Mental health matters. Here’s how everyday women – and the Healthista team – deal with depression, anxiety but also their everyday mood ups and downs
Though more and more people are slowly opening up about mental health, not enough is being said about the everyday mood issues all of us deal daily. If you had to think about what the first few things come to mind when someone says ‘mental health’ aren’t they all just negative?
Yes, mental health can be a struggle and hard for many people, with tricky consequences and difficulties. But we also think that so many of us struggle to be happy every day that sharing our fixes can inspire and help other people. Who hasn’t felt overcome with emotions or overwhelmed by stress?
That’s why we asked Healthista readers – and the team at HQ – to pick one thing that they have done in their lives that has really helped their happiness and mental health. Here are their answers:
Mental health fix #1: Prayer
‘I have suffered lots of mental health problems from low moods to anxiety, and now a form of chronic automatic self-harm. It’s called trichotillomania, which is the urge to pull and peel skin to the point of no regrowth and skin damage. It’s been building up since I was young years and my grandfather’s death and other family related issues triggered it.
‘I am the eldest of seven and the pressure my parents have put on me has slowly been eating away at me; more so after college, during the beginning of my university life. I found that I was struggling more to comprehend information and was diagnosed with dyslexia. As a result my parents reacted with harsh words and guilt, making me feel even worse about myself.
‘I feared I would have no hair left if my trichotillomania got worse. I really wanted to help myself so I tried talking to people to get things off my chest but the trich still continued behind closed doors.
‘That’s when I reached out to prayer. I was born into a Muslim family so I was taught how to pray with a prayer mat since I was around eight years old. I pray by making ablution first and then cover myself with a loose cloth and cover my hair with a hijab. By standing on the prayer mat and reciting prayers from the Quran, I pray.
‘Growing up, I had a lot of Muslim friends and they all encouraged me to pray as well so it was easier back then. As I grew older, however, out of laziness and a new group of friends I didn’t end up praying as much.
‘Prayer and faith have been a rollercoaster for me all my life but when I needed support the most I knew I could rely on my faith. Though I may not pray five times a day, everyday, when I do pray it makes me feel calm. I’m reminded that everything is planned for me and my suffering is just a temporary phase that will soon go away with patience.’
‘I guess one practical positive way I have also dealt with my mental health so far is keeping my hands occupied with touching other stuff that is prickly and things that I can peel like glue, running my fingers through synthetic hair and being more aggressive with it so I don’t need to be like that to myself. Also being part of a group, doing projects and activities that I care about has helped me to think less about my stress and anxiety’.
Sultana – hotel receptionist, London, 24
Mental health fix #2: meditation
‘I was diagnosed with postnatal depression in 2010 when my son was 18 months old. I had managed to hide my depression for a long time. But I was in denial and in hindsight, I think it was much deeper and I had been hiding my depression from myself since the age of 12.
‘I remember as a teenager constantly thinking how I could end my life. I don’t even know if I wanted to die, I just wanted to escape the horrible negative voices that were constantly in my head. I believed that I didn’t belong here and that I took up too much space but I never shared this with anyone.
meditation is not about feeling good but about sitting with yourself just as you are
‘When I got the diagnosis I was prescribed fluoxotine (brand names include Prozac) which is an antidepressant.
‘For me this was a great turning point as it gave me space to breathe and to feel hope and do the work of recovery. This drug opened my mind to new possibilities and from here I started my inward journey of self discovery.
‘In April this year I came off my anti-depressants after eight years and I was able to do this because of the dedication and commitment I have to my inner journey.
‘My journey started with meditation and I believe meditation was the foundation of my huge transformation.
‘It took a long time for me to understand it and I struggled with my practice for many years. I realise now that meditation is not about feeling good, it is about sitting with yourself just as you are and accepting yourself fully.’
Lynette – life coach, Edinburgh, 38
Mental health fix #3: Taking responsibility
‘The best thing I’ve ever done for my mental health was to move out of my home. Although I had difficulties and still went through depression, I was able to find coping mechanisms for said difficulties. I also learnt how to be responsible for my mental health, to look out for my own warning signs.
