Monday, April 7, 2014

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Today I am depressed.

The cause is relatively easy to fix, fortunately, but in the time I have it, it's a real pain to manage. I did not get enough sleep last night. I elected to watch videos on youtube when I should have been going to bed, and as a result I went to bed later and woke up intermittently throughout the night. When I woke up, I struggled to go back to sleep. I became anxious about whether or not I would fall asleep, what would I do during the day if I couldn't fall asleep now, is thinking about this keeping me awake for longer, and so on. Once I had woken up, I should have gotten out of bed, had something to eat, and taken a Xanax to quell the anxiety, and I might have salvaged a bit more sleep than I did. Alas, I did not, and this is what I have to show for it.

The result was I became depressed. Obviously, I was tired. I felt reduced motivation to work, and what work I did do was filled with a low but present sense of dread. When I was left with idle thoughts, I felt empty and the future seemed bleak. At one point I had thoughts of suicide. They were ill-defined and fleeting, quickly rejected after a few seconds, but for a period of time, however short, they were there.

I eventually remembered to use the techniques I had learned for myself to allay the depression. I began by turning off the melancholy music I was listening to (not surprisingly, Copeland is a bad choice to listen to when you're already feeling down), reminded myself that the feelings I was experiencing were transient, and even started to count the windows on nearby buildings to distract myself, which oddly enough ended up being the most helpful technique.  I pushed through that part of the day, and for a period of time my depression lessened and enabled me to better get work done.

As I write this, I am still tired, and as a result, still feeling somewhat depressed. Hopefully I will get a good night's sleep tonight, and will have learned an important lesson for the future, but for right now, I just have to grit my teeth and slog through the rest of the day.

In the meantime, my experiences today seem like a good jumping-off point for discussing a part of recovery discussed less often than it should be, and that is general physical health and how it relates to our mental health.

As I said, I have little energy today, so in lieu of much more introduction to the subject, I will simply throw some articles at you.

"Nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression

"People who exercise regularly have positive boosts in mood and lower rates of depression"

"Sleep Therapy Seen as an Aid for Depression"

On reflection, these results seem obvious. Of course being well-fed, healthy, and well-rested makes us feel better. What's surprising is how deeply such healthy habits can affect us. When I don't eat enough, I become anxious. When I exercise regularly, I'm left with a glow that stays with me throughout the day. When I don't get enough sleep, as has been seen today, I suffer for it.

A few weeks ago, for whatever reason, I hadn't eaten enough in my meals. I was participating in a class project that afternoon and was becoming increasingly distressed and depressed. I doubted my ability to perform the tasks required of me, and wanted to leave class early and retreat to my room. Acting on that feeling, I went to my teacher and told him how I was feeling, at the time hoping he would see how I was struggling and give me his permission to go home.

Instead, he suggested I eat a protein bar. I did, and almost instantly I felt better, and went at my tasks that afternoon with a vigor and excitement that just a few minutes earlier seemed so foreign to me. Was some of that placebo? Probably. But all of it?

It's important to realize that depression is not only an illness that affects the brain. It is an illness which affects the whole of our bodies. Yet at the same time, by bettering our bodies, we contribute to the bettering of our mental health as well. Medication, therapy, and social support can all be very helpful, and in some cases crucial, to our recovery. It's important we don't disregard how our overall health can affect us as well.

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