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10 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health

Mental Health is a hot topic these days. More and more people are recognizing that they suffering in some way with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental health issues.

Today I’d like to share 10 things that can help to improve your mental health. I hope you find these helpful.

1. Recognize There’s A Problem

The very first step to improving your mental health is recognizing there’s a problem. You may be feeling a sense of the blues that you can’t shake, or a generalized anxiety that you can’t control.

Perhaps you’re feeling out of control and going through severe mood swings from mania to depression. All you know for sure is that something is “off” and you need to figure out what it is. Whatever the case may be, recognizing something is wrong is the first step to making things better.

2. Ask For Help

Perhaps one of the hardest things we face in life is asking for help. We like to think we’re capable of handling whatever life throws at us, but it’s not always that simple. You may find that at work, you’re more than capable of tackling whatever you face, but at home it’s a different story. Or, perhaps you’ve faced challenges at home that seem easy, but at work, you’re struggling to find your place.

When you’re dealing with your mental health, you may already feel like you’re a failure. Asking for help could prove to be a very difficult thing to do, but if you don’t ask, you tend to stay stuck in the situation you’re finding hard to manage. Talk to your doctor about what you’re going through, or find a counselor or trusted friend that you can share your concerns with. Sometimes just the very act of sharing with someone can help you feel better without further steps.

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3. Accept Help

Once you’ve asked for help, the next step is to actually accept the help that’s offered. This might mean medication for depression or Bipolar Disorder if diagnosed, or your doctor could have other recommendations such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Meditation, Yoga for stress, etc.

Accepting help doesn’t mean you will end up with a mental illness diagnosis. However getting a diagnosis simply means that your body may not be producing the right chemicals to help you feel the best you can. There are hundreds of diagnoses, including Depression, Schizophrenia, Narcissism, Bipolar Disorder, and more.

Basically, your mental health can be simple or complex. A doctor or counselor can help to diagnose what’s going on and offer you treatment options. There is no shame in having problems with your mental health. Mental health issues are not your fault and are no different than having a medical condition. With changing times, terminology should no longer hold the stigma it used to. We live in an age where awareness is everything and more and more people are admitting to mental illness in the hopes that we can eliminate the stigmas all together.

4. Get Active

It’s time to get active with your mental health treatment plan. Exercise is a great place to start and many doctors will encourage you to get out and do something physical to help you feel better. Biking, walking, swimming, golf, tennis…whatever you like to do is the best fit. Even 30 minutes a day of exercise can help to balance hormones, improve mood, lessen anxiety and encourage better sleep. Especially if you can do it in the sunshine!

5. Explore Medication

Your doctor may recommend that you start on an anti-depressant or other medication for your symptoms. Please realize that taking medication is not a sign of weakness…it simply means your brain isn’t producing the right chemicals and needs a boost.

I liken it to other diseases…you wouldn’t refuse medication for heart disease or a kidney problem and you wouldn’t have an issue taking something for Diabetes, so why would this be any different? If your brain isn’t creating the right chemical mix, medication is an easy way to correct the problem and bring things back into balance.

Of course ultimately, it’s your choice. Psych meds can have a range of scary side effects and it can sometimes take years to find one that will work right for you. There are also alternatives to medication use. For a list of options, click here.

6. Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, improving your emotional response and aiding in the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems.

CBT rests on the idea that thoughts and perceptions influence behavior. Feeling distressed, in some cases, may distort one’s perception of reality. CBT aims to identify harmful thoughts, assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality, and, if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them.

CBT is appropriate for people of all ages, including children, teens, and adults. Evidence has mounted that CBT can benefit numerous conditions, such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and many others. Research also indicates that CBT can be delivered effectively online, in addition to face-to-face therapy sessions.

This link gives you a quick overview of what CBT is and how it works. Ask your doctor for a referral to a certified CBT professional if you think this type of therapy could be helpful for you.

7. Yoga* and Tai Chi

As discussed, exercise is a good way of helping you feel better about yourself. Some people find Yoga and/or Tai Chi to be of great benefit when they are struggling with mental health issues.

The discipline involved with following regulated steps in a slow and deliberate fashion helps to calm the mind and put the focus on your overall well-being. Feeling your muscles working together can be very soothing and the slow movements are safe for just about everyone. Mastering the various forms gives you a sense of success which can be great incentive to keep going.

*Please note: Yoga is not recommended for people with hypermobility. Thank you.

8. Nutrition

Your body needs fuel to function and good nutrition is key to feeling well physically and mentally. By following a healthy eating plan and getting plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and protein, you are aiding your body in running in top condition.