‘Back home, in Cyprus, where I grew up, there was a large tight-knit community where mental health issues were not addressed. I kind of felt like everyone wanted to be the same – and if you weren’t the same as everybody else then you were an outcast.
‘When I moved back to London for university at 18, things were different. People are a bit more open to depression and there is a general acceptance of it here. I think this is one of the reasons I was able to address my own depression a bit more when I left Cyprus. I didn’t have to pretend anymore.
‘Some of my coping mechanisms are simple – such as eating well and going for walks. Others can be talking to someone and being open about issues rather than being in denial about them.
I didn’t have to pretend anymore
‘Through self-reflection and time I was able to recognise certain habits and practices which have a calming effect on me.
‘For example, burning olive branches. This might sound strange but it is a tradition I’ve brought back with me to London from Cyprus. Olive trees symbolise protection from evil in my culture, and burning the branches is believed to keep family and the home safe and peaceful. It’s something I do in my garden whenever I feel uneasy, and somehow it relieves the strain.
‘We’ve all heard about how self-reflection is really great but it’s one of the hardest things to do. I have some trusted friends who have pointed out certain signs they see in me that suggest I might bet going back to old habits, and having an outside perspective is helpful.
‘With time and lots of self-observation, I’ve become more aware of how I respond and feel about things, and moving out of my home into another one was the starting point for this.’
Aaliyah* – student, London, 21
Mental health fix #4: mindful swimming
‘Swimming allows me to empty my head of any thoughts and just absorb myself in the moment.
‘I got into the habit of swimming as a child, and it’s now an activitiy I do with my husband and son (which is fantastic for the family to bond and spend time together).
‘It’s funny because I’m not a sporty person whatsoever. Swimming doesn’t make me feel like I’m stressing out about exercising. In fact, I find it effortlessly relaxing. I don’t have to focus that much on the movement of my body, and this helps with clearing my mind.
when I swim not only do I escape reality for a little bit, I also feel like I’m flying
‘As I glide through the water I just focus on the moment, and the sensations of the water. This allows me to not think about anything else, but how the water feels on my skin. Honestly, in these moments not only do I escape reality for a little bit, I also feel like I’m flying.
‘When my friends ask me why I like swimming so much, I just tell them that you can go as fast or slow as you want to without anyone judging you. It’s so freeing.’
Juliette – mum of 2 including son who has chronic fatigue syndrome, Bath, 52
Mental health fix #5: Forcing myself to feel
‘When I am feeling like the world is against me I ask it for space. How? I stay in one place – usually laying down on my bed when I’m alone – and stare at the ceiling. This makes me concentrate and allows me to focus on my thoughts and feelings. Then, I ask myself questions, starting off with ‘why am I hurting?’
‘As I think of more questions and try to answer them, I’m normally aware that I’ve started to cry. It’s a strange sensation for me, to be able to show my emotions on the outside when I’m so used to keeping them in for so long. Sadness, anger and even feeling nothing I’ve now come to understand are emotions that are completely valid and should be felt, rather than ignored.
‘Normally when I do this practice, I begin by feeling really unenthusiastic and upset about a lot of things. I want to give up. But after I keep asking myself questions such as, ‘Could I have changed this at the time?’, ‘Am I to blame?’, ‘What could I/the other people involved have done better’, ‘What can I do to feel better’, I feel like I can see everything from a calmer and more rational perspective.
I’ve come to understand all my emotions are valid and should be felt, rather than ignored
‘It’s also important to remember what makes me happy and what things are worth sacrificing. This gives me a sense of purpose and reminds me that there are things bigger than the sudden emotion I am feeling.
‘To put it simply, I slowly identify the issue at hand, and make sure I replace that negative energy with a better one as best as I can. Being rational and allowing myself to feel everything – even the crap emotions – is key.’
Altea – Barista, London, 21
Mental health fix #6: tingsha bells
‘My tingsha bells have helped with negative energy. When I tap the two bells together, their sound makes me feel like my aura is being cleansed and healed.
