Mental illness is treatable: Lifestyle changes

By: Marianne Andaloro Oct 11, 2012

Are there lifestyle changes that can help with my depression?

A good quality of life can be achieved with some lifestyle changes.

There is considerably more hope today for those with a mental illness then there may have been 20 or 30 years ago. With humane medical advancements including advancements in medications available, good quality of life can be achieved however it takes some lifestyle changes. 

Making some of the following changes would enhance the quality of anyone’s life, but those that struggle with a mental illness seem much more environmentally sensitive,  which makes them even more critical.

Lifestyle changes include the following:

1. Regular sleep times. Going to sleep and waking up at similar times every day and ensuring to sleep during hours that are dark help maintain stability. Sleeping too little or too much are triggers for mood instability so I avoid disruption to this cycle at all costs.

2. Good, quality nutrition supports our bodies’ natural defense systems. Mainly, eating lots of vegetables and high quality grains and proteins. With the risk of weight gain so prevalent with many psychiatric medications, it becomes even more critical to eat clean and ensure all major physiological systems are fed. 

3. Exercise is a natural antidepressant. Personally, I prefer morning workouts so I can receive the benefit of the endorphin release all day, but as long you’re not exercising too close to bed time (that would be stimulating), anytime will suffice.  The ideal is a good cardio workout to get the heart pumping to maximize endorphins

4. Light therapy. Don’t underestimate the importance of the sun, and when the sun is not available, a light box will suffice.  I sit next to a light box the strength of 10,000 lux (10,000 candles) with the light entering through my peripheral vision as I sit and read or work at my computer

5. I have read a few articles about the consistency of vitamin deficiencies in those with mental illnesses. Specifically in Amino Acids, Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin B, Vitamin C and Vitamin D.  Doses vary by research source so I would recommend speaking with your Doctor for treatment that will be appropriate to the medication you are taking.  However, it is worth requesting a blood test to confirm any deficiencies and ensure all are addressed. 

6. When well, learn some good meditative, self-soothing techniques.  Personally, I practice yoga, journal, enjoy hot baths, my garden and reading.  These techniques are next to impossible to learn in the midst of an anxiety attack or moment of great stress, so it’s pretty critical to find what appeals most to you for relaxation and learn to use those things when feeling that crisis is imminent.

7. Most important, regular med times.  Ensuring an even and consistent dose will support maximum stability.

Marianne Andaloro is a part-time Mental Health Advocate and full-time Media Consultant.  With a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder Type 1 in 2005, she made significant lifestyle changes to manage her illness and a "normal" life.  Each year has been increased her knowledge and she enjoys sharing this knowledge.  In her spare time she reads, kayaks and practices yoga.