Caffeine may or may not fit into your life – some people find it makes them jittery, others have no problems. Try adding more water to your daily intake – it helps lubricate your brain and joints and keeps you hydrated for optimal function. Avoid sugary beverages as much as possible – they don’t add any value to your health.

9. Spiritual Practices

Being spiritual doesn’t mean being religious, but both can have a place in your life. If you are religious, you may find prayer to be of comfort while you deal with your mental health. If religion is not your thing, spirituality can come from the sense of a Higher Power, Nature, Music or other practices.

Try to engage in your Spirituality/Religion on a daily basis – you may find a time of prayer, being in nature or listening to music to be of value when done at the same time every day. Some people like to do this in the morning, when the day is fresh in front of them. Others prefer to do this at night, so they can reflect on the day.

Whatever time you choose, it’s your time to be honest with your beliefs and to honor them in a way that feels authentic to you.

10. Journaling

Many people who live with mental health issues find journaling to be of value. Being able to honestly reflect on your life without fear of others reading your words can bring great comfort. The key is to write honestly about your feelings, not worrying about recriminations and criticism.

Choose a time to journal when it’s quiet and you won’t be interrupted. Set the stage with a cup of tea or other beverage, find a quiet writing nook and let yourself go. Don’t worry about impressing yourself with perfect grammar – just let yourself go and free flow with the writing. Unless you choose to share your journal with others, this is for your eyes only.

The freedom that comes with writing can bring clarity to your life and help you recognize areas that might need improvement, which then leads to greater understanding and happiness.

A Few Final Thoughts

I hope these 10 steps help you to realize that mental health issues are important and need to be taken seriously. You deserve to feel your best and when you’re not, everything else seems to get bogged down.

By attending to your mental health, you are actually doing your physical body a favor as well, since you’re bound to feel better in all ways when you’re feeling better mentally.

Recognize the problem, ask for help and try some of the steps above and see if things improve. Your doctor is always a great place to start and counseling is almost always worthwhile. You owe it to yourself to be your best version of you. Good luck!

Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC Canada. She is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness at  She also writes for The Mighty, and various independent publications. Pamela is also a Patient Advocate with the Patient Voices Network in BC.  She sits on 4 committees and one Provincial working group and has also been involved in advocacy work at the Canadian National level as well. Pamela is married to her amazing husband Ray and they have one cat named Dorie. 

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Bringing the D: Benefits of the Sunshine Vitamin

Please note this post contains affiliate links. Thank you.

What is Vitamin D?

Did you know that Vitamin D is not really a vitamin? In actuality, it’s a steroid, with hormone like qualities. D helps to synchronize the tasks of at least 200 genes that we know of, while playing a major role in our physical advancement. The majority of D comes from the sun: our skin absorbs ultraviolet rays, which is then converted into D. Scant amounts of D can also be absorbed into the body through what we eat.

How Does it Work?

Vitamin D comes in two forms; D2 and D3. D3 is synthesized through the skin via the sun. D2 is converted through what we ingest orally. When D is absorbed into the body, it is sent to the liver, which converts it into a chemical called 25(OH)D. The 25(OH)D is then distributed throughout your body so that various tissues can convert it into a hormone known as active Vitamin D (calcitriol). After the conversion, D helps to regulate the calcium in your bloodstream, bones, and digestive system. It also helps cells communicate in a more organized fashion.

How Does it Help?

1- Through D’s management and distribution of Calcium, it is crucial to maintaining healthy bones. In fact, both rickets and osteoporosis are linked to Vitamin D deficiencies.

2- While scientific research hasn’t conclusively proven that D can bolster the immune system, scientists feel that there is enough evidence to indicate that it may help in improving autoimmune functions that are compromised. While Vitamin D may not prevent infections such as influenza, it has been proven that it does impact T-cells, thus supporting the inflammatory process which helps us to recover in due time.

3- D can also help with Diabetes. Sufficient D levels can help with insulin secretion, as well as glucose tolerance.

4- Sufficient D levels may also reduce the risk of childhood diseases such as asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema.

Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem in today's world, yet it provides so many benefits. Deficiency has been found to be linked with diabetes, autoimmune disease, rickets, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, Alxheimer's and Depression. Learn more about what it is, how to get enough and what levels are safe a practical if you need to supplement this powerful sunshine vitamin.

5- Vitamin D can help women get through a healthy pregnancy. Healthy levels help to reduce the risk of preclampsia, gestational diabetes, and vaginal bacteriosis.

