Healthy mind: life hacks to start a new life right now
CHANGE OF SEASONS IS FRUITS OF MOOD, and many people experience exhausting fatigue after a long winter. If you are feeling unwell and your condition is not improving in any way, it is worth considering seeing a doctor. Nevertheless, you can start helping yourself right now: good habits and a comfortable lifestyle together with the advice of a specialist will insure you day after day and on the verge of life changes. Alisa Taezhnaya, who has already talked about her experience in treating depression, shared several life hacks that she came up with during and after psychotherapy.
DURING SOME PERIODS OF MY LIFE, MY mood changes several times a week, or even a day. It is impossible to keep track of him: in one state I am afraid to take responsibility, in another – it seems that I can change the whole world, and it becomes impossible to plan something realistically .
A mood diary is useful for everyone who loses their footing and have long forgotten the days when they woke up and fell asleep in the same mood; the purpose of the diary is to trace the connection between life events and mood, which we constantly lose sight of. Every day for at least three months, you will need to note the change in mood and write in the diary the events that became the reason for it: work situations, meetings with certain people, causes of stress, new acquaintances, dating and sex, communication with friends.
After a couple of weeks, you will most likely see a mood pattern: for example, you feel bad in the morning, but it gets better in the evening, you don’t like Tuesdays, but you like Fridays, some things inspire, and others make you angry. A mood diary helps you analyze different situations and build a distance in relation to mood: when you see how many times it changes in one week, it will be easier to accept its regular shifts. This is the first step to learning how to adapt to your condition and not to confuse your mood with the real state of affairs. The diary is also very helpful in psychotherapy: a good specialist needs an interested and motivated patient who looks at his mood critically and does not dissolve in it.
I love notebooks, pencils and pens and made myself a paper diary myself, but you can buy a ready-made one or use a virtual one (for example, in the form of the iMood Journal application). I bought a large calendar with spreads for three months and divided each day into four equal squares: morning, afternoon, evening and night, where I indicate mood with flowers. Everyone likes their own color scheme, and in my case these are colors from white to red. White – moments of complete calmness and confidence, pink – slight fatigue or irritability, orange – an acute feeling of upturned and anxiety, red – an SOS situation, for example, a panic attack, hysteria, quarrel, conflict, or vice versa, an attack of euphoria and flight of happiness.
WHAT IT TURNED OUT: I got a clear life schedule with the ability to plan events in advance. I learned to control the moment when mild discomfort comes to a critical point, learned to give up unnecessary things, no matter how inspiring they may be. I became more disciplined and learned to build connections between events and reactions. Psychotherapy significantly accelerated: I was able to respond to the doctor’s arguments in the case, and not relying on momentary feelings.
Eat a balanced and regular diet
LACK OF REGULAR EATING led me to overwork, which I did not fully realize. I could forget to eat until a headache reminded me of hunger. Episodes of malnutrition and overeating alternated, and the pleasure of eating was associated with a sense of shame that I finally felt good.
Unfortunately, in Russia, a calm attitude to food is not always instilled in childhood: “I don’t want to eat through”, “you will not leave the table until you have eaten”, rigid formulations that impose responsibility on the child for almost his entire family. As adults, we often do not know how to understand the moments of hunger and satiety and do not even always know what kind of food we like. Thousands of books have been written about nutrition, but the main thing to keep in mind for people with mood swings is that your diet is also impulsive and not always balanced.
The answer to many questions can be found in the results of a biochemical blood test, which will show a lack of elements, and an analysis for hormones responsible for appetite and weight gain; the endocrinologist should interpret the results. If there are no violations, do the simplest thing: buy an inexpensive multicooker and cook healthy food at home from your favorite products. Let it be the basis of your diet, not counting trips to cafes and guests. There are different versions of what is harmful and what is useful, and sometimes fat or gluten are attacked by public opinion.
