The World Health Organization predicted that depression will be the number one ‘disease’ by 2020. Unfortunately, on World Mental Health Day in 2017, this is already the reality and that ain’t cool.
Similarly, in my global two-year longitudinal study of women from thirty countries, one in two experience a current mental health issue (most often relating to their work and relationships) and a similar number feel bad more often than they feel good. If you’re an entrepreneur or a new mum those numbers are conservative.
Almost four years ago I suffered depression, anxiety and every other lifestyle disease under the sun. I ended up there because I made a series of choices in life that saw me follow society’s defined path to success. In doing so, I sacrificed my health and wellbeing to make enough money so one day “I’d have enough to never have to work like that again”.
Like many, I believed if I wasn’t earning multiple six figures or in a relationship by now with children and have the perfect Instagram life I was a failure. As I entered my late 30’s I began to see through the lie. However, I didn’t have enough personal strength or know what proactive steps I could take to quieten my mental health challenges or see a way through. So I ignored them, hoping they would go away and booze, boys, and shopping became my bandaids. Clearly, that didn’t work as I ended up in the fetal position in my mother’s arms sobbing “how did I end up like this”.
Like you, I needed a new way.
What ensued was a three-year experiment where I put everything I was told was good for me first. Here’s a sample of seven things I did consistently to wade out of the sticky vat of depression to regain my mental and physical strength in 18 months to be crowned a World Champion. I recommend this as a great starting point for anyone who wants to return to their a-game.
1. Improve your digestive health
From my research, over 60% of women have a current digestive health issue. Science has now proven such issues have a huge impact on our moods and overall mental health. When our gut is inflamed it sends inflammatory markers to our brain which elicit a stress response and cause us to enter fight or flight mode further deepening our mental health challenges.
To reduce inflammatory markers sent to your brain, heal your gut by eating foods that nurture your gut microbiome and in doing so you will also begin to heal your mental health. Authors including David Perlmutter, M.D. and, Kelly Brogan MD – Holistic Psychiatrist are excellent resources to begin your journey to understand how to eat and make lifestyle changes to support a happy gut and a happy mind.
2. Find meaning in what you do
Over 70% suffer an existential crisis of meaning and over 80% of women claim that the work they do isn’t the work they want to do and they feel daily angst turning up to work ‘wondering what it’s all for’.
Although we’ve never had better access to education, healthcare and the like often we don’t know why we do what we do and are searching for a deeper way to contribute that has some benefit to others and the world at large.
The creator desire is there but for most, the jump to explore alternatives finds us unable to leave the sofa instead. However, we all know that if we ignore the triggers things spiral deeper until the universe brings forth a massive blow we can’t ignore (relationship breakdown, major illness/injury, burnout etc.).
Actively explore a process that uncovers your own personal touchstones (aka your values), a set of aspirational beliefs, and a supporting vision. When you do so you’ll inspire more considered decisions that support you to make appropriate lifestyle changes that over time will see you happier, healthier and less stressed.
3. Spend time in environments that nurture you
The environments we spend our time in trigger our mental health challenges. Most notably our online environments and our workplaces. According to my research, over 65% of women feel down after reading their social media feeds. We need to learn to control our social media environments so they don’t control us. Remember if you think you’re challenged by social media now imagine what this will be like when VR comes into play. We need to get a handle on helpful social media habits now.
Carefully curate the media you consume, who you consume it from and on which mediums. Your brain was not wired to consume the 5,000 marketing message you get hit with a day. And the more negativity you focus on the more your brain is wired for negativity. The more you access social media and compare yourself to others the more depressed you will feel. Limit your consumption. Start by sleeping with your phone outside of your bedroom and replace the time on social media with exercise or meditation.
4. Unleash your creativity & play more
According to my research, over 60% have lost the ability to play and 65% recall the last time they embraced creativity was when they were five years old. Creativity and play are the hidden ingredients to uncover a flow state – where time stops and we are fully present. Uncovering my flow triggers was one of the top strategies I used to hack my way out of depression without drugs and became a world champion in an extreme sport after a seven-year absence from it. Just ask any extreme athlete why they’re able to push the limits of human performance and they’ll all tell you it’s flow. The great thing is flow is accessible to all of us.
Find something that inspires you and that time stops for and commit to a regular practice of it. The more you do it the more you are scientifically proven to be able to hack flow in other areas of your life, including your work.
5. Embrace practices that quieten the mind
How are you?
Yes, we have busy lives but I ask you, is your ‘busyness’ something you do to escape a state of stillness so you don’t have to be alone with yourself?
‘Busyness’ leads to burnout, burnout triggers all kinds of diseases like IBS and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It’s no surprise that 90%+ of depression sufferers report feeling better after a walk in nature. Those who take a walk in a shopping mall come away feeling worse.
Take at least ten minutes a day to sit in stillness absent of media, in meditation and another five minutes a day to marvel in the wonder of nature. It might be a falling leaf, closing your eyes and tuning into the sounds of the ocean or burying your feet in fresh cut grass. Whatever you choose, please nurture it and over time it will provide you all the insight and wisdom you need to make the right decisions to support your overall health and wellbeing.
6. Spend time with the right people
Over 60% of women claim that when they hang out with their friends they spend more time complaining then encouraging each other to be at their best. What you digest with your ears not only impacts your mental health but also your gut health. This causes inflammation in our bodies and that inflammation turns into lifestyle diseases like depression.
Be discerning with your friends, choose people to spend time with those that nurture and nourish you. Choose people to be in your life that you can also share that you’re not ok with and they can help you help yourself in times of need. The more we open up for help the more people will open up and help us.
7. Practice self-compassion
Over 80% of women claim they find it difficult to be compassionate towards others. Imagine what that means in relation to self-compassion. Compassion is a heart trait, it’s something we’re able to do when we love ourselves. Self-compassion in practice is going to yoga class or pouring yourself a hot bath when you’re feeling less than your best versus going out for Friday night drinks and waking up Saturday feeling yucky. It’s about reassuring oneself when you’re feeling a little down that you are doing the best you can and that is the best you can do right now.
Ask yourself how can I practice self-compassion this week by tapping into your needs and honouring them. This takes practice and self-evaluation to understand what your needs are in the first place. It requires you to create a belief system that says it’s ok to take care of you and set firm boundaries in your relationships and activities with others.
For more help on unleashing the Fully Expressed leader in you gift yourself five minutes now and take my free life audit HERE. The personalized report you receive will be filled with tips to help you improve your mental health.
With love and light to all. (And yes I’m on the edge of a cliff with a 300-metre drop below me. Was I scared? Yes. Was it fun? Hell Yes. Did I hack flow? Sure did!)
Bella Zanesco is a Holistic Life and Career Strategist. She works with women who want to make changes to their life that stick. She’s a World Champion athlete, The UK’s Top 50 Young Changemaker and the author of Smart Girls Screw Up Too available now for pre-order on Amazon. She shares daily life and wellness hacks on Instagram @bellazanesco