6 Daily Habits to Improve Your Mental Health
Disclaimer: This article is based on my own personal knowledge and experience. It is not intended to be used as a self diagnostic tool and/or substitute professional help. If you suspect you are battling with depression, I encourage you to seek professional and medical help.
Dysthymia, also referred to as High Functioning Depression is not a diagnostic category of depression, because from a medical standpoint there is no difference between depression and high-functioning depression. Depression is a condition that ranges in severeness and changes over time. It can be difficult to detect someone with Dysthymia because on the outside they often appear completely fine. Unlike traditional depression which may inhibit the desire for action and activity, high functioning individuals tend to forge ahead in an effort to succeed by going to work, maintaining healthy relationships, and accomplishing their daily tasks; but the reality is that internally their day-to-day life is a struggle. One of the biggest challenges for people suffering from Dysthymia is feeling like you must prove that you need help, as people often don't believe you are struggling because your life isn't falling apart, yet. Living with high functioning depression is exhausting; your energy is quickly depleted even from "simple" daily tasks such as showering, answering a phone call, focusing on reading an email, or making yourself a meal.
I have lived with high functioning depression and anxiety for most of my teenage and adult life. When people learn about my struggles, the most common reaction I receive is "I would have never guessed that about you." And while these words come with good intentions, moments like this feel like criticism and a need to know "What could you possibly be depressed about? What is so bad about your life?". What people don't often realize is that mental health conditions come from a chemical, biological, and structural imbalance that impact mood regulation. The common mistaken belief that it’s a state of mind that you can control by thinking positively is simply not true. When you are depressed, you feel very sad or hopeless for no external reason. Depression can be a low-grade chronic unhappiness with life, or it can be intense feelings of hopelessness and negative thoughts about yourself and your life. Sadness is a typical, and expected emotion in situations change, loss, or difficult life experiences. Depression, however, is a condition that exists without triggers and lingers to the point of needing treatment. Depression is more than occasional sadness and involves periods of hopelessness, lethargy, emptiness, helplessness, irritability, and problems concentrating. Individuals with high functioning depression are no different. They experience all the same symptoms while attempting to go on about their day-to-day.
If you are reading this, feeling like a part of you identifies with this condition, I highly encourage you to seek help. You do not have to wait for your life to fall apart to get help. You deserve to find a form of treatment that will allow you to feel the weight of this condition lifted off your shoulders. Additionally, the following six daily habits can assist in making your day-to-day a little more manageable. To some people these may seem easy, and on good days you may wonder if they do anything at all, but I promise you they will make a big difference for you during the hard days. Making a habit out of these can help ensure that even on those hard days you are likely to stick to them and experience their benefits.
1. Skip Steps
I am not saying to be negligible when something or someone depends on you taking all the correct steps, I am talking about all the little daily things that feel like a big hurdle that day. Forget about perfection or doing the "whole" thing; eliminate steps so that you at least achieve the overall task. As an example, your task eating, but making a whole meal or even a sandwich feels exhausting. So, skip putting the sandwich together. Grab your meat, cheese and veggies and eat them like that. This is more manageable than throwing together an elaborate meal, but still gets food (ideally healthy choices) in you.
2. Wash Your Face & Brush Your Teeth
I don't know about you, but for me the first moments after I wake up, and the moments before I fall asleep are the hardest. This is when my mind is at its lowest, so interrupting those moments resets my mind. I know something as minimal as showering can actually feel daunting during a hard day, so develop the habit to at the very least, wash your face and brush your teeth daily. Having to get out of the bed (even if you plan on crawling back into it right after) has its own benefits. But splashing your face with water (soap optional - read tip #1) will quickly reset your mind and interrupt your thoughts. Brushing your teeth will also do the same.
3. Leave Things Behind
This one may sound silly, but purposely leave you phone or keys behind every time you exit a room. The point here isn't to keep you off your phone (although that can be very helpful for your mental health on its own), but to make you walk more. We all know exercise is one of the top treatments for depression, but when you are depressed, finding the motivation to exercise can be a challenge. A simple way to stay more active and experience the benefits of that endorphin release is to walk more. It doesn't sound like much, but simply having to walk back to a room each time you walk out of that room will double your step count.
4. Write Things Down
You often hear that journaling can be a great way to sort your thoughts and navigate through your emotions. And it is true. However, the process of journaling in itsself can sometimes feel like too much work so you put it off. There's this idea that journaling needs to be done at a certain time of the day, for a certain length of time, in a quiet, dedicated space, in a visually pleasing notebook, with fancy colors and fancy words. But all you really need is an outlet to unload your thoughts. Grab the closest paper and pen to you and write on the backside or the margins if you need to. You can even forgo paper all together and simply write on your phone. You can quickly open up the notes application on your phone, or text yourself. It doesn't matter where you find yourself, if it is pretty, and it doesn't need to be elaborate; just write whatever is on your mind, point form, bad grammar, just write it out. Don't wait for a specific time a day, do this every time your mind needs it.
5. Talk to Someone
While I highly encourage you to talk to a professional, I understand that it may take some time to resort to that. In the meantime, talk to someone. It doesn't even need to be about your mental health. But get into the habit of having at least one interaction with another human each day. If you live with someone or go to work daily this will be easier, if you don't just send someone a quick text or call them to check in. You can simply ask them how they are doing, or you can send them a picture or article you think they may enjoy; any form of interaction will do the trick. And while in a perfect scenario they would reply right away and keep the conversation going, it will still help you even if they don't reply right away. The science behind this tip is the intention. Your brain will release good feeling chemicals with the act of nurturing something; in this case the relationship you have with that individual. During the hard days, the last thing you may want to do is talk to someone, so don't. Simply search for a picture or something they would enjoy and send it to them. You don't even need to write anything along with it. The act of you searching for something for them and doing an act of service for them will activate 10 different areas of the brain associated with nurturing and you will benefit from the surge of chemicals released.
6. Get in The Sunlight
You may have heard this one before, but it really is one of the simplest and most effective ways to boost your mood and improve your overall mental health. The twist here is, you are often told to go outside, and yes going outside is extremely beneficial and you should strive for this. But, if you are having one of those days where even leaving your bed seems like a mountain to climb, at the very least aim to get your face in the sunlight. You can sit or lay down by a window for a few minutes, heck you can even just adjust your pillow on the bed so that you can reach the sunlight coming from a window. Get creative if you truly aren't up for leaving the house, but I promise you feeling that warmth on your face will make a difference.
Once again, I would like to reiterate that this is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional help. Theses are merely achievable daily habits that can improve your overall mental health - they will not treat your mental health conditions. If you suspect you are battling with depression, I encourage you to seek professional and medical help.