There is considerably more hope today for those with a mental illness then there may have been 20 or 30 years ago. With humane medical advancements including advancements in medications available, good quality of life can be achieved however it takes some lifestyle changes. I’ve spent 7 diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder perfecting these lifestyle changes to ensure I get the most I can out of treatment. Understanding these may vary slightly, making some of the following changes would enhance the quality of anyone’s life, but those that struggle with a mental illness seem so much more environmentally sensitive, I believe it is even more critical. I know in my case, I really need to stay off the computer after 8 pm because the light from the screen can keep me awake at night.
Lifestyle changes include the following:
- Regular sleep times. Going to sleep and waking at similar times every day and ensuring to sleep during hours that are dark help maintain stability. The brain produces serotonin in the day when stimulated by light and melatonin at night when stimulated by dark, so taking advantage of these natural cycles of light and dark supports a quality natural sleep cycle. Personally, I’m in bed by 9:30 and up by 5:30 pretty much every day. When I get off that cycle, I don’t feel as well. Sleeping too little or too much are triggers for mood instability so I avoid disruption to this cycle at all costs.
- Good, quality nutrition supports the bodies natural defense systems. Mainly, eat lots of vegetables and high quality grains and proteins. My body just feels better when I do this, but eating junk food, empty calories and lots of salt or sugar weighs the body down, deprives it of much needed nutrients and does all sorts of other damage. With the risk of weight gain so prevalent with many psychiatric medications, it becomes even more critical to eat clean and ensure all major physiological systems are fed. Eating lots of deep coloured vegetables (dark leafy greens, beets) and low fat proteins (fish, lean turkey) feed the bodies ability to support healthy neurotransmitters as well as a healthy body.
- Exercise is a natural antidepressant. Personally, I prefer morning workouts so I can receive the benefit of the endorphin release all day, but as long you’re not exercising too close to bed time (that would be stimulating), anytime will suffice. The ideal is a good cardio workout to get the heart pumping to maximize endorphins. I practice hot yoga which can be more or less of an endorphin release based on the style of practice, power walks, and strength training. In the summer, I add in some cycling and kayaking. All those endorphins with fresh air and sunshine make for best moods of the year. Residing in the northern hemisphere, winter prevents some of the outdoor fun with such short days.
- Light therapy. Don’t underestimate the importance of the sun and when the sun is not available, a light box will suffice. With Bipolar, I have to be careful how this is used. I find it best around mid-morning to mid-day, as too late in the day could interfere with sleep. I sit next to a light box the strength of 10,000 lux (10,000 candles) with the light entering through my peripheral vision as I sit and read or work at my computer. These lights are available at Costco, Shopper’s Home Health, and other Home Health retailers.
- I have read a few articles about the consistency of vitamin deficiencies in those with mental illnesses. Specifically in Amino Acids, Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin B, Vitamin C and Vitamin D. Doses vary by research source so I would recommend speaking with your Doctor for treatment that will be appropriate to the medication you are taking. However, it is worth requesting a blood test to confirm any deficiencies and ensure all are addressed. This also refers back to the need for good nutrition to also maximize absorption of any supplements you may take. A large caution here as many herbs are contra indicated with psychiatric medications. Examples would be St John’s Wort, Valerian and Ginseng, so please be very careful, discuss with your doctor and stick with all recommended doses. Latest article I’ve read about this is can be found here: http://weeksmd.com/2012/05/nutritional-psychiatry-coming-to-a-hospital-near-you/
- When well, learn some good meditative, self-soothing techniques. Personally, I practice yoga, journal, enjoy hot baths, my garden and reading. These techniques are next to impossible to learn in the midst of an anxiety attack or moment of great stress, so it’s pretty critical to find what appeals most to you for relaxation and learn to use those things when feeling that crisis is imminent.
- Most important, regular med times. Ensuring an even and consistent dose will support maximum stability.
Of course all of this is not easy to do all the time, and sometimes I’m doing everything “right” and still need to seek treatment for depressive or hypomanic episodes. However that doesn’t negate the value of all of these lifestyle changes make to my overall well being. Also, it’s best to add one thing at at a time as making all of these changes at once could be hard to sustain. A new habit takes 3-4 weeks to form, so adding one new thing each month could assist
In the comments, please add any other lifestyle changes or skills you have for self-calming exercises. This could be a great resource to help many and any constructive input is appreciated. Wishing you good mental health, stability and wellness. Namaste.
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