Friday, May 4, 2018

How I Handle Depression Like a #Girlboss | #MentalHealthMay

Hello, beautiful! This month on Haley Marie Blog, I'm honoring a cause that's close to my heart and so many others' hearts as well: mental health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which has me thinking a lot about my history of mental illness and just how far I've come in the past few years. My first year of college, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety for the first time. In May 2017, I started taking antidepressants, and in September 2017, I found my way to a new therapist who has helped me conquer so many of my worries, obsessions and fears.

As some of you may know, my anxiety was the reason I started blogging in the first place. My first blog, Love, Haley, chronicled my struggles with anxiety and my journey toward recovery for the world to see. Eventually, I moved on from Love, Haley to start Haley Marie Blog, my current project dedicated to being a happy, healthy and stylish #girlboss millennial.

That being said, I wanted to honor my roots as a blogger by taking this post back to what started it all. Blending the kernels of inspiration for both Love, Haley and Haley Marie Blog, this post shares all my best life hacks as a depressed, anxious girl for keeping my motivation and productivity high despite the (now occasional) low mood.

If you identify as a #girlboss who struggles with depression and want to learn how to manage it through that lens, then this post is the perfect one for you. Read on to find out how I stay happy, healthy and motivated despite depression and anxiety, and what you can do to keep being a #girlboss throughout your struggles with mental health....

Oh, and happy #MentalHealthMay everyone! :)

I make time for me.

First and foremost, the number one way I take care of my mental health is making self-care a priority. By ensuring I have at least an hour in my schedule every single day to take care of myself, I make sure my mental health never falls on the back burner.

As busy as we #girlbosses are, being busy should never be an excuse to let your health fail - yet I understand how easy it is to start guilt-tripping yourself when you take time away from your productivity for self-care. That's why I try to view making time for mental health as an investment rather than a chore. I know I don't feel my best when my depression is acting up - and when I don't feel my best, I don't work at my best, either.

Depression symptoms like poor concentration, fatigue and disinterest greatly impact my quality of work, so I feel I am actually more productive in the long run when I take an hour here or there for self-care. That's why I make it a point to make time for self-care instead of beating myself up over a wasted day of zero work: self-care allows me to rest and recharge so I can get back to work tomorrow as the best possible version of me that I can be!

I write down my anxious thoughts.

Journaling is the most amazing way to manage depression and anxiety. (Read my top five reasons to start a journal here!) Keeping a notebook in your purse or backpack is like carrying a portable therapist wherever you go - and unlike a human therapist, a journal will still be there for you outside the normal 9-to-5 hours.

You can easily personalize your approach to journaling to best meet your needs when it comes to managing your mental illness. For example, if you, like me, suffer from anxiety, you might find it helpful to write stream-of-consciousness style - aka what I lovingly refer to as a "brain dump."

On the other hand, if writing doesn't come naturally to you, you might be looking for a bit more structure to your journaling practice. That's where prompts like this list from Ivory and Pines can be helpful for guiding you through your depressed thoughts.

I give myself permission to be sad.

One of the most freeing and transformative things I've ever done for my depression is allowing myself permission to feel bad. Whether I'm sad or anxious or jealous or lonely, I always strive to sit with and accept my feelings, versus stuffing them back and ignoring them.

As long as you're expressing your emotions in a healthy way, there's no shame in feeling anything less than peachy. As much as our social media-driven society values that elusive idea of perfect happiness, it's important to remember that "perfect happiness" doesn't really exist.

So go ahead and cry when you need to, scream when you need to, stay in when you need to. Because the most liberating thing you can do for your mental health, in my opinion, is to give yourself permission to feel.

I treat my body right.

As Lena Dunham once said, exercise ain't about the booty - it's about the brain! All those endorphins Elle Woods was talking about when she said "happy people just don't shoot their husbands?" They really, truly exist. 

That's why I think exercising and eating right makes such a positive difference in my levels of depression and anxiety. When I treat my body well, I feel better about myself - not only in the way I look, but also in my energy levels, self-confidence and so much more. 