6- D can also help cancer patients, by slowing growth of new blood vessels in cancerous tissue. This can result in cancer cell death, or at the least, the retardation of cancer cell growth.

7- Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, depression, as well as many autoimmune diseases.

How Much do I need?

While no two persons have the same requirements, it is recommended that between 400 to 800 IU be taken daily to keep healthy levels of 25(HO)D in your bloodstream. However, this amount may not be sufficient for everyone and can vary based on regular exposure to sunshine, obesity levels, age, skin color, health, etc. While D is stored in fat, overdosing on D has not really been an issue. You would have to take over 50,000 IU a day for a prolonged period of time, which could result in a toxic build up of calcium and phosphates in the blood stream.

If you’re a person with issues of severe deficiency due to health conditions, you may need to take as much as 3,000-10,000 IU per day to reach sufficient levels of Vitamin D, like myself and Michelle, who are at opposite ends of these ranges. As always, I caution everyone to consult with their healthcare team before starting any supplement. A blood test will reveal the level of 25(HO)D that exists, and your doctor should know based on that testing what amount is right for you. Once you’re taking D, it’s a good idea to retest your levels periodically to make necessary adjustments.

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Where can I find D?

Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem in today's world, yet it provides so many benefits. Deficiency has been found to be linked with diabetes, autoimmune disease, rickets, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, Alzheimer's and Depression. Learn more about what it is, how to get enough and what levels are safe a practical if you need to supplement this powerful sunshine vitamin.

The sun is the best way to get it. As little as 30 minutes of exposure to 40% percent of your skin can produce as much as 90% percent of D needed to maintain healthy bones and cells. However, exposure to much needed D producing UV rays can be inhibited by climate, season, and skin color. Exposure can also be limited by how much one is actually able to get out doors! Vitamin D is also found in fish, cod liver oil, eggs, mushrooms, fortified milk, orange juice and yogurt, as well as beef liver and fortified cereals. Supplements are also a good way to build up D intake: In fact, I take a D supplement which has worked well in maintaining my 25(HO)D levels in my bloodstream. So far, every blood test given to me has resulted in sufficient levels of active vitamin D.

If you decide to supplement D, here are some of our tried and true organic, Non-GMO and soy-free favorites from Amazon arranged by potency:

It’s D-lightful!

Vitamin D is necessary for healthy living. It promotes bone growth. It facilitates communication in over 200 cells. It a mainstay for a healthy pregnancy, as well as a healthy childhood. It may help to stave off or slow major diseases such as Diabetes or Cancer. It will even vacuum your floor! Alright, that last claim is fictitious: However, Vitamin D will assist in maintaining strong healthy bones, which will allow you to run your vacuum cleaner without snapping a femur or tibia :). Many people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. Please get your blood levels tested. You may find that your 25(HO)D levels are low, and that Vitamin D may be exactly what you need to up your health and wellness game!


  1. Naeem, Zahid. “Vitamin D Deficiency- An Ignored Epidemic.” International Journal of Health Sciences.
  2. Ware, Megan. “What Are the Health Benefits of Vitamin D?” Medical News Today.
  3. Gruber-Bzura, Beata M. “Vitamin D and Influenza-Prevention or Therapy?” International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
  4. NIH. “Vitamin D Fact Sheet.”
  5. Vitamin D Council. “Testing for Vitamin D.”
  6. Harvard TH Chan School of Health. “The Nutrition Source: Vitamin D.”

David Curtis lives in Florence, KY with his wife Michelle, 2 Russian Blue cats and his many fish. David manages the pet department of a prominent retail chain in addition to caring for his wife, pets and home. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, exploring history, watching football, sci-fi, fantasy or comic book shows and film, along with fighting for truth, justice, and the human condition. Much like Tyrion Lannister, he also drinks (coffee) and knows things.

Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem in today's world, yet it provides so many benefits. Deficiency has been found to be linked with diabetes, autoimmune disease, rickets, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, Alzheimer's and Depression. Learn more about what it is, how to get enough and what levels are safe a practical if you need to supplement this powerful sunshine vitamin.
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10 Symptoms You May Experience With Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a tricky condition to live with as there are many symptoms you can experience beyond Pain and Fatigue. Here are 10 of the top symptoms you may experience and how to manage them.



1. Brain Fog

This is a cognitive impairment that causes problems such as temporary loss of memory, forgetting words or mixing up words, losing your train of thought, or saying things that don’t make sense. It can be frightening when it happens, as these are also signs of other conditions, such as Alzheimers Disease.

