Seven steps to improve your mental health today
Hello, Fully Expressed Wo(+)Men…
Today is World Mental Health Day. It feels an opportune time to share my one-year research project on mental health and some practical tips to nourish it.
It saddens me to share that 50% of women I’ve researched in New York, London, Sydney and Melbourne experience a current mental health issue and feel bad more often than they feel good. If you’re an entrepreneur or a new mum struggling to cope the above statistics are conservative.
The WHO predicts that depression will be the number one ‘disease’ by 2020. This breaks my heart and can be prevented beginning with simple lifestyle adjustments. Almost four years ago I suffered depression, anxiety and every other lifestyle disease under the sun. I ended up with depression because I made a series of choices in life that saw me follow the career path expected of me. In doing so I sacrificed my health and wellbeing to make enough money so one day I’d have enough to never have to work like that again. I also triggered depression by choosing love relationships with little regard to my own self-worth.
Like many, I was sold lies by society that I had to be, live and act a certain way to become successful. And if I wasn’t earning multiple six figures or in a relationship by now with children I was a failure. As I entered my 30’s I began to see through the masks. However, I didn’t have enough personal strength or know what proactive steps I could take to quieten my mental health challenges. So I ignored them, hoping they would go away. I invested in more experiences, booze and clothes to mask the deep pain I was feeling inside.
This lasted about five years and during this time the universe dealt me some small cards to show I was off track. In parallel, I became more disillusioned, confused and stuck. The more I ended up in this state the more I ignored the triggers as they were too difficult to confront. Over a period of time depression, burn out and IBS became the status quo in my life, until one day it all broke and I ended up in the fetal position in my mother’s arms sobbing “how did I end up like this, I am successful, what did I do wrong?”.
Getting out of my bed was a huge challenge, making it was as much an achievement as more latterly becoming a world champion. At this time I decided I was in ONLY the business of healing, nothing more, nothing less. For almost two years this was what I prioritised, amplifying practices that nurtured my mental, physical and spiritual health and building a support team around me to ditch practices that were preventing me from making inroads.
I became curious. Why at a time when we’ve never had it so good, are a majority of us feeling disillusioned, anxious and stuck? I had more questions and answers. So in my quest to answer my questions I began an ambitious research project to understand the triggers as to why the majority of highly successful women feel bad more often than they feel good.
My research is supplemented by new science in the fields of gut health, epi-genetics and neuroplasticity. Each piece informing the major triggers that are fuelling the epidemic of depression. I share these insights to raise awareness that you’re not alone. I also share seven things you can do immediately if you’re currently struggling with a mental health challenge.
1. Improve your digestive health
Over 60% of have a current digestive health issue. Science has now proven such issues have a huge impact on our moods and overall mental health. When our gut is inflamed it sends inflammatory markers to our brain which elicit a stress response and cause us to enter fight or flight mode (commonly described as going limbic!).
Heal your gut by eating foods that nurture it’s microbiome and you will also begin to heal your mental health. Authors including David Perlmutter, M.D. and, Kelly Brogan MD — Holistic Psychiatrist are excellent resources to begin your journey to understand how to eat and make lifestyle changes to support a happy gut and a happy mind.
2. Find meaning in what you do
Over 70% suffer an existential crisis of meaning and over 80% claim that the work they do isn’t the work they want to do and they feel daily angst turning up to work ‘wondering what it’s all for’. Although we’ve never had better access to education, health care and the like often we don’t know why we do what we do and are searching for a deeper way to contribute that has some benefit to others and the world at large. The creator desire is there but for most the jump to explore alternatives see’s us stuck in fear land. Fear of lifestyle implications, what society and family will think and our own ego getting in the way. However, we all know that if we ignore the triggers things spiral deeper until the universe brings forth a massive blow we can’t ignore (relationship breakdown, major illness/injury, burnout etc.).
Actively explore a process that uncovers your own personal values, a set of aspirational beliefs, and a supporting vision. When you do so you’ll inspire more considered decisions that support you to make appropriate lifestyle changes that over time will see you happier, healthier and less stressed.
