10 Ways to Combat Depression

If you’re regular reader of this blog or if you know me in real life, you might already know that I suffer with PTSD, with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

I first realised I had depression when I was about 21. I was diagnosed with PTSD a little while after that then took anti depressants for two years and had some counselling. These things helped me reach the point of accepting exactly what I’m dealing with, that it’s not my fault or some kind of weakness and that I will probably have to cope with it for the rest of my life.

Actually learning how to cope with it has taken me years and it’s by no means something I’ve perfected. I still have bad days, weeks and months and I know I probably always will. But at least I’ve worked out some things that help (and some things that make it much worse!). I’d like to share these things with you. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, do try them out. However, I’m totally aware that mental illness is different from person to person so I cannot make any kind of guarantee that any of this will work for anyone other than myself. I’m also not a medical professional and I have no training or qualifications in this field. I’ve just done a lot of research and have my personal experience to go on.

If you use any other techniques, please share them. I’m always open to any ideas that could help me or anyone else coping with depression or anxiety.

So here’s my list of ten ways to combat depression:

  1. Healthy eating. Notice, I did not say dieting. My struggle with weight loss is really tangled up in my mental illness but dieting, for me, isn’t the answer. When I diet, I do it obsessively and not healthily. Instead, I’ve learnt that making healthy choices and making sure I’m eating lots of fresh, nutritious foods really helps me. Feeling guilty and shameful about treating myself to an ice cream or a pizza does not help me and I doubt it’ll help you either.
  2. Exercise. This does not have to involve going to the gym or taking part in any activities that you really hate (unless literally expending energy is something you hate, I suppose). Exercise could be walking, jogging, running, swimming, yoga, pilates, cardio, group classes, gym, cycling….really the list is endless. Just find something active that you can do that makes you feel good. Personally, I love long walks outdoors, somewhere peaceful and full of nature. I also enjoy cardio & pilates but only in the privacy of my own home!
  3. Get outdoors. As I said, long walks outdoors can make me happy. But just being outdoors, preferably somewhere natural, makes me feel so much better. It could be in the woods, by the seaside or a lake, or even in my local park. Just being out of your house can make you feel better, although I’m all too aware of how challenging doing that can feel some days.
  4. Read a book. This one feels very personal to me but from what I’ve read, it’s true of a lot of people. It probably feels personal because it’s a personal experience. I love to read generally anyway but if I’m having a bad day, there are a few books I can dip into for an hour or so and feel so much calmer and even a bit happier. Harry Potter is top of that list for me. If you’re stuck on what to read and you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, try reading ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig. Reading that book helped to pull me out of a really bad depressive phase and I know it’s done the same for many others. In fact, the other two books I’ve read by Matt Haig (‘How to Stop Time’ and ‘The Humans’) both really helped my mood. Watching films can have a similar effect, I find, though not as consistently. Oh and ignore book snobs. If a book makes you feel good, read it, whatever some critic said.
  5. Treat yourself. This does not have to involve spending money. Given that for many people, money is something they’re often anxious about (myself included), it’s good to have a few ideas of things you can do that feel like a treat but are actually low cost or free. Having a bath, could be one example, or taking a walk (when you’ve been super busy with work or being a parent or whatever else, taking a walk on your own somewhere peaceful can feel like such a treat).
  6. Spend time with friends and/or family. I know that sometimes socialising can feel so draining and so anxiety-inducing but if you feel like you can face it then do. It doesn’t have to be meeting new people or being in a crowd or going somewhere loud. It could be a coffee with an old friend or relative. It could be sharing a special dinner with your partner or playing a game with your children.
  7. Spend time alone. Yes, I know this appears to contradict no. 6 but this isn’t a list of things to do all at once. Sometimes I really need to be with other people but sometimes I really need to be on my own. Just some peace and quiet without any expectations or obligations.
  8. Writing. Okay, so writing is something I love. But I’m not saying everyone needs to take up blogging or writing fiction. Writing in a diary could be really helpful, especially when you’re trying to work out triggers. It could just be a space to express your totally honest thoughts and feelings without worrying about the judgement of anyone else. I occasionally write letters to people I feel angry with. They’re never sent, obviously, but it genuinely makes me feel better.
  9. Practice calming techniques. This could be yoga, Tai Chi, breathing exercises, meditation. There are loads to try and I recommend giving a few a go. That way, when you’re having a bad day or feel really panicked, you’ll have a few ideas of ways you can quickly calm down, even temporarily.
  10. Take care of yourself. This is something important that I forget quite a lot: I am worth taking care of. And so are you. You are worth having a shower and putting on fresh clothes. You are worth eating proper meals. You are worth having some time to yourself for what you want to do. Yes, sometimes other things have to take priority, like work and childcare. Yes, some days just getting out of bed feels like such a challenge. But you’ll feel better if you’re clean and healthy. You’re not doing it for anyone else’s benefit, you’re doing it for yourself.