Your doctor can do some mental testing to make sure the symptoms you’re experiencing aren’t being caused by some other condition. Ways you can help yourself include keeping a notebook with you to write down important information, taking a moment to pause and collect your thoughts, and keeping a sense of humour about the situation. If you tend to panic about having this happen, laughing is a good way to keep things light while allowing you to start over with what you were saying.

2. Jaw Pain

Jaw pain in the joints on either one or both sides can be mistaken for TMJ (temporomandibular joint disfunction). Pain and swelling are the common symptoms of jaw pain along with stiffness and being unable to open the mouth without pain.

Gentle stretching exercises and muscle relaxants may be helpful in managing the pain. If only one side is affected, try chewing on the other side to relieve pain. If you hear popping or clicking, or if your jaw seems to be “out of joint”, see your dentist to rule out TMJ or other conditions.

3. Urinary Problems

If you are having difficulty with urinating, whether it’s a problem with urgency, leakage or straining, it’s good to check with your doctor to make sure there’s no underlying problem.

Having Fibromyalgia can affect the bladder and kidneys, causing the above symptoms. Some solutions include urinating on a schedule, doing Kegels, seeing a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist, and using bladder control products for leakage issues.

4. Body Temperature

People with Fibromyalgia may have difficulty in regulating their body temperature. In my case, I can have cold skin and goosebumps, yet be sweating from overheating at the same time. It’s a very disconcerting feeling.

Things that may help include keeping a light blanket or sweater nearby for chills and a fan for when heat becomes a problem. I have found that keeping my feet warm helps with the chills and then using a fan helps ward off the sweating.

5. Weight Gain

There are over 60 symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Find out about the top 10, along with a few tips about how to treat them in this post.

Weight gain is often caused because of medications you may be taking for your Fibromyalgia. Even if you’re not taking prescriptions, you may find you’re still gaining weight – it’s one of the anomalies of having Fibro. The only way to lose weight is by taking in less calories than you are expending. Fad diets may work for a short period of time, but in general are unsustainable.

Following a proper eating plan from all 4 food groups is essential and exercise is as well. You may find walking helpful (consider using walking poles for extra stability) or water activities, such as Aquafit, Deep Water Workouts, or Pool Walking to be helpful.

6. Chest Pain

Chest pain can be a scary symptom of Fibromyalgia and should always be checked out by a medical professional if you experience the following:

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back.
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Cold sweat.
  • Fatigue.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.

The cause of chest pain in Fibromyalgia is often because of something called Costochondritis, which is an inflammation of the cartilage around the ribs. The condition usually affects the cartilage where the upper ribs attach to the breastbone, or sternum, an area known as the costosternal joint or costosternal junction.

Treatment includes anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen and using either heat or ice (which ever feels best for you).

7. Sleep Disorders

Pain can keep you from getting the sleep you need. You may also be experiencing Restless Leg Syndrome and not even be aware of it. Sleep Apnea is another problem that you may be facing and all of these issues can prevent you from getting the deep REM sleep that is necessary to repair the body.

Good sleep hygiene is important to follow. You may want to keep a notebook to jot down your thoughts when you wake at night to see if there is a pattern. Keep the room cool, avoid using electronics for one hour before bed, and try using a weighted blanket to see if that helps.

8. Digestive Problems

When you have Fibromyalgia, you may experience digestive disorders including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation (or occasionally both), heartburn and a general sense of feeling “unwell”.

Drinking peppermint tea can help with nausea, eating smaller more frequent meals might make a difference and trying to set up a schedule for bowel movements can help relieve discomfort. Metamucil or other Fibre supplements every day can be helpful for the bowels without resorting to laxatives.

If symptoms persist, see your doctor to rule out other potential problems.

9. Skin Problems

Itching, rashes, hives and tiny red marks can often show up when you have Fibromyalgia. Skin may become more sensitive to soaps and fragrances and you may discover that your normally dry skin has become oily or vice versa.

Use of a mild cleanser for face and body is imperative, especially ones containing oatmeal. Antihistimines are suggested when hives and itching become a problem and the tiny red marks that might show up on your skin are harmless.

If you have problems with skin rash, see your doctor who may recommend a dermatologist for further treatment.

10. Depression

Depression and Fibromyalgia may go hand in hand without you realizing you are showing signs. If you are finding yourself struggling to maintain interest in former activities, you’re isolating yourself, eating less or more than usual or have been unable to shake “the blues”, you may be experiencing Depression.

Treatment includes Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and often, medications. There is no shame to having Depression – you haven’t done anything wrong. You’re not weak, your body is showing signs of a chemical imbalance which should be treated like any other medical problem.

