Have you ever had a relationship with somebody that literally zapped all of your positive energy from you? It could be a partner, a friend, even just an ex-roommate. I have this ‘roommate’ that does exactly that.
He has social gatherings late at night when I’m trying to sleep but when it’s my turn to enjoy myself, he will bring my energy down until I cancel my plans. When I most need a moment of calm, my roommate will become chaotic beyond belief. Only, I can’t kick this roommate out, he’s definitely not my ‘mate’ but he does take up a lot of room in my head as well as my life. I’ve had to learn to cohabit with my irritating roommate, which at times, is not easy. This roommate is, of course, a euphemism for my silent illness, anxiety.
Rather than sit back and allow my roommate to dictate my style of life to me, I began to research ways of living with anxiety. I am a real sponge for information so this was almost a hobby for me. So, I put my headphones in, selected a playlist, and scrolled for hours jotting down notes on my pad.
As I was beginning to find my feet, the chorus of a hip-hop song stood out to me and still resonates with me every day. “Champagne showers can’t make flowers bloom” was the particular lyric and it honestly couldn’t be any more significant in my story. How can you expect to bloom if you do not feed your body the right nutrients in order to grow? I needed to stop faltering my growth. It was time to fight back…
The first thing I researched was the root cause of anxiety and it led me down two different paths, the first was major trauma and the other was that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain. I’ve lived a relatively good life, I felt I didn’t have any major trauma big enough to unsettle me to this extent, so I looked at the impact of low serotonin levels on your mental state and how I could boost those levels up. Obviously, you can take medication to do this but there are also other ways you can obtain serotonin and that is by feeding your body the nutrients it needs.
Your brain will produce serotonin from an amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan can be found in everyday foods that are easily obtained from your local supermarket and are most likely part of a lot of people’s diets already. The seven best foods to ingest in order to consume tryptophan are eggs, cheese, tofu, pineapple (but not on pizza), salmon, nuts, seeds, and turkey. But in order to get these foods to boost serotonin levels, it is advised that they are consumed with carbs in order to promote amino acid absorption within the body but it’s still not guaranteed to work.
Another possibility is to eat a high fibre diet in order to produce healthy gut bacteria, which plays a role in serotonin levels according to research. Failing that, I’d imagine you could purchase supplements to acquire serotonin without affecting your diet plan but I’ve not gone down that route. Along with eating cleaner foods, I decided that it was time to get off the sofa and start exercising again so I started running every two days, starting at 5 km and steadily increasing the distance.
All winds and weathers, without fail I still go for a run every two days. The days I don’t run I do a home workout, either on my tv through YouTube or with weights depending on how I’m feeling that day. Exercise really is a great way to make yourself feel good given that it releases endorphins into your body, which in turn can trigger positive feelings.
Once I had the diet and exercise plan in place, I started to look at other aspects of my life that may need changing in order to accommodate my roomy. The first to get the chop from my daily intake was caffeine. It was the biggest sacrifice I had to make because I absolutely love a coffee (well, a latte to be precise) but caffeine can trigger my ‘fight or flight’ response, forcing me to switch to decaf coffee, which definitely doesn’t do the same job as a proper coffee, especially on those dark winter mornings.
Back in my 20’s, I would accompany a cup of coffee with a cigarette (gross I know) but I currently vape with no nicotine and will be dropping that shortly too as my research into triggers suggested that nicotine can have a negative effect on anxiety, so I dropped the nicotine almost instantly and these two changes impacted my well being straight away. Although I’m pretty convinced that this was a psychological thing but that was enough for me, I wasn’t in a position to question the days that I felt okay, I was greeting them with open arms and relishing the fact that I wasn’t fearing for my safety.
Caffeine and Nicotine aren’t the only vices I decided to turn my back on. I’ve had some really good times drinking alcohol but in recent years I have found it to make me feel on edge for a good five to seven days after consumption. With my boys arriving, I can’t afford to be feeling on the edge of another breakdown for anything up to a week so alcohol will no longer remain a part of my life either. But it doesn’t stop there, I continue to swing the proverbial axe like a madman swiping at anything that makes me feel uncomfortable. It is removed from my life with immediate effect.
I really have had to completely change my lifestyle in order to feel more at ease through day-to-day life but it’s a small price to pay to keep my terrible roommate quiet. All of these changes have aided me to a better way of life but if I was to say that life is now a breeze then I would be lying. I still have my little battles daily that I have to overcome but it’s a lot better in contrast, to what I had endured over Christmas.
To combat the daily hardships, I tend to face life with a positive attitude. Every morning, as soon as I open my eyes, I think of three things that I am truly grateful for, I also repeat this just before I shut my eyes to go to sleep. Starting and ending the day positively. I spend the majority of my time in between fake smiling which a lot of the time would turn out to be a real smile.
I came about the fake smiling theory whilst reading a book over Christmas and decided to look into it a bit more. The theory behind it is that when you fake a smile, the muscle movements trick your brain into believing that you are smiling, so your brain rewards you for being happy, releasing dopamine into your body. I once read that smiling is more effective in stimulating the reward mechanism of the brain than chocolate is – we all love chocolate, right? So I gave it a go, constantly smiling no matter what I was doing, and to my surprise, I started to feel more comfortable in my own skin for longer periods of time. Along with all my exercise and clean eating, I would definitely recommend fake smiling even if you’re not suffering with mental health issues as it generally lifts your mood.
During my lower moods, I have learned not to be frustrated with myself, I embrace them now, I always forgive myself for feeling low but try to pull myself out of it with fake smiling and exercise. Keeping the mind active really does help and I can’t recommend exercise highly enough as it really does help with mental health. I also make sure I am as open and as honest as I can be with my struggles. Speaking out is absolutely imperative to anybody that is dealing with mental health issues. As scary as it seemed, I felt almost instant relief once I’d spoken out about it, which led me to write this blog in order to help others that may not feel comfortable exposing their struggles.
I found that carefully constructing my support network gave me the courage to face my struggles head-on and not fear judgment for the journey I was embarking upon. A lot of them have had a roommate just like mine too, sharing experiences with others really helped me understand that I am not alone. There are also pages on social media that provide brilliant support from wonderful people all over the world. Although I do believe a social media break every now and then really does cleanse the soul, social media can add extra pressure to our lives, as you see people leading idealistic lives, or so they lead you to believe. So I shall be having regular breaks from all socials in the future just to get my head in the right place.
Everything I have stated above has helped me with my battle as I rise back to the best me I can possibly be. These tips may help you but I recommend you do your own reseach. Different things will work for different people. If you are suffering with your mental health then I’d strongly advise you to seek professional help in the first instance.
I’d be interested to know of any tips you may have, or if my techniques have helped you in any way. Please feel free to contact me on Instagram.
The contents of this article are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a doctor or mental health expert if you have concerns about your wellbeing.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and do not necessarily represent the official policy, position, or opinion of Stroud Times.