 

So there’s my list. Do comment with any of these that work for you or share other things that work for you!

If you’re having a bad day or week or month, I hope tomorrow is a better day for you. Even if it’s just a tiny bit better.

Thanks for reading.

 

Struggling with weight loss

Like many women, I first started struggling with my weight as a teenager. I seemed to go from being a bit chubby to being very much overweight in no time at all. Unfortunately, with no real idea of what to do about it, I crash dieted. I lost weight very quickly and felt happy about it (or at least I thought so at the time). People commented on it, asking what my secret was and laughing when I said I just didn’t eat much.

About a year down the line, I looked in the mirror one day and it was like an illusion had broken. I wasn’t dangerously skinny – a size 8 – but it looked ridiculous. I have a naturally curvy figure so my hips kind of jutted out and I had a tiny waist but a large bust that just didn’t match at all. I snapped out of it and started eating more. I went up to a size 10 and looked so much healthier. I stayed at that weight for a couple of years, thinking my troubles with weight were far behind me.

Then when I got pregnant at 19, I inevitably gained weight. I didn’t really think about it. Gaining weight during pregnancy is just the norm and somehow I assumed it would just come off again once I had the baby. It did not.

If anything I gained even more since having my daughter. I think it was a mixture of a few things. In my teen years, any stress killed my appetite but now, stress makes me comfort eat. Struggling with depression only made it worse. When my daughter was a baby, I stayed at home most of the time, dragging myself to playgroups so that she could make friends. Then we moved to Cardiff and I became a bit more confident, less anxious and made a few friends myself. Then I realised that I’d put on quite a bit of weight. I was 14 stone, about 4 stone heavier than my ideal weight. I actually tried a crash diet again, thinking it had worked so well previously (remember, I wasn’t mentally healthy at this point). It didn’t work. I didn’t have the willpower to stop myself eating constantly.

Once I started dealing with my mental health, dealing with my physical health became easier.

Now I know I’ve gotten into a habit of yo-yo dieting. I’ll manage four weeks of a really strict diet and lose maybe half a stone, then I’ll have a bad day or week and fall back on my bad eating habits. I need to change that. I’m back on a diet. But instead of trying to stick to 1200 calories per day, I’m going for 1600 calories per day. The weight loss will be slower but it’ll be easier to stick to. I can allow myself a few treats and not feel like I’ve failed.

I’m also meal prepping more. Yesterday I made a 4 portions of black bean chilli, some roasted chickpeas (never tried these before but they are So Good), boiled some eggs as snacks and bagged up lots of fruit, veggies, nuts and dried fruit so that I’ve got healthy snacks on hand. Hopefully this means it’ll be easier to avoid unhealthy foods.

For a while I tried exercising for an hour every day. But with family and work as well, it just isn’t something I can do. I started feeling like a failure when I didn’t manage it. I also forgot that I can count the walking I do as exercise. I walk my daughter to school each day – that’s about 2 hours altogether. Plus, I’m always on my feet at work. I’m not an inactive person, really. So I’ve cut down my exercise goal to half an hour, at least four times a week and added in some yoga, which really helps with depression and stress. I’m trying to take more long walks. Like if I have a day off, I’ll drop my daughter at school then go walking for hours in the park or to somewhere interesting, like Cardiff Bay or Castell Coch.

I’m starting to learn that I need to focus more on being healthy than on being thinner. Yes, I should lose weight. But the way I’ve going about it makes my depression and anxiety worse. I’ll have a pizza takeaway then feel terrible for days afterwards, like I’ve failed completely. Instead, I need to realise that if I eat healthily most of the time, the occasional takeaway or slice of cake isn’t going to hurt me.

Most importantly, I need to keep in mind that healthy eating (as opposed to either crash dieting or overeating) makes me feel happier. Bad depression days are more likely to occur when I’ve been strictly dieting or after I’ve binged. It’s all about balance!

My goals used to be to be a size 10 again. Now my goal is to feel good.

Wish me luck with it!

 

Top 5 Ways to be Healthier as a Busy Parent

Type ‘weight loss’, ‘diet’ or ‘healthy lifestyle’ into a search engine and you’re going to get a lot of Bloggers, Vloggers and Instagrammers promoting their own ideas of how to be healthier. I have read abIMG_1486out countless different eating and exercise plans. Aside from some of them being actually very unhealthy (Paleo diet, I’m looking at you), they all seem to share one pretty big flaw.

They’re almost impossible to follow if you’re a busy parent.

I’m using the term ‘busy parent’ because I want to encompass a range of people in that. I, for example, have one child plus I have two jobs, one a part time retail job and the other my self employed work. I would say that I am, a lot of the time, busy. But I’m well aware that there are parents with multiple children and full time jobs who are even busier than me.

