May is Mental Health Awareness month. As someone who struggles with various degrees of stress, anxiety, and depression, I wanted to make sure I wrote about it.
I honestly don’t know exactly what I have. It could be a mild form of bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or full-blown depression. But regardless of what it is, it has had a profound effect on my life.
And yes, I know I should go to a medical professional and get a diagnosis. I know that simply knowing what I’m facing will make it easier. I know that a therapist will give me access to the specific tool-set that will most help me cope with whatever the hell is going on in my mind.
I haven’t gone because I’m scared.
I’m scared to officially have a label. Right now I can shrug it off as “some sort of mental disorder.” But as soon as I have that label, I’m labeled.
And that’s why I’m writing this article. Mental health has an undeserved stigma, which keeps millions of people like me scared of their own mind. By simply talking about it, we can reduce the stigma and help everyone get the help they need.
But even though I haven’t taken it upon myself to get direct help, I’ve learned a few tricks that I would like to share that help keep my mental monsters at bay.
I make it a point to openly discuss my mental health with friends, family, and even some co-workers. By being open about just how hard I’m fighting this thing, my relationships with them have improved.
This is easily the hardest of the tricks I’m sharing here, but it’s absolutely worth it to reach out to others and let them know what you’re dealing with. Start small, with someone you absolutely trust—such as a sibling, parent, or significant other.
Speaking with others has both an internal and external benefit. By openly acknowledging your mental health struggles, you give whatever you have less power over you. And by letting others know, they’re in a better position to help where they can.
Regular exercise is another effective habit I’m working to develop. The key to making exercise stick is to do something you enjoy. For me, that’s rock climbing.
Every Saturday my wife and I go to the climbing gym. Climbing is one of the best all-around exercises I’ve found that I also happen to enjoy immensely. It works your entire body and mind. Jumping on the wall and completing even the easiest of routes activates all sorts of muscles you never knew you had. But even with all the strength in the world, you simply cannot conquer certain routes without thinking through the right way to tackle it. I’m working to add a second session in sometime during the week, but it hasn’t quite happened.
Outside of rock climbing, I try to take a few walks throughout the day and hit 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. My love of podcasts drives me to go outside and get a few steps in every few hours so I can listen to my favorite shows. While it’s not an intense form of working out, it’s far better than doing nothing.
I’ve been meditating daily for the past two months, and it’s easily the most effective thing I’ve tried to reduce my symptoms. Each morning I spend 15 minutes meditating (using Headspace, which is a phenomenal app). Those few minutes help me gauge my mental state and give me an early warning if I’m close to losing it.
Before, I had no idea how close I was to a breakdown until I was halfway through my day at work when the mental dam breaks on me. Now, I can either work from home or take a sick day because I’m much more in tune with how my brain is doing.
On top of helping me recognize my current mental state, meditation actively helps me calm my mind and reduce any anxiety or stress I’m carrying. Meditation even caries over to my physical state and helps me relax the muscles that I unconsciously keep tensed throughout the day.
Even if you don’t struggle with any mental health issues, the benefits of meditation are incredible and can extend to all areas of your life. If there’s one thing you try from this article, make it meditation.
I know I should have a fourth tip here called “See a Medical Professional.” I know that as soon as I go and get the help I need, I’ll be kicking my past self for being so afraid of nailing down the name of my mental demon.
I’ll get help soon. I promise.
It’s on my to-do list, and it’s been nagging at me for months now. I even found a nearby therapist who I think will work well for me.
Just gotta pull the trigger.
Until then, I’ll continue to share what I’ve learned and do my small part in increasing awareness for mental health issues.