“Sending love to everyone who’s doing their best to heal from things they don’t discuss.” ~Unknown
When I was twelve years old, I planned on taking my own life. I had a plan, I had the means, and I thought about it every single day for months. No one was aware—not my family, not my best friends, not my teachers at school or my peers. It would have been a huge surprise in my community had I attempted it, because I didn’t appear as someone who was severely depressed.
Thankfully, I never acted on it, and fifteen years later I can speak about it easily, as I have truly healed my mind, and I doubt I will ever again experience such darkness.
Over the years, my anxiety and depression morphed into a variety of different symptoms including eating disorders, substance abuse, and a deep lack of self-love and trust. Finally, I received some diagnoses between the ages of eighteen and nineteen, and I decided to jump headfirst into healing.
Living with bipolar disorder, anxiety, and ADHD is not always easy, especially because I decided not to take any medication. (A personal choice that was right for me but might not be right for all.) After many years of trial and error, I’ve managed to cultivate a lifestyle that is fully conducive to healing my mind, and I uphold this healing lifestyle as my priority every single day.
As I reflect on times in my life when I haven’t been at my best, or when I’ve fallen into a depressive episode, there are always aspects of my self-care routine that have fallen to the wayside. On the contrary, when I am at my high functioning, life-loving best self, I am effortlessly practicing what I call my seven pillars of mental health!
I learned from experience what science also proves is good for us, and I promise that if you focus on these seven areas of your life most days (if not every day), you will feel better for it!
When we exercise, our brain releases endorphins and a host of feel-good chemicals, which are essential for making us feel calm, content, and happy! Exercise is not only great for our brains, but also helps to boost our self-confidence, increase our energy, and boost our immunity, and has many positive effects for our body.
The key here is consistency; double blind studies have found twenty minutes of daily exercise to be as effective at increasing levels of well-being as leading antidepressants. Let that sink in!
Moving my body every single day has been a huge priority of mine for years, and it became even easier when I found hobbies that offer fun while I’m exercising! For me, that means going hiking, rock climbing, skiing, highlining, and pretty much anything else that gets me outdoors, in nature, and moving around.
Find a way to move your body that you genuinely enjoy. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. You could go for a walk in nature with a friend, have a dance party in your kitchen, or try a new hobby or sport. Move your body, every single day, and feel the lasting benefits!
Oh, elusive sleep, how important you are! Sleep is a crucial time for our bodies to regenerate cells, to integrate and process emotions, and to turn the lessons from our days into memories.
When we have a poor sleep, we not only feel the effects the next day, but at least two days later (and sometimes even longer). Improving our sleep leads to lower levels of stress and anxiety, better cognitive functioning, stronger immune systems, and more energy.
A huge shift in my mental health journey came when I decided to prioritize having a beautiful day over staying up late at a bar and sleeping the next day away. (Besides, that hike won’t feel nearly as fun if you stayed up drinking until 4 a.m.) Having a beautiful morning begins the night before, and you deserve to enjoy the daytime!
Here are some tips to improve your sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at a similar time each day (ideally before 10 p.m., as the majority of your HGH, a hormone essential for cellular growth and repair, is released between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m. while you sleep)
- Turn off the screens at least one hour before bed, if not sooner
- Avoid eating a big meal at least two hours before bed
- Set up your sleeping space to be dark, quiet, and at a cool temperature
You truly are what you eat, my friends! Not only does the food you consume literally become the cells that make up your body, but you also have an entire nervous system in your gut.
The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is where the majority of your serotonin and dopamine are produced. When our guts are healthy, our minds feel the benefits, and vice versa. This is also why IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and anxiety are so closely linked, and why, for some, IBS can actually be cured with meditation and hypnotherapy.
Nutrition plans are so specific for everybody, but some guidelines that are helpful to follow are:
- Eat seasonally
- Eat locally
- Eat a wide variety of whole foods
- Avoid processed foods (easier said than done, go easy on yourself)
How you eat is equally as important as what you eat. Allow yourself to slow down, bring a moment of mindfulness into every meal, and practice gratitude for the miracles that brought this nourishment to your plate. I absolutely love food, and bringing in these simple adaptations had a huge impact on both my gut health (goodbye, IBS) and my mood.
4. Meditation and mindfulness
Modern science is proving what ancient wisdom has been saying for centuries. Meditating for as little as five minutes a day leads to lower stress and anxiety, improved sleep, enhanced creativity, and a huge host of other benefits! Download a free meditation app and give yourself a simple five minutes of time in the morning; your mind will thank you!
Mindfulness is something that can be practiced throughout every moment of the day. It is simply an awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and the present moment. A trick I like to use is to post little sticky notes around my house with words like “pause” and “breathe.” Whenever I see a note, I’m reminded to take a moment to be mindful, check in with myself, and take a deep breath.
5. Connection with nature and source
The only two things that consistently increase our well-being more than we expect them to are exercise and time in nature. We are natural beings, and when we experience poor mental health, it often stems from a feeling of disconnection. Reconnecting with nature, reconnecting with source/ divinity/ spirit, and reminding yourself of the bigger picture you play in the universe can do wonders for your mood!
As a menstruating woman, connecting with nature also means connecting with my body and tuning into my cycle. We require different things at different times of the month, and tuning into these rhythms is a beautiful way to reconnect to the cycles of nature all around us.
6. Connection with humans
You are the sum of the five people that you spend the most time with. What inspires you about them? What do you love about them? The cool thing is that they’re thinking the same things about you!
We are social creatures, and we need each other, as mirrors, in order to thrive. Make a date to see a good friend this week, text someone you haven’t spoken to in a while just to tell them you love them, and flex your social muscle!
When I first started figuring out my pillars of mental health, I thought that if I simply did the things to take care of myself, that was enough. I was quickly reminded that feeling happy is much better when shared.
7. Good old-fashioned self-care
Although prioritizing the above six pillars make up a rigorous self-care routine, it is still so essential to take “me time” and do whatever recharges you. This might be a hot bath, a day to yourself, or a gorgeous restful evening, but whatever it is for you, make sure you prioritize it!
Upholding these seven pillars of mental health allows me to live a healthy, happy life, without medication, even with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder (among other things). (Again, not something I’m recommending for all—everyone’s situation and needs are different!)
No matter what your mental health journey has looked like, I promise that if you prioritize each of these pillars, and always make the next best decision for yourself, you will find healing, just as I have.
About Carleigh Burns
Carleigh is a holistic mental wellness coach who empowers high achievers to naturally heal their minds so they can overcome anxiety, step into self-love and confidence, and feel like themselves again. She combines modern science, ancient wisdom, and firsthand experience to help her clients find true healing. Get started on your journey with her free guide on The First Step Towards Overcoming Anxiety.