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Mind Games — the greatest battle you will ever have.

A close encounter with your biggest critic.

As Marcus Aurelius wisely noted:

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”

I agree with you Marcus but that is easier said than done. Over the past year, I have found not listening to “outside” voices has become much easier. “Man up”, “Give yourself a shake”, “There’s no such thing as depression” — do any of these sound familiar? Suffering from depression is hard enough without hearing comments like this but I can finally say I have reached a stage where I do not listen to these voices anymore. Listening to my inner voice — now that is a different story.

I have found struggling with my mind and inner voice the hardest part of my journey. There was a time, a few months ago, that I thought irradicating external voices would make me happy but as they slowly disappeared to the dark corners they came from, I realised it was my internal voice that was the biggest struggle.

As Aurelius states, realising this power is the key to inner strength. Have I won this battle? No, but there are a few things I have developed to help me in the daily fight.

Friends

A network of friends and family can be the thing you may have been avoiding for a while. Embarrassment leading to isolating yourself, rather than talking. However, ask anyone who has been through this and I guarantee the first thing they will say is they feel better for telling someone. All mental health campaigns are about talking and rightly so. It is the first step and because it is the first step it is the most important. In my own personal experience, I found the more people I spoke to about my depression, the more comfortable I became with it. Picking the right friends or family to tell is the key. You want someone who will listen and understand that they do not have to provide all the solutions. The stigma against mental health and depression needs to drop and people need to get talking. The more I spoke about it, the happier I was to speak to others about my experiences and hopefully help them.

Sleep Hygiene

A good nights sleep sounds great but how often do you get one? Developing a good routine at bedtime will help this. Routines differ and there is not one set plan to help all but here are some ideas. Regular sleeping hours — between 6 and 9 hours is a start. Followed by getting up at the same time each day. You may think a lie-in at weekends will help you catch up on missed sleep (or recover from a night out), but a set pattern daily is needed. Wind down before bedtime: a warm bath, a list of the next days tasks, meditation, reading a book, listening to music and most importantly, not using your smartphone or tablet. Sleeping apps are a good way to monitor your sleeping and see how much you are getting and what affects your sleep during the night.

Less Stress

Cortisol is the hormone released when under stress. Often this is a good thing as it helps you deal in the short term with what is thrown at you. Long term it becomes a problem. Think about work-life balance, engage in regular exercise, be an optimist, not a pessimist, accept that you will not always feel great and realise everyone else feels the same. Reduce alcohol, nicotine and caffeine or keep a stress diary and see what raises your stress levels. You may think there is something in your life that is causing you a problem. Take control and find solutions to the problem at hand. Recognise what adds stress to your life and take small steps to lower the stress levels.

Food Hygiene

Similiar to sleep hygiene, your diet needs cleaning up. Sugar and processed foods can lead to inflammation throughout the body and brain, which may contribute to mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. Fruit and vegetables along with fish (Irish in omega-3) can boost mental health. Protection for the brain can come in the form of green leafy veg. Nuts, seeds and legumes are great brain fodder also. Sticking to healthy foods will prevent more mood fluctuations, allow you to focus more and give you a general happier outlook on life. Processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and fried foods are just some of the things that can add to anxiety.

Beat Negative Thoughts

Easier said than done I know — I have struggled with this and have found CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) worked very well. It works by changing your attitude and behaviour by focusing on the thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes that are held (a person’s cognitive processes) and how these processes relate to the way you behave, as a way of dealing with emotional problems. In turn, this can change the way you feel about situations, and enable you to change your behaviour in future. Take control of negative thoughts. Counteract them and think of a time when you felt calm and assured. Keep your perspective and realise things are not as bad as they seem. Do not jump to conclusions. Keep your thoughts separate and don’t let them get mixed up. Keep rational — use your energy to find solutions. Try keeping positive.

Stop Procrastination

Beat the habit. As Charles Dickens stated in David Copperfield -

“My advice is, never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time. Collar him!” Charles Dickens

Do not be afraid of failing at the tasks you need to complete. The symptoms of depression, such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating, make procrastination tempting. It’s important to set deadlines and manage your time well. Establish short-term goals and work hard to get the most important things done first. You will feel so much better and have a real sense of achievement if you do.

Keep Busy

It’s easy to let things build up and get on top of you. Don’t wash up for one day, before you know it, it’s a week. Try keeping on top of household tasks and use them as part of a well-being pack. A sense of achievement from doing these things and seeing progress will definitely improve your mood. Listen to music, walk the dog, read a book, make your own list. Small things with achievable goals.

So has this inner voice been silenced? No, it is still there at times, some days more than I’d like to admit, but I have strategies to mute the voice. These steps, even if they are small some days, have served me well. I have more self-confidence and belief in myself (something that had been beaten out of me in a past relationship). Whatever it is you are missing, it is there somewhere and using these tools will help you welcome them back into your world, whilst silencing the other negative thoughts in your head.

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