Friday, 9 May 2014
Yesterday I was exhausted. Absolutely worn out. But after work my friend Ben and I went for dinner at a restaurant that I have been wanting to take him to for ages. Although my body was yelling at me to go home and plop down in front of the TV, I ignored it and spent a really wonderful few hours eating delicious food and catching up with my friend. We talked about silly music, serious life stuff, and he made me laugh until I was crying. In short, it was exactly what I needed for my spirit and soul.
As we wrap up Mental Health Awareness Week n Canada I want to end it on a really important note: the value of social connection. As I have written many times before, suffering from mental illness can be a very isolating experience. The times that I have experienced a major depressive episode it has been extremely difficult to get out of the house and connect with people. I have spent many a day all alone curled up in my bed with my covers up over my head, wishing for the pain to end. But what saved me each time was the people in my life who refused to let me slip away.
Here are my tried and true top social connection tips to get you through depression:
Tell Someone: If you think that you might be experiencing depression or another mental illness then please tell someone. Talk to a trusted friend, family member or your family physician. You cannot do this alone so please don't even try.
Be Creative: Maybe the thought of leaving the house and meeting up with a friend in person is too much. It certainly has been for me many times. Why not connect with people in a different way? Facebook was an amazing tool for me to stay connected to friends and family when I didn't have the strength to pick up the phone or go out. Social media often gets a bad rap but I believe it's what you make it. For me it's been great.
Take Baby Steps: OK, so you are usually super outgoing and the life of the party when you are well. When you are sick you probably won't feel able to keep up your social obligations. That's OK - take baby steps instead. Rather than meeting up with a big group of friends, which might feel overwhelming, try meeting one good friend for coffee or a walk.
They say that it takes a village to raise a child. I say it also takes a small village to get through adversity in life, no matter what your age. Ask for help when you need it. Allow people into your life who will look past the broken fence to the flowers that lay beyond. You are worth it.
P.S. To learn more about the importance of social connection to our overall well-being please read this article courtesy of Psychology Today
at May 09, 2014
Wednesday, 7 May 2014
Oops! I said that I would be blogging each day this week and I missed a day. So let's call this a 'teachable moment'.
Something that I have learned in my years of depression is to pull back when I need to. It's been a hectic few weeks and, honestly, I just didn't have it in me to write yesterday. So instead of pushing myself to add one more thing to the must-do list, I took something off of it. I reprioritized, completed what I really did have to do yesterday, and then had some quiet time for myself. And guess what? The world didn't end. It didn't even slow down. But I did.
This little lesson fits in with what I want to talk about today: mindfulness and sleep. So let's start with mindfulness.
Do you listen to your body? If you lifted something heavy and strained your back do you then recognize that the pain means you need to help it heal? What about when you have experienced a stressful event in your life - do you read the messages that your body and spirit send you?
Often, mental illness will manifest itself physically. Backache, headache, tummy troubles, sleeping issues - these can all be signs of too much stress or something serious such as depression or anxiety. One of the best ways to tune into what your body and mind are telling you is to create time for yourself, time to be mindful.
Great idea but how do we do this? How do we create pockets of time in our busy lives? I have a colleague who is really great about taking his lunch break to go for a long walk. After about 45 minutes outside he'll be back at his desk, juggling a fast paced job but feeling refreshed. I have taken a page from his book and now, instead of working through lunch I will often find someplace quiet where I can be alone and just be in the moment.
An added bonus of taking time for mindfulness is that it is helping me sleep better. Because I am creating pockets of time to slow down, I am more in touch with what I need and what I don't need in my life. By letting go of some of the 'clutter', I am finding it easier to unwind at night and I have less of a hamster wheel going in my head when I go to bed.
Sleep is a crucial element in overall wellness. A classic hallmark of depression is sleep disturbances - both hypersomnia (sleeping excessively) and insomnia (when you have difficulty sleeping). I have experienced both ends of the sleep spectrum and neither are fun. It can be extremely frustrating. And not just frustrating, it can be detrimental to your overall well being.
After one night of poor sleep you begin to lose brain tissue and you are more likely to have an accident. After a week of poor sleep your risk of diabetes and heart disease rises and your risk of stroke quadruples (yes, I said quadruples). To learn more about sleep and why getting enough is so vital read this article written by Neha Shah courtesy of Levo.
OK, you're convinced. But it's not as easy as setting your mind to it, is it? Here are some top sleep tips courtesy of the Mayo Clinic. My personal favourite is #4 - a cool bedroom, soft flannel sheets, and white noise all help me sleep better.
So tonight try some of these tips. Get out your old teddy bear if that helps. But most importantly, be gentle with yourself.
at May 07, 2014
Monday, 5 May 2014
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, it's Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada. That means that I'll be blogging each day this week with a different mental health topic. So let's talk about exercise today - not one of of my favourite things, I'll admit. I have often wished that I had that magic gene that would make me bound out of bed each day, eager to go for a run or play tennis or something. Nope - don't have it. But I cannot deny the power of exercise in maintaining mental wellness or in recovery from mental illness.