In my opinion, eating right (well, 80% of the time) and exercising are the two greatest signs of respect you can extend to your body. And when you love your body, well, your body loves you back! (Happy and healthy mind included.)

I focus on my breath.

Meditation can be frustrating for beginners, but is all the more rewarding once you get the hang of it. To me, there's nothing better than taking 2-5 minutes out of your day to sit quietly with your breath. It's less of a chore and more of a privilege that I get to spend those precious moments worried about nothing but the sounds of my inhalations and exhalations.

My favorite way to meditate is by using the Calm app to play a quiet soundscape of relaxing melodies and nature sounds. I personally love to listen to the sound of a gentle rainstorm on leaves while I breathe for 2-5 minutes (that's all it takes!), simply observing my thoughts and letting them come to pass.

The best part about a healthy meditation practice is that it allows you to translate these habits into your everyday life as well. For example, with practice, you'll soon be able to observe negative thoughts and let them go in your everyday life the same way you would when meditating. Meditation teaches you these skills and even more helpful ways to gain insight into yourself, and those ugly, negative thoughts that perpetuate your depression.

I give myself reality checks.

So much of depression and anxiety is grounded in unrealistic thoughts. Whether you're blowing the impact of a bad conversation with your crush out of proportion or imagining that you're going to bomb your upcoming calc final, these illogical, extremist thoughts do nothing but tear you down.

Don't get me wrong: normal levels of anxiety are healthy. That itching feeling in the pit of your stomach that you should study? Yeah, you should probably still listen to that! But reality checking is all about identifying when your negative or anxious thoughts are serving you, and when they are not. Most importantly, it's about selectively choosing when to engage with those thoughts based on how much and how well they serve you.

So, next time you find a negative thought crossing your mind - whether it's "I look fat in this dress" or "I'm never going to pass my exam" - challenge yourself to check the reality of the situation. Firstly, ask yourself "Is this thought true?" Secondly, try to come up with evidence supporting both sides of the argument and make a logical decision based on your findings. More often than not, you'll find that your sadness and fears are grounded in nothing more than a stubborn negative feeling than on the actual reality of a situation.

I seek out safe people (and ditch toxic ones). 

First thing's first: let's not misunderstand what I mean when I refer to seeking out "safe people." A safe person is not someone you are codependent on to make you feel better when you're anxious, depressed or otherwise down. A safe person is not someone you need more than you want. 

Rather, the safest people in your lives are the people you'd trust with anything. The people you know will have your backs no matter what, and the people you would do just about anything for. Those people are your tribe - and when you're dealing with depression, you have to be extra careful about what kinds of people you do and don't allow into that inner circle.

I know better than anyone what it's like to cling onto toxic friendships and romantic relationships. More often than not, these relationships start off sweet and turn sour somewhere along the way. When this happens, it's hard to let go of the thought of what the relationship used to be. That's why I like to say that you have to be careful not to fall in love (or friendship) with the idea of a person, but strive to see people and situations as they actually are. Being blunt with yourself about how good of a friend or partner the people in your life really are is the one and only way to make sure your inner circle of companionship remains sacred and healthy.

I value my happiness above anybody else's. 

Last but not least, I think the key to finding happiness when struggling with depression is to learn that it's okay to be selfish sometimes. In fact, it's not selfish at all to want to prioritize your own happiness over someone else's.

There are certainly times when constantly sacrificing others' needs to gratify your own isn't what you want - for example, in a marriage, or as a parent. But there are also times when you have to do just that, whether it's by saying no to helping a friend or turning down a date with your partner in favor of some much-needed girl time. After all, nothing is worse for your mental health than stretching yourself too far, too thin, too often.

In any relationship, platonic or romantic, it's important to learn that it's not selfish to pay attention to your personal needs and award yourself the healthy boundaries you want and deserve. You can and should value your own happiness above anybody else's. Because at the end of the day, you are the only person looking out for yourself when everyone else has gone home. And you deserve to love, cherish and honor yourself the same way you want to be loved, cherished and honored by others.