3. Spend time in environments that nurture you
The environments we spend our time in trigger our mental health challenges. Most notably our online environments and our work places. Over 65% claim that they feel down after reading their social media feeds. The percentage right now likely more as the election campaign in the US is causing all sorts of emotionally charged reactions in our social media feeds which drive angst and fear. Neither are fertiliser for a mind that is vulnerable
At a time when the world is throwing all sorts of propaganda at us carefully curate the media you consume, who you consume it from and on which mediums. Your brain was not wired to consume the thousands of messages you’re now consuming. The more negativity you focus on the more your brain is wired for negativity. The more you access social media and compare yourself to others the more depressed you will feel. Limit your consumption. Start by sleeping with your phone outside your bedroom and replace the time on social media with exercise or meditation.
4. Unleash your creativity & play more
Over 60% have lost the ability to play and 65% recall the last time they embraced creativity was when they were a child. Creativity and play are the hidden ingredients to uncover a flow state — where time stops and we are fully present. Flow was one of the top strategies I used to hack my way out of depression without drugs and became a world champion in an extreme sport after a seven-year absence from it. Just ask any extreme athlete why they’re able to push the limits of human performance and they’ll all tell you it’s flow. The great thing is flow is accessible to all of us.
Find something that inspires you and that time stops for and commit to a regular practice of it. The more you do it the more you are scientifically proven to be able to hack flow in other areas of your life, including your work.
5. Embrace practices that quieten the mind
How are you? What’s the first response? Busy. Yes, we have busy lives but I ask you, is your ‘busyness’ something you do to escape a state of stillness so you don’t have to be alone with yourself? ‘Busyness’ leads to burnout, burnout triggers all kinds of diseases like IBS and Chronic Fatigue etc. It’s no surprise that 90%+ of depression sufferers report feeling better after a walk in nature versus the 60% + who take a walk in a shopping mall come away feeling worse.
Take at least ten minutes a day to sit in stillness absent of media, in meditation and another five minutes a day to marvel in the wonder of nature. It might be a falling leaf, closing your eyes and tuning into the sounds of the ocean or burying your feet in fresh cut grass. Whatever you choose, please nurture it and over time it will provide you all the insight and wisdom you need to make the right decisions to support your overall health and wellbeing.
6. Spend time with the right people
Over 60% claim that when they hang out with their friends they spend more time complaining then encouraging each other to be at their best. What you digest with your ears not only impacts your mental health but also your gut health. This causes inflammation in our bodies and that inflammation turns into lifestyle diseases like depression.
Be discerning with your friends, choose people to spend time with those that nurture and nourish you. Choose people to be in your life that you can also share that you’re not ok with and they can help you help yourself in times of need. The more we open up for help the more people will open up and help us.
7. Practice self-compassion
Over 80% claim, they find it difficult to be compassionate towards others. Imagine what that means in relation to self-compassion. Compassion is a heart trait, it’s something we’re able to do when we practice self-love. It’s going to yoga class or pouring yourself a hot bath when you’re feeling less than your best versus going out for Friday night drinks and waking up Saturday feeling shitty. It’s about reassuring oneself when you’re feeling a little down that you are doing the best you can and that is the best you can do right now.
Ask yourself how can I practice self-compassion this week by tapping into your needs and honouring them. This takes practice and self-evaluation to understand what your needs are in the first place. It requires you to create a belief system that says it’s ok to take care of you and set firm boundaries in your relationships and activities with others.
For more help on curating a life that begins to quieten your mental health challenges and become more Fully Expressed in your own being I’d encourage you to gift yourself five minutes on World Mental Health day to take the simple life audit at labellavita.co The personalised report you receive will be filled with insights to help firm up some foundations so you feel better, more often.
With love and light to all. And yes I’m on the edge of a cliff with a 300-metre drop below me. Was I scared? Yes. Was it fun? Hell Yes. Did I hack flow? Sure did!