For people who live with a mood disorder—clinical depression (as I do) or bi-polar disorder (as some of my relatives do) — there are many ways we can help ourselves when we are in an episode (depressed) or in remission (what others would call good mental health).
In an article several months ago, I offered three groups of tools for depression. First, lifestyle tools, including eating well, good sleep habits, moderate exercise, awareness of stimulants such as coffee, and depressants such as alcohol, and so on. Secondly, talking support which includes individual counselling, group therapy, and/or a depression support group with peers. And finally, educational tools, such as workshops in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), workbooks for depression, anxiety or other mental disorders, self-help books and online material. Be discerning with what you watch.
Below I present four additional categories of tools, with specific ideas in each category. You may have other tools to add to this list.
First, an important note: If you have a mood disorder, before employing any of the following suggestions, discuss them with your doctor or therapist to ensure that they are appropriate for your current situation.
Monitoring tools: Ask yourself the following questions periodically when you feel mostly healthy: Am I feeling more stressed or anxious than usual? Am I experiencing undue self-doubt these days? Am I avoiding my friends? Am I eating or sleeping more or less than usual? Am I having difficulty concentrating? If you say yes to more than a couple of questions like these, talk to your doctor or therapist to find out if you may be sliding into an episode.
Inquiry tools: The practice of mindfulness (simple but not easy!), now quite popular, can help calm the mind and keep you in the here-and-now. Investigate one of the many forms of yoga. You can read mental health, self-help or spiritual books to enlighten or inspire yourself. The Internet has many useful resources. Some people, myself included, journal-write to explore inner issues—entries that don’t need to shared with anyone else.
Diversion tools: Take part in activities that focus your mind on a concrete task. Hobbies and creative endeavours can succeed in doing this.
Time management tools: We need to create as balanced a life as possible when we are ill. Managing your time well, balancing the above activities with other aspects of your daily life, will help keep that all-important equilibrium.
You may have other tools in your toolkit to which you can add one or more of these described above. List your tools to discover how much you are helping yourself already. Select new tools; try them out. If something works, continue with it.
It’s not helpful tell yourself, “I should improve my eating habits,” or “Maybe tomorrow…” or “I’m too depressed…” or “That won’t work for me….” If you lean on excuses such as these, you may be depriving yourself of actions that could help to ease one or more of the debilitating symptoms of your mental disorder.
My approach to living with my illness is to do everything possible to manage my symptoms when I am depressed. This means doing everything possible to be well when I am in remission. If we start employing tools from our toolkit when we are well, they will be in place for us when we need them most.
-Nan Dickie facilitates a depression support group in Salmon Arm. Meetings are on the first and third Mondays at Askews Uptown conference room at noon. Everyone welcome. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org; 250 832-3733.