Thinking About the Brain
For a while now I have wanted to go deep and share some insights from years of battling with various brain health issues. With 'World Mental Health Day' not long ago, it was a good reminder to get my thoughts down on paper (in a digital sense). It is strange that mental health gets one day in the year when some other causes get a whole month - considering the large percentage of people who struggle in this area. But I'll leave that be and get started. I'll just say that I'm not a brain specialist and don't have any medical degrees. Rather, I've been the one seeking out the specialists and would simply like to speak from my experiences and knowledge gained over the years as I have sought greater healing in this area.
It is strange to be hesitant and a little fearful in writing about this issue - and it is a great pity that so many approach it with similar apprehension. The reality is that we are, in the broader sense, dealing with the health of one of our organs - the brain. Yet, for so long society at large has viewed it as something to be ashamed of or to be discussed behind closed doors in subdued whispers. The lungs, the heart and the kidneys can be discussed at great length over coffee, written about in emails and text messages and mentioned as prayer-points in Church. But not so the brain. And so many, silently and unnecessarily, suffer because of this stigma. I am very thankful to Dr Daniel Amen who has helped me and many others to strip away the awkwardness and see mental health as "brain health" and something we discuss openly.
Rather than simply state a whole bunch of helpful tips, I'd like to share what I have learnt and tried along the way in the form of a personal story. I hope that in my vulnerability and transparency, others might be helped and healed. This will be a long read - but I make no apologies for that. Feel free to read this in batches. So, here goes...
In my early twenties, I had a couple of brain health issues that were quite pronounced and very challenging to go through. I was given a diagnosis, placed on medication and left with mental scars that remain with me to this day. There really wasn't any discussion at the time about the need to look into my diet and general physical fitness or to consider whether the career path I was stepping into might be the best fit for me. I was just given a pill and sent on my not-so-merry way. I had an empty toolkit.
Fast-forward several years where I was facing burnout from the challenges of full-time teaching (which has long been one of the hardest professions), making costumes for the school musical and running a Sunday School class in country-Victoria (a long way from my home). I was told then by a professional that I needed to cut back on my commitments. The pressures of my career didn't really let up but I did learn to be more careful what extra things I said "yes" to. The turning point for me with my health came when my sister started to take an interest in her own health and radically adjusted her diet. She has read "The Maker's Diet" by Jordan S. Rubin and at her recommendation, I read it too. I had already been experiencing a growth spurt in my Christian faith at the time - learning to listen to (and obey) the voice of God as I interacted with His Word and entered into prolonged times of study, reflection and prayer. And so, I immediately knew in my spirit that I too needed to radically alter my diet - it just seemed, without a doubt, to be the right thing to do. The focus then was not on improving brain health (although it naturally came into the picture) but it was preparing the way for future treatments and healing. I can now look back on the adjustments I had made to my diet and see what an impact it has had on my brain health - especially in regards to the connection between sugar and inflammation. I followed fastidiously the various stages of the Maker's Diet over several weeks - cutting things back to basics and cutting out many things that had been working against my health for many years. Refined sugars, grains and non-traditional fats gave way to whole foods and a more ancient (much akin to the ancient jewish diet) way of eating. It was quite hard getting started as supermarkets were nowhere near as well stocked in the health aisle as they are now and I really had to search high and low to find things that were suitable to eat. There were only a handful of recipe books that really lined up with the Maker's Diet approach (which is like paleo but a bit broader, allowing for ancient grains such as spelt as well) compared to the often confusing wealth of books available today. But I got into a good rhythm and actually enjoyed the challenge. Friends started to notice the change in my appearance and I began to feel more energetic.
I took the good part of a year off from my teaching position to travel over to the UK to study theology at the Capernwray Bible School near Lancaster. Mentally and spiritually, it did me a world of good. It gave me space to be able to reflect on where I had been and where I wanted to head upon returning to Melbourne. It taught me the importance of close, honest, vulnerable community and the need for deep, spiritual connection with others. As my spirit was fed and nurtured, my mind and its wounds were in a better place to receive healing. As for my diet, however, as much as I'm grateful to those who prepared our meals there, I found I very quickly piled on the weight again (which only became an issue when I started taking the medication I had been prescribed years earlier) and I had tonsillitis twice while over there, thanks to the fatty, sugary, processed foods I had been indulging in. Interestingly, as I returned to Melbourne and reverted to my healthy eating habits, the tonsillitis never returned!
