Tips For Maintaining Good Mental Health this Winter
Guest Post: Arja Lytle, Holistic Nutritionist
If you’re living anywhere on planet earth right now, you’re more than likely experiencing cooler than normal temperatures due to what they’re calling a “Polar Vortex”. Basically what it means is that long johns and Sorels are the new sexy. Polar Vortex aside, winter is a hard season for those who suffer from mental health issues. Some people experience seasonal affective disorder, while others find themselves endlessly circling the edge of a deep, dark hole, trying not to fall in.
I’m more of the latter and a little bit of the former.
Some past struggles with depression, and ongoing struggles with generalized anxiety disorder have pushed me to learn as much as I can about things that will help me. It wasn’t until my son was born back in 2009 and I found myself fighting with the demons of Postpartum Mood Disorder that I invested as much energy as I could into therapy, self-awareness, and non-medicated ways that I can help myself.
My bout of PPMD had me turn to medication in combination with therapy in order to regain the balance I needed as the new mother of a tiny baby. As a holistic nutritionist, however, it was important to me to find ways other than just medication to maintain my sanity.
January and February are challenging months that test my reserves, leaving me vulnerable to the voices of my inner demons. I started circling my dark hole a month ago, and as the voices grew stronger I was pleased to realize that my self-awareness of what was happening grew at the same time. I reached out to friends, allowed myself more time to rest, focused my efforts on not giving up my exercise habits, and reviewed my nutrition to see what I could be doing better.
Good mental health is a lifelong journey. Your “cure” is learning what your mind and body responds to the best. If something triggers you and you find yourself slipping, focus your energy on doing what you know works for you.
We all have different triggers, and we all have different cures. I’ve been off meds for over 3 years now and have found things that work well for me. They won’t all be the same for you, but it’s a good place to start!
In the last few weeks I’ve turned to them, embraced them, and fought to make them important again.
Here’s what’s working for me:
By far the most important lesson I took away from therapy was the concept of self-care. This was taught to me as a new mother whose world was consumed with a small baby, but it applies to everyone whether you have children or not. Life is busy, and life is stressful. It’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves, but it’s the cornerstone of good mental health. I took a bath one night after putting my son to bed recently. I was exhausted because I was in the midst of a long stretch of solo parenting without a break, and I really just wanted to crash out on the couch, but that bath was amazing. Epsom salts, essential oils, and a face mask. I felt relaxed and pampered. Self care can be that, or it can be a quiet time out in a coffee shop, or whatever it is that nourishes your soul.
I’m not necessarily in the mood to go out with friends but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have fun. So, I listen to music in the kitchen while cooking, which leads to impromptu dance parties with my kiddo. Or sometimes I do late night runs to Target with a friend to pick up household supplies, because errands are more fun when you’re laughing with someone. I happen to love sewing and crafting, so I’m also making more time for that. Your fun will be different than mine, but if it makes you smile and laugh, then you’re doing it right.
I don’t have a gym membership, and this cold, icy weather has really put a damper on my outdoor exercise. I’ve got indoor strength training under control, but I was missing the post-cardio endorphin high that I get after a run. I took a look at my routine and realized I was exercising less! I reviewed apps available for my iPad and started using the Nike Training Club (all free!!) to get in some cardio circuits It’s efficient, cheap, and requires little to no equipment. Whether you use DVDs, apps, or pages torn from a magazine, it doesn’t matter. It all works.
Eating for my brain.
As a nutritionist, I cannot ignore the impact that diet has on mental health so I took a hard look at what I’ve been eating and decided I needed to address a few things. Emotional eating patterns, less fresh veggies, and even some sugar (!!) had made it’s way into regular rotation. My emphasis is back on specific foods to boost feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, and on nutrients that are involved with their support and production. Eggs, almonds (and other nuts), spinach, salmon, avocados, pumpkin seeds, whole grains and bananas are all important to help increase production of serotonin and dopamine. I’m also making sure that I’m getting enough magnesium to help manage anxiety, and reduce overall stress.
These are the tip of the iceberg as far as good mental health strategies are concerned, but like I said, it’s a great place to start!
If you find yourself struggling on a regular basis consider reaching out to a practitioner to come up with a program designed specifically for your needs, and definitely consider speaking with a therapist. There’s no shame in admitting that you need some help! Let’s reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues by having more discussions.
Arja Lytle is a Holistic Nutritionist from Toronto, Canada. She is also the mama of a happy 4.5 year old, and survivor of postpartum anxiety. She uses her passion for hormone balancing and love of whole foods and nutrition to guide women towards feeling their best and living with vitality.
She can be found on Twitter, Facebook or blogging on her website Balance Body & Soul Nutrition: