I have just finished my third year of university (yay!), which basically means that I have spent the last few weeks battling stress, anxiety, tiredness, and lack of motivation in an epic struggle to pass my exams without having a complete breakdown. The joys of studying medicine! As someone suffering from Depression and Anxiety, exam periods can be particularly hard, and I have developed a lot of different strategies for keeping myself sane and getting through these stressful times without (too many) meltdowns. I don’t profess to be an expert in mental health and well being – we don’t do psychology until fourth year, and there is a hell of a lot of specialising for me to do if I do decide to become a psychiatrist – but I do have a lot of personal experience battling with mental health issues, and I though I would share a few of things that I have found work well for me.
Food, glorious food! I have a passion for food, and everything to do with food – I love cooking, and baking, reading cookbooks, and of course eating! I love surrounding myself with fresh, healthy (mostly) and delicious food, and I find cooking to be a great form of stress relief – it is something I can that isn’t study that I don’t have to feel at all guilty about. I tend to find that, if I eat a relatively healthy day-to-day diet with a lot of fruit and vegetables, I don’t feel guilty about having regular treats. I have a massive sweet tooth and a weakness for chocolate, and while I know my diet could be better, I like to think it is good enough, and I refuse to deny myself the foods I love.
I am going to be honest with you – I have never been particularly athletic. I tried every sport under the sun as a kid, but, apart from netball, I never really enjoyed any of them. I always felt slow, unfit, and not good enough, and exercise was never something that I particularly enjoyed. While exercise still isn’t high on my list of favourite things, and I still have a hatred of running, I have slowly developed an appreciation for exercise and the benefits it can have. I have come to understand that getting regular exercise has really positive effects on both my body and my mind, and I have slowly been incorporating near-daily exercise into my life.
This year I found an incredible kickboxing gym where I started taking lessons, first weekly, then twice a week, and now sometimes three times a week. I find these high intensity sessions to be almost a form of meditation – concentrating on the position of each part of my body as I work through an exercise, while trying not to puke, forces me to stop thinking and worrying and just focus on the here and now. Going to these classes, and taking long walks around my neighbourhood with my music blaring in my ears, really helped me this exam period, and I do honestly believe that I wouldn’t have gotten through everything if I hadn’t kicked my exercise regime up a notch.
I have recently discovered a meditation App called Headspace, and I have fallen a little bit in love. I have always wanted to take up meditating, but have found it hard to find the motivation. I think I will write a whole post about Headspace once I have been using it for a little bit longer, but I will tell you that I love it, and that I really think meditating regularly has some really positive effects on my state of mind. I like to meditate just before I go to bed, and I find that it really quietens my mind down and helps me to fall asleep.
Last, but definitely not least! I am insanely lucky to have some really wonderful people in my life, and I honestly don’t think I could get through all the drama of life without them. I have a bad habit of internalising a lot of my thoughts and emotions, and letting them build up until I am a complete mess. There are only a few people I trust enough to be completely open with, but these people mean so, so much to me. Being able to talk to someone about the confusing tangle of thoughts and emotions in my head often allows me to start untangling them and making some sense of the jumble, allowing me to see things with more clarity and be more rational. Having someone I can talk through any problem with makes such a difference, and I am so lucky to have people in my life who I can talk, laugh, cry, and just be myself with!
So, I guess that’s it. While there are lots of other little things that help to make my days brighter and keep me sane, these are the four big things which I really think play the biggest parts in keeping my grass green. It has been rather cathartic to sit here and write this. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some after-exams celebrating to do!