If you are feeling so depressed that you are suicidal, please call a hotline for help. You can find more information on hotlines here for Canada and here for the United States. In the UK, you can use this page for help.


There are over 60 different symptoms that relate to Fibromyalgia. These 10 are just the tip of the iceberg, but are the ones more commonly experienced.

Fibromyalgia is hard to explain

If you are experiencing something new, or if a symptom you’ve had for awhile changes, it’s always important to see your doctor, to rule out anything outside of Fibromyalgia. Better safe than sorry is certainly the key here. And remember…

There Is Always Hope

Resources and Further Reading

Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC Canada. She is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness at  She also writes for The Mighty, and various independent publications. Pamela is also a Patient Advocate with the Patient Voices Network in BC.  She sits on 4 committees and one Provincial working group and has also been involved in advocacy work at the Canadian National level as well. Pamela is married to her amazing husband Ray and they have one cat named Dorie. 

There are over 60 symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Find out about the top 10, along with a few tips about how to treat them in this post.
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Improving Your Mental Health despite Chronic Illness, Post 2

Please note this post contains affiliate links. Thank you.

In part one of this series, we discussed therapy and cognitive behavioral training and I shared a few of my favorite exercises. We also discussed some great workbooks for anxiety, depression & poor self esteem, how to perform deep breathing exercises, and how exercise helps to mitigate depression and anxiety. If you missed it, you can view it now:

Depression, Anxiety and Medications

All of these things discussed on part one help, but when you’re a spoonie with multiple complex illnesses that wreak havoc on your chemical mediators (hormones), then you probably can’t improve your overall anxiety and depression utilizing psychological techniques alone. Many of us need help getting our conditions regulated to achieve the most stability in our mental health.

If you’re a POTSie, whether taking medications or not, you should be supplementing your sodium and potassium, which are both electrolytes essential to heart health. People with spoonie conditions are notoriously vitamin and mineral deficient. I have to take a half teaspoon of salt 3-5 times per day to keep myself adequately hydrated and my thinking clear. We’re all individual, so you likely need a different amount, but don’t be afraid to supplement at the levels your body needs. You can tell whether or not  you’re getting enough of these by your blood pressure levels and symptoms and you can always get levels tested by the doctor. I test all of the vitamins and minerals I can at least annually; more often if necessary.

You can get the equivalent of an IV in oral form by using Oral Rehydration Salts. They’re a good way to supplement potasium, salt and a little glucose and they come in easy to carry packets, so they work great for emergencies and sudden drops in BP. My only caveat is to watch that you don’t consume too much potassium. It’s just as dangerous as too little potassium. When my potassium is too high, I develop cardiac arterial spasms and they are no fun. The bill I’m trying to pay off from my angiogram isn’t any more pleasant.

If you have a spoonie condition, you may benefit from taking a mast cell mediator. I’m of the mind that we all have some level or form of mast cell activation disorder and this is part of what drives the development of these mental health issues. When mast cells degranulate, they dump a number of chemicals into the bloodstream erroneously, and this is likely the cause of the extreme anxiety we tend to experience during serious reactions and flares. Even if you aren’t being affected by mast cell degranulation, quercetin offers powerful anti-inflammatory properties and you can use it to treat any kind of allergic condition to get symptom relief.

The best mediator I’ve found yet is a simple over-the-counter mediator that is food derived called quercetin. Quercetin is found in many fruits and veggies to varying degrees, but with our absorption issues, we benefit from much higher doses than you can get from eating an apple.  Quercetin and other mast cell mediators helps prevent mast cell degranulation and the arbitrary dumping of dozens of chemical mediators into our blood stream that causes symptoms like anxiety, depression, inflammation and strange allergic reactions. Quercetin in particular is also known to have mild MAO-I effects because of its ability to improve mental health outcomes.

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Another thing that could easily be coming into play is other vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to poor absorption. Every vitamin I have ever asked my doctor to test for has come out low unless I’m supplementing heavily. I suspect part of this is caused by an MTHFR mutation for me, but I haven’t been tested for it, yet. Whether it’s due to poor absorption or a gene mutation, the solution is largely the same; to bypass the stomach and/or take your vitamins and minerals in more easily absorbed forms that take conversion out of the equation. Methylated vitamins offer both. You can use methylated vitamin D as a topical and there are a wide variety of methylated B vitamins available.

Adequate magnesium levels are also very important for positive mental health. Taking the right forms of magnesium could help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, provide mental clarity and better concentration and allows the muscles to relax. There is a variety of magnesium types, so be sure you’re taking the right one(s) based on your health needs. I prefer to take one with several types to target many of my health symptoms. Whatever you choose, if you’re battling anxiety and depression, be sure it includes ample amounts of magnesium glycinate.