Your best bet is to surround yourself with as many wholesome foods as possible, such as fresh vegetables, herbs and few fruits, whole grains, fresh meats, poultry and fish, farm dairy food with short shelf life – in general, those that have been minimally processed. Cooking food and taking care of yourself on a regular basis is key to ensuring that your body receives nutrients regardless of your mood. While eating, you should not talk about bad things, quarrel, check social networks, be distracted by work: meditate on your breakfast or dinner, smile at the one who sits with you at the table, feel the taste of every bite and do not press on yourself with diets. Healthy eating can be learned by simply listening to yourself.
WHAT IT TURNED OUT: I eat based on the feeling of hunger according to a scheme convenient to me, with a stable diet from my favorite foods, I am calm about the peculiarities of the body and its needs and do not feel guilt after the evening chocolate bar, which could have poisoned me for half a day before.
MY DESIRE TO MOVE DEPENDED solely on my mood, and my friends running the marathon were envious. At the same time, the sporting past made itself felt: training cannot be a pleasure if you were brought up that this is overcoming, and is associated with the obligatory hours of sweating in the gym or the internal demand for a record.
Many people surmise that we were not born to sit at a desk, but it can be difficult to force ourselves to play sports. It is very important to set achievable goals. You don’t have to target the Ironman if you just want to improve flexibility and endurance. The easiest way is to walk; however, not everyone has time even for an hour of walking. Then you can carve out a day a week for a long walk, no matter what happens – once a week I walk 30-40 kilometers. In extreme cases, you can even stay at home and train with videos.
It is worth forming a habit of physical activity as early as possible: someone gets dogs for this, with whom they need to walk, someone travels by bike in the dry season, someone stands in the bar for five minutes a day. The most important thing is small steps and tiny achievements that can be used to measure progress, a habit that does not depend on mood and does not need records and approval.
WHAT IT TURNED OUT: Almost every day I play sports at home listening to YouTube videos, choosing activities that suit my mood: even the most relaxed stretching and subsequent shower is better than nothing. In three years I have improved my form and made it easier for myself to start the day – the most problematic hours. The release of hormones after training and walking helps you get started faster in a good mood.
Meditate or do breathing exercises
IT HAS BEEN HARD TO BELIEVE that ten to fifteen minutes of meditation a day can change the way we look at things – and conversations about meditation often seem religiously colored. I didn’t believe in meditation and was skeptical about the idea of enlightenment and clarity of mind, but I decided to try it anyway.
It is better to start any habit in a good mood, and not during, for example, an exacerbation of depression. I started meditating on an irregular basis a few months ago and, perhaps, because of this, I did not suffer a nervous breakdown during a very emotionally difficult enterprise for me. The road to successful meditation can be long, but the main thing is not an instant effect, but the habit of not identifying yourself with thoughts and surging feelings flickering in your head. I started with the basic and expensive Headspace app, but just do a YouTube request for “Guided Meditation” to get tons of calm voices or nature sounds.
The main property of meditation and breathing exercises is the ability to see the automatism of actions, thoughts and impulses, to look at it from the outside, to realize and give yourself the opportunity to turn off. People with many years of experience can meditate for hours, but you can start with a short meditation with audio support in the morning at least a few times a week. To keep yourself motivated, keep a mood diary – sooner or later you will see the connection between mood and physical condition on the days when you meditated and played sports, and when you did not.
WHAT IT TURNED OUT: I learned to turn off from reality at the moment when I need it, and to switch attention from the momentary to the long-term. Perhaps I have become a little more stress-reliant, although it is too early to judge about that. One of the main skills trained in meditation – not thinking and contemplating – perfectly replaces automatic scrolling through social networks, procrastination and the fear of being alone with your thoughts.
Be calm about money
IN A BAD MOOD I WERE EXPERIENCED THAT I was financially vulnerable, and I ate one buckwheat, in a good MOOD I spent a lot; until adulthood, I did not know how to save money and outline a single spending strategy. With good earnings, I had no savings for a long time ; I lived for one day, spending income on vacations and pleasure, and any stressful situation inspired fear.
Those who have money and who have already learned how to regularly replenish the “airbag” are often encouraged to take money calmly. Unfortunately, in Russia, financial literacy often suffers, even among those in their thirties. At the same time, the ability to calmly manage resources, save money and plan expenses is the foundation on which you can build both a family budget and a business strategy.
