We all have bad days, we all get upset sometimes and we all go through rough patches – that’s life. One of the challenges is learning to accept and dealing with these emotions in ways that help you to move forward.
According to the World Health Organisation, depression affects an estimated 350 million people worldwide, and it’s one of the most common mental health issues. Being able to take a deep breath and look at things from another perspective is a vital skill to have when it comes to maintaining your mental health. Keeping in mind that everyone handles things differently, here are 10 things to try when you’re feeling depressed, anxious or stressed:
1. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is coping technique that’s recently become quite popular in self-help books and magazines, and to put it simply, it’s about focusing on the present. Consentrate on the food you’re eating, savouring every bite. Taking in the temperature, the sounds and the colours of an environment. Listening to your own breathing, and being aware of exactly what you’re doing. It takes practice, but it can signifcantly reduce feelings of depersonalisation or ‘feeling flat’.
2. Use distractions
Distractions can be useful when dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. If I’m feeling worked up, I’ll put on a feel-good movie, play a board game with my family or read a book. While it’s not a technique that you should rely on, as it doesn’t actually solve something on your mind, distractions are certainly helpful when you suddenly feel overwhelmingly anxious on the train or in class.
3. Find a creative outlet
Painting, singing, drawing, sewing, colouring, knitting, writing, decorating…. the possibilities are endless! Expressing yourself and how you’re feeling through artistic avenues is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Arts and crafts are not only fun and therapeutic, but you may even end up with a masterpiece! After all, a picture paints a thousand words..
4. Talk to someone
Whether it’s catching up with a friend over coffee, seeking help online or a session with a psychologist, talking about how you’re feeling is the first step to identifying the relationship between thoughts and feelings, and changing the way you see things. While friends and family are supportive, and opening up and being honest with them is important, sometimes it can also be helpful to get an outside opinion from a doctor or counsellor.
Websites like beyondblue and headspace offer help via email, phone and online forums with both professionals and others who are going through similar experiences. There’s also lots of information and resources regarding mental health issues.
5. Get outdoors
I frequently visit local beaches, bush lands and parks – and not just to get my Instagram feed looking on point. Listening to the ocean and soaking up the sunlight can give you an instant mood-lift. Just ask scientist Greg Bratman, whose study found that being in nature ‘does a much better job than city life at decreasing anxiety, rumination and negative emotions while also increasing positive emotions.’
It’s amazing what a walk on the beach or a trek to the park and back can do to your mood. Fresh air is sometimes all the medicine your body needs, especially if you’ve been sitting at a desk all day. Walking is one option, but even just sitting outside on your veranda with a cup of tea soaking up the sunlight can lift your spirit.
6. Listen to music
Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute conducted a study about the effects of music on happiness. The result was a list of instrumental songs – dubbed “chill” songs – that cause your brain to release dopamine, which makes you happier. Have a listen to this one, you may recognise from the first Twilight movie:
If that doesn’t take your fancy, try listening to clips of waves crashing or birds singing. The other go-to music I recommend? Your favourite! Personally, nothing relaxes me more than Taylor Swift‘s Fearless.
7. Try something new
When was the last time you ordered something from a menu that you’ve never eaten before? Is there a hobby or activity you’ve always thought about trying? Taking that leap of faith can not only help build your self-confidence, but influence judgement and decision-making skills.
Being involved in sports, clubs and volunteer organisations is a great way to not only feel like you’ve achieved something, it can also mean giving back to your local community, meeting new people, and adding that little extra perk to your resume (bonus!).
8. Recognise unhelpful thinking
Being able to identify your own negative thinking patterns is something that does take practice, but can be extremely helpful, especially in stressful situations when you need to take a step back and think logically. These are the most common unhelpful thinking styles;
- Catastrophising – imagining the worst possible outcome in every situation
- Minimising – refusing to acknowledge your good qualities and only focusing on the (perceived) bad
- Personalisation – belief that you are the cause of events that likely have little or nothing to do with you
- Magical thinking – belief that performing certain rituals will cause you to avoid harm to self or others
- Paranoia – belief that people are watching or judging you
- ‘All or nothing’ thinking – inability to see the shades of grey in situations, eg. If you are not 100% successful at something then you are a complete failure
Thinking realistically is about seeing things in a way that is more realistic or helpful; fair and reasonable; not necessary positive, but instead thinking about it in a way that is helpful. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, identify your style of thinking and offer yourself another point of view.
9. Take care of your body
Your physical well-being is an important part of maintaining good mental health. This means making sure you have enough time for sleep, exercise, work, study, a balanced diet, participating in enjoyable activities, and appointments with a doctor or other health professional.
10. Remember, you’re only human
More often than not, feeling depressed is a result of a combination of factors. It’s important to remind yourself that you can’t always identify the cause of depression or change difficult circumstances. Mental health is different for everyone, and extremely complex. Do not feel as though there is something wrong with you if you’re feeling down – nobody is happy all the time.
The most important thing is to recognise the signs and symptoms and seek support. Beyondblue has a rich library of resources to read up on, as well as a 24-hour hotline. Reach Out also helps with tough times, through forums, resources and phone support.
If you are feeling like you may hurt yourself, and need immediate crisis support, call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.