Returning to Melbourne was bittersweet. I had thoroughly enjoyed my time in England and would loved to have stayed if I could. The deep friendships I made could not continue with the same level of nearness and intimacy (although I have maintained some very close friendships to this day with a handful of them). I was happy to be home with family and old friends but felt like it was harder to squeeze back into my former spot in the scheme of things. I hoped God might have a new, big adventure for me and wanted to help make an impact for the good of others but was at a loss to know what to do. Eventually, I returned to my former place of employment (which in general, felt like family) but moved out of general classroom teaching, first into the Textiles Department and later into the Art Department.
Teaching Art was like a breath of fresh air to me. Suddenly, I was in familiar territory and teaching from my passion. It flowed out naturally from me and I didn't feel like an imposter. I was able to relax in my own teaching style and outlook and no longer felt like I needed to try to be someone that I wasn't designed to be. This was a great relief for my soul. I had taken a significant step towards aligning myself with God's unique design for my life - I experienced His pleasure as I taught the things that He had given a special affection for in my heart. I loved being able to teach my students how to make "good" art - art that respected and utilised the rules, the elements and principles by which strong, true and beautiful art might be created. And I loved seeing inspired faces and hearing excited chatter as the students engaged with the world of art in ways that stretched, challenged and rewarded them. Probably the best part for me was the joy of interacting with the students who loved to come to the art room at lunchtimes and make art while munching on their sandwiches or whatever delicacies had been prepared for them. The conversation was often lively, and filled with good humour and good-will. This did my mental health great good. Giving-of myself so that these precious students could receive some attention and nurturing was, and still is, very rewarding. As someone who hasn't been blessed with children of my own, it worked both ways and I like to think that in Heaven, there will be many happy faces surrounding me that will be as dear to me as if they were my own children. Giving and looking beyond ourselves really does seem to do wonders for the old brain health, among other things.
But despite these positive steps, there were still many underlying issues and external challenges to deal with. We are complex creatures and sometimes our minds can get a bit tangled and knotted over the years and we need help to untangle them. I was blessed to have some friends that were transparent about their own struggles in life and as we shared our stories, they encouraged me to consider seeking some professional counselling. They recommended someone who they highly respected and who lined up with my own spiritual values. It took courage but I made the plunge and ended up having eleven formal counselling sessions in total. I had hoped that I would do more listening and less thinking and talking but quickly discovered that this was not to be the case. There were long periods of awkward silence which forced me to engage my brain more and articulate the way forward myself. It was a relief to be led by someone who was not trying to steer me away from my core values and it was a great blessing to have someone with a sharp mind and an eagle eye to be able to help me see things from a new perspective. He saw courage, nobility and opportunities for abundant, true life where I was only seeing failures and brokenness. After each session, I drove to a nearby cafe and wrote down as much of the conversation as could be remembered into my journal while sipping a cappuccino and munching on a macaron (I felt I deserved a small sugary indulgence for all my efforts). By the end of the eleven weeks I had a fresh perspective on life and a clearer lens through which to see my path. By God's grace, I was able to walk taller and began to appreciate things in my life that had for too long weighed me down.