We all know that exercise releases endorphins which make us feel good. But there are other things that happen when we exercise. It can also boost self confidence. Yesterday I wrote about self esteem and the hit it can take when a person is depressed. When you exercise on a regular basis you start to feel better because you are releasing those feel good chemicals and then you start to look better. And I am not talking necessarily about weight loss; I mean that when you start to improve your self image you begin to carry yourself in a different way. Loving yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin can be a difficult place to get to but exercise can help get you there.
Exercise can also be a great way to alleviate anxiety and reduce stress. I tend to walk a lot because I live in the heart of the city, close to my place of work. When I walk to work in the morning I have the luxury of walking along a beautiful body of water. Being around some nature in the busy city makes me smile and sets me up for the day. And if I have had a challenging day, walking home helps me let go of the stress. I often say to myself, 'you are walking away' and then I have a twenty minute walk to decompress before I get home. It usually works.
And let's not forget that exercise helps you lose weight. When I went through my last major depressive episode I gained twenty pounds over the course of a year. Let me tell you, that will make you feel not so great about yourself when you are already feeling pretty low. It was often impossible to get out of bed so imagine how hard it was to go for a walk. I started small - just a walk around the block. It got me out of the house and gave me a sense of purpose, a goal for that day. Walking has helped me take some of that weight off, slowly but surely.
I have a ways to go when it comes to embracing exercise. Frankly, I am not sure that I ever will fully embrace it - maybe a hand shake will have to do. But I'll keep at it because I will never give up because the investment in my mental and physical health is far too valuable to me.
P.S. For more about the mental health benefits of exercise read this article from Huffington Post.
at May 05, 2014
Sunday, 4 May 2014
I have a question for you. If you were to gather twenty of your friends or colleagues in a room and you were to ask how many of them have had a cold at some point in their life, do you think anyone would hesitate to raise a hand? Probably not. No big deal, right? Just a simple question.
OK, how about this? Take the same twenty people but ask them a different question. This time, ask them to raise a hand if they have ever suffered a mental illness. I would be willing to bet big bucks that you would see a different kind of response.
May 5-11 is Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada. It's a week dedicated to talking about mental health issues. As a society we mostly shy away from the hard topics. You know the rules - never discuss your salary, religion or politics. You can add mental illness to that list.
We all have physical health just like we all have mental health. So let's stop pretending that mental health issues don't impact a large percentage of us, because they do. One in five Canadians will suffer from depression at some point in their lives. Now think back to those twenty people in that room. Even I can do the math (!) on that. There's a very good chance that if it isn't you, you at least know someone who has had some really difficult struggles with an illness that is not well understood.
The company that I work for has a great group of employees who form the Diversity in Action Team (DIA). They recently identified people with invisible disabilities as a group that they wanted to support. So they came up with a plan, a way to get the entire company on board with Mental Health Awareness Week.
The DIA will send the management team a daily email this coming week that will contain a theme, some suggested ways to easily implement it, resources, and myth busters. When I heard what they were planning I was overjoyed. This is not a mandated event - there are no leaders saying 'you must do this.' Quite simply, it's grass roots driven. Our employees identified that this is a hot topic and chose to address it head on.
The theme for Monday is recognition. I think this is a great way to start the week on a positive footing. Self esteem is a complicated thing and something that plays into mental illness in a big way. When you are suffering from depression you rarely feel good about yourself. You question yourself, your choices, and most importantly, your self-worth.
As managers and as colleagues, we all have a responsibility to contribute to the work environment in a positive way. I believe in thanking my colleagues when they help me out, recognizing them when they achieve something, and sharing my appreciation for the support that they give me in challenging times. We all need to support each other in this world because we all have challenges and we all struggle at times.
As an advocate for those of us who suffer from mental illness, it sometimes feels like a lonely, uphill battle. It can feel a little like people get that something needs to be done but 'someone else will do it.' And quite frankly, I sometimes feel like perhaps people would just like me to talk a little less about it. I am so happy that these fellow colleagues on the DIA team, most of them whom I have never even met, are taking a stand and creating positive impact.
It starts with a few people and one week out of 52. My silly, little dream of eliminating stigma and creating understanding and empathy is maybe not so silly after all. Thank you, DIA team, and to those of you who don't think I should be quiet after all.
P.S. For more information about the relationship between self-esteem and depression please read this article from GoodTherapy.org
P.P.S. To learn more about mental illness please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association
P.P.P.S. Would you like to learn more about how to invest in workplace mental health? Check out the great resources available through Partner's For Mental Health's Not Myself Today campaign.
at May 04, 2014
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