These days, there’s lots of talk about healthy living. We’re no longer in the era of the TV series Mad Men, when people chain-smoked three or four packs of cigarettes a day. Now it’s all about daily exercise and a healthy diet. This is a hopeful shift in the thought process of those who wish to move away from heart disease and obesity.
Yet, one aspect of ourselves that still gets neglected is mental health. In reality, according to the WHO, mental health issues affect one in four people at some point in their lives, and nearly two out of three individuals with mental health disorders never seek treatment.
I was one of those people. I knew I suffered from depression and anxiety, but I never did anything about it. My form of self-medication was drinking myself into oblivion and abusing substances like cocaine, meth, LSD and Ecstasy. Developing an addiction was inevitable, and it led to my incarceration for two years due to drug-related charges.
My situation didn’t improve after my release, so my family and I decided it was time for me to seek professional help. I checked into a drug rehabilitation centre and started working towards a new life.
The advice that my sponsor gave me after I left the clinic stuck with me. He told me I had to counteract all the damage I’d been doing to my body with healthy habits, starting with my mental health. I took his words to heart and added the five health-promoting activities below to my life.
Initially, I liked the idea of practicing Yoga because it was a form of exercise. I’ve never been one for high-intensity workouts, but I was told I needed to get into shape during my recovery. I wasn’t supposed to start doing intensive training right away, so Yoga was my choice.
As it turns out, Yoga actually has many mental health benefits. It has even been proven to fight the cognitive decline that comes with age. It has also been suggested that Yoga counteracts the symptoms of depression, anxiety and ADHD.
The best part about Yoga is that you can implement it into your daily routine without having to dramatically change your schedule. Instead of going to a Yoga studio, you can look up Yoga sessions on YouTube with virtual trainers.
While I was abusing drugs and alcohol, sleep didn’t mean much to me, as it was just a way of bridging the gap between highs. I’d pass out and wake up a couple hours later, looking for another hit. I had no idea how much I was affecting my body by neglecting my sleep, and the hours I did manage to squeeze in weren’t filled with good-quality sleep, either.
Harvard Health studies show that sleep deprivation can lead to multiple mental illnesses. These include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and ADHD. The recommended average duration of sleep for adults is seven and a half to eight hours per night.
It all comes down to how you organize your time. You may think that staying up late to finish that academic paper or work assignment is worth it, but by doing so, you’re hurting your mental health. Just spend less time watching Netflix and more on your priorities, so you can hit the pillow at a decent hour!
During my recovery, I had lots of moments in which I contemplated relapse. The cravings would come in waves, and sometimes they’d make me physically cringe.
One day, I decided to pick up the phone and speak to an old friend from the rehab centre. He told me that learning something new often helped him take his mind off the cravings, so I did the same.
The feeling of accomplishment that I’d get from my small hobbies brought on a sense of happiness that I felt was a type of natural high. I started a stamp and coin collection, and developed a passion for basketball. I felt as though I had a purpose, instead of feeling like I was floating from one day to the next, not knowing what to do with myself.
Taking up new hobbies is also great for making new friends. I strengthened my existing relationships and started up new friendships through my weekly basketball games. Getting together with the team and shooting hoops has become the highlight of my week.
Before you shake your head and start coming up with excuses like your job or your cat, hear me out. I’m not saying that you need to book a trip to Paris for a week. In fact, travelling can be as local as going up to a friend’s cottage for a weekend or pitching a tent for one night outside the city.
When you have travel plans, it gives you something to look forward to. This can relieve the stress of the week if it was a tough one. By stepping out of your comfort zone, you’ll also have new experiences, which will rewire your brain and make you more self-confident and resilient.
Keeping a journal
Having a journal to scribble in during my downtime was great for venting. Negative emotions like stress and anxiety are among the top reasons for relapse in recovering addicts. Whenever I felt the need to express myself, and I had no one to talk to, I’d put my thoughts down on paper.
Journaling has been proven to reduce stress and the symptoms of depression, as well as aiding with the management of anxiety. Therapists also recommend journaling since it helps patients recognize stress triggers and negative behaviours, and all of this is important to maintaining a healthy mind.
Mental health shouldn’t be ignored
My battle with addiction was full of tragedy and brutally difficult moments, but in the end, I was able to overcome it.
The good news is, there are more mental health awareness campaigns nowadays, especially since many celebrities are coming out about their own mental health struggles and experiences.
We’re on the right track, but I hope to see more dedication to fighting this issue in the future. In the meantime, you can use the five activities above on your own time in order to improve your own mental health.
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