There are a variety of natural medications that are supposed to help balance our hormone levels for improvement of depression. These supplements include SAM-e, 5-HTP, L-tryptophan and St. John’s Wort. While I have never tried any of them personally, each of these substances has been shown in multiple human studies to affect serotonin imbalances and help treat depression.

If anxiety is your problem, GABA just might end up being your new best friend. It certainly is mine. GABA is instrumental in the battle against anxiety and it’s understood that either our glutamate levels become to high or our GABA levels too low when we experience anxiety. Benzodiazipines work so well for chronic anxiety issues because it helps to balance glutamate and GABA.

Studies have proven that GABA is usually depleted in persons with chronic anxiety and increasing GABA levels can have a big impact on anxiety levels. And while benzodiazapines can have some bad side effects, it’s actually possible to supplement GABA directly. Currently, I take 500mg 4 times a day, which not only helps to significantly decrease my anxiety, it’s also allowing me to sleep and enjoy overall better health of my central nervous system. I’m even finding my pelvic floor dysfunction has decreased and I’m not too shy to admit orgasm is much more easy to achieve. It’s even helping with my tremors and the severe restless leg symptoms I was getting when I began weaning off of Topomax. I seriously doubt I would have succeeded at weening off of Topomax without the GABA, which was definitely increasing my anxiety despite helping to relieve my intractable migraines.

Remember, as with all supplements, if you’re going to try any of the above to help with your depression or anxiety, it’s necessary to do your homework first and ensure it’s safe for you. Always clear everything with your care providers and check for contraindications for use. Just because these remedies work for me doesn’t mean they are safe for you. For more detailed tips on how to choose the right supplements and what you need to know before deciding to take one: Choosing Your Own Supplements

 Other Considerations

Image shows raw, powdered, and capsule forms of some popular supplements.
Nature often provides all we need to achieve our best health.

There is one other source of depression and anxiety for spoonies I have yet to cover; as a side effect to medication. Just as H1 antihistamines can cause brain fog, there are many medications that can trigger depression and anxiety, including those that are actually prescribed for these conditions. Many of the meds prescribed to us are included, such as lyrica, neurontin, cymbalta, topomax, amitriptiline as so many more. If you’re experiencing new mental health problems and recently started any medications, talk to your doctor about an alternative that’s less likely to cause this problem. Personally, I’ve gotten away from most of these drugs by finding natural alternatives and I find I’m much more satisfied with my life and person when I’m not dealing with the debilitating side effects of pharmaceuticals.

Do be careful when weaning yourself from such drugs, as well. Coming off can also cause wild changes in your mood and ability to cope with anxiety and stress. They typically need to be tapered, but your doctor should be able to provide you with good instructions on how to go about it based on the specific drug. Tapering is a method of gradual reduction and helps the body to adjust more easily. I’ve had to taper off of so many of these drugs, accepting and taking them before I got smart and started doing my own research.

Since I’ve accomplished these changes in my life, I haven’t had a single nightmare or had to struggle with depression at all. I’m no longer plagued with memories that seem more like nightmares on repeat. I do still occasionally struggle with losing my temper when I get frustrated and the occasional flare up of anxiety in certain situations, but now I have techniques that help me to put them into perspective and process them. Now that I understand all the underlying mechanisms for my behavior, I have been able to come to a place of self-acceptance and forgiveness also comes much easier. If I’m not always angry with myself for my flaws, then I have room to make mistakes and backslide without beating myself up about it and beginning those bad cycles all over again. Not every CBT technique is for everyone, but there a wide variety out there. If these don’t work for you, keep trying until you find what works for you. It’s worth the work and so are you!

References and Further Reading:

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Improving Your Mental Health despite Chronic Illness, Post 1

Please note this post contains affiliate links. Thank you.

It’s been a while since I’ve discussed any mental health topics on the Zebra Pit, so I’m glad Mental Health Awareness Month has come around to help get me motivated. As many of you know, I have a complex PTSD diagnosis and because of this and several of my other diagnoses, I also struggle intermittently with depression and anxiety. I spent a few months in therapy recently to try to get some help to better control these issues and have picked up several new tricks that seem to be working wonders. In this two part series, I wanted to share with you some of the things that have worked well to bring me to a more stable and positive place in my mental health journey.

