By Rachel Kelly
Whether you battle with depression or simply need the tools to deal with life’s everyday stresses, writer Rachel Kelly’s sanity-saving tips will help.
As someone who has suffered two breakdowns and battled with depression, you might wonder at my offering guidance on how to stay sane. But it is precisely because I have known the deep anguish of several depressive episodes that I have spent the best part of a decade devising strategies to keep well. I now believe I have my ‘black dog’ on a firm lead. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I have moments of despair, but I’ve never revisited the kind of severe depression that saw me hospitalised and considering suicide.
Recovery has required resilience and old-fashioned hard work – not to mention two psychiatrists, several GPs, three therapists and numerous psychological courses. But I’ve left no stone unturned in developing my own strategies, too. Why shouldn’t those susceptible to mental ill-health attempt to learn to look after themselves?
I routinely practise these guidelines, but never more so than when I feel that depression is returning. The first clue is insomnia – now I am alert should I have trouble dropping off, staying asleep or a tendency to wake early. The second is when instead of moving on from life’s vicissitudes, I begin to obsess. Such obsessive thoughts, if unchecked, can become catastrophic. And thirdly, physical signs appear: a racing heart, breathlessness and feeling sick. Then I know it’s time for my stay-sane tips.
1 Let’s start with breathing
You can’t breathe in the future or the past. You can only breathe now. Paying attention to your breathing is a brilliant way to root yourself in the present and to learn to take each moment as it comes. Depression is characterised by worry about the future and regret about the past. Anxiety tends to make your breathing shallow and fast, but by forcing yourself to inhale and exhale more slowly, your body is forced to calm down, and with it your anxious, racing mind, thus lowering the levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin.
Quick tip Put a finger over one of your nostrils. This will halve the speed at which you breathe. Pretend you’ve got a cold.