How I Overcame Depression And Traveled To My Bucket List Destinations

depressed man traveling head in hand

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.

My depression.

When it came time to actually book the flight, things started to break down. To picture myself trying to make a tight connection, rebook a flight, overcome jet lag, suffer homesickness, not able to speak the language? It was paralyzing. I felt myself spinning into that familiar, desperate cycle of blaming myself for not being able to do the things I dreamed of and not being able to do the things I dreamed of because of my depression. Each application deadline — Prague, London, Paris, Cádiz, Perth — that passed would send me back to bed, missing classes, ignoring friends, and feeling miserable. Continue reading How I Overcame Depression And Traveled To My Bucket List Destinations

I Actually Enjoy Going to Therapy

man smiling holding phone

When I worked with a therapist for the first time, I did not imagine it was something I would ever enjoy. Part of it was the way I started. My parents nagged me into going. After doctors were unable to diagnose or treat my sleep deprivation, my mom suggested it might be related to mental health and that seeing a therapist could help. After months of resisting her recommendations, I finally booked an appointment.

At first I perceived it as the mental health equivalent of eating healthy foods that tasted terrible, going to the dentist, or getting a physical. It was an unpleasant chore, but it couldn’t hurt.

The initial months were difficult and painful. My therapist and I discovered I had constructed a subconscious system of negative beliefs to cope with the pain of living with undiagnosable, painful, relentless, and stressful health problems. Rather than protecting me, this system had poisoned my mind and exacerbated my physical issues. Continue reading I Actually Enjoy Going to Therapy

How to Care for Your Mental Health on Vacation

woman backpacking mountains

It sounds weird to think we need to pay attention to our mental health while on vacation. After all, there’s plenty of evidence showing vacations improve our mental health.

But when you go on vacation, you leave behind the comfort of a familiar environment, the support of a therapist, and the consistency of a routine. A vacation can actually trigger mental illness symptom flare ups, whether you’re traveling alone or with friends or family.

Here are some strategies you can use to stay mentally healthy on your next trip:

Take Care of Your Body

Exercise helps stave off mental illness symptoms. But it can be hard to make time for it while you’re on vacation.

If going to the gym is part of your normal routine, you can drop in to your hotel gym. Or if you belong to a chain gym, there are likely facilities all over the country you may be able to access for no extra fee.

The point isn’t to miss out on all the fun because you have to hit the gym, though. You can incorporate fitness into your vacation in more subtle ways, like by taking long walks through a new city or along the beach. The key is to stay moving. Continue reading How to Care for Your Mental Health on Vacation

Depression: How to Deal When It’s Not Just Seasonal

woman sunset depression

On cold, rainy days, you’re allowed to be miserable and lazy. It’s totally acceptable to stay in, nap, and watch Netflix all day. From the months of May through September, however, you’re supposed to get outside, enjoy the weather and be happy. You’re supposed to have the time of your life in summer! But what if your depression is so bad that you can’t get out from underneath your covers? What good will the sun do you then?

Though summer marks a victorious finish line for sufferers of seasonal depression (or, seasonal affective disorder), the new season brings little to no relief for people with major or clinical depression, since triggers and causes usually run deeper than lack of sun or daylight hours. In fact, I’ve probably been at my very worst during certain summers, when the only time I felt like my mood was matched was when I’d lock eyes with a fellow distressed commuter at 8:30 AM on a Monday in a packed subway car reeking of body odor. Depression is extra lonely in the summer.

Confession: I envy people with seasonal affective disorder. It even has a cute acronym, SAD — unlike MDD (major depressive disorder) which doesn’t discriminate when it comes to seasons. Not to minimize a very real and difficult condition, but personally, I’d trade my MDD for SAD any day. To know that my depression symptoms were limited to a specific time frame would make them more manageable. Plus, SAD often occurs during a season when it’s more socially acceptable to feel such things. People can understand depression in the winter (and love to say, “Wow, this weather is so depressing”), but it’s difficult for them to grasp how someone can be down in the dumps when it’s nice out. Continue reading Depression: How to Deal When It’s Not Just Seasonal

Anxiety Helped Me Become a Better Person

anxious man bed

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

A New Type of Meditation to Reduce Anxiety

asian man listening music iphone

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

Talkspace Online Therapy is the #1 Tool for Travelers With Depression

depressed man airport red suitcase

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.

My depression.

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

When Does Normal Anxiety Become a Mental Illness?

anxious man hand in head

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?

Mental Health Warriors: An Interview with Chinae Alexander

Chinae Alexander headshot quote

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: 12 Therapist-Approved Tips

hands green brain

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