While I’m sort of a lifer when it comes to therapy and DIY mental health improvement, I found myself struggling when my disability became severe enough to rob me of a life and career outside the home. Between the deep sense of loss I suffered and the onset of dysautonomia and MCAS, my old bag of mental health tricks were failing. As it turns out, I needed some help to get things back in order and the changes I had to make were both related to my physical and mental health.

You don’t have to have complex PTSD to benefit from the techniques I discuss. It probably doesn’t matter how the depression and anxiety got started, either. What’s important to understand is that these conditions are NEVER “all in your head” or “imaginary” and you can’t “just get over it” when you’re suffering from actual clinical depression and anxiety. Can it heal naturally on its own? Sometimes, but healing is much faster and more thorough with active intervention. Generally speaking, these conditions take hold when there’s an imbalance of key hormones in the body such as seratonin, glutamate, and GABA.

My anxiety and depression stem from a combination of genetics and environment. I experienced long-term abuse and neglect as a child and can also experience wild hormonal fluctuations brought on by the central nervous system dysfunction. The most likely culprits are my suspected autism, POTS and MCAS, as these all can have a big impact on the erroneous release of chemical mediators in the body. While the triggers are slightly different, the results are always the same, big fluctuations in mood and even bigger guilt when those fluctuations drive me to behave badly.

What I needed to get my anxiety and depression under control was a way to control my misbehaving mast cells and POTS, some CBT techniques to get me out of negative self-talk cycles and some mindfulness training to help keep me firmly grounded in the present rather than wallowing in the pain of the past.

My Mental Health Journey

If you’ve watched my video on PTSD and Chronic Illness or my post The Toxic Shame of Being Disabled, you know that my mental health took a big hit when I became too disabled to work, after I had done years and years of hard work to improve my mental health.  You’ll also know that I already realized my original toxic shame (that heaped on me by my abusers) was somehow connected to my inability to accept my chronic illness and the recurrent PTSD cycles I was entering every time I had to face a doctor or any sort of disbelief when it came to my conditions. I was so close, but I couldn’t quite make everything fit.

It may have been in my first therapy session that my therapist simply handed me the key to the puzzle about why I was still occasionally fighting those rage demons and being so hard on myself. In essence, I was being constantly retriggered because I was being treated by doctors, family and friends the same way I was treated by my mother, my only caregiver. In some cases, even the same words or phrases were used. That’s all it took to unravel hundreds of hours of hard work.

My mother didn’t care enough to pay attention or spend time with me or learn about who I was or even ensure that she was ever home to supervise, prepare meals or anything else. I was largely abandoned at age 4 and left to care for myself the rest of my childhood, as my mother always ensured her jobs were 2nd shift so she didn’t have to be home with us. I wasn’t allowed to use the stove until I was 10 and was left hungry often. When she was there, she struck me constantly with her words and occasionally with her fists. She chose always to believe the worst of me. I was attention seeking when I was ill. I was stupid, worthless and lazy when I did poorly in school (never mind that I had no one to tutor me at home and was moved from one school district to another year after year). And when I had difficulty working under the weight of all the emotional baggage and untreated genetic conditions, I was just plain lazy and slovenly and would never amount to anything.

Having a doctor tell me they didn’t believe me or summarily discharge me or behave condescendingly, immediately transforms me into that helpless 5 year old. Without doctors, I was lost and I knew it. Abandoned, unloved and disbelieved, just as I had been as a child. After a while of dealing with this from doctor after doctor, the anxiety I began to experience before my appointments grew until I was having full blown panic attacks every time I even thought about scheduling an appointment; a very bad place for a person with chronic illness to be.

Techniques for Mental Health Improvement

It has helped a little to finally be diagnosed and connected with doctors with knowledge of my health conditions. Unfortunately, it didn’t help enough. Understanding that my reactions were shame based also helped and let me feel a little less guilty about it. However, it wasn’t until my therapist helped me clearly connect the dots that I could fully accept my behaviors and stop the self-defeating cycle of being triggered, sometimes behaving badly because of it and then beating myself up about it and only fueling that shame more.

I had really begun to feel bad about myself. Even if I could still list the positive attributes about myself, they were all in past tense. I couldn’t feel them or feel like they still existed. I participated in frequent negative self talk that wasn’t even true. In psychological terms, this is known as distorted thinking and many people fall prey to its trap. My therapist helped me with that, too. She assigned me exercises to help me identify when my thinking was distorted and reason out why. This has helped me significantly and I no longer need to pull out the worksheet to do it. If I need to utilize it now, it happens in my head. The true beauty however, is that I find I rarely ever need it anymore. I guess that’s why the workbook it came from is called Ten Days to Self- Esteem! It’s a great cognitive behavioral technique and I’ll probably post about it in more detail going forward, but here are some copies of the worksheets in case you want to try it.

