Dealing with anxiety and maintaining optimal mental health and well-being
I feel like I’ve got writers block this morning.
There’s a post that I really want to get out but I’m not sure how to tackle it and I have no idea how to word it either!
According to a writing book I read recently called Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg, this is when you have to ‘keep the hand moving’ (she was obviously using a pen and paper), for me it’s ‘keep tapping away until something miraculously appears’!
Let’s just hope she’s right…
Anxiety, mental illness, and maintaining optimal mental health
Ok, so I feel like there’s some unpicking to do this morning since several things have come to light through various different discussions I've had with people recently.
It's made me realise that talking and writing about this stuff is far harder than I ever imagined (and I always knew it wasn’t going to be easy).
Putting this bluntly, none of us can discuss mental health/illness without bias because we all have our own unique and subjective reality which also means that we can never interpret someone else’s experiences that accurately, however much knowledge or experience we may think we have ourselves.
I suppose it’s a natural response to think that if you discover that something works for you then it’s going to work for everyone else too, but I'm afraid to say that's not necessarily the case at all.
This is why those who have said things to me in the past such as ‘why don’t you have a gin and tonic in the bath and get over it’ aren’t entirely to blame because a. They’re not educated on mental illness and b. They only have their own experiences to go on.
It takes a TONNE of emotional intelligence to be able to see that there are billions of ways to interpret someone else’s experience of mental health or mental illness and if they don’t have the ability to do that then that’s not entirely their fault either.
I told you this post was going to be difficult to write!
Anyway, the point is that there are times when I am guilty of bias too and I think I might have slightly ‘dissed’ some of the important stuff that is being churned out in the media recently without really intending to.
Basically, it all boils down to the distinction between mental health and mental illness again because if you have a chronic disorder, such as bipolar or severe depression, then ‘going for a walk' or 'taking a bath’ aren’t going to do much to help you in the throes of a severe episode, BUT for those with milder illnesses such as generalised anxiety OR for those in recovery, then all of these things are ESSENTIAL.
They are also important ingredients for retaining optimal mental health as you go forward from any mental health/illness battle, and I most certainly do adopt lots of these (seemingly for those with chronic conditions) ‘plasters’ to promote stability and keep me well in the longer term too.
Strategies to combat anxiety, low mood and for maintaining good mental health
I’m not going to insult people’s intelligence by banging on here because these strategies are plastered all over the media constantly.
They include things like going for walks, connecting with nature, getting good sleep, and slowing the mind down - which are obviously all important.
A few other things that I deem essential for those that wish to maintain good mental health include:
Cutting out all alcohol
I know this is not what many people want to hear because they love it so much (ask yourself why you love it though), but alcohol is an absolute no, no if you want to maintain good mental health.
Everyone knows that hangovers make you feel horrendous, so it's obvious that alcohol is having a significant and negative effect on the brain.
It will only make issues like anxiety worse in the long term and potentially lead to addiction problems, plus even smaller amounts of alcohol have a detrimental effect on the biology of the cells in your body and brain.
Anyone that tells you otherwise is deluding themselves!
If you want the best results (and I’m sorry to have to break this to alcohol lovers) but you really have to cut it out completely.
Cutting out caffeine
I know I sound like a complete killjoy, but the same thing applies to caffeine.
If you have a propensity towards anxiety and or depression, then it’s going to have a negative effect on the brain.
Caffeine also damages the mitochondria in the brain cells, and it’s going to send your mind ‘up and down’, exactly what you want to avoid if you are looking to maintain the equilibrium.
Sorry coffee lovers but if you want results then that’s got to go too!
For general anxiety
If you are suffering from anxiety related to a bipolar mixed state then the following is going to be like putting a plaster on a broken leg!
HOWEVER, these things are certainly worth keeping in mind for later in recovery, and for those with milder illnesses, the following things are ESSENTIAL.
Movement and exercise – helps to disperse cortisol building due to the fight or flight response which is kicking in even though you cannot attribute the anxiety to a specific cause.
Drinking a full glass of water as soon as the anxiety starts to build
Radically changing your diet – this is another time when I would suggest seeing a ‘functional medic’. These specialists will be able to advise on which foods are best for you and since the gut really is the ‘second brain’, diet is essential in combatting many of these mental disorders.
Examples of foods that are good for combatting anxiety include:
Beans; Dried small red, Pinto, black, red kidney
Fruits: Prunes, sweet cherries, plums, apples (Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Gala)
Berries: Blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, blueberries
Nuts: Walnuts, pecans
Vegetables: Artichokes, spinach, kale, beets, broccoli
Spices: Turmeric (active ingredient curcumin) and ginger
Other things I deem important for maintaining optimal mental health are:
Reading every day
Limiting phone time
Bath and ‘me time’
Walking in nature
Flowers (they have healing properties)
Breath work in fresh air
Engaging with like-minded and empathic people
As much quality sleep as possible
I hope that’s helped to clear things up for people a bit…
I most certainly do lean heavily towards the chronic mental illness side of things and am admittedly massively patient biased, but after what I’ve been through can anyone really blame me?!
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,