‘You can use the bells for cleansing your surroundings and the space you’re in. They’re also also great for meditating with. I find the sound so therapeutic.
taming the inner critic has been very important too for my mental well-being
‘This have helped me manage my anxiety. I’ve struggled with low self-esteem for a long time and taming the inner critic has been important for my mental well-being. I feel more at peace as a result. You can get some tingsha bells on Amazon like these [£7.90].’
‘I also like to use crystals because of their beauty and the qualities they possess. My favourites are amethyst which helps with anxiety and stress, yellow aventurine for helping to feel more in control and nummite for calming and grounding.’
Jasmine – head of NHS commissioning organisation, Manchester, 44
Mental health fix #7: Reaching out, then giving back
‘When my marriage broke down and I had a mental breakdown and I had to stay at the hospital for a short while. When I got out, I decided that I had to make up for all the time I felt like I had wasted.
‘The West Ham United Foundation have a programme called Any Old Irons which specifically focuses on helping cure loneliness for the elderly. Thanks to them I’ve been able to get more involved in my community, make friends, learn new digital skills and of course, have a lot of fun. They’ve got activities like playing and watching football which is always fun. I’ve become so much more social since joining, and don’t feel lonely anymore.
‘It’s been such a great experience that I also wanted to give back a little. I’m now volunteering at Any Old Irons, making sure everyone there is having a good time and feeling welcomed. It’s honestly helped with my mental health so much, both enjoying the services and giving back to the team too.’
Eileen – retired, Plaistow Newham, 71
Mental health fix #8: Notes to self
‘At the end of 2016 I was diagnosed with clinical depression and scarily underweight following the sudden death of my mother and then a few months later, a shock discovery relating to my 19 year relationship and subsequent 12 year marriage and family breakdown.
‘I refused all medication offered to me by doctors, preferring to listen to my body and slowly build my resilience and confidence and health back up using holistic therapies and techniques I had been researching and practicing for the previous year.
‘I had self taught myself meditation as my mother died in early 2016 and this was one of my main tools I used to self heal. I also used mindfulness, focussed on joy and happiness by creating a joy list, a joy box and a daily gratitude practice. I changed my diet and mindset around food, which had been previously shocking as well as looking at the way I exercised.
running makes me happy, and so does dancing and painting my toes – I put it all in my joy box
‘The joy box in particular really helped. It doesn’t have to be a box either, it can be a bag or jars. Inside it I put things that bring me joy such as photographs of happy memories and lists of things that make me happy. I know running makes me happy, and so does dancing and painting my toes. I write it all up and place it my joy box.
‘I’ve even given myself permission to not do anything at times. Basking in doing nothing sometimes is really enjoyable too and important so I can feel like I’m slowing time down.
‘So whenever I’m feeling any sort of negative emotion, I dip into my box, grab any of the notes in the box, and do the thing that’s written on it.
‘You can also just make a commitment to doing one of these things a day and then you know every day will have moments of joy. Do overtime and you create more and more joy. What you focus on grows – so focus on joy and it will expand and push out the dark.
‘Aside from my joy box, I wrote a daily blog for 927 days, sharing my thoughts, feelings and unravelling anything that worried me or intrigued me that day. I’ve even put it online for anyone to read on thealisandwiches.com
‘I healed myself back to health and happiness through lifestyle practices and habits within a year; I still suffer some days of depression and very low self esteem but I know how my joy box and daily journalling has helped me so much.’
Ali – health and happiness coach, North Yorkshire, 42
We also asked the Healthista team for their tips and tricks
Mental health fix #9: writing poetry
‘In the past six months I’ve started writing poetry which allows me to express what I’m feeling and put that into words. This stops me from being in denial and making the situation worse and also allows me to self-reflect and grow.
‘I’ve never really been one to express – even as a child I kept everything bottled up inside. I loved escaping into different worlds that I created instead of dealing with my sad emotions in reality. Whether I was just fantasizing or getting lost in novels and other forms of art, that was easier for me than to admit I was ‘sad’.
‘Looking back now, I’ve had depression ever since I was around eight years old. I constantly felt misunderstood, lost, inadequate and angry. What was the point in talking when it wouldn’t change anything? In fact, I felt that if people knew I was sad and had bad thoughts I would be treated differently and be even more misunderstood than I felt like I already was.
getting lost in novels was easier for me than to admit I was ‘sad’.
