Nobody can save you but yourself, and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won, but if anything is worth winning then this is it.Charles Bukowski
How I came to write about Mental health?
Jul 2017, A very dear friend committed suicide, I had known her for a decade. She succumbed to postpartum depression. Her loss hit me hard; she was extremely kind, witty, full of life and energy. Just like iconic figures Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, Anthony Bourdain, Chester Bennington, V G Siddharth, she also fell in this trap
Back then I was aware about mental health issues and was doing my bit to protect myself. Depression is a common mental illness and has taken the lives of best artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, students and the list goes on. It does not discriminate between age, IQ, gender, bank balance, ethnicity etc. Her suicide changed my perception, anybody who is not aware can fall in this trap too. I resolved to become more educated about it and spread awareness.
If you know somebody who needs help. If you know somebody who is scared , be kind to him. Give him advice, give him a hug , teach him a card trick. Whatever you are going to do is going to be a hope for them. And if you do it at the right time . It will enter their heart and it will be with them wherever they go, forever !Werner Reich ( he was 6 when he survived the holocaust)
Oct 2013, Despite smooth pregnancy, normal delivery and healthy baby, I went through emotional turbulence. Hormonal changes, desperate child care and sleepless nights took a toll on my mental health and married life. I blamed myself for everything, felt guilty for not being a good mom. One visit to the pediatrician helped me to take control of myself. I cried my heart out, she listened to me patiently, I clearly remember her words “everyone goes through emotional turbulence, some even go through worse; you are not alone, so chill and focus your energies on meaningful stuff. Your child needs a happy mom, not a perfect mom”. No judgement and simple reassurance, that’s all I needed. Within a few months I bounced back and consciously started to work on myself. Why there’s unnecessary stigma around mental health?
According to WHO (as of Jan’20), Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. More women are affected by depression than men. 800,000 people die from suicide globally every year, i.e. one die in every 40 seconds. Nowadays young adults and teenagers are rapidly succumbing to it. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.
An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.Charles Bukowski
The door illustrates clinical mental illness. All is easy till the time the door is not crossed. It is solvable with awareness and conscious efforts.
Yes there’s awareness around mental health but the stigma is the real issue not mental health. There’s no acknowledgment and unfortunately, there’s a feeling of unworthiness attached to it. For instance, weight gain is a symptom of poor lifestyle choices (wrong eating habits, sedentary lifestyle etc), people are aware that with conscious efforts weight can be corrected and healthy life can be restored. On the other hand, negativity is a symptom of poor mental health but people have a hard time acknowledging it, because a poor body is acceptable but not a poor mind. Prolonged realm of ignorance is enough to push open the door.
Who is inching towards the door?
It’s not an occasional (less than 10%) mood swing but a condition – Loss of interest, Negative thought process, Seeing lack instead of abundance, Attracting and sharing negative information, Rejoicing others’ pain, Jealous of others’ fortune and life, Self pity, Low self esteem, Low self confidence, Insecurities, Anger, Predominantly personal well being, Selfish motives, Outwardly focus, Obsession, Unexplained anxieties. These are some common indicators of ‘not so good’ mental health.
Whenever I inch towards the door, I become aware and flip it around. Below 5 habits are helping me.
1.Morning ritual – Recover dopamine receptors
Ever wondered why some people are more motivated to tackle difficult things? Let’s understand the brain’s neurotransmitter – DOPAMINE. Dopamine makes us desire things and these desires give us motivation to get up and do stuff. Any activity(may or may not be good) where you anticipate potential reward, releases it. Brain doesn’t care if the effect of high dopamine is damaging or good, it releases per our anticipation. For example, you know that a slice of pizza is not healthy for you, but you still eat it because of the release of high dopamine. Instant gratification to taste bud signals the brain to desire more. On the contrary for some people high dopamine is released when they do hard things.
Save yourself from developing dopamine tolerance. In other words, the brain gets used to high dopamine because of instant gratification like checking phone, notifications, junk food, bed tea, news update, internet browsing, social networking, high-octane lifestyle. So what happens, other activities with low dopamine sound boring and uninteresting e.g. making your own bed, cleaning cupboards, exercising , meditating. In these activities the reward is not instant and efforts are more. That’s the reason why kids and young adults are falling in the trap of high dopamine, they are used to gadgets and instant gratification. It becomes the new normal and they find other activities boring. It’s like if you eat a fancy meal everyday then a regular bowl of vegetables will sound uninteresting.
How do I make hard activities easy? How do I limit instant gratifications? Unnaturally high dopamine is the root cause of discontentment and boredom. What you do in the first 3 wakeful hours set the tone of the day.
- Technology and gadgets Don’t check the phone for the first 3 hours. I only use it for meditation and workout details
- Washroom rule No phone or any distraction in washroom at any time of the day.
- Newspaper/ News I quit reading newspapers 6 years ago. I don’t watch news or debates. I am still very effective in my pursuits, probably I am updated with what I need to know. I don’t care about sensations and opinions. I am not suggesting anyone quit newspaper, you may read but say after 4-5 hours. Bombardment of information early in the morning derails.
- Stimulant Only water no stimulant or caffeine, I eat only handful of nuts or one kind of fruit in the morning
- Reward myself when I do hard things. For example, writing this blog is a difficult task for me, also there’s no instant gratification. From a dopamine perspective it’s a low dopamine job, however there’s another hormone ‘oxytocin’ that’s getting released because I consider this as service to mankind. There’s no hoarding in the universe, I have to give back what I have received. Hence, to motivate myself I allow myself a treat, 1 hour of mindless internet browsing and some sweets. That gratification is not instant but it keeps me motivated throughout the day.
