How I Treat My Mental Illness

As I have said many times on this blog, and in life, mental illness IS an illness and it needs to be treated as such. When you are sick there are things you do to help yourself get or feel better and the same should be done when it comes to mental health. Mental illness is a never ending struggle in my life but there are ways that I have found help make it bearable and easier to go on with every day life. Since this is a question I get asked pretty frequently, I've decided to share with you what those things are and hopefully they can help those of you that struggle. Even if you don't struggle with mental illness some of these can be beneficial in just navigating every day life. These are just things that have helped me, not all of them may help/apply to you.

(These are in no particular order)

1. Essential oils-
I know I know they may be hyped up now a days but I really do believe that aromatherapy is a great tool when dealing with mental illness. I do not believe oils are a cure-all. For some they can do just fine handling their mental illness with oils only, and that is great-but for others they may need a bit more. I typically like to diffuse oils that have lavender in them because it is a very calming and relaxing scent. I believe my mind has now associated that scent with a sense of calm so when I do smell it I start to feel better. I also put oils on my wrists so that I can smell them if I am out and about and I think that does help. I have other oil infused sprays that I use on my pillow when I go to bed and that helps me when trying to go to sleep since I have anxiety right before bed.

2. Meditation- Two years ago I learned about meditating. My first experience with it was when I did a Yoga Nidra class. It was such a powerful experience. I really felt connected with my body and like I understood it more, and could love it more. It made me want to take care of it in more ways than one. I started using guided meditation every night before I went to sleep and I have continued doing so to this day. It relaxes and calms my mind, and brings it to peace. Because of PTSD I tend to have a hard time falling asleep, especially because I can have nightmares, but with meditation it has helped me fall asleep more easily, and I experience the nightmares less. I will also do this when I am starting to feel panicked or anxious, because it will calm me down very quickly. I will either have youtube videos on with headphones, or I listen to The Meditation Podcast and that works really well. If you have the chance try going to a Yoga Nidra class. It's really an incredible experience.

3. Grounding-  Recently I have learned a lot about grounding. It has been one of the number one ways I have learned to get out of my panic attacks. It takes practice, and patience, but you get the hang of it after a while. Grounding is when you bring yourself back to the present. When your mind is panicking you're not really in the here and now. Your mind is racing a hundred miles an hour and it's an overwhelming feeling of dread and despair. Typically when I am grounding I try to place myself in my surroundings. Listen to the ticking of a clock, the clicking of a mouse, the cars driving by. Whatever noise is happening around me. Then I think of my feet, and how they feel touching the floor. I think of the way my hands feel wherever they may be. I think of how I'm breathing, my chest expanding in and out, taking in oxygen and then expelling it. I keep doing things a long those lines, and it starts to calm me down. My therapist also recently taught me about the 5,4,3,2,1 method which is:

  • Name five things you can see in the room you are in.
  • Name four things you can feel.
  • Name three things you can hear.
  • Name two things you can smell.
  • Name one positive thing about yourself.
I have really noticed a difference when I apply these methods, especially when having a panic attack. Like I said, it takes time to get used to it, but once you do it can be a huge help.

4. Medication- Just as there is a stigma on mental illness in general, there is also a stigma on people with mental illness who use medications. It can go many different ways. Either people believe that the only way you can get better is if you're on medication and you don't need to do anything else, or they believe meds are bad, and that you'll be a slave to them your whole life, etc. Everyone has different preferences and you shouldn't let outside voices influence you. Medication has helped me quite a bit. I refused to go on it for years, until my anxiety (which I learned is panic disorder) got to it's peak and I was having 4-5 panic attacks a day. It was so bad that it raised my blood pressure, because I had anxious feeling in my chest 24/7. I did my research and decided medication would be beneficial to me given the circumstances, and it most definitely was. I am still happy with my decision. I still do all of these other things listed to treat my illness because medication is not the only solution. You do have to treat the source of the problem. For me it was what worked, but I know plenty of people who do all of these other things, and get a long just fine. Everyone's body, and mind is different so be aware of that if you are considering medication.

5. Positive thoughts-  This can be incredibly difficult, especially when you have a mental illness. Distorted thinking is common with any mental illness. There are many different ways of distorted thinking. A therapist I had a while back gave me a list and I hung it up so when I started having those thoughts I could think more in depth about why I was having those thoughts and sort through them in a positive way. I found this list of distorted thinking here.

All-or-nothing thinking – You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories

 Overgeneralization – You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

Mental filter – You dwell on the negatives and ignore the positives.

Discounting the positives – You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t 
really count.

Jumping to conclusions – You conclude things are bad without any definite evidence. These
 include mind-reading (assuming that people are reacting negatively to you) and fortune-telling (predicting that things will turn out badly).

Magnification or minimization – You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance

Emotional reasoning – You reason from how you feel: “I feel like an idiot, so I must be one.”

“Should” statements – You criticize yourself or other people with “shoulds,” “shouldn’ts,” “musts,” “oughts,” and “have-tos.”

Labeling – Instead of saying, “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a jerk” or “I’m a loser.”

