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Get Physical With Mental Illness: 5 Mental Toughness Tips

Get Physical with Mental Illness

Mental Illness and Over-Diagnosis.

If you didn’t read our previous article about depression and over-diagnosis, then you may not be aware of the growing epidemic in current psychiatric fads, and the damaging effects they can have on our society. In this article, we will explore the link between mental illness and physical health, and how we can improve both by taking full responsibility for our own wellbeing. In particular, we’ll focus on how exercise and mental toughness can improve our mental health.

Mental and Physical Health are Interdependent.

We rely so heavily on our minds, that we often forget to pay attention to what our bodies need. The stress of ordinary life can distract us from some of the most basic tools we have to combat mental illness – exercise and a healthy diet. Neglecting these basic tools only increases one’s level of unhappiness, leaving us in a state of poor mental and physical health. However, when we do engage in regular exercise (even when we don’t want to) and eat properly (even though doughnuts), studies have indicated that symptoms of anxiety and depression can decrease greatly. The issue remains, that in a society filled with band-aid solutions it can sometimes be tempting to seek out an easier alternative. So, the need to recognise and accept that there is NO ALTERNATIVE for regular, sustainable exercise and a healthy diet is imperative.

Exercise Can Build Confidence and Self-Esteem.

This can have an enormous impact on our overall mental health. These two attributes shouldn’t be solely based on our perceived level of physical attractiveness, but rather on our physical and mental ability. We are all born with a predisposition for various strengths/weaknesses, but much of our mental/physical capabilities can be developed. If we are to be resilient in the fight against mental illness, then we should be building our resilience through exercise too. But what does this mean exactly? Well, exercise presents challenges both physical and mental. Overcoming the physical challenges, is largely attributed to our ability to ‘push ourselves’, which could also be defined as the mental challenges of exercise. The ability to push ourselves encourages the development of ‘mental toughness’. This gives athletes a competitive edge in the sporting arena, but also the confidence to face the challenges presented in their personal lives too. This principle is not exclusive to elite athletes, but rather for anyone willing to learn.

How Can I Be Mentally Tough?

The road to becoming mentally tough is a long and arduous one. In fact, the thought alone will scare most people away. That’s why so many of us are stuck in a loop, looking for the shortcut that isn’t there. So once you have accepted the fact that there is no alternative for hard work, what follows? Being mentally tough is quite an abstract concept. You can be mentally tough during stressful situations, and you be mentally tough when your body is under extreme exertion. However you look at it, your mental toughness is generally in response to performing a physical action. This being the case, let’s explore how we can develop strength of mind through regular, challenging exercise, which can then be applied to situations of mental stress too.

1. Start Exercising.

Regardless of your physical capability and level of experience, you can still challenge yourself with exercise. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the only way to understand what you are truly capable of is to get into it. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, its a good idea to chat with your doctor to understand limitations and precautions.

2. Find Your Mode of Exercise.

Mental illness presents in many forms. In the case of depression and anxiety, exercise is thought to prevent the onset, and possibly even treat symptoms. If you are new to exercise, or just getting back into it, there are an abundance of resources online to get you started. Perhaps you’re interested in functional training programs? Or yoga? Or martial arts? It’s also a great idea to engage in group training sessions, to ensure you are performing exercises correctly. Watching other people push themselves might also encourage you to do the same.

3. Find an Activity You Enjoy.

This is an important one, but it may take some time. As you become more active and aware of your capabilities, you can begin to explore some physical activities that interest you. This is a great way to motivate yourself during training, as it gives purpose to your blood, sweat and tears. When the reason for your physical exertion makes sense to you, it will be far easier to block out the voice in your head that is telling you to stop.

4. Set Yourself a Physical Goal.

This goal might relate to your new-found passion. Or perhaps reconnect you with an old one? Either way, goal setting is a great way to stay motivated. But don’t chase the horizon… Set realistic short-term goals. As you achieve these goals, you’ll begin to recognise the value of your hard work. These short-term goals will be the road to attaining your long-term goal. Keep your goals in the forefront of your mind as you continue to push yourself, both mentally and physically.

5. Positive Self-Talk.

Don’t beat yourself up! When your mind tells you that you can’t do it, shift from this negativity and fight back with positive self-talk. This should be practiced consistently, in order to remodel your self-talk strategy from negative to positive. You may lapse from time to time, but that will only highlight the effectiveness of your positivity. Next time you’re in the dirt, let it be you who picks you back up.