Counselling gave me some new frameworks to see things through and some new tools to add to my inner tool-kit. I still, however, had many challenges (and still do) to deal with and work through. There were pressures and conflicts that didn't go away and which continued to work against my health in often covert ways. As I continued to look for further help I was blessed to be introduced to the concept of "the highly sensitive person" through the work of Elaine Aaron in her book by the same title. For many years I was aware that I was more sensitive to noise and light than most people and that I was easily overwhelmed and fatigued in busy social settings; that comments people made would weigh far more heavily on me than on others. But I hadn't really brought all those things together under the one umbrella. It was quite a relief to read about this type of person that experienced life very deeply and could easily be overwhelmed by the world sensorily. This was different to finding out what personality type a person is - it related more to the physical make-up of a person and the way the body, the nervous system and the brain - in particular - interacted with the outside world. It started to make sense why I could feel so elated and joyful when walking through a garden or listening to a fine piece of music but then feel so drained or frazzled being stuck in a loud, busy cafe or trying to communicate with people lacking in sensitivity and gentleness. There is still more for me to learn and put into practice in this area but I have found it helpful so far to see that a good night sleep is critical for me, that it's okay for me to withdraw from the busyness of life to recharge and to consider whether there might be more suitable career paths for me to look into that would foster my flourishing rather than cause my flailing. Investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones has made a world of difference to me when the neighbourhood dogs won't stop barking or someone's music is booming beyond any reasonableness. Being more transparent with family and friends about my sensitivities has also helped and it has made for much more relaxed times of fellowship when others have been happy to find a quieter spot to sit in a cafe or allow me to sit facing away from the window.
Somewhere along the way, I got serious about my physical fitness. I felt the need to get in shape, although at the time I didn't realise just how connected physical and mental health were. Bit by bit I accumulated enough equipment to make up a decent home gym (at least for an amateur). When I moved house and was living on my own I was able to use a spare bedroom as my gym room (and still do). It's equipped with a large, sturdy frame suitable for pull-ups, dips, etc., a weights bench, a barbell, dumbbells, a cross-trainer, kettle-bells, resistance bands, a swiss-ball, a step-up platform and a few other bits and bobs. The medication I'd been on for many years had changed my metabolism and I went from an extra small/small size to a large not long after taking it. I was able to shift some of the weight eventually through regular resistance training and some cardio work (and the healthier diet) but it was hard to make significant progress. It felt strange to enter the world of fitness as it wasn't something that was a big part of life for me growing up and I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. A change of mindset was required and I was starting to learn that I could shift out of those negative thought patterns that had plagued me for many years. I came across a recipe/workout book by British fitness celebrity, Joe Wicks "The Body Coach" and that introduced me to the concept of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT basically involves a number of short sets of exercises with brief breaks between each set and can be applied to a variety of things such as cardio exercises, cycling, skipping and body-weight exercises. After it became a regular part of my weekly routines, I noticed how much brighter and happier I felt whenever I did it. In fact, there was one winter a few year ago when I couldn't recall feeling flat or depressed through all the cold, grey days thanks to those HIIT routines.
Speaking of grey days, another penny dropped in the health department when I recognised that the weather really impacted my mood and energy. I've since come to learn that this is known is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is a kind of depression that changes with the seasons. I noticed that I would nearly always feel so much more upbeat and energetic on sunny days but on gloomy, cloudy days I would feel out of sorts, flat and be lacking in energy. Sometimes, if the sun were to suddenly appear on a grey, cloudy day, I would notice an instant, significant shift in my mood and energy. It became apparent that I was "solar powered"! I'm still working through this one but have made some helpful discoveries along the way. There doesn't seem to be much I can do that I'm aware of when I'm outdoors but within my home I have replaced all of the cool white globes with warm white ones - finding that even the cool, stark white was affecting my mood. In a similar vain, I've found that lamps with warm coloured shades (such as oranges and yellows) can help boost the mood with their cheerfulness. Stained-glass "Tiffany lamps" add extra dimensions of beauty to the equation with their translucent and varying colours, qualities and textures. The biggest discovery for me in this department was learning about SAD lamps. These are lamps that either give a full daylight spectrum light, a blue light (like the sky on a sunny day) or the option for both. I purchased one that's a similar size and shape to an iPad. It can be set on a timer to go off as an alarm in the morning - gradually waking you up or can be used directly as needed throughout the day. It features both white and blue light options and really does give the feeling of a bright, cheery and sunny day. I use the blue light in the mornings when working out and then use the white light later in the day as needed. The blue light is better in the morning, it seems, as it can interfere with sleep if used later in the day but it's a good "wake-up" kind of light.
