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World Mental Health Day- 5 Tips for Managing Chronic Anxiety and Depression

On World Mental Health day- I just want to take a moment to remind each and every one of you that you are SEEN, HEARD and LOVED! I took the opportunity today to post 5 of my best tips for managing chronic mental health symptoms in our Facebook Insider Group. But knowing that many folks do not use Facebook, I have decided to convert those posts into one blog post. These 5 tips are based on my own personal experience managing my lifelong anxiety; and they are also rooted in my educational background as a masters level licensed social worker.

I have struggled with anxiety since childhood, and I’ve also endured my bouts of debilitating depression in my adult life. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I need medication to help me live my best life. I’m not ashamed to admit that medical marijuana has changed my life for the better. I’m not afraid to admit that I have struggled with suicidal thoughts more than once in my lifetime. I’m not embarrassed to admit that some days I just...can’t. And on those days I drop my required tasks down to a bare minimum and maybe we eat cereal or frozen chicken nuggets for dinner on those nights. This life is hard...and mental illness only makes it 10x harder. But the good news is that those of us who bear this burden don’t do so alone. We are ALL here to lift one another up, show some grace and kindness and maybe if we normalize feeling this way at times, we can help to eradicate the stigma around mental illness. 



Tip 1 - Get Moving

When reflecting on my own personal tool kit for battling my life long anxiety, the first strategy that comes to mind for me is MOVEMENT! Exercise has always been one of my top coping strategies for my anxiety and depression. It was my number one coping mechanism through the stress of my graduate program. And especially after the birth of both of my babies, when I had to re-adjust to a new way of life, as well as the flux of hormones that come with pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, carving out time for exercise became a necessity. The other really wonderful aspect about this coping skill is that it is FREE and accessible to everyone. All you need is a pair of sneakers or an open spot on the floor to get in a little exercise sesh. The hardest part for me is typically getting my ass in gear and out the door...but once I’m in it (whether it’s a walk, a run, bike riding, hitting the gym, doing some yoga) I never regret getting out there and I always feel lighter once I am done! If you have a day where you feel a little heavy, overwhelmed with anxiety or lost in a cloud of depression, try taking a short walk around the block. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins which are your body’s natural defense against stress, anxiety and depression. The best way to activate them is to get moving!!



Tip 2 - Medication 

This tip is one of the ones that is loaded with stigma and conflicting thoughts from a lot of people. I know I dragged my feet for YEARS because I felt I didn’t need medication- I could do it all by myself. I’ve been on a low dose anti-anxiety medication for over three years now. I struggled with accepting the help, I felt for awhile like I was “less than” for needing medication. But then I realized that suffering in silence was worse than accepting the help and living a happier life. So I tried the medication. And it helped me tremendously. I’ve tried getting off of it a few times over the years and both times I tried I started to have a reoccurrence of my panic attacks. NO THANKS! My medication is just one part of who I am and it truly does help me to manage my symptoms and live a more balanced life Talking to my doctor was step 1 to opening up and getting the help I need. If you too, are struggling, I highly recommend talking to your PCP and coming up with a plan.


Tip 3 - Medical Marijuana

Another stigmatized approach, but I’m done giving a crap about who doesn’t like it. Hello, my name is Melaney and I smoke medical marijuana every day to help manage my mental health. I started using MM after I finished breastfeeding my youngest child. At first it took getting used to, but as time has gone on and my body has gotten used to using cannabis for symptom management, I have found it to be one of the BEST tools in my tool box. Despite what movies like Pineapple Express and anything with Cheech and Chong would have you to believe, smoking pot doesn’t (always) make you a goofy silly person with a bag of Fritos in one hand at all times. There are TONS of options for dosing including gummy candies, capsules, tinctures and of course flower that you can smoke or vape. If THC isn’t your thing I highly recommend trying a good CBD product (psssst- we will have a presale next week on some AWESOME CBD products we have tried and really like. Head to our Facebook Insider Group to stay tuned for that). CBD offers the same calming benefits of medical marijuana without the high. And it is legal in all 50 states. I’m not a glass of wine at night kinda momma. I’m a canna momma and I have no shame in saying that marijuana has helped me manage my panic attacks and anxiety for several years with success!



Tip 4 - Find a Good Therapist

Therapy isn’t usually like what you see on tv or in the movies. There aren’t leather couches that you lay down on anymore and going to therapy doesn’t mean you are crazy or weird- despite what the world can make you think or feel. I started going to therapy in college and I have gone several times on and off over the years. Finding a good therapist is like finding an amazing partner- someone who can help you hold the really challenging things, sort out the thoughts in your head and offer you unconditional support as you work through whatever brought you in the door (and maybe even a bunch of stuff you didn’t know you needed help with). There are several different therapeutic approaches but the one that always helped me the most is cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT helps us to recognize the link between our thoughts and our actions, and learn how to break cycles of negative thinking that make our symptoms worse. There are also several specialized approaches to treat trauma, severe depression and symptoms resulting from personality disorders. Finding a good therapist that you connect with can take a few tries but don’t give up! A great place to begin looking for a therapist is on the Psychology Today website.


Tip 5 - Yoga and Meditation

The final tip I have for you today is the one that truly shifted the tides for me. All of the tools I have mentioned today have helped me manage my mental health symptoms but none of them have had the impact for long lasting change the way that my yoga and meditation practice has. I have practiced yoga on and off for years since high school. But in the last 2 years, yoga has become a front and center part of my life and my daily routine (so much so that I knew I needed to learn to teach). Yoga calls upon us to shift our focus inward- it has helped me gain a better understanding of who I am and how that impacts the way I see the world. Hitting my mat is a way for me to sort out what is wrong- sometimes that means moving and crying...other times it means sitting with what is uncomfortable and learning how to cope. Energetically- the shift that happens once I hit my mat helps me to remember that no emotion is permanent, and I am entitled to feel them ALL (even the really really hard ones). Yoga has become a way of life for me; it has allowed me to reconnect with my spirituality and it is the lens i use to see the world with compassion and kindness. As Buddha taught us- life is suffering. We cannot escape it and to think we are exempt from it is foolishness. But by leaning into suffering as part of the human experience, we gain higher levels of awareness, compassion and the ability to truly see other humans as one with us- we are all Source and all connected in that way. This life is impermanent and learning to live in the moment, practicing mindfulness each day can help us to truly release the need for perfection and rather simply soak up what is right now.


Conclusion

Hopefully something in these 5 tips is helpful in guiding you towards looking at your own daily strategy for managing chronic mental health symptoms. This list is in no way exhaustive or intended to be a substitute for mental health treatment from a licensed clinician or psychiatrist. The path to healing from mental illness is a very personal one- and each individual must find the tool kit that works best for them in their own unique life situation. But the important thing to remember is that none of us walks this path alone; there are millions of people in the world managing mental illness every single day. Do you have a strategy that helps and isn't listed here? Leave us a comment and share if you feel comfortable. Together- we CAN shatter the stigma around mental illness and lead happier lives...one conversation at a time. 


Melaney Houle MSW
President, owner of Lotus & Compass Inc.

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