Final Note

Reading and writing about mental toughness is easy. It will be much harder in practice, but don’t let that get you down… All good things take time, so allow yourself some! As always, thanks for reading our article. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Depression: Over-Diagnosis And Management Strategies

The Short Advice Depression Post

Depression and Over-Diagnosis

Depression, along with other mental illnesses like ADD, has been in the media spotlight for some time. According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, although some experts consider many of these diagnoses to be somewhat inflated. Allen Frances MD states that over-diagnosis of mental illness is making normality an ‘endangered species’, and threatens to increase the already alarming percentage of the population diagnosed as having a mental illness. So, with diagnostic inflation in mind, how can an individual presenting symptoms of depression know for sure whether they are diagnosable, or are simply facing the inevitable challenges of everyday life?

The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis

The internet can be a wonderful place. After all, it did bring you The Short Advice… There are a plethora of helpful resources online that offer support for various conditions, and can assist in making a diagnosis for mental illness. Whilst finding advice online isn’t totally unadvisable, it’s generally a good idea to confer with an expert before concluding that you have a medical condition. As stated above, over-diagnosis is currently considered an ‘epidemic’ by some medical professionals, and self-diagnosis has been highlighted as a contributing factor. So lets say you’ve done some online research, and decide to pay a visit to a psychiatrist. They tell you that, based on your symptoms and behaviours, you likely have depression. Let’s not forget now, that over-diagnosis by medical professionals has also been cited as a contributing factor to the epidemic… So who do we trust? Well, that’s a difficult question, and unfortunately there is no answer. Although, if you do agree that over-diagnosis is real, then anybody diagnosed should not rule out the possibility that perhaps their diagnosis is a stretch.

Depression vs Ordinary Life

So perhaps you are exhibiting some common symptoms of depression. It can be difficult not to be caught up in the hype of psychiatric fads. Yes, it is a mental illness. But, with the over-diagnosis of depression, it could also be considered a fad. Sometimes, trusting a diagnosis as widely-accepted and de-stigmatised as depression, is an easy way to explain, label and justify one’s suffering. Of course, de-stigmitisation is largely viewed as a positive outcome for patients. But it might also encourage others to buy into what is already an epidemic of over-diagnosis. So before you choose to medicate, take the time to engage in some critical self-reflection – at least make the pharmaceutical companies sweat a little… Lets start with 5 simple questions:

  1. Can you identify what exactly is causing you to feel depressed? i.e. Work pressures, bereavement, relationship woes, uncertainty about the future.
  2. When did you begin to feel depressed? (This might help to answer question 1)
  3. What (if any) changes were present in your life when these feelings began?
  4. What changes has your mood/current mental state caused in your life?
  5. Have you taken any steps to improve your situation? What are they?

Making Sense of Our Emotions

Hopefully you’ve been able to pinpoint some of the events in your life that have caused you to feel depressed. In this case, we are using the word ‘depressed’ as a temporary emotional state, rather than an illness. If we allow these issues to go unaddressed, what should be a temporary feeling of depression could turn into something far-less temporary. When we don’t properly deal with our emotions, and allow ourselves to fall into a ‘rut’, we get a snow-ball effect of poor decisions. These decisions only contribute to an elongated period of feeling depressed. And so, the hole gets deeper. A more effective management plan would be to address our emotions as they arise. Consider why you are suddenly feeling depressed. Is it an abstract concept, like fear of the unknown? Or perhaps something more concrete, like a fight with a loved one? Understand when you feel this way, and note other times you have felt the same.

Management Strategies for Building Resilience

Whatever the reason for your negative emotions, you need to develop strategies to counter this. It’s all part of ‘earning happiness‘, and developing resilience. If we immediately succumb to the challenges that are posed by ordinary life, and choose first to seek a diagnosis, it is almost as though we are ducking responsibility for our own emotions. So, the first and most important step is to:

1. Take accountability for your situation, and the improvement thereof.

Now you can start taking positive action to combat your negative emotions. It’s normal to feel depressed from time to time. We can’t always be happy. But falling too deep into self-pity is a trap that almost everyone can relate to. So feel sad, and pay heed to the negative experience. Understand the cause, and consider how you can minimise the effect of this should it happen again. This is a necessary process that helps us better manage our emotions the next time round. But, after you’ve focused on yourself, and improving your situation, the next step is to remind yourself how valuable you are. The best way to pull yourself out from under the blanket of self-pity is to:

2. Do something meaningful for somebody else.

Perhaps a family member, or friend, or maybe even a stranger. Helping others can be a humbling experience, that takes our mind away from our own problems. It is of mutual benefit for both the person helping, and the person in need of assistance. You might even be able to relate to some of the challenges that others are facing, and find that those challenges are indeed a part of ordinary life. Through helping others, you might also be helping yourself to find solutions to your own problems. Our third and final step for today’s article is an important one, which focuses on resilience:

3. Embrace the challenge.

Nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy. Accept the reality that you will not immediately find your happiness again overnight. You will have ups and downs, but the quest for happiness presents amazing opportunities to explore new avenues towards achieving a better balance. Your experiences, both positive and negative will continue to shape you, and your response to such experiences will define you. If you have experienced immense sadness, then moments of euphoric happiness await if you choose to work towards them.

