While every mental health journey looks a little different, these are the lessons that helped me through mine:
Your suffering is nobody’s fault—especially not your own.
There is a growing body of research that says that traumas and adverse experiences can be passed down from generation to generation. It turns out that those who have family members who have experienced trauma or adverse life events may have a lower threshold for emotional pain and a higher likelihood of suffering from stress or mood disorders. Sure, this may not be a relief to hear, but it’s a powerful reminder that mental disorders are bigger than just us.
The breath is a powerful thing.
The breath controls the nervous system, and you control your breath. After studying with yogis and meditation masters who are adept at manipulating the breath, I found that breathing exercises really do have the power to calm us down. By using them to stimulate the vagus nerve, a nerve that runs down along our spine and monitors our unconscious body procedures, we can effectively steer ourselves away from panic mode. Learning some simple breathing techniques can be enormously helpful when the going gets tough. Here is a 60-second one to start with.
We do not have to make a commitment to perfection.
Healthy gut, healthy mind.
I was shocked when I learned about the biological components of mental illness and examined the link between our mental state and our diet. An anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet filled with nutrient-rich whole foods can help both our physical and mental health.
You are not your mental illness.
It took a while for me to realize that my struggle with depression and anxiety did not have to define my life. Using mindfulness practices like breathwork and meditation, I learned that it is possible to objectively examine your struggles rather than simply react to them.
It’s not pleasant to take a good look at our imperfections, but once we do, we find we are not alone. The World Health Organizationestimates that by 2020, anxiety and depression will be among the most common disorders in the world. By recognizing that this is a struggle that many of us go through, I have been able to cultivate compassion for myself and others in my life and tweak my lifestyle to support a more positive mental state.
We do not have to make a commitment to perfection. We just need to make a commitment to begin, to fail, and then begin again. This is a practice of remembering to keep trying, to keep going despite obstacles and setbacks, shitty days, and bad moods. It is a practice of self-acceptance and of self-forgiveness.
These 4 small changes can do wonders for your mental health.