By Ryann Tanap and Christine Allen
Living with mental illness this time of year can be particularly difficult. There’s a lot of pressure to “start over” or “begin again” or revamp how you live your entire life. But this stigmatizing thought process is not only unhelpful, it’s actually harmful to mental health recovery.
The fact is, we can’t start over or become entirely new people when the clock strikes midnight. We can only try a little bit harder from where we already are—to be better people, to help others, to improve the world around us.
And odds are, if you live with mental illness, you’re already trying incredibly hard every minute of every day. So, if you live with depression like we do, we’d like to push you a bit further in 2018 with these suggestions.
The research is in: Exercise is good for people living with depression. It’s nearly impossible to read an article on depression without being told how beneficial exercise is and how we should all do it regularly. This also just in, however: Exercise is hard. It’s especially challenging when you experience the lack of motivation, loss of energy and physical aches and pains that often accompany depression. So, rather than attempt to join your friends at the gym three times a week, start way slower. For example, we’re simply trying to incorporate more daily walks into our schedule and take the stairs when we see the opportunity. That’s it. And great news: Regular walking can also help ease depression symptoms. Take that, dreaded cardio!
Depression tends to pull the color from the world—everything that was once beautiful and vibrant becomes dull and boring and strenuous. Christine used to love ice skating when she was younger, and she considers getting back into the sport weekly, but the thought of finding a rink with free skate, getting out of bed, getting dressed, driving to the rink, walking into the rink, conversing with an employee, lacing up the skates and pushing out onto the ice just to skate alone for an hour or two just seems…exhausting. Instead, she spends her weeknights and weekends in bed, watching television, as life passes her by.
In 2018, let’s make a pact to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and into a fulfilling and enjoyable hobby. Sure, our couches are far more comfortable than falling butt-first onto a cold slab of ice, but as John A. Shedd once said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
Whether you scroll through your social media feeds several times a day, or you find yourself only communicating via text, it’s important to disconnect and have some time away from a screen. Our world may be driven by technology, but that doesn’t mean we should let our devices dictate our lives, nor our happiness. You don’t have to give up all your technology all at once—start off small by setting aside your phone and tablet for an hour each day. Take this time to do something else, whether it’s reading a book or writing in a journal.
Setting and sticking to goals can seem daunting. Perhaps that’s why life goals can seem like an impossible feat. So, for those who have a bucket list, remember that it’s easier to tackle a goal when you break it down into manageable steps. Ryann’s goal for the year is to make time to visit each Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C., even though crowds are stressful for her. She’s starting off the year by choosing one museum to visit every other weekend, and planning to visit as soon as the museum opens to avoid waves of visitors and tourists.
When you’re in a depressive episode, it’s really easy to shut off from the world—to curl up in bed or on the couch and forget about everyone and everything. Sometimes, we need to do this for our own well-being if we’ve had a stressful day or we’re feeling emotionally drained. But when it becomes a pattern, we can get detached and a bit uncaring towards those around us. It’s been proven that helping others actually helps you, so as insurmountable as it seems to put others’ needs before your own when you’re depressed, try it in small doses. Try helping a friend, coworker or neighbor who might also be struggling or just buy coffee for the person behind you in line one morning. It really does feel great.
With depression, it’s essential to have a support system in place. Identify the people in your life you trust, and if you haven’t shared your diagnosis with them, it may be helpful to do so. Then, you can practice communicating your needs. Try writing down a list of what you may need in certain scenarios, and walk them through those needs so they can more easily support you. For example, you might need to tell your roommate that they can/should check in on you if you haven’t left your bedroom for several hours.
Changes in mood and behavior can make everyday life challenging for those with depression and those around them. Recognize your symptoms whenever you experience triggers or heightened stress, and take note of how they may be affecting others. Keeping a written log can help. This way, the next time you want to isolate or you find yourself becoming agitated or irritable, you can remind yourself not to lash out on a coworker, friend or loved one. Instead, take deep breaths and slow your heart rate down.
It would’ve been nice to wake up on January 1st with all the energy and determination to go out and conquer some of the lists that have been floating around the internet: go to the gym three times a week, read every night before bed, eat vegan, spend more time with friends and on and on. But the reality is, we live with depression, a serious medical condition. Just like you wouldn’t expect someone recovering from a heart attack to suddenly jump out of bed with a list of “new beginnings” because the date on the calendar changed, you can’t expect the same of yourself.
If you want to take part in New Year’s Resolutions, or you’re attempting any kind of change this year, be realistic with yourself. You might fail, so be prepared to pick yourself back up and try again the next day. So long as you’re trying—however that may look for you—you’re succeeding.
Ryann Tanap is manager of social media and digital assets at NAMI.
Christine Allen is manager of communications at NAMI.
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741
Find Your Local NAMI