Final Note

Diagnosing clinical depression is difficult. There is no blood test or scan that can give conclusive evidence. Whilst there are many legitimate cases, there are also illegitimate ones. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should consider engaging in professional consultation (counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist, GP). However, never waive the responsibility that you have over your own wellbeing. If you have been diagnosed, it may be worth seeking multiple opinions, or simply engaging in a management plan (developed by yourself and/or a professional), rather than medicating. The choice to medicate/accept diagnosis must be your own.

As always, thanks for reading and we’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

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The Winter Blues: 5 Ways To Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Simply put, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder brought on by the changing of seasons. In the colder months, it’s commonly referred to as the Winter Blues. Whatever you call it, both terms refer to feelings of depression and a lack of energy. So, is this really a disorder? Or are we again trying to diagnose ordinary life? You be the judge. Regardless of your stance, it can be agreed that what we are talking about are patterns of behaviour, and emotional states which are affected by our environment. Fortunately, there are a number of natural remedies to help counter these feelings. Below, we’ve listed our 5 strategies to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder for good!

1. Exercise Goals

Should we hibernate throughout the Winter, like big brown bears? It seems to be how many people choose to deal with the cold… However, it doesn’t seem to be contributing to our health and happiness a great deal. So instead, try setting yourself an exercise goal to improve your wellbeing. This study suggests that goals relating to personal development and improvement can create sustainable happiness. Set a specific exercise goal, give yourself a time-frame to reach it, put the required systems in place to achieve it, and get SMART.

2. Sunshine

If seasonal affective disorder in the Winter can be attributed to a lack of sunshine, then it only makes sense to seek it out when you can! Get outside during your lunch break and soak up some rays whenever the opportunity presents. According to studies, it’s all about our body’s ability to produce serotonin, the ‘happy‘ chemical. It seems our brain can produce more serotonin on bright, sunny days. So don’t hide indoors all Winter, get outside and give yourself the best chance at producing mood-lifting serotonin by seeking out the sunshine!

3. Find Your Winter Activity

Winter isn’t all bad everybody! There are lots of great Winter activities that you can find to keep you motivated. Like snow sports – so much fun! Or winter hiking, considerably less-expensive. There’s also nothing wrong with enjoying the sound of rain pouring outside while you stay in and watch movies all night long. You could even take up a new hobby, like woodworking! Point is, whatever you’re into, try to look at the positive aspects of Winter, even if you consider yourself more of a Summer person. You’ll find it far easier to enjoy yourself during the colder months if you choose to make it work.

4. Can the Comfort Food

Don’t over do it this Winter. It’s pretty easy to throw a few chocolate blocks back while you’re indoors doing a whole lot of nothing. So, make a conscious effort to maintain a sustainable, healthy diet all year round. You don’t have to be so unbelievably strict that the chocolate in your pantry turns a bit cloudy. Just be a little more in tune with your food choices. It really depends on your health and fitness goals of course. So perhaps consider these next time you’re tasked with a recon mission to the fridge on movie night.

5. Respect the Balance

Unfortunately, the universe is not here to serve you. And the weather doesn’t particularly care how you feel about it either. It’s going to turn whether you like it or not. So, respect the balance. There is no happy without sad, no light without dark, no Summer without Winter. Each positive’s seemingly negative counter-part presents opportunities to build and earn your own little piece of sustainable happiness. This is also the birth place of resilience and mental toughness. Don’t drop your head, embrace the changes and turn them into positives by implementing the strategies mentioned above. The good times are just around the corner…

Final Note

Don’t let seasonal affective disorder wreak havoc on your mental and physical wellbeing this Winter. Take an active role to ensure the sustainability of your happiness year-round, and combat these environmental factors by putting a plan in place. Don’t hit the pause button on your life just because the Winter Blues are knocking at your door. Get outside, get active, eat properly, find something fun to do, and respect the opportunities you’ve been given! A simple and drug-free method is never a bad place to start… As always, thanks for reading, and we’d love to hear what Winter activity you partake in to combat the Winter Blues! Let us know in the comments section below. Good luck!