Managing Your Mental Health: Lessons I’ve Learned

beautyI am not a doctor, nor a licensed counselor. I merely write from experience. My hope in writing this post is that perhaps, for someone out there, this strikes a chord. Not because it’s eloquent or witty or spiritual. But because it’s honest. Because it’s what I know, based experiencing it first hand. In some weird way, I find that publicly sharing my struggles (my husband calls it emotional vomiting) is incredibly freeing, as if I’m releasing a caged bird, watching it alight and flutter up, up, up and away into the blue blue sky until it disappears, taking comfort in the hope that it will find a new home in the welcoming branches of a lovely and magnificent tree in a far-off land.

Enough poetry, let’s get practical. Here are 5 things I constantly have to implement to maintain my mental and physical health.

1. Know your physical limitations.

runnerEvery single one of us has different requirements for sleep, exercise, alcohol, food, social time, alone time, workload, parenting, etc. This is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn. My requirements are very different from those of my husband, my friends and family members. When it comes to sleep, I need a LOT of it. When it comes to exercise, I need daily, short, intense bursts. When it comes to alcohol, I can’t handle more than one drink. When it comes to coffee, I do best with copious amounts. When it comes to parenting, I thrive on short chunks of spontaneous play, followed by lots and lots of structure. When it comes to social time, I find it to be incredibly exhilarating in the moment, but often depleting afterwards. When it comes to alone time, I lap it up like a cat does milk.  Know your needs.  Take note of how God has designed you. Unique and beautiful you. Don’t be embarrassed by your needs. Embrace who you are and accept your limits.

2. Listen to your body.

body

My tendency is to push through, often ignoring pain or discomfort, if my mind is set on achieving a certain goal.  But the older I get, the more I notice the side effects of ‘just pushing through.’ My body pays for it in a way it didn’t 10 years ago. Deep down, you probably know when you need to go to bed, when you need to exercise (and when you don’t), when you need to get off social media, when you need to be alone and when you need to get out and be social. Often, it’s the opposite of what we FEEL like doing in the moment. It’s that gentle voice within, which is usually much quieter, almost a divine whisper that speaks to our hearts, that longs to protect us and keep us out of danger. But listening to this voice usually means choosing the hard thing. Leaving the party early. Saying no to that next drink. Turning down that opportunity to serve. It can feel like the voice of a parent, that has an instinctual rightness about it, but also a fun-killing irritant that often comes when obeying when you don’t want to, which is why it’s so tempting to tune out and ignore it. Listen to that voice. It is one of love and protection.

3. Don’t compare.

housekeeperComparison often looks like this: taking the BEST of others and comparing it to the WORST in ourselves. We tend to forget our strengths, our natural giftedness, but hone in on our flaws. Many of us women share a SUPER WOMAN ideal of the perfect wife/mom/friend/daughter/sister. Mostly, what I’m doing is taking the best of all of my friends and creating an ideal person. A person that does not exist. I have finally learned to accept what I’m NOT: a natural housekeeper, a detail-oriented and organized person, a planner, a firm disciplinarian, a do-what-you-say kind of person. That doesn’t mean that I don’t work on those areas. But I know they will probably never become core strengths. And that is okay. Embrace the unique ways God has wired you and try to view other’s gifts, not with envy, but with awe that we have such a diverse, creative God.

4. Speak kindly to  yourself. 

lies

During some of my darkest days of depression, I was horribly critical of myself. It took a long time for me to recognize and then to actually fight this tendency. My husband, my friends, my parents and my counselors spent hours talking me through what had become a very skewed view of myself. Even as someone who identifies herself as a Christian, who puts hope in the belief that I have been created in the image of God, who believes in a Heavenly Father that deeply cherishes and adores me, even then, I tend to block out His voice and believe lies. Lies that tell me I am pathetic and worthless and weak and crazy. This was THE most devastating aspect of my depression, the thing that tipped the scales, that sent me into a downward spiral that took a very long time and a LOT of mental work (counseling!) to get out of. Learn from my mistakes: be kind to yourself. For me, that means grabbing hold of my faith, deeply owning God’s word that says I am His precious child, deeply loved and completely forgiven, and He is preparing a place for me that is full of beauty, where there will be no more tears and no more shame, where I get to dwell for eternity with my Maker.

5. Find your inner artist.

artistThis requires some soul-searching and deep reflection. Think back on your childhood. What did you love doing? What did you gravitate towards? How did you enjoy expressing yourself? Reading? Painting? Drawing? Building? Organizing? Is there anything you wish you could do if you only had more time? Pursue THAT thing. No, you probably won’t be able to quit your job and make a career out of it. But find ways to work it into your life, whether it means setting aside time to do it at night, instead of watching a show, or waking up early, instead of sleeping in. For me, that thing was writing. Gradually, I shoved it aside, thinking I was too busy, too tired, too practical to pursue something that I wasn’t good at (compared to all the amazing writers out there) or that I would ever make money doing (is that really even the goal of a hobby?).  It was only when I was forced to put my kids in full-time daycare because of my debilitating anxiety/depression, that I had to figure out what to do with my time. My counselor kept asking: What brings you joy? What do you love doing? And for a long time, I didn’t know. I had forgotten what I loved (common in depression). I felt lost and empty. But slowly, a theme began to emerge. I joined a writer’s workshop. I began to journal. I began to blog. And oh! It felt as if a part of me that had been dormant for years suddenly came bursting back to life. To use my imagination, to craft words and sentences and paragraphs into pages, it was my art form, my way of deeply expressing myself. What is that thing for you? Painting? Drawing? Organizing and implementing systems? Acting? Building? Stand-up comedy? Dancing? Sports? And remember – it’s not about being good at it or doing it to make money. It’s about pursuing it merely because you enjoy it, because it is something God has placed on Your heart and perhaps, is a wonderful way to know Him more deeply. Because isn’t He, in fact, the Ultimate Artist?

Have questions, feedback or insights of your own? I would love to hear from you! Leave me a comment below.

Blessings,

Amanda

 

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