a bit hippy dippy for my taste and I never thought it would actually help me. However, it actually does work! I wrote things like, “You managed to get out of bed with your alarm,” “You’ve completed all your assessments on time,” “You have a job,” “You’re going to university and doing well.” Just simple things, and it’s always possible to find them. When you read them back you’ll notice that if you focus on the things that are going well, it becomes abundantly apparent that you spend altogether too much time focusing on the negative! So, try this out, and let me know how it works for you.
8. A Break / Introvert Time
If you’re an introvert, or just busy with the family, work, or school constantly without much alone time, chances are you need a break. However, we can always come up with reasons why we can’t take a break, or a bit of introvert time – there’s a constant stream of tons of chores around the house, or studying to do. Deciding that your “me time” is a priority, and that you’re a better person when you make time for yourself, is a powerful tip to remember when you’re feeling yourself struggling.
9. Day Trip
Ruminating can be a huge aspect of declining mental health, I know it is for me. Your thoughts can begin to swirl around and around in your head, and before you know it, your mindset is nothing but a hurricane of negativity. So, going on a day trip and removing yourself from isolated situations where you are given free reign to ruminate, can help a ton. For me this can be as simple as going on a short walk to get a coffee, or going on a ride on the train to get some sushi and eat it in the park. Even though it seems like a tiny thing to do, you’ll be surprised how much it can help.
10. Choose An Attainable Goal
When I’m struggling with depression, my mindset is completely without hope about my future. In fact, I often can’t even imagine a future for myself because I’ve begun to believe that I have no power to affect my current circumstances. Smashing through this incorrect belief is key to improving your mindset when you’re struggling – and creating an attainable goal is the first step. Baby steps are key – why not try to eat a healthy breakfast every day? Or harness one of these other tips, like sticking to an evening walk?
11. Clean Out / Organization
My bedroom reflects my mindset, and I tell my friends and family this often. If my room is a mess, or if I start to not care how I’m dressed or that there’s stuff all over my floor, this is a sign that I need to step up my self-care game. Have you ever read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo? I truly recommend reading it, or just reading about the book online to get the main key points. Adopting a more minimalist mindset in which I wasn’t so obsessed with my material things and constantly having a “more, more, more” mindset because I felt like I needed more things to be whole and accepted, has made me feel so much more happy and secure.
12. Social Time With Someone Close
I’ve said this a few times in this list, but rumination is absolutely terrible when you’re having mental health problems, and isolation is the catalyst for rumination. So, while I know that when you’re feeling horrible social time is the last thing you feel like doing, it’s the way to stop this rumination. Or, at least give yourself a breather from your rather aggressive internal monologue (or at least quieten it). I find that when I say yes to the social obligation I’d much rather miss because I’m feeling less than stellar, I always am happy I’ve gone. I also always feel better after I come home!
13. Reduce Screen Time
Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest…they’re all inspirational social media websites that allow us to examine all the people we follow who seem to have it all together, because they only post the images that make it seem that way. We also spend so much time on these sites, and on the computer in general, that it’s sucking away all the time we have to commit and love the people we cherish. So, get away from the laptop and smartphone, and spend that time trying out one of these 13 tips.