You can save 10–20% of your regular income by inquiring about interest rates on deposits and other investment options, realizing that this is not money for vacations or large purchases. It is the habit of creating savings in any conditions that can free one from the anxious feeling “I can’t do anything” if there is a question of emergency assistance, job loss or other negative events. You can and are already doing something, taking care of your financial security.
Another good financial habit is making regular charitable donations: you can set up automatic write-offs of small amounts in favor of a trustworthy foundation or respond to individual requests for help on social media. Such a small and simple action makes you feel connected with other people: it is absolutely not necessary to be a very rich person in order to manage money fairly and find small amounts for good deeds.
It is important that you cannot revise your budget without optimizing your spending and getting rid of impulse purchases. It can be nice to reward yourself for your successes with a gift or a delicious cupcake, but that shouldn’t be the main way to please yourself. There are several dozen applications for budgeting, but the main thing in this matter is not technical equipment, but awareness in relation to money. It does not negate grand gestures, beautiful gifts to others and participation in the life of loved ones, and has nothing to do with cursing.
WHAT IT TURNED OUT: I learned how to save money by planning my leisure time and making savings, deny myself instant purchases and postpone decisions about non-urgent purchases. Instead of shopping online, I spend time looking at movies and books and have set up automatic donations for charities. I have never had loans, and I do not even consider such an opportunity.
Rest without guilt
I ALWAYS HAD A confused and restless dream, and I treated it like a wasted time. Passive rest was associated with laziness and inability to spend time interestingly, and I was irritated not having thought of things to do, but fatigue imperceptibly became a background of life.
From my experience of communication, I can say that behind every second person with a prolonged low mood is an excellent student’s complex and years of unconscious workaholism. Free time makes us feel guilty, and the habit of busy schedules makes us the king of multitasking. But only until the moment you fall, when, after processing, you don’t want to get out of bed and you have to force yourself to get busy. The main reason for such a prolonged overload is hyperresponsibility, inability to allow oneself to rejoice, fear of not living up to other people’s expectations and anxious self-doubt, often implicated in the complex of an impostor.
The mode of work and rest should be changed if sometime favorite things cause a burden of obligations, and you still hardly say “no” to all counter offers. First you need to let yourself sleep without an alarm clock and understand the optimal sleep duration. Someone needs seven hours, but I need at least nine; at the same time, feeling a sense of guilt, I systematically did not get enough sleep.
It is very important to set aside time that you will only spend in your own interests, without fulfilling social roles for others – that is, perhaps, boredom and messing around. It is precisely the lack of time for oneself that is associated with the loss of inspiration, dulling of sensations to what was once so pleasant, cooling to the environment and pathological fatigue from social functions. Many of us, instead of a work schedule, need, on the contrary, to build a rest regimen. And it’s also time to understand that nothing will happen if you do not have time to do something on time, having warned about it in advance and correctly.
WHAT IT TURNED OUT: I GAVE up the feeling of guilt for my free time, learned to sit back and hover in the clouds and realized what meditators call “ being in the moment” – not to jump into activity when it is not required. I admitted to myself that I think better when I get enough sleep, and I learned to turn off my phone at night forever – and in two years of a new habit, I missed only two important calls and one delivery.
Write the morning pages
DURING THE WORKING DAY, I find it difficult to prioritize, and during the week there is no opportunity to think about what is happening strategically. I didn’t have enough moments so that I could think with a clear head about what was bothering me.
Morning Pages is a long-standing, simple and effective therapeutic practice: right after waking up, you write three pages of everything that comes to mind on a sheet of paper on a sheet of paper, without much thought. It can be dreams, memories of yesterday, the reasons for today’s anxiety, moments of doubt about making decisions – anything that sits in your head right after you woke up. You do not need to reread the morning pages, you should immediately do meditation or sports, and return to what you wrote in your free time or in the company of a psychotherapist.
This exercise is a way to quickly free your mind and subconscious mind from obsessive thoughts that can distort the perception of reality. Morning pages provide an opportunity to throw out thoughts that have not left your head for weeks, and calmly let go of expectations so as not to be distracted by them during the day.