By the time 2019 rolled around, I was having a number of gut-health issues and despite exploring possible solutions I wasn't really making any progress. My chiropractor suggested to me that I could try seeing a friend of his who was a naturopath whom he highly respected. I knew it would be a big financial commitment but I was tired of trying to sort things out for myself and getting nowhere (and spending money unnecessarily in the process). I booked an appointment with the naturopath and very quickly became impressed with him and his approach to the field. He was very methodical, analytical and scientific - writing copious amount of notes as he worked through the whole body and its systems. Yet he was at the same time very personable and took an interest in me as a whole person. We made some good progress with my gut health and I was starting to understand the relationship between mental health and its impact on the body. After several months of treatment, it was suggested to me that the medication I had been taking for over a couple of decades might be slowing down my body's response to the new treatments and that I might like to see a professional to get the medication reviewed. I did just that and at the end of my first session, having recounted all the details of my earlier health crises, I was told that I had not been diagnosed accurately all those years ago and didn't need to have been on the medication all that time! It was a relief and a shock at the same time. With no need to be on the medication, I was able to come off it. The process, however, was far from easy!
I lost a lot of sleep in the early days of coming off the medication and had some very unpleasant symptoms to deal with. The change to my body's chemistry brought about high levels of anxiety. It wasn't that I was fearful of things going on so much as it was a natural response to cortisol levels, etc. shifting and my brain readjusting to things. I won't go into the symptoms much more but I will say that I never wish to go through that again! There was a point where I just didn't feel I had the strength to endure but as many others have found in their own crises, that Divine hand reached down and I heard a Voice within my spirit say "Do you trust Me?" At that point, I knew that I was safe in God's loving arms - whatever came my way - and gripping His outstretched hand, I pressed forward, by His enabling grace. I was able to take some time off work and managed to return to work after a while - but it was quite a challenge making it through each day still suffering from a lack of sleep and dealing with the "anxiety" symptoms still, This occurred in 2020 and for much of it, Melbourne was in lockdown. So, you can imagine how hard it was to be dealing with my own health crisis in my home without being able to freely travel and have visitors. The very time I needed human warmth and nearness, I was unable to receive it. But again, I learnt that my God was very near and that I was never truly alone. It was helpful that teaching was run remotely, online, for a good part of this time as it gave me mental space away from the noise and busyness of the art room at school. It made things much more palatable for me (and was also, in hindsight, a good indication for me of the kind of work I'd be better suited for).
Going through a "mental health" crisis can be very humbling - and even humiliating. The response is often quite different than if someone had simply broken their arm or was suffering from a "physical" ailment. People don't generally seem comfortable talking about it. You don't tend to receive the usual "get well soon" cards, flowers and chocolates. In my case, it appeared that many people just assumed I was not coping with stress or that I was fearful of all that was going on in the world (the COVID crisis was the least of my worries!). There isn't always the opportunity or forum to spell things out for everyone. But when I could, I would just let people I trusted know that my body was simply reacting to coming off years worth of unnecessary medication. I also found it challenging when some people who knew that I had made the decision to come off the medication questioned whether I'd made the right choice. It was reassuring to have those few wise and insightful specialists, family members and friends who stood by me and affirmed my decision to experience pain for a while so that I could ultimately grow healthier. It's hard too, going through such things when working with children (or for those who are blessed to have children of their own). You're aware they can sense that something's not right and you wish you could just explain things in an age-appropriate way - but there's the challenge. And that adds pressure to put on a brave face and pretend things are okay. Sometimes that may be more appropriate but I do wonder if we perhaps shield our children from too much at times and whether they themselves might become better prepared and equipped if they understood more about how the brain functions and challenges that can arise. I think children are smarter than we sometimes realise and can grasp such concepts when they are discussed appropriately, with sensitivity and in a way that doesn't terrify them. Children can often also bring encouragements and words of wisdom and insight that the adults around us are sometimes too afraid or distracted to offer. All this to say that it makes things hard when you're going through something that is often misunderstood and cannot be shared about easily with others.