I would say that I am currently leading a pretty healthy lifestyle and losing weight at what is considered a healthy rate (about 2lb per week). So I thought I’d come up with some healthy living tips of my own that are actually achievable:

1. Make healthy choices. You don’t need to change absolutely everything you eat. You also don’t need to buy expensive trendy ingredients. I have personally never eaten a chia seed, nor do I envision doing so anytime soon. You also don’t need to faff about with separating eggs – just eat the whole damn thing, it’s all good for you! The only reason you should be separating eggs is if you’re making a bloody meringue! Instead, just tweak things a bit. Go for lower fat options (be careful though, the fat might have been replaced with sugar!). If you order a pizza, choose a small thin crust with lots of veggies on top. I know a lot of people cut down on the sugar in tea or coffee but I have found that impossible (I have a serious sweet tooth) so instead I massively cut down on how much tea I drink.

2. Portion control. As someone who cooks for myself and two other people every night, it would take up an awful lot of my time if I prepared separate meals for myself. Instead, I cook ordinary family dinners then give myself a mini portion. For example, if I cook a cottage pie (a favourite in my house) then I’ll still have a small amount of it, probably with a big portion of veggies or salad on the side.

3. Count calories. I know it’s boring but its an effective way of making sure you’re not eating too much (or too little!). It can also be made really easy by using an app like MyFitnessPal, which is free in it’s simplest form. I use it fullsizeoutput_383and I’ve never found a need to upgrade to the premium account. You can use it to easily keep track of your calories, nutrients and macros as well as your weight loss, if that’s your goal. It’s database has information on loads of different products from all the major supermarkets and brands. You can also store recipes on it so you can quickly and easily add in dishes that you eat regularly. If you don’t like this app, there are plenty of others available to try out.

4. Find an exercise that can be done at home in 30 minutes or less. Finding time to hit the gym or even go for a run can be difficult when you’ve got a busy schedule or little people to take care of. For me, using online exercise videos has really helped. There are tons available and most of them are less than 30 mins long. This means that I can fit them in even when I haven’t got lots of time. However, I would say that a daily workout is not really necessary – the NHS recommends 150 minutes of aerobic and two strength training sessions per week. Also remember that a walk in the park with the kids counts as aerobic exercise!

IMG_15135. Prepare food in advance. I’ve only just started doing this and I’m already seeing the benefits. I’m much more likely to pick a healthy snack if it’s readily available. Also, cooking a larger batch of food takes not much longer than a single portion. Currently, I’ve got two servings of black bean chilli in the fridge and I love knowing that my lunch is sorted for the next two days!

 

 

 

I hope you find my tips helpful. Do share any of your own ways to stay healthy as a busy parent!

Thanks for reading!

Going healthy for a very good cause

I have started dieting again. Yes, I’ve done this over and over again and it I always lose a bit then give up.

This time, I have a better reason. It’s not about fitting into a little dress or getting to a certain weight. It’s about my daughter.

Just over a week ago, my daughter offered me a piece of chocolate and I refused (I had already decided to lose some weight). I explained that I was trying to be healthier because I weighed too much. She looked outraged and insisted that I looked ‘perfect’. At first I thought she was just being sweet but as we spoke more, it became clear that she believed it. She really thought that I’m what a healthy adult looks like. I realised that I have been setting her a terrible example. I make sure she eats plenty of fruit and veggies and refuse too many unhealthy snacks. I’ve taught her about what foods are healthy and unhealthy. But then I sit there munching through crisps, chocolate, pizza, sugary drinks and endless amounts of other crap with very little good in between. I’ve basically sent her the message that she needs to be healthy now but as soon as she’s an adult, being like me is normal and fine. I’m not going to shy away from this – I felt awful.

So, that was the kick up the backside that I’ve needed for a while now. I bought some bathroom scales and weighed myself. That was something of a shock, let me tell you. I knew I was overweight but I didn’t realise how far I’d let myself go. I was obese. I weighed just about 14st and at 5ft 7, that is not good. That gave me my second wake up call. I was going to lead myself into all kinds of health problems if I didn’t change now.

For the last week and a bit, I’ve been much healthier. I’m not on a crazy diet, I’m just making healthy choices. I’ve lost half a stone so far. That’s a lot for one week but I know that’s just because it’s the first week – it’s bound to slow down. I’m aiming for 2lb per week, the healthy amount to lose according to health professionals. More than just shedding weight, I’m already feeling a bit stronger and more energetic. I’m doing a mixture of brisk walking, jogging and pilates.

I’m also joining in with Pip’s tennis lessons on Saturdays and I hope that’s something we can carry on together. She loves running too so I think we might try having a run in the park together. We’ve also been trying out new healthy recipes and snacks. I really want to show her what being healthy as an adult looks like.

I have no aspirations of being skinny or super toned, I just want to be within the healthy weight range and reasonably fit. Rather than my usual rush to get there as soon as possible, I’m taking it a bit slower and giving myself a full year to get there.

I’m really hoping I can maintain it this time around. With the motivation of knowing I’m doing this for my little girl as well as myself, I’m feeling positive.

Wish me luck!