Here is a mental health guide, in particular ways in which could be beneficial to manage any depression, anxiety or generalised stress better. These methods are not designed to dogmatically help you; these are just tips that I have found helpful in my struggles with anxiety, (in particular health anxiety), which I think are useful in dealing with any issues that may arise. Having had dialogue with sufferers of depression and generalised stress, these methods have been effective in managing their symptoms.
1. My Problems
When reading this, it is helpful to have context. This is a little bit about me and some of the issues I have been battling.
It started with a tinnitus diagnosis at the age of 18 (ringing in the ears) that is with me 24/7 and has not eased off since. At the time, it stressed me out and would play loud music or any noise in an attempt to block it out. I couldn't sleep and it is all I thought about most of the time. However, I didn't think there was anything 'mentally' wrong at the time. I just thought it was the ringing that was making me low. But I went to university, still concerned about the ringing, but got on with it. I was having the time of my life, but then I flunked my January exams. I realised that I was on the wrong course so returned home in February, until my return in six months. It was during this period, that I realised something was up. I would burst into tears several times a day, and I kept on thinking about the ringing. More physical manifestations kept on cropping up; pain in the hands and arms, weakness in the legs; breathing difficulties. All checked by the doctor and nothing apparently wrong with me. This told me, that these physical symptoms were because of the mental problems I was having.
Through perseverance, I have tried successfully (and unsuccessfully) many techniques to improve my mental wellbeing, and hence in turn my physical symptoms. There have been breakdowns in between, but many MANY happy memories.
I hope to share these methods.
First step to feeling better:
Accept you have a problem, AND want to get better.
From my story above, I hope I reflected that I didn't accept I had a mental problem and always focused on the physical. THEN for a while, I held on to the physical and if I am being honest, I probably didn't want to get better inside. The pain meant something to me.
There is nothing like exercise in order to bring short-term temporary relief. I train in a gym 5-times a week, and this routine and the goals I set myself allow me to get into a great frame of mind. Exercising around other people in particular, has helped me, as you feel like you are encouraging each other and feel more motivated in the company of others. I am enjoying it, and bizarrely, eased the physical sensations in the hands and arms, despite lifting weights. This suggested to me that the pain was caused by my thinking, which gave me confidence.
4. Take Up A New Hobby
Throughout these struggles, I always continued to do stuff, including physical activity. Doing random activities allows you to feel anxious about certain things but you are able to recognise that this anxiety is entirely normal (new stuff always makes me nervous). I have tried all sorts; salsa, swimming, cycling, squash, tennis, gymning, horse riding and many more. All of these have helped keep my life exciting and mentally refreshed.
Talking about my struggles has really aided my recovery. I had bottled up my problems for a long time. However, having a support network is so important. It takes guts, especially as a man, to come out and say 'I have a mental health problem'. I have found writing about it has been helpful, as I set up my own blog. Going to 'Share Your Story' Nights at university have also helped, as being in an environment with others doing the same, helped me understand that others are going through the same. It was no longer isolating.
This is an exercise which deals with thoughts that contribute to the feelings. After all, a feeling you have is preceded by a thought. You can only feel anxious if you have anxious thoughts. You can only feel happy, if you have happy thoughts. Mindfulness however seeks to just *accept* thoughts that are happening, does not seek to discriminate, and then allow it to pass on by. You can do this by sitting in a quiet room and just *watching* your thoughts by just letting them pass by, whether they are happy, sad, anxious, excitable or whatever. Or, you can do an activity, and immerse yourself in it. When you are having a shower, focus on the feelings the water has on your skin, the touch of the shower head, etc. If a thought distracts you, then return your focus to the chosen activity. This takes daily practice, so keep it up.
Put relaxing bit of music on at night and light candles. And just sit and pause in quiet reflection. There are meditation classes as well, which are a great help.
8. Self-help books
These are amazing and gives you something to work on and many books have ways of dealing with these problems. There is usually a 'Self-Help' section in book stores, so check them out.
9. Positive Affirmations
Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings. Therefore, by saying positive things over and over again, this can alter the way you think. I say some of the following phrases to myself over and over again in the morning, or write it repetitively. For example:
I am calm and relaxed.
I am loving and kind.
I can handle anything that comes my way.
If you say these things long enough, even if you don't believe it, this will slowly begin to become your regular thought process. It is really quite thrilling when you start noticing positive thoughts again and gives you the confidence to keep practicing them.
10. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Really beneficial. Upon referral by my GP, I received CBT from the Wellbeing Centre. It uses methods to expose you to your fears and do it so long enough that you no longer fear it. For example, because I had an obsession around my breathing, me and my therapist worked through these thoughts and eventually exposed me to my fears around breathing. We did vigorous exercise, which I had grown to fear, and then the fear slowly became less and less. It can be quite scary, therefore having a therapist for encouragement was really important.
I have left this late on because I think this should be one of the last options you try. I only used this option during quite a grim breakdown and needed it to help me study. There are a lot of scare stories about medication, but these have been excellent for me. The GP talked me through all of the options and I gave them a go. And despite some side effects, my mental wellbeing improved drastically, and despite having health anxiety, I didn't care about the physical side effects because it improved me mentally so much. I am much happier. Do I still get bad thoughts? Yes. But I can deal with them in such a more rational response, and I see anxiety as short-term. And it increases your confidence once you feel free to do more stuff. Moreover, it doesn't cause dependency, despite rumours. I came off them slowly and it was a very smooth process. I must stress though, people respond to them in different ways. For me, it has been great. But talk to your GP about these options.
A tad controversial and only relevant to people of faith...but if you are religious, then this is so effective. Ask God for help, ask him for his peace and pray for understanding. Go to your local church and ask for their prayers and you will find others with similar struggles and you can push through it together. I am firm in the belief that everything happens for a reason, and just this knowledge helps me along way.
I am by no means encouraging binge drinking here, but a once-in-a-while night out is not harmful. In fact, I find it a great way to let off steam. A night out on the "mocktails" are also a wonderful shout.
Listening to music is so easy to do yet so underrated. I have expanded my interests in genres since experimenting more. Before, soul was my default genre. Now, I am an 80s fan, RnB, rap, dance, classical; I really have opened my eyes.
15. Thought Monitoring/Challenging
Take 10 minutes out a day. Monitor your thoughts. Write them down, however stupid. All the thoughts that anger you, make you feel upset, etc, rationalise them, challenge them and find an alternative response to them that will make you feel better.
Popping bubblewrap is a wonderful stress reliever.
Walking the dog, fussing the cat, going to Pets At Home to see the guinea pigs- more wonderful stress relievers. Really recommend it. You can apply mindfulness to stroking the dog too!
These are all methods and strategies that have helped me. They helped at different times of recovery and I still use them. However, recovery is a subjective process. Some don't work for certain people. The main message I think, is to set realistic goals, targets and set reasonable expectations. If you miss them, don't be hard on yourself. We are only human.
But be sure in the knowledge:
You will get better. It may take a week or two years. You will find a way to beat this.
In the words of Take That:
"Have a little patience".