As part of May’s Mental Health Month, we shared stories that raised awareness about mental illness and empowered those who suffer from it. This piece is part of our Darkest Day series, a collection of stories from people who’ve made it through the worst of their illness and now light the way for others. #LightYourWay
I believe that every story has two sides and that each side deserves to be told. More importantly, both sides deserve to be heard.
As I became more involved in the mental health community and began speaking openly about my illnesses, I quickly realized one side of an important story wasn’t being heard. People often overlooked it, ignored it, or saw it as a fairytale. This was the story about how I became resilient, compassionate, and aware of my emotions while attempting to endure another seemingly endless string of self-sabotaging thoughts. It was the positive side of my mental illness.
I’ve suffered from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) for eight years. For a majority of those years, I spent my days in agonizing physical and mental pain. My day would often consist of relentless attacks of intrusive thoughts, shortness of breath, erratic behavior, and total isolation.
Living with anxiety is similar to the feeling an astronaut would get if you opened their helmet in space but, as they started to suffocate, you pulled them back inside to safety so they could breathe again. Continue reading Anxiety Helped Me Become a Better Person
Originally a tool for our ancestors’ survival, anxiety is not as handy as it used to be, what with the shortage of predatory animals inhabiting the same space as us. As an anxiety sufferer of almost 17 years, I can hardly recall a time when I wasn’t nervous or scared of something. I developed it at the age of five. But when I was that young, I didn’t even understand what it was.
It wasn’t until I took a psychology class in high school that I became fascinated with mental health. I realized I had anxiety, depression, and a laundry list of other issues. But over the last year or so, I’ve spent a lot of my time researching and practicing ways to better cope with and even quell these illnesses.
Compared to all other means of getting my anxiety to chill out, meditation has been the most effective and beneficial to my overall well-being. When we see the word “meditation,” we sometimes picture a monk in lotus pose perched atop a rock on a mountain. While that would be considered meditating, that’s not the only way to go about it. Meditating, at its core, is an act of quieting the mind. It can be on a mountain or in your living room. Continue reading A New Type of Meditation to Reduce Anxiety
I always wanted to travel. In college I attended information sessions in stuffy rooms and echoing lecture halls, for at least five different study abroad programs. I dutifully filled out the paperwork, scheduled doctor’s appointments, even met with the other folks I’d be spending time abroad with. It was exciting. But something always held me back.
Traveling opens our minds and keeps us young. Women who vacation every two years have a significantly lower risk of heart attack than women who vacation only ever six years. Men who don’t take an annual vacation have a 20% higher risk of death (30% higher risk of heart disease). However, for those of us with depression, travel can pose many challenges or even make it impossible.
Immersing yourself in an unfamiliar culture –– and actually getting there –– can be challenging. Between long flights and layovers, short connections, cancellations, not understanding the language, being unfamiliar with the cuisine, uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, altitude changes…there are many variables that can pose issues even for the most seasoned traveler among us. Layering in mental illness can exacerbate these situations.
Just because traveling guarantees a disruption of your normal schedule and poses a variety of potential challenges, does not mean you have to abandon your travel plans, give up exploring new areas, or forego trips to visit those you love. There are ways for all of us with mental illness to maintain our mental wellness, while hitting the road. Continue reading Talkspace Online Therapy is the #1 Tool for Travelers With Depression
Imagine a caveman returning from a hunt. He is dragging the heavy carcass of a wild boar behind him. As he nears the glowing cave where his brethren await him, he constantly peers around to ensure there are no more threats.
If something attacked him now, it would be difficult to defend. He hasn’t seen anything dangerous for an hour, yet his eyes continue to dart around. He checks his back every couple of seconds.
Then he hears a rustle in a bush next to him. He reflexively thrusts his spear toward the noise.
In its purest, primal state, anxiety is an emotion that keeps us alive and unharmed. Our ancestors needed it to avoid being eaten by wild animals. By worrying about threats ahead of time, they became prepared to fight or take flight when necessary. This helped them survive and eventually thrive. Continue reading When Does Normal Anxiety Become a Mental Illness?
Throughout Mental Health Month, we focused on ways to empower individuals to “light their way” to better mental health, happiness, and improved well-being. As part of this celebration, we profiled “Mental Health Warriors,” individuals who have been outspoken in their advocacy and support for mental health issues. We caught up with lifestyle and fitness expert Chinae Alexander.
Talkspace: Society imposes some pretty impossible standards around female beauty. Did you absorb this message as a child or was it something you became more aware of later on in life?
Chinae Alexander: I think it was a little easier for us growing up, those pressures were certainly there, but with the onslaught of social media, etc, I can’t imagine what it’s like being a young girl now. I also grew up with a mom who always reminded me of my beauty. It’s amazing how shaping that has been and I’m glad I had that foundation to help me navigate the current age. Continue reading Mental Health Warriors: An Interview with Chinae Alexander
Good mental health is both a state of mind and a lifestyle. Part of it is developing a rational, positive mindset about oneself and the world. Having sources of pleasure and a manageable level of stress facilitates good mental health as well.
