10 things I learned about my mental health this year

It's nearly the end of the year and as always I try to set some time aside to reflect back on the year. Here are ten insights, thoughts and discoveries about my mood and mental health this year.
mental health

In this post I’ll be sharing 10 things I learned about my mood and mental health this year. Not all of them are big new discoveries and some are probably best called re-affirmations. But as always, I’m sharing them in the hope that they’ll be helpful for some of my readers out there. And perhaps they’ll encourage you to look back at your own year and see what you’ve discovered for yourself too. 

10 things I learned about my mental health this year

Happiness and depression are not at opposite ends

Overcoming depression does not mean that you’re happy. Happiness and depression are not at opposite ends from one another . I came across this amazing observation whilst listening to this wonderful podcast interview with Tal Ben-Shahar. He’s a leading positive psychologist so looks at the science behind human flourishing. 

As for me personally, this insight certainly rings true. I’m not suffering from depression anymore but I also haven’t always felt happy this year. 

If I don't run regularly, my mood drops

Not quite sure why but I’ve been running a lot less these past few months than I used to. To be fair, the weather really has been bad with lots of rain and strong winds here on the island. But those are just excuses. Running helps me to get out of my head, to feel good within myself and it definitely makes me more resilient too. If I haven’t been out running for a while, my mood is noticeably lower in general. 

Doing meaningful work has an enormous impact on my mental health

This year has been such a big one for me professionally as I narrowed down my focus towards mood and mental health. Lots of new beginnings and endless things to figure out how to do. It’s certainly been challenging but just so absolutely rewarding. 

The other day I was asked whether I ever struggled to motivate myself to work, and I could truthfully say no to that. I certainly used to lack motivation for my work, but not any more. I feel driven to work on this business because it’s fully aligned with my personal goals, values and my vision. The work I do is deeply meaningful to me and I can’t tell you how good that’s been for my mental health. In fact, this work keeps me afloat when I struggle with difficulties in personal areas of my life.  

Friendship, friendship, friendship, friendship & friendship

I became very aware of the importance of good friendships for my mood. Living on a super small island and a long way away from my hometown in Germany obviously presents its challenges. And when my closest friend and I here on the island weren’t able to see each other for six weeks this year, wow did my mood drop. Having honest heartfelt conversations with people make me obviously feel more connected but really benefit my mental health too. 

I mustn't go to bed too late

It felt like a little experiment, although unintentionally. During the summer weeks, when my daughter wasn’t at nursery or now at school, I was trying to do lots of work in the evenings. Most evenings. And most nights of the week I went to bed far too late and ended up with only about 6h of sleep each night. It had such a bad effect on my mood…. so  setting myself asleep-by-11pm goals made such a difference.

Buying an alarm clock & turning that phone off

Simple things, big effects. I used to use my phone for my morning alarm which of course makes it so easy to scroll your social media feeds, check your emails or even worse read the news. Before bed. After waking up. Not good. Now I turn it off, leave it in the living room and use a good old alarm clock instead. Magic.

It's okay to change your plans and let go when faced with loss

Sometimes upsetting things happen that you didn’t expect. Things that overwhelm you and are deeply saddening. Two lovely people in my life died this year and the effect that can have on your life can of course be huge. Grief and depression can be pretty hard to distinguish from one another. In fact, it used to be that you were officially exempted from a depression diagnosis before 2013 if you were in fact grieving over the loss of a loved one. For a certain amount of time at least. But this exemption was removed in 2013 and the mental health manual no longer distinguishes between grief and depression. It’s a difficult distinction, right? 

When these unexpected and upsetting events happened, I found it so helpful to let go of anything that wasn’t absolutely vital in my life. I reduced external pressures and worked less as much as I could. I sought comfort from other people in my life, and allowed myself to feel whatever I was feeling. As painful as particularly this last step is, it’s worked much better for me than trying to just push through. 

You don't always need advice, but rather someone who's simply listening

This insight has actually come from my closest friend but it really stuck with me too. It’s so good and healing to simply tell someone what’s going on. You don’t always want their advice, no matter how well it’s meant. Just having somebody truly listening to what you’re saying that be all that’s needed.

Sugar, you sweet devil.

Sweet foods are tasty and also very addictive. They give us a temporary high and we crave more and more and more the more we consume it. I do totally believe that there’s a place for sweet foods in our lives. I love food more than most other things in life and often use food as a form of celebration. 

But once again this year I noticed how much sugar messes with my mood. And just how easy it is to slip back into eating more of it. The number one telltale sign tends to be irritability. I tend to get irritable, as in way-over-the-top, if I’ve a) not slept long enough for a few nights in a row, or b) had too much sugar.

Lots of my clients have said the same, in fact all of them. And I’ve heard it from countless other people too. 

In a way, having this internal automatic alarm response to too much sugar is very useful though. It motivates me to stay away from it, and that can only be a good thing.

Focusing too much on work costs you in so many ways

I’ve mentioned it above but this year was a huge year for my work. I truly love it. But working all possible hours until I’m too tired takes it toll. Rest and play are a part of your work. Without the balance not only will your mental and physical health suffer, but so will your work performance and success. 

If I take a few moments to journal at the beginning of the day, I’m way more productive. If I schedule in a walk with a friend even though I could be working, the other time I have left to work will be far more focused as a result. It’s all a balance of course and we don’t all have as much choice over how to structure our days. But focusing too little on the play and rest in our lives is just too unsustainable.

So there we go, ten insights from this year all about what drains and what supports my mood and mental health.

If you want to share your own insights, do come and join my facebook group: The women’s better mood group. We’ll be talking about exactly these kinds of personal observations and lessons from the year, so do come and contribute. You’d be so welcome to join us!

mental health

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I’m Claudia Smith and I help women get to better mental health naturally. Having overcome depression once myself, I am a qualified nutritionist, coach and practice functional medicine.

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