WHAT IT TURNED OUT: THE Morning Pages helped me analyze changes in mood and well-being, observe the progress of the state, its banality and predictability. I have developed self-criticism and distance towards my diagnosis (cyclothymia) and better understand the context of my conditions.
Get rid of unnecessary things and connections
FAMOUS SITUATION: THE CABINET IS FULL OF CLOTHING, but there is nothing to put on, there are a lot of books on the shelves, and there is nothing to read. There are a lot of friends on social media, but they are not the kind of people who want to call late at night and come hugging. With all the abundance of information, connections and objects, the feeling of loneliness and alienation did not leave me for a long time. It’s hard to live in a house with piled up things that you don’t like; It is even more difficult to be distracted by casual contacts when you want deep and solid connections. But in order for them to appear, you need to free up space – literally and figuratively. Putting things in order at home and in the workplace helped me to systematically disassemble the things around me. Why keep gifts that almost strangers gave you symbolically a long time ago? Jeans that are hopelessly small or large? Outdated technique? Getting rid of unnecessary things, you need not replace them with analogues, but focus on what is actually needed every day.
Bulky things that are difficult to part with can be taken to a paid storage and not cluttered with them. Valuables – to sell according to an ad, the rest – to donate to charity or for recycling. Things can help us at a certain stage in life, but become unnecessary after that, and regularly getting rid of unnecessary things is a healthy habit. Ideally, get rid of everything that you have not used for a year and in the presence of which you do not feel joy.
This principle also applies to social ties: you have every right to distance yourself from people with whom communication makes you tired and not very happy – follow the mood diary which meetings inspire you and which leave you devastated. Of course, there are inevitable contacts with parents or colleagues, but many other relationships can be regulated and dosed. Make time for those who listen to you without judgment (and don’t judge others), from whom you learn new things, and who even get bored with is a pleasure. In unpleasant but obligatory relationships, it is better to concentrate on their functionality, while unpleasant and unnecessary relationships can be safely thrown overboard. By removing the unnecessary, we get rid of the fear of being left in emptiness; and free space is filled with deeds, things and people that are much more relevant to us today.
WHAT IT TURNED OUT: From a set of random things and burdening connections, I came to people and objects that I love and are always glad to see. All work contacts are emotionally comfortable for me, the amount of information noise is minimized, Facebook is used to communicate with loved ones and expand my horizons. I calmly part with objects that no longer bring pleasure.
IN DAILY STRESS, I did not feel joy from what was happening around me, and gratitude seemed like a far-fetched ritual. The mention that some people were born to die of hunger or war a few years later did not bring me closer to realizing my own path to peace. To put it bluntly, I did not appreciate what was at my disposal.
There are two ways to practice gratitude. The first level is the realization of the colossal luck that we were born in relatively free time, received a profession and education. By default, you can be grateful that your parents were not killed in the war, you were not forced into marriage, and you were not subjected to female circumcision. You can be grateful for insurance at work, the ability to independently choose a schedule and do what you love. To feed a family or have free access to a wealth of knowledge.
Each day, it is worth writing down five such basic gratitude for your privilege in your journal. Five more things should be related to the past day and its events. Did your partner make breakfast? Have you got hold of the subway door? Did the negotiations end successfully? Did you have a great dinner? Heard the voice of a loved one? Walking through the spring city? These items may be quite small, but there should be five of them.
Practices of gratitude are often triggered automatically during the poignant moments of life, but during depressive episodes it takes time to pay attention to the good. It is worth doing this in writing to understand that the list is endless, regardless of our mood. It is best to write thanks in the evening in order to safely fall asleep, realizing that even in the most difficult day you can find a lot of good things. Playing this exercise in the head, it is difficult to achieve clarity, which is striking when it is performed in writing.
WHAT IT TURNED OUT: I learned how to gently part with recent events, see the good in the moments I just lived and realize my privileges every day. I do not need to compare myself to others in order to be grateful for my life: after all, there are joys and difficulties in it that fall only to me.