It took several months for the anxiety symptoms to calm down and for my body to adjust to the removal of years worth of medication. And it took the good part of a year to get to the point where I no longer needed any sleep medication. The sleep tablets I took were addictive in themselves and so I needed to taper off them gradually. I learnt a lot about "sleep hygiene" in those months. I read a couple of books on the subject: Fast Asleep by Dr Michael Mosley and Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. Both were very helpful. I learnt about the need for consistency in bed times, blocking out light in the bedroom, using blue-light blocking glasses and light-globes in the evenings, keeping the bedroom cool and avoiding stimulating technology near bed-time. I took natural sleep supplements which helped greatly as I weaned off the prescription sleep tablets. It became very obvious to me just how precious sleep is and how much we need to work to ensure we get the best quality sleep possible. Our brain health and output in life - our general well-being - can be impacted immensely by the amount and quality of sleep we are getting each night. I'm pleased to say that I am now sleeping without the aid of sleep medication or supplements which is a great blessing.
Over the course of this recovery period, I investigated many different avenues for providing relief and bringing healing. I learnt so much by listening to Dr Daniel Amen and reading his book The End of Mental Illness. One key practice that I quickly adopted and have continued with is using music as a tool for recovery and health. I learnt the violin for nine years, starting when I was in Year 7. I played a bit at church over the years but rarely practised at home. In 2020, I began practising again. Usually it involved (and still does) playing along to various songs on my Spotify playlists. While I can read music fairly well, I've always had the ability to "play by ear" so it hasn't been too challenging for me to play along without any sheet music in front of me. It sounded a bit scratchy at first but after several months I began to notice an improvement in my tone and complexity. Dr Amen encourages activities that require coordination - which promotes healthy brain function - and playing an instrument like the violin which requires a lot of coordination fits very well. Even just listening to music - especially tunes that prompt happy memories - can do wonders for lifting/altering our mood. Christmas was always, for me, one of the happiest times growing up and there was a particular album "Come on Ring Those Bells" by my all-time favourite artist, Evie Tornquist (Karlsson), that we listened to (and still do) each Christmas. When I was struggling with my mood or feeling agitated, I found playing that album - even if it wasn't near Christmas-time - very quickly brought comfort, relief and even joy.
A couple of other things that helped with my recovery were getting in gardening and rethinking some of the spaces within my home. It was largely thanks to a neighbour of mine that I took a new interest in gardening. I had always had a love for gardens but hadn't done much at the current place. My neighbour was semi-retired and was an avid gardener. She knew I was busy at the time with teaching and found gardening a challenge and so she got stuck in from time to time and beautifully manicured my garden. It was a tremendous blessing and it rekindled my interest in gardening. Pretty soon I caught the gardening bug and was hooked! I began to visit the local nurseries (and some further afield) and was on first-name basis with staff at my favourite spot nearby (always amusing to my friends). I can't say that I had (or have) a meticulous garden - it's a bit more on the wild, rambling side of things - but I loved to see things grow and blossom and bear fruit or set seed. While others might sit cross-legged breathing deeply, I found that a stroll around the garden was invigorating and a lovely, tactile, sensorial way to calm my thoughts and relax my body. It also fed the artist within - providing potential inspiration for future artworks. Within my home, I was finding partway into my recovery, that things were constant reminders of the pain I had recently been through and the various spaces and even sounds could trigger unpleasant memories and associated sensations. Moving to a different house was in the too-hard basket and so I decided that I could at least change things around inside. I switched bedrooms, relocating my gym room and spare room so that I was no longer sleeping in the same room as before. I moved furniture around in the lounge and dining rooms, moved pictures and ornaments and added a few new pieces of furniture. It didn't take too long before I started to feel more at ease in my environment and the triggers became less frequent and potent. My home became a sanctuary one again and a place of healing - both for myself and for my guests.