On this sheet you describe the thought and then assign which types of distorted thinking you’re participating in. Often, there are several categories that fit.

While working with a therapist is probably my number 1 recommendation, there are a variety of ways you can work on these issues alone and buying workbooks like those these exercises came from is a great way to get started. I always learn things from these books. Here are a few that I’ve read or completed and recommend, including the two from above:

The other psychological tool that’s been invaluable to me is practicing mindfulness meditation.  Meditating can be tricky for people with chronic illness. Most of us utilize mental blocks to help regulate our pain whether we’re conscious of it or not. Because of this, when we open ourselves fully in a meditative state, we get flooded with pain.  There is a work around for this, however: practicing ACTIVE meditation of some kind. It sounds complex, but it really isn’t. You just have to choose an easy task—crafts, arts, coloring, a guided meditation, tapping, gentle exercise or simple movements—and discourage any distractions or outside thoughts. Anytime you feel your mind wandering, you just bring it back to the task at hand.

Active meditation isn’t just for spoonies, either. It probably works better overall for people in the current age where we’re always busy and constantly bombarded with information.  You can find a wide variety of apps, programs and websites to help you learn how, but I will also write about this in more detail, later. Here are a few great books on mindfulness and active meditation to get you started,now.

Another technique which sounds really simple, but often isn’t for people with anxiety and/or dysautonomia, is deep breathing. Deep breathing exercises are only helpful if you know how to utilize the technique and your central nervous system and muscles aren’t so locked that it’s physically impossible to take a good, deep breath. The 90/90 balloon exercise below will help you learn how to breathe deeply and will actually help you to build your core and helps to address several musculoskelital concerns:

Once you’ve been practicing the 90/90 for a little while taking a good, slow deep breathing exercises should no longer be a problem. When you begin to feel anxious taking several slow and measured breaths helps to switch the autonomic system and park it in rest mode. Doing this several times a day can be very helpful in maintaining peace. Be sure when practicing breathing exercises that you’re engaging your diaphragm and most importantly, going very slow and steady so you don’t hyperventilate. You can ry the breathing exercise below first to see if you need to practice the 90/90 exercises.

Pinterest image with blue sky and clouds is overlain by text. The text reads: "Breathing Exercises: 1.	Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position. 
2.	Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest. 
3.	Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move. 
4.	Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out. 
5.	Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath. 
6.	Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise. The Zebra Pit"

How Exercise Can Help:

Exercise has many powerful attributes which are beneficial to spoonies, when done gently and with healthy consideration given to avoiding post-extertional malaise (PEM) and joint injury. Spoonies should exercise regularly despite pain and other problems unless your doctors tell you otherwise (for example people with NMH need to be evaluated before they take on exercise). It is important that you go slowly, pace yourself and protect your joints. For more information, visit these guides specific to POTS and EDS (the EDS one is probably good practical advice for most connective tissue disorders, but I would consult with your medical team to be sure.

Participating in a regular exercise program can improve overall mood, help balance hormones and raise endorphin levels, providing an overall feeling of wellbeing and happiness. It can improve sleep, something else which is essential for positive mental and physical health.  Exercise can also help to loosen tight muscles and help us relax and feel less anxious. It can also help get things off of your mind, especially if you work to stay present and focused on the tasks at hand instead of letting your mind wander to less pleasant ideas.

The activity doesn’t necessarily have to be “exercise” in the traditional sense. Anything physical that gets your heart rate up a little, blood circulating through your body and good deep breaths into your lungs is a great way to combat anxiety and depression. If you prefer to take walks, hike, garden, bowl, canoe or rent paddle boats, go for it! So long as it’s safe for you to perform that activity (see the articles above for some tips).

Spending time doing anything you enjoy is always a great way to turn around poor mental health, at least temporarily. Whether you consider spending time with friends and family, reading a book, taking in the fresh air and flowers at a nature preserve or going shopping to be great fun doesn’t matter, so long as you choose the right activity for you.

There are some great techniques here and I hope you find them helpful, but for most spoonies with some form of dysautonomia and/or mast cell disorder, you’re going to need some help from mother nature’s pharmacy. In part two of this series, I cover a number of over-the-counter natural medications, vitamins and minerals you can take to help with both depression and anxiety. I also discuss how medications can impact mental health and what to do about it when you realize something you’re taking is causing a problem:

References and Further Reading:

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Pinterest Image shows a blue sky with clouds. The overlay text says "Improving your mental health despite chroinic illness. The Zebra Pit"