‘I used art to escape and, one day, I decided to use it as a tool to express myself, not just escape. I made the decision to write poetry every single day for a couple of months as a challenge.
‘On top of that, I was going to post it online and share it with people who knew me in real life. This was beyond anything I had done before. But being vulnerable isn’t a sin. I’m only human and my feelings are valid too.
‘Six months down the line I’ve had people say my poems made them feel better and that’s given me a new purpose in life.
‘Art has always helped me so it’s exciting to be able to help others with my own art. Though my poetry is by no means amazing, expression is a form of reflection, and with reflection I can make changes to better myself and my mental health.
Viewing myself as broken pieces shattered on the ground
This past year I have had to pick each piece
And glue it back together.
Painfully picking up each piece with bloody hands
And individually lathering it with a substance
Stronger than super-glue:
Which piece fits where?
Elif, intern at Healthista, 21
Mental health fix #10: Furry friends for therapy
‘I could be having the most horrible day but as soon as I get home and see my dogs, they make me feel really happy.
‘Not only do I have to take them on walks (which also helps with mental health because I get in a bit of exercise and I’m not on my phone), but having the responsibility to look after them inspires me to look after myself too.
‘Dogs need their own routine, and when you’re the one who looks after them you can’t help but get into a routine too. I’ll never forget to feed them and bathe them, and by practicing it for them I end up doing it for myself too. They’re more of a hassle than children, but it’s worth it. Okay, I may have exaggerated just a little bit there, but you know what I mean.
‘Reading is also nice because it calms me down and allows me to escape from anything I may be struggling with in the moment. I make sure to read every single day. Even if it’s just twenty minutes on the tube or before bed, I’ll open up a book and go on adventures. It’s great to take a break from your thoughts and reading helps a lot.’
Olivia, content writer, 24
Mental health fix #11: Eat good to feel good
‘My go-to thing to do for mental health is ensuring I’ve got all of the necessary nutrients and vitamins I need from food and diet.
‘I take a lot of supplements like magnesium, it helps with my sleep. Lemon balm is also a great thing to take for nervous system support, and a daily multi-vitamin is always a good idea to help with energy production, focus and stress.
‘I also swim around three times a week and like looking at the bubbles – it’s my own form of meditation. Swimming isn’t something I need to focus on, unlike activities like yoga where you have to concentrate. Not only is it relaxing, it also helps me feel more focused afterwards, which is never a bad thing.
‘I’ve been in London for nine years now and it’s so different to Sydney where I used to live. As I lived near the beach, my previous environment was way more relaxed and laid-back. London is the total opposite. Everyone’s always busy, the weather’s crap most of the time, and people are always stressed (and sometimes mean).
‘The change of environment affected my mood heavily. I’m the sort of person where I’m prone to mood swings often. In the morning I might be angry over something so small, but by afternoon I might end up completely ecstatic. I used to take adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola rosea and mushrooms that work through the system to relieve stress and boost energy which definitely helped.
‘But I’ve been taking something somehwat ‘unconventional’ or at least stigamatised in the last two weeks, and it’s really helped my moods. When my doctor first suggested it I was taken aback, but I still gave it a go and I’m glad I did.
When my doctor first suggested it I was taken aback, but I still gave it a go and I’m glad I did
‘You can now buy Lithium (yes, you read that correctly) over the counter in very small doses. I take 10mg daily and get all the benefits of it without the shocking side-effects you’ve probably all heard about. I’m not numb whatsoever, but simply more steady.
‘On top of all of these things that I consume, one final thing I do is make sure I’m grateful for everything. It’s so easy to focus on all the things I don’t have. When I take the time to really think about it, I’ve got so much to be thankful for still. I find that when I’m more grateful, more good things happen to me. It’s all about perception, really’.
