Waiting for today...: Stress, Mental Illness & Self-Care, Part 1

Friday, December 19

Stress, Mental Illness & Self-Care, Part 1

During my most recent acute episode of depression, I was forced to realize how significant the role of self-care has to be in my trek toward mental wellness. The human body and mind requires adequate sleep, proper nutrition and regular activity among other things in order to perform optimally and manage stress. Poor self-care is a very good predictor of burnout.  

In the past I've experienced exhaustion, inability to concentrate, further lack of attention to self-care and even physical illness due to burnt out.  The average person will experience these and other symptoms even as they approach burnout.  Once they’ve begun to routinely engage in self-care practices, they are sure to turn the tide within a week. Although it may still take weeks to return to what would be their normal. For those living with mental illness, recovery from burnout can be as taxing as the burnout itself.

At our baseline, stress is ever present and it does not take much of it to overwhelm and paralyze us. Walking out the front door is enough to incite a full blown panic attack. Once overwhelmed the risk of spiraling out of control and ending up in a dark depression, with psychosis, suicidal ideations or all of the above is highly likely.  These manifestations can last weeks and months and on occasion, require acute hospitalization. Because we are so very sensitive to stress, getting good and consistent self-care is as important to us as food and water.  Self-care will not only help to maintain our chronic illnesses but it will also help us to endure the acute episodes.

In an effort manage my depression I created a list of self-care activities I ought to engage in daily to remain healthy and balanced.  Having a plan is most essential to achieve that balance.  Winging it may work for a day or two but then comes unpredictability followed by chaos. Once the latter happens, I'm eventually left at the mercy of my illness.

From day to day I liken my mind to a futuristic superhighway straight out of an episode of The Jetson's.  If I don't write things down in a systematic way, I wouldn't know what to do with myself.  Feeling unaccomplished surely leads to feelings of inadequacy. To prevent the ripple effect before it even begins, I use the following tools to plan my days and weeks.

courtesy of The University of Michigan Depression Center and Depressiontoolkit.org

As I’ve browsed mental health blogs, I’ve come across a few self-care charts; every one unique to its creator but all helping with daily self-care.  Some were simple and included hygiene, medication and sleep among other things.  While others were more complex and included a food diary, multiple mood descriptors for the user to most accurately describe their mood as well as time slots to track what time of day they experienced those moods.   

It was about a month into my last acute depressive state when my therapist appealed to me once again the importance of self-care.  Up until then, all I could manage to do was feed the cat, go to work and wait the depression out on my sofa, with the remote and some snacks in hand.  Even with the pep talk, I didn't have the attention span to come up with a concise list of self-care activities myself.  

I was so thankful to have found the above at DepressionToolkit.org.   Except for leaving out hygiene and mood rating, it has highlighted the foundational aspects of self-care: sleep, goal-setting, medications, diet and activity.  I use this tool, in addition to the next, during acute depressive episodes.    

con't to: ... Part 2