Ten ways to reduce the negative impacts of anxiety and depression

Can we improve our mental health without medication?

In today’s busy world most of us wait until we are highly stressed, anxious or even depressed before we act on our health. Even when we do take stock and ask ourselves the question “OK, I’m unwell and getting worse by the day, what next, what do I need to do to regain my health?”
Apart from medication is there anything else we can do to improve our mental health?

I believe the answer is “ABSOLUTELY YES.”

Only since my diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder One have I consciously started looking after my wellbeing. The main reason for change came about because without change my health would continue to suffer. My first internal check-up comes as soon as I open my eyes in the morning.

How am I travelling today? Is my mood higher than it should be? Do I feel slightly depressed? How am I really feeling? It has to be an honest appraisal otherwise the whole process is a waste of time.

We all need to keep an eye on ourselves

I think a lot of these routines are beneficial to everyone, not just people with mental illnesses. We all need to keep an eye on ourselves. Diet-wise, I’m imperfect, but I do try. I eat fewer processed foods.

I’ve slashed my coffee intake. When I first started in the media, I regularly drank five cups a day, two sugars in each. It was simply fueling an increase in adrenaline which with an increase in the hormone, cortisol, would set me up eventually for adrenal exhaustion. That was too much caffeine and sugar, too much fake energy. The slump would come in the late afternoon, further proof that highs always lead to lows, ups necessitate downs; the whole lot a balancing act, a non-stop game of give and take, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m down to two coffees a day because I just love a good coffee but the five and six a day is a thing of the past.

I have also cut back sugar consumption and this has also levelled out my mood, and actually increased my energy levels, not reduced them. I felt terrible without it for the first few weeks and definitely had withdrawal symptoms but I persevered…

When it comes to fitness, my routine varies. The problem is that I get very bored, very easily, so I chop and change my routines to keep them fresh. I have a once a week boxing class, a swim every now and then, I walk and do yoga either in a class situation or at home.

I believe that everyone needs a special routine or a place; one thing they know will make them feel completely free of worry. Mine is a 9.5 kilometre walk a meditation without actually sitting down to meditate. I’ve started plenty of these walks in a restless mood but I’ve never finished in anything other than great spirits. I’m so into it I forget that I’m actually getting exercise in the process. The heart rate is up without it being too much of a hard slog. The more I walk the clearer my thoughts become. I will continue to do this walk whenever possible and find some new ones to experience as well. And I’ll continue to look for other ways to support my health and wellbeing.

The sensory overload of bipolar can be overwhelming but most of the time I know when I need to pull back, take my time and take a long slow breath. Sometimes diving into the surf on those bitterly cold winter mornings will lift your mood. In summer the temperature will be between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius; in winter it might get down to 14 or 15. I choose not to walk with an iPod blaring in my ears. My phone is off or absent. I don’t want to be taking calls, I don’t want any artificial noise, I just want to find my peace. I find calm in the steadiness of my own footsteps.

I used to find time on my own difficult. Now I like time spent with myself. It’s a great challenge to keep your own company. It can be a challenge but the more you like your own company the more relaxed you will become.

My 10 point stay well plan

My 10 point stay well plan to manage and improve the debilitating impacts of depression, bipolar disorder, acute stress and anxiety are as follows:

1. Good sleep pattern
2. Regular exercise
3. Yoga
4. Meditation
5. Reduce alcohol consumption
6. Eat as much unprocessed food as possible
7. Surround yourself with positive uplifting people
8. Read the stories of others who have overcome adversity to inspire you
9. Don’t feel that you are alone as mental health issues are common
10. Seek help if you are overwhelmed.

Medication is also very effective for many mental illnesses and in many cases will be absolutely necessary. This is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, I have taken medication since my diagnosis of bipolar in 2000. And, I share this very openly, always.

There is nothing in my stay well plan that cannot work in tandem with prescribed medication.

How to change the perception of mental health in the workplace

The workplace in Australia and around the world is a constantly changing environment.

Many regular practices that were considered routine and acceptable ten or even five years ago are now consigned to history. One area that still needs to move with the times and catch up to the modern world of 2015 is the way mental health issues are handled within the working environment.

Change is necessary

It needs to happen more rapidly than is currently the case and, if done properly, the changes will benefit employees and employers. Mental illness in the workplace costs Australian businesses a staggering $6.5 billion every year. Statistics show that one in four Australians will experience a depressive episode within their lifetime. This means mental health conditions, far from being isolated are, in fact, common.

The cost of undiagnosed and untreated mental illness can have a devastating effect on an individual and their family, as well as costing an employer a significant amount in lost productivity. Ignoring the problem and believing it doesn’t exist, or is too complex, is counterproductive.

What is that change?

By implementing a more structured plan to educate and support all employees in the mental health area, I believe employers would reduce their overall costs and increase productivity.

There is still a perception that workplace mental health training and things like conducting information sessions on site are costs that businesses can’t afford.

I would argue that businesses cannot afford not to invest in them.

When I experienced clinical depression in 2000, while working for the ABC, I felt unable to tell anyone about it. I was embarrassed and felt as though I was the only person who could be experiencing the feelings I had. I did not give the ABC an opportunity to support me initially because I kept it to myself that I simply wasn’t coping.

When the full extent of my illness (Bipolar 1 Disorder) was diagnosed, the ABC were fantastic and that support has enabled me to recover, manage the illness and become a productive member of the workforce again. One of the biggest problems is that within many organisations, there is a fear that once mental illness is discussed and moved on to the mainstream health agenda, it will open the floodgates on a raft of new workplace compensation claims, leaving businesses vulnerable.

I believe the opposite will occur

Those people who genuinely need assistance will get it and feel supported as they begin the recovery phase. Those who are not dealing with a mental health problem will be better educated, more understanding and empathetic towards others within the workplace. An informed workforce will have greater confidence that their employer genuinely cares about their well-being.

All this will add up to a more, not less, productive workplace with better overall morale. According to Comcare, Australia’s federal work health and safety regulator, claims associated with mental stress have risen 23% since 2009 -10. The number and proportion of worker’s compensation claims, as well as the cost of psychological injury claims, has increased over recent years.

Clearly, something’s not working

I realise how fortunate I have been to receive that unconditional support at work. Many others are not so lucky. This needs to change. Reducing stigma around the issue of mental illness is still the number one problem in implementing change. Individuals are, on the whole, reluctant to admit to anyone that they have a mental health problem, let alone an employer.

As a result, employers get an impression that there are no mental health issues in the workplace that may affect the employee’s well-being, and at the same time have a real impact on productivity. People recover from mental illness every day. It does not have to be a permanent disability.

The time has come to change the way we view mental health in our workplaces.