“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. “ mentalhealth.gov
Understanding my own mental health has become almost an obsession of mine. Especially since I realized that understanding it enabled me to have more of a choice in how I approach and react to life. It is something I am very passionate about sharing with people! So today, I wanted to share the story of how, for lack of a better phrase, “my mental health journey” started – and one simple thing I started doing that TREMENDOUSLY improved my ability to deal with anxiety.
Growing up I had a terrible time falling asleep. I was exhausted all the time because I would lay in bed for hours every night unable to fall asleep. I would lay in bed replaying conversations I had throughout the day, worrying if I said the right thing or acted the right way, worrying about my relationships, freaking out about things that hadn’t happened yet but could happen, literally just could not turn it off. I would seriously try counting from 1-100 at night hoping that if my mind would focus on counting then it would stop racing in a million different directions. It worked, sometimes.
I remember breaking down in tears multiple times to my mom because I couldn’t sleep. I can’t imagine being a parent, having no idea how to help your kid – so my mom did what any parent would have done, she took me to a doctor to get help. I was prescribed medicine to help me sleep and I was diagnosed with ADD and given medicine to help with that. I was finally sleeping at night, and although the ADD medication made me feel a bit off, I was just happy to be getting a good nights sleep.
College came around and I stopped taking the ADD medication consistently, so when I did take it I started to become more observant of how it was making me feel – heaviness in my chest, more overthinking than usual, I just felt off.
Please understand that every situation is different, for some people I am sure that medication can be very helpful, and if so you should stick with it. This post is not intended to convince you to not listen to your doctor or get off your medication; I am simply just sharing my personal story.
I decided I was done with medication; I wanted to figure out ways to deal with my mental health on my own, I was convinced that there had to be another way. Getting off ADD medication honestly didn’t effect my life much, in fact, my grades actually improved and I felt more in control of myself. But, the difficulty sleeping persisted. I decided to keep the sleep medication on hand and only use it nights when I absolutely knew I couldn’t risk not falling asleep till 1 or 2am.
I started to realize that what I was actually dealing with was not ADD, it was anxiety that was keeping me up at night – the inability to quiet my mind. I wasn’t sleeping well, so naturally I was tired and had difficulty focusing during the day. I felt like it was this vicious cycle that I had just been covering up for years with the wrong medication.
Turns out I didn’t need medication, I needed to learn how to quiet my mind. I don’t know about you but when I think “quiet your mind,” I think of a yogi sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed, humming with his finger-tips in the shape of some sort of spiritual gang sign to the universe. So, that’s what I did. I would literally lie in bed, taking slow, deep breaths, trying to see if I could get my mind to quiet. It was really difficult at first. I noticed in meditation Youtube videos that people would use what they called “mantras”. I didn’t understand what they were saying so I just decided that my mantra was going to be “I am restful” (because it sounded cooler than “I am tired”). And, friends, I swear on my life it works. I don’t need the mantra as much today, but I STILL do this to fall asleep at night.
Meditating myself to sleep brings me into the present moment, which I realize sounds very cheesy to some people. But when you really think about it, anxiety doesn’t exist in this moment – anxiety exists when your mind is dwelling on the past, or anticipating the future. Right here. Right now. There is nothing to be anxious about.