Now you may well be surprised by this confession, but when my health crisis was at its worst, I scarcely made any art. I think because the kind of art I make requires much concentration, I found that level of mental focus too overwhelming and daunting. But I found that creative things like gardening and interior decorating were less daunting and more easily accessible. They also required more movement from my body which in turn helped me to release some of the built-up tension. When my desire to make art returned, that was a really clear sign that I was on the mend. So, we needn't feel that we must always stick with our usual outlets or pursuits - or that we're being disloyal to them if we let go of them for a while. We can trust that we will return to them - or they to us - when ready.
Friendships (family included) have been crucial in my path to better health. I have long learned the value of maintaining deep, honest, intimate friendships. To have people message you, call you up or drop by to see how you're doing, to give a much needed hug, to pray for/with you and to let you know that you are valued and cherished makes a world of difference to our healing and flourishing. When unwell, it can often be very challenging to reciprocate the same level of conversation, vibrancy and activity as is given to you. It is a humbling thing and a challenge to receive without being able to give back in the same way. But this is where the beauty and potency of love is on greater display - where the helpless receives help and sees the heart behind the gifts and realises their true value in the eyes of their saviour. These friends are for-keeps.
At the end of 2021, in all the craziness of things, I lost my job at the school I worked at for twenty-one years. I won't go into all the details here but you can imagine what a challenging time that was. Many of us were in 'crisis mode" for some time trying to make sense of it all and there were lots of discussions going on in various circles - some constructive and others more destructive. I mention this because of its relationship to all that we have been discussing. I was well-equipped to navigate the challenges of losing my job because of all the hard work and progress that had been made in regards to my health - and in particular - my mental health - leading up to this new crisis. From a spiritual perspective, I had that sense of deja vu - recognising that I'd been in a crisis (though different in many ways) not long before. And with that recognition came the remembrance of God's faithfulness in bringing me safely through. I saw the outstretched Divine hand again and heard the voice saying, "Do you trust Me?" Once I saw the crisis in relation to the bigger picture and recognised what God was up to - that He was seeking to show Himself strong on my behalf and once again strengthen my faith - peace flooded in and I knew I could press forward with conviction and confidence. My God would provide. He would make a way where there seemed no way. And He did - and continues to do so. I am learning that God loves to give His children "Red Sea" moments where, like the Israelites caught between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, there seems no way out but to look upwards for the outstretched hand. That outstretched hand led me to start my own business - teaching art online, designing products featuring my artworks, dipping my toe into adult education, making artworks to sell, doing commissioned pieces and starting my own YouTube channel which is equipping me to make and sell art tutorial videos. I doubt I would have done all that without my "Red Sea moment" and I am finding that it is a much better fit for my mental health and personal wiring. I have since been welcomed back to the same school I worked at for a couple of decades, doing casual teaching which helps supplement my income and provides social connection with my school family again.
There is, as always, more I could say on such a broad subject but I shall draw this lengthy post to a close. At the time of this writing I am practically medication-free aside from some natural supplements and a puff of asthma medication. I am sleeping unaided. The vast majority of anxiety symptoms and symptoms connected with coming off the medication have all but gone. I am eating healthy, have returned to my former body-type and am fitter than I've ever been. I've navigated the loss of my decades-long job and have started my own business. I'm making more art than ever and my violin skills are vastly improved. I'm able to get out and about without stressing whether I'll cope with things. There are still ongoing issues to deal with and work through, such as sinus-congestion from allergies, the perennial SAD, and unhealthy mindsets to rewire. There will always be challenges this side of Heaven. But I'm praising my God for how far He has brought me and the healing He has done in me to this point. I hope that in my transparency and vulnerability in sharing my health journey that you are encouraged and have at least a few things to tuck into your toolkit as you re-engage with your own struggles and trials - past, present and future. Remember that though we are born into a broken world, we are born into a world bathed in hope. There is One Who stands ready to heal those who will grasp His outstretched hand. Let hope lead you forward.
To truly close, here is a list (though not exhaustive) summarising things that I have found helpful (whether mentioned here so far or not) in my journey to better health:
Exercise regularly. Include strength training and some cardio into your routines. Walking is golden.