Rick Hay – nutritionist, London
Mental health fix #12: Find your pillars
‘There are a few things I do to help my mental health. First thing’s first, I have to talk to someone. I’ve got a few people in my life who I trust completely. Whether it’s a friend, family member or even a therapist, I just need to get my thoughts off my chest. We all have vaults in our lives; the few people you can trust with your whole life. I find they’re like pillars that keep you going when you’re struggling. I usually talk to them when something’s on my mind.
‘It’s not about advice either. Most of the time, I just want someone to listen. I’m not looking for people to fix my problems for me. Simply having a pair of ears that won’t judge me when I’ve got something on my mind does wonders. Talking it through means I’m walking it through. It’s really helpful. As I speak, it feels like I’m unravelling my stress with each word I say.
As I speak, it feels like I’m unravelling my stress with each word I say.
‘I’ve got this thing which I call the worry tree. It’s a tactic I learnt when I was getting cognitive behvaioural therapy (CBT) for my axniety. It’s basically like a diagram of the problem I’m having, with branches coming out of it with more questions. Each time I create a branch with an answer to the previous question, I get closer to undertanding what I’m truly feeling and how to make the situation better. I normally do this when I really want to check in with myself and understand exactly what’s going on in my mind.
‘Another thing which really helps is taking walks with no technological distractions. I put my phone away, and don’t even listen to music. Sometimes it’s the only time I get to truly observe the world around me and notice how beautiful life is. I like to walk in nature most of the time, next to a river or lake. I feel so calm and it’s a great stress reliever’.
‘When I notice that I’ve been feeling a bit down, I avoid caffeine. That’ll only exaggerate my emotions and add fuel to the fire. Instead, I take a supplement called ashwagandha which is an Ayurvedic (ancient Indian healing system) that helps ease stress and allows me to feel calmer.
‘Finally, self-care is super important. Truth is though, when we are feeling down most of the time we don’t want to be all fancy or go out. It takes a lot of energy to run that bath or interract with friends. Over time I’ve realised that it’s just starting that’s the hard part. Once I’m in the bath, or when I’ve spent ten minutes with people who make me happy, I temporarily forget that I was feeling down. Again, finding those people in your life who don’t put pressure on you and can make you feel happy is key.’
Charlotte, PR and Healthista Eats blogger
Mental health fix #13: Get comfortable with conflict
‘I used to find any form of conflict completely, utterly unbearable. The thought of people not being 100 per cent happy with me or being angry with me would keep me up at night and – especially where they were people I loved – I would try and do everything I could to please them. I think I wasted a lot of energy doing that and it would make me feel unhappy and so stressed out I couldn’t relax. I was desperate to please people and have their approval.
I could in fact, cope with even the worst thing happening
‘Recently, I lost my mother to cancer. It was the most shocking and terrifying experience of my life because my mum was the one person I thought I could not live without. But it taught me one thing: that I could in fact, cope with even the worst thing happening.
‘As a result, I realised I could live with people not liking me, or being angry with me, or challenging me or being not 100 per cent happy with my performance or work and that it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
‘That has now allowed me to stand up for myself more in life and not stay in abusive situations because I can live with the anger of another person once I have left or challenged them. It’s been absolutely life-changing.’
Anna Magee, editor, Healthista
Mental health fix #14: Getting comfortable in uncertainty
‘We’re all so busy beating ourselves up trying to improve, railing against how things are, wishing things could be different. We’re either fixated on the future, wishing we had a crystal ball to see how things will turn out, or ruminating on the past, going over and over our past mistakes. It can keep us awake at night and leave us feeling depressed and anxious.
‘One book that really helped me is the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change [£10.62].
‘It was the actress Thandie Newton who recommended it to me, when I interviewed her for a magazine, I’m not sure if it ended up in the final piece, so I’d like to share it now as it’s been a lifeline for me. It really helped me after my divorce and even now if I wake up worrying, I grab it and it always calms me. It’s all about sinking into the madness when everything around is falling apart.
‘She calls it getting comfortable ‘with groundlessness.’ Chodron also teaches compassion not just to others but also yourself, so self-compassion and acceptance. So I try to think: ‘You did the best you could with the resources you had at the time’ and I try to think about that before I jump into self-recriminations.’
Sharon Walker, Content Editor, Healthista