As a teen, I started to experience full-on depression. I felt empty and alone, and my mother wanted to do anything she could to help me. We spoke with my therapist, he diagnosed me with depression, and he felt that at the time it was severe enough to warrant trying an antidepressant.
For about the next 19 months, I tried 3 different prescribed medications. My psychiatrist tried lowering or raising the amount to see what would help me most. But, no matter what I tried I never felt the same again. I either felt numb or even worse. One medication started to give me small panic attacks. The third and final medication I was prescribed was the worst. My hair started falling out, I rapidly gained weight, and I was getting that feeling when your leg falls asleep and starts tingling, but it would be all throughout my body.
I knew I needed to come off the prescription after those side effects. For the next few weeks, I went through horrible withdrawals. I experienced some of the worst possible migraines; the kind that is so bad it gives you cold sweats. I had to divide the pill into minuscule fractions to slowly reduce the amount until my body was free of it. After this experience, I knew I was done. My family is also very sensitive to medication, and I knew that none of these pills were probably going to work. Plus, I was tired of trying medication when all it did was make me feel numb, or cause even worse side effects. I wasn’t going to run anymore “tests” on my body. Here I am several years later, doing quite well, and I have not taken medication since.
Now here is a disclaimer before I get into the rest of the post. I have no negative feelings towards using medicine to help mental health issues when it is correctly prescribed by a licensed psychiatrist or doctor. I do know from personal experience, and stories from several others, that medication does not work for everyone. Like I previously mentioned, it can make people feel numb, it can have worse side effects, and it can sometimes hinder feelings of joy, creativity, or happiness. This post is meant to be a guide on natural remedies that can improve mental health. Even if you are taking medication, these tips are great to follow too. Most of the information in this post has guidelines that are good for your all-around health anyway. I am not a doctor or avid researcher, so I am not prescribing or telling anyone to come off of their medication, nor am I guaranteeing this advice as a cure for mental health issues. I also encourage you to speak with your doctor and psychiatrist about any of the guidelines in this post, to determine if they are safe and right for you and your health, before following them.
The past several years have not been perfect. I still get a little “sadder” in the summer from seasonal depression, I still can get a lot of anxiety during hard or stressful times in my life, but the past years have been overall pretty good. I don’t have intense mood swings or crashes, I don’t feel too sad to leave the house anymore, and I feel positive emotions to their fullest. My personal journey has been a bit of a process. I take time to not only follow several of these tips but to format my life in a way that sets me up for success when it comes to mental health. I try to notice triggers for stress, anxiety, or depression and avoid or remove them as much as possible. I plan, I try to be mindful, and I try to rationalize and dissect my feelings before letting them consume me or influence me. Honestly, that right there is the best advice I could give any of you. I will touch more on that topic in another post. Here is a list of some of the best natural remedies for mental health.
#1- Diet- Diet is number one on this list because it is huge, and arguably the most important thing to follow if you were only to try one of these remedies. I am sure many of you have heard the term “you are what you eat,” and this statement could not be more true. People don’t often realize how much food can affect your body. Food can be used as medicine or even a harmful drug. I am not going to focus on one particular diet, because I believe that everyone’s bodies are different and perform better with or without certain foods and macronutrients. However, I will mention that I know many people who tend to lean towards a higher fat and protein, and lower carb diet, because “no simple carbohydrates, no sugars, as they are digested too rapidly, and produce a blood-sugar spike and rapid dip” (Peterson, 2018, p. 18). This prevents spikes in mood which can be demanding on people already struggling with their mental health. First, I want to give you a list of common foods that are linked to causing problems with mental health and mood disorders. Sugar, processed foods (literally anything that comes in a package), gluten, soy, wheat & some grains, dairy, canned foods (they can contain harmful chemicals), trans fats & vegetable oils (doesn’t include olive or avocado oil), and artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame). This list also includes substances like alcohol, caffeine, and cigarettes. You don’t have to cut all of these foods from your diet, but start to limit some of them and maybe test how your body reacts to them. I don’t want this post to go on forever, so I will probably dedicate a whole other post to just nutrition. But, to wrap up, a good standard rule to follow is to avoid anything that comes in a package(I don’t mean chicken breasts and celery), avoid anything that has a list of ingredients you can’t pronounce or identify, and avoid sugar as much as possible. Stick to whole foods, homemade dressings and sauces, and nutrient-dense items.
#2- Exercise- Exercise is a fantastic tool for not only your physical health but your mental health. Exercise increases endorphins, serotonin, and results in a more positive mood. It can increase your mind and body connection, it can improve memory, and it can provide an outlet for you to do something you love which also results in mood improvements. Exercising can also perform a sort of roundabout way of bettering your mental health. Feeling good and looking good are tied hand in hand. When you feel healthy and strong, you gain confidence, which boosts your mood and your self-esteem. Personally, I have struggled with summer depression during the summers where I am not fit and healthy. I feel less comfortable in my skin, which means I feel less comfortable in shorter clothing, and less comfortable with running around and doing things outside like volleyball, swimming, or hiking. I think people can often be intimidated by exercise, but it is really about doing something you love that is healthy for your mind and body. Try something you actually are interested in like yoga, running, weight lifting, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, volleyball, swimming, dance, CrossFit, pilates, basketball, etc. The list goes on and on, the important part is that you like what you do because every time you exercise you will feel so much better after.
#3- Sleep- Having too much, or too little, sleep has been strongly shown to increase mental health problems. Sleeping between seven to nine hours is the safest way to avoid increased mental health problems. It is also important to focus on getting quality sleep too. In order to do this, make sure you have a dark and cool room, avoid electronics before bed, avoid naps (they can affect your sleep cycle), and try natural sleeping remedies like melatonin or magnesium. I recently learned something interesting while reading a book by the clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. He mentioned that the first thing he asks his clients about is sleep. He mentioned that
“It doesn’t matter so much if they go to bed at the same time each evening, but waking up at a consistent hour is a necessity. Anxiety and depression cannot be easily treated if the sufferer has unpredictable daily routines. The systems that mediate negative emotion are tightly tied to the properly cyclical circadian rhythms” (Peterson, 2018, p. 18).
This is definitely some new information that I am going to start incorporating into my life to see if it helps my mental health.
Diet. Exercise. Sleep. These three things are like the triangle of health. They all need to be balanced and in a healthy state, to achieve better mental health, physical health, and increased function and happiness. The funny thing about several of these remedies is that they are often the topics therapists ask you about when trying to determine if you have depression, anxiety, etc. “Do you have a hard time sleeping? Do you sleep too much or too little? Have you had a loss of appetite or an increase in appetite? Do you feel like you move too quickly or more slowly than normal?” So if you think about it, if mental health disorders like anxiety or depression cause problems in these areas, then maybe by improving these areas it will result in improvements to your mental health.
I hope you found the information of use as you move forward in your life. I encourage you to treat your body almost like a science experiment. Test increasing your sleep, or lowering your sugar consumption, or increasing daily exercise and note the changes it brings within yourself. Maybe even look into elimination diets for the sole purpose of finding foods that are negatively impacting your mood. It is amazing what natural remedies such as these can do. Our body responds well to healthy habits. There are so many more healthy habits that help mental health, so I will be splitting this post into a few parts for the future.
I hope you all are doing well during this time. Remember to take control of your life and make the necessary changes that will better it. Again, if you are looking for help to overcome mental health struggles or even some other people to relate to, please reach out by visiting our website www.insaneability.org. We are here guiding you to the life you want to live.
Peterson, J. B., (2018). 12 Rules For Life. Canada: Random House Canada. Pg. 18.