Additionally, it’s important to have a lifestyle that helps maintain this state of mind. This goes beyond fulfillment in work and relationships. It’s about regularly engaging in activities that provide a sense of peace or catharsis, including being in nature, meditating, or working with a therapist.
By practicing good mental health, people become more resilient and able to cope when their lives are riddled with stress and misfortune.
“Practicing good mental health habits before you feel distressed is like putting money in the bank for the bad times,” said Jude Miller Burke, Ph.D., a business psychologist and author of The Adversity Advantage. “When a bad time then comes, you are more prepared.”
If you feel like you’re missing a positive mindset or healthy lifestyle, try out some of the tips we gathered by asking therapists how to practice good mental health. Continue reading Good Mental Health: 12 Therapist-Approved Tips
It is the middle of the morning and I am standing in front of a sliding pocket door. The pocket door is made of wood and my forehead rests against the surface. The door divides the apartment: me on one side and my roommate on the other. It’s not a particularly nice piece of wood — unfinished, some rudimentary bevels — but it is holding me up. Earlier in the morning, I was snorting Ritalin in my closet. I have a pretty indigo glass plate I use for crushing the pills that’s now scratched with use. I was looking down at a line of powder on the plate. It was my fifth or sixth pill of the night, at a time when I was snorting 20 or so pills in a day. With the straw in my hand, I considered a couple of truths: I’d stolen the pills from my roommate; I’d eventually be caught; part of me wanted to be caught; part of me hoped I’d die before that happened.
“We really have a problem,” I said to myself. When things got really bad — when I couldn’t believe the things I was doing — I’d start referring to myself as a group.
I snorted the line. The burn felt like pain and ecstasy and shame. But no matter how high I’d get myself those days — dripping sweat, heart jumping in my chest, and ringing in my ears — I couldn’t shake the feeling of loneliness. And later in the evenings, I’d start drinking whiskey to slow down my body. Rinse, lather, repeat. Continue reading My Lost Decade: A Story of Addiction and Recovery
There is a history of division in the psychological community regarding how to classify different types of anxiety disorders. For decades before the release of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-5] in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association [APA] classified the following under the broad umbrella of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder [GAD], social anxiety disorder [SAD], panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD]. The DSM-5, however, removed OCD from the anxiety disorders category and listed it as its own category, along with other related disorders.
The prevalence of anxiety is still a component of OCD, and the DSM-5 acknowledges this. The manual focuses more, however, on the differences.
“The trademark of OCD is a behavioral aspect that is not necessarily present in anxiety disorders” said Anya Shumilina, a director at Behavioral Associates, a center that specializes in providing cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT]. “Individuals diagnosed with OCD are known to engage in rigid compulsive and repetitive behaviors, such as switching lights on and off 10 times before leaving the house, to alleviate stress brought by obsessive thinking.”
On the other hand, people with anxiety disorders are not likely to use these behaviors to cope. Anxiety disorders also tend to emphasize concrete worries and concerns, Shumilina said, including losing one’s job for specific reasons. OCD, however, often involves obsessions with vague fears such as germs. Continue reading Different Types of Anxiety Disorders: How Are They Classified?
Even when refugees remove themselves from the imminent physical dangers of war zones, their problems are far from over. If refugees relocate to camps within their own country, they often face issues like poverty, and physical and sexual abuse. If they flee abroad, racial and religious discrimination, along with cultural isolation, are often added to their list of woes.
Less talked about than physical and social issues, mental health problems are extremely prevalent in refugee populations, whether they are located in their home country or abroad. Civilian experiences in a war zone can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and physical manifestations of stress like the loss of the ability to move parts of the body. According to a report by the German Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, more than half the number of refugees from war zones suffer from some kind of mental illness.
The Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011 and has so far displaced over 12 million people, with 4 million seeking refuge abroad in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, has brought about a greater awareness of the mental issues experienced by refugees, especially children. Around half of Syrian refugees are under 18 years old, and around 40 percent are under 12. Three major reports — Save The Children’s March 2017 report, “Invisible Wounds,” the Migration Policy Institute’s (MPI) 2015 report, and a 2015 UNHCR report focus on the mental health issues of Syrian refugees. Continue reading The Global Refugee Mental Health Crisis
Spending too much time on a smartphone or social media can have negative effects on mental health, according to a wealth of research. If you want to protect your mind from your smartphone, start by getting educated. Check out the infographic below for some quick tips and insights on managing smartphone and social media use. Continue reading A Quick Guide to Social Media and Smartphone Addiction [Infographic]