Get off refined/processed foods including sugar and modern oils/fats. Consider coming off gluten and some forms of dairy.
Seek professional guidance rather than trying to figure things out alone.
Journal your thoughts and unpack things in writing.
Seek out deep friendships and share your story/struggles with each other. Reach out rather than going solo.
Seek wisdom. Take time to learn from those who have trodden the path before you and those who are true experts (and showing integrity) in their field.
Keep faith and hope alive. Look for and seek the Divine hand and Divine counsel in all things. Pour out your heart in prayer.
Be compassionate towards yourself and avoid unrealistic expectations for what you can achieve.
Swallow your pride and share your weaknesses with others - you'll be on the road to recovery much faster if you do.
Nurture your spirit with beautiful music, art, stories, fragrances and scenery.
Get outdoors, breathe fresh air and bask in the sun.
Grow plants and spend time with animals.
Get loads of sleep and if sleep is a problem, invest time and resources into finding solutions.
Consider finding a reputable naturopath to help restore the body's systems.
Create things - even if you never show them to anyone.
Reflect on where you've been and how far you've come. Remember God's faithfulness and past victories.
Take time to shut out noise and distractions and allow your mind to be still. Get some noise-cancelling headphones.
Be discerning. Not everything that claims to be good for you actually is.
Meditate on Scripture - recall God's promises and think of His faithfulness to those who have gone before us.
Look beyond yourself and where possible, help or encourage someone else. It's good for the brain aside from all the other benefits.
Use SAD lamps and blue-light blocking globes to help boost mood and regulate sleep patterns.
Don't assume that because you feel a certain way, you must be anxious - there may be other reasons for feeling that way.
Switch off social media and avoid watching things that are negative, disturbing, unnecessary or life-sucking.
Get moving!! Studies are showing that exercise is far more effective in many (with exceptions) cases than prescribed medication for mental health. If you're in a slump, take a step, then another - and another - and go make your bed, put the bins out, vacuum the house and the momentum will build, the blood flow and the brain come alive.
Get and give hugs.
Read the good stories - the ones that are true to life and offer hope and something to strive towards. Work your way through The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Read biographies of those who have lived praiseworthy lives.
Explain the challenges you're facing where able so that others don't feel slighted if you can't maintain a busy social calendar or stay long at parties.
Practice various disciplines such as silence, solitude and even celebration so that you build up resilience. When things do downhill you will be better prepared and able to stay the course. Your body and mind will say, "Ah, we've been here before! We know what to do."
While you may feel like "the weak one", take heart that the strongest people are those who admit their weaknesses. There are a lot of people out there pretending to be strong despite their reality and they will not experience true healing and growth so long as they remain that way.
If you attend a church, let the pastor know what you're going through and seek/accept the support of the community.
Change things up. Rearrange the house, get a haircut and pop on some nice clothes, take a different way to work or a different walking track to usual and pull out some albums that you haven't heard for years.
Seek out accountability with someone you trust so that you have a lifeline when tempted to turn to destructive comforts that will inevitably make things worse.
Take warm baths with epsom salts to ease the tension before bed.
Get someone (who is a good driver, of course) to take you on a long drive, somewhere picturesque and don't be afraid to sleep along the way.
Sift through your thoughts and ask yourself "Is this true?" Find others that can help you work through this (again - be discerning).
Give thanks - even if just for the small blessings like a roof over your head and clothes on your back. Gratefulness warms the heart and cheers the brain and it allows the sun to poke through the clouds.
Recall times of happiness - maybe vacations, Christmas or birthday celebrations, or a Sunday roast cooked by your grandmother. Savour the memories.
Share what you're learning through your trials with others. It's not just the experts that can make a difference.
Keep an eternal perspective. One day all trials shall pass and all tears shall be wiped away. Keep the Celestial City always in your sights.
Remember that you are loved by your Maker and He knows best how to mend and restore you. Lean wholly on Him and give Him time to do His work in you and through you. Be confident that one day, His work in you shall be complete and all brokenness shall be made whole.
Live in hope. The sun will shine again, my friends!