Blame – You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and overlook ways that you contributed to a problem

6. Happy Light- I bought a "Happy Light" mid December. I had heard so many good things about them from many different people. I work during the night so I don't get a lot of daylight hours. This especially doesn't help during these long, dark, and dreary winter months. Most of us are not getting the amount of light we need in a day to function properly. This becomes a problem for most people but especially those that suffer with mental illness including seasonal depression.
"Our eyes have photoreceptors, including one called melanopsin that helps set the body's natural cycles and is triggered by a specific , narrow spectrum of natural light. Most artificial light sources do not provide light in the range to most efficiently stimulate melanopsin. All Verilux energy lamps -- including the Liberty 5K -- emulate key spectrums of natural light to effectively set the body's internal clock to improve mood, energy and well-being." (link
I have noticed a huge difference in my mood, and my energy levels since using this light. It's the strangest thing. I have only been using it for a little over a month and I swear by it. I usually have my light on while I am getting ready and doing my makeup. That's about all the time I need for it to get the job done. I highly recommend purchasing one of these. 
You can purchase a Verilux light on their site or other retailers. I got mine at Costco. (This is not sponsored)

7. Weighted blanket-  You may have seen some articles online floating around talking about how weighted blankets help those with anxiety, sensory disorders, sleep disorders, insomnia, ADD/ADHD, Asperger's and Autism, etc. Weighted blankets are in a way like how you used to be swaddled as a baby.

"These blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body," Karen Moore, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H. says. "Deep pressure touch helps the body relax. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe." Moore says this is the reason many people like to sleep under a comforter even in summer. (Source: Psychology Today and mosaicweightedblankets.com)

I asked for a weighted blanket for Christmas after hearing so many positive things from people I know, and the articles online. The first night I slept with my weighted blanket was the best night of sleep I had in a long time. It has been very beneficial to me, and I truly believe they work.

8. Breathe-  This may sound silly, but many do not really know how to breathe. We tend to take in less oxygen than we need with shallow breathing or holding our breath and that makes it so not enough oxygen gets to the brain, heart, nervous system and muscles. Conscious breathing is the way you are actually designed to breathe. I first started to learn proper breathing techniques in yoga. You must inhale through the nose and out through the nose. Take long deep breaths, rhythmically, and notice your breathing. I would recommend practicing this. Attend a yoga class or try meditation because they both implement breathing techniques, and that would be a great way to learn. When we breathe correctly it calms the mind, your body, and is overall very beneficial to our health.

9. Workout- Working out is always a good thing, but it is also one of the quickest therapy sessions you can do. Everytime that I am feeling depressed, anxious, or angry I try to go to the gym. It helps me to concentrate on something other than the battle that's going on inside my head. I also tend to feel a lot better about myself and more accomplished when I have finished a good workout. When you work out your body is releasing endorphins, neurotransmitters, and endocannabinoids. It also reduces the bad chemicals in your body that tend to make you feel more depressed. Try going to the gym and working out when you feel like your mental illness is taking over. It may be the last thing you want to do but it's such a good thing.
As a wise Elle Woods once said "Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don't shoot their husbands."

10. Eating healthy-  Along with working out, eating healthy goes right in to that. When we put bad food into our body we tend to get depressed. It can be for many different reasons, but when your body isn't being properly nourished it isn't going to properly function. Feed your body as if you love it, and want to take care of it. Your body is a great and powerful machine with so much potential. It deserves to be treated well. I know that eating healthy can be hard for me. I am an emotional eater. I am not one who loses a lot of weight because I'm so anxious and can't eat. I am the one who gains weight because I'm so anxious and depressed all I can do is eat. You have to find a happy medium. Do not stop eating, and don't over eat. Eat foods that are high in nutrients, make sure you are getting enough vitamin D. Avoid caffeine or alcohol especially if you are depressed or anxious as these can aggravate both. If your mental illness has anything to do with an eating disorder please work with a professional so you can properly nourish your body.

11.Therapy- I for one think therapy is a crucial part in treating your mental illness, whatever it may be. Sometimes we need help to sort through our problems, and see why we feel the way we do or do the things we do. It is comforting to talk about our issues to a non-biased source. I have learned so many great things going to therapy. One of the most important things I've learned is you have to find a therapist that is right for you. I have had a few therapists who were not good fits for me. If you don't work well with a therapist then you're probably not going to be getting the help you really need. I currently have a wonderful therapist who has really been helping me sort through my PTSD. If I hadn't started going to him I fear I would stay in the endless loop that I've been in forever. Though I still have a lot of work to do I am making progress, and it is incredibly comforting.

12. Having people to talk to- One of the absolute most important things that has helped me with my mental illnesses is having people to talk to. I have a select few who I confide in when things are getting really bad. These people have learned what techniques will help me calm down, and are some of my biggest voices of reason. Two of these people are my parents. I wouldn't have been able to make it through the things I've been through without them. They are my rock, and I am so incredibly grateful for them. Find people you really trust, like friends, or family, that are willing to be there for you when the going gets really tough (you know what I'm talking about). Be open and willing to talk about exactly how you are feeling, even if it is difficult. This is what can save lives.

These are just things that I have found help me, but not all of them may help/apply to you. You must find out what works best personally for you. It is definitely trial and error, but the important thing is you are working toward getting better. Whatever it may be I hope we can help each other a long in this journey, and work toward breaking the stigma around mental illness, and get the help we deserve.

1 comment:

Dian said...

Ashlee, thank you for sharing this. Almost all of the things you've mentioned have been part of my own PTSD management program for many years, so I second their effectiveness, and applaud you for writing about them so eloquently. I wish you well!