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Good mental health often comes down to maintenance. Everyone needs decent sleep, nutrition, exercise and social activity to be healthy and happy. Those with mood disorders may need to go a bit further and take medications daily and on time, avoid substances including alcohol and closely monitor mood swings.  Those are just the basics.

Even the basics become difficult in winter. I started seeing a new doctor a few weeks ago as I felt myself beginning to slip into a winter depression. The lack of sunlight, the cold and the ugly winter boots were becoming too much for me. Just as I was fighting to force myself to eat regular meals and get up in the morning, my Doc suggested some new winter maintenance strategies. I was assured there would be a quiz at my next appointment.

  1. No more or less than eight hours of sleep per night. All in one chunk, no naps.
  2. No coffee or caffeine of any kind.
  3. Fifteen minutes of moderate cardio every day.

Sounds easy, right? I should do these simple things, but am I?

1. Well I just have to say, I love a good nap. Depression makes you either painfully tired or suffocates you with insomnia. I am almost always in the former category. I know things are going downhill when I’d rather sleep than shop. For the past few weeks, hands down the hardest thing has been keeping my eyes open on a lazy Sunday afternoon and trying to avoid the snooze button in the morning.

2. My dear, lovely, constant companion, coffee. When I mentioned to a co-worker that I was off caffeine she said, “If I couldn’t have wine or coffee I’d kill myself.” Yep, that about sums it up. In the last three weeks I have had exactly one cup of coffee. I consider this to be up there with my greatest achievements, including finishing a university degree.

3. I’m supposed to be running up and down my basement stairs every day for fifteen minutes. How many times do you think I’ve done that? My dog is not the only one who has a little extra padding for the cold.

However, despite the mixed success rate of my new strategies I am still maintaining the basic ones. Even though I fear the upcoming quiz at my next appointment, I try very hard to focus on the victories. I take my pills, I’m eating good meals, I’m getting to work every day. Every little bit helps, and every day does not have to be perfect. Last night, exactly eight hours. Today, no coffee in sight. Tomorrow, the stairs.

Maybe.

About Sarah Lindsay

Sarah Lindsay is in her mid-twenties and lives in Toronto with her boyfriend and their dog (who also has some anxiety issues). Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005 at the age of 16 and is still trying to figure it out. Follow Sarah’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog, or additionally you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her new website: SarahsMoods.com

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