The sweaty palms, the constant chatter in your brain, the overbearing feeling of unease and self doubt.
How do we balance our mental health in a world filled with distractions?
My mental health has always been a struggle since a child. I always struggled with how I looked, so much so I believed the mirrors in my house were fake, to make me look more like a girl.
I felt ugly. I hated my body. From a very young age. I didn’t understand it. I struggled with these thoughts alone. How could I open up to my parents and say I thought I was all wrong, not realising it was in my head.
This began at the age of six or seven (I remember it around the time of my Communion).
Into my teenage years, I was full of hate. I acted out. Frustrated and angry. I thought everything was my fault because the demons in my head had me believe this.
A teenager thinking that death is easier than living, is not okay. The thoughts that run through our minds. Would anyone even miss me? Would anyone care? I’m no one.
As I grew older, life moved me towards alcohol. Drinking with my friends. My confidence crutch. Drinking for the belief I fit in. Going with the crowd. This began at age 16 until the age of 27 when I decided enough was enough. Alcohol brought me into scary, dangerous situations and I couldn’t handle it anymore.
“Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health” – Drink Aware
Giving up the crazy social life didn’t magically make my issues go away. On the contrary, I had to face them head on.
I’m bringing this in to the present tense now because at the age of 32, I work with my mental health daily. It will never go away because our minds are like our bodies, we must train them, exercise them to work efficiently. So how do I manage, where did my own self-love grow from, what changed for me and what works?
- Therapy – I sought out help. I worked with a counsellor for a few months before I went to Australia for a year.
- Exercise – First running, and then I joined an online fitness community that literally changed my world. I found a love in moving my body. I got into a routine and the impact mentally was amazing. My mood changed instantly. My body began to change. I felt healthier. My thoughts were becoming more positive. So much so I am now a personal trainer sharing this gift with others. That said, this lifestyle also aggravated my anxiety in ways because I became obsessed with it, to the point I had a panic attack about whether to go for a run or meal prep. Yep. So even in the fitness world of shiny Instagram profiles, life isn’t as rosy as it may look!
- Yoga –The moment I sit on my mat, I melt into a sense of ease. I burn incense palo santo and begin to feel safe. Yoga is about union. Of body and mind. I became a yoga teacher to share the practice with more & more people. Nothing better than ‘legs up the wall’ to relieve anxiety.
- Meditation – I struggle to sit with my own thoughts. This is why I turned to yoga first. A moving meditation. My mind is kept busy flowing through the postures. Sitting still is hard for me even today. So I use an app daily now. 10 mins a day of pure mental focus.
- Nutrition – what you put in your mouth has a major impact on your mental health as well as physical health. Sit back and take a look at what you’re eating or drinking daily/weekly. Keep a food diary for a few weeks to see a pattern. Try and fill your plate with more colourful vegetables. Use seasoning if you aren’t a fan. The more colourful your plate, the more colourful your life. I work with a nutritionist to help me.
- Nature – get outside, walk, listen to a podcast. My favourite thing to do is walk in nature, among the trees and smelling the fresh air.
My self love grew from using all of the above in unison. Some days are better than others but more good days than bad.
The best thing you can do in life is show up for yourself. You can’t help others until you start helping yourself.
Find yourself a friend, a professional, a family member that you can keep accountable with. Someone to check in with daily or weekly about one or all of the above.
You are never alone.
Elisa Looby is a yoga teacher, personal trainer and mental health advocate living in Dublin.