2. Five minutes creative game and role play
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. “Pablo Picasso
You will experience boredom without technology, stimulants and phone. Morning is the best time to explore the creative side. Sharing two common games I play daily:-
5 minutes creative game. I pick any random objects and use them as characters in my story or poem. Some rules to be followed
- Rule 1 – Odd number objects, 3 or more. All objects should be used. Idea is to break the conventional learning pattern of the brain.
- Rule 2 – Don’t choose objects, just pick randomly and blindly. For instance, objects in the kitchen are different from the living room. So one day I play in the kitchen, the other day in the living room.
- Rule 3 – Don’t worry about logical reasoning. Just create anything out of it and write it in your journal
- Rule 4 – Don’t judge yourself
Role play If you had 5 other imaginary lives to lead, what would you do in each of them? Whatever occurs to you just jot it down. Do not overthink. You might be a Monk, Health coach, writer, painter, farmer, Guitarist, Healer, Singer…The point of these lives is to have fun in them. Every week pick one personality and act as if you are leading that life. For instance If you want to be a Painter, get a sketch book and crayons, draw straight lines, crooked lines, curves, make basic shapes etc.
Personally It is working for me, a few years ago I wanted to be a Painter.
3. Morning pages
I picked this idea from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s way . There’s no way I can reproduce a book of 200 pages. Sharing a basic framework to get started and then your instincts will guide you. Write a flow of thoughts as they come to my mind, a stream of consciousness writing.
- Third person Write (not type) 3 complete pages as a third person. As if there’s somebody inside your mind, observing and writing your thoughts spontaneously. The idea is to detach yourself from you and connect with higher self. This activity takes upto 20 minutes. For instance , “Vartika has no thoughts in her mind…she is thinking about boring household chores….she hates to chop vegetables…she is thinking she is not good enough… she wants to spend more quality time with her husband and son…she wants to be an artist who can write and paint…
- Don’t judge your thoughts, be kind to yourself. There are barriers, enemies, negative beliefs, self limiting thoughts and impressions within ourselves. We need to gently get over and move on
- Creative flashes You will notice all sorts of emotions and fantasies. Just hold on to all creativity and intuitive flashes. Probably things you wanted to pursue but couldn’t. Log them separately
- Positive affirmations Write 5 positive affirmations every day. Thank people often, it’s for our upliftment.
- Recover Make a note of compliments you have received. Give compliments to yourself. For instance, “Vartika great job, your ability to comprehend artist’s perspective is fantastic.”The idea is to recover a sense of safety, identity, power, integrity, possibility, abundance, strength, compassion and faith
4. Connect with Infinite source
Ever wondered how few people survived the holocaust, warfare, natural calamity, fatal accidents, dreadful diseases? No it’s not just a mere coincidence or good luck.
The 7 different bodies that comprise the complete human body are – Physical body, Endocrine, Chakra, Astral, Energy, Aural and Etheral. All the laws that apply to the Universe, also apply to us. To keep it simple, we work in a sophisticated framework of the Universe. We are supposed to be aligned and in harmony with the laws. The off balances invite illnesses, mental stress and miseries. On the other hand, if we are in harmony then WE LIVE IN ABUNDANCE. So how do we understand the laws and live in abundance? It’s a journey of experiences and awareness , can not be understood theoretically.
- Self connect – Sit for 20 minutes, close your eyes, spine straight and pay attention to breaths and thoughts. No judgement only compassion and kindness.
- Centering thought/ Mantra/ Shloka – We all live in abundance, the idea is to unlock it with intentions. Whenever any uncomfortable thought, jealousy, insecurities strike instead of judging just remind any centering thought that makes sense to you. I remind myself “I create my personal abundance from an infinite source”. “Today and everyday I give that which I want to receive”
- Connect with Nature – Do at least one activity that involves connection with life. For instance growing plants, composting, bio enzymes, growing food & beverages culture.
5. Safeguard your mind
Whosoever in the midst of intense activity finds intense peace, whosoever in the midst of the greatest peace finds the greatest activity, he is a yogi, he is a great soul, he has arrived at perfectionSwami Vivekanand’s discourse on Bhagvad Geeta
- Choose your company wisely Safeguard from the negative thought process of people around. Your opinion anyway doesn’t matter so you might as well protect yourself.
- Craving attention makes us less creative Do technology detox, Dopamine detox at least once a week. Take out time to reflect.
- Make bad stuff It takes pressure out. It releases one from expectations of a perfectionist. What would I paint if nobody is interested in my art. I like to make one bad sketch everyday.
- Unfollow, Mute, Exit Cut down the noise, complaints and rants in social media.
- Physical exercise, Active day, Sleep 40 minutes intense or 90 minutes moderate exercise. 7-8 hours active day, 6-8 hours sound sleep
- Flight mode after dinner and gratitude prayer at bed time
- Heal your food and water with Sun and your energy
- Keep off electromagnetic waves Switch off wi-fi router in the night, no electronic gadgets on and around body. You don’t need fancy watches to track your sleep, movement and calories. Aural energies can be seen with a special camera, aural energies get disturbed with such waves (it’s science, no fiction)
- Keep dreaming, Keep giving, Keep going That’s the essence of living 🙂
अहं ब्रह्मास्मि (ahaṃ brahmāsmi)
The core of my being is the ultimate realityAdi Shankaracharya ( Indian Philosopher in 800 A.D.)
Why did I add the word ‘rewarding’ in the title? I could have kept ‘sustainable’, ‘Healthy’. Universe is waiting to reward us, we just need to become aware and connect with it. Whatever made sense to you, make short notes, research about my claims , adopt slowly and be kind to yourself. I am a very slow person, I pick one change at a time. This is my humble attempt to save myself and others. We have each other to take care of each other 🙂 Please feel free to share with others, share your views and comments. You may also write to me your concerns/ queries with your name or anonymously.