• Kevin Douglas

Ways I've Tried to Improve my Mental Health

I have gotten all kinds of advice all over the place about what I "should" or "could" do to make day-to-day life more structured, pleasant, and productive. Each of the following are things I tried, accompanied by how much success they brought me, on a scale of 1 (little-to-none feel-good-ness) to 10 (maximum feel-good-ness).

  1. Improving my diet: 6. Cooking with meal-prep kits like HelloFresh certainly helped my mood and nutrition, and also boosted my confidence. However, I found out the company is spending thousands of dollars a day to try and disrupt workers' efforts to unionize. I also realized I was spending a lot more of my budget on food than I could afford, and both of these revelations made me feel pretty crappy. So, no more HelloFresh...

  2. Regular exercise: 7. Looking at the last year of my life, I felt best back around June/July when I got in the habit of swimming every (or every other) morning. It woke me up, I felt myself getting stronger, and my overall mood was much better. Pretty soon, though, I got swamped with work and I got out of the habit. Fast forward a few months when I'm finally motivated to get back in the pool... and it's closed for the season, because the weather is getting colder. Sigh.

  3. Using a planner: 3. I liked having a physical planner and jotting out my schedule for the day, but the first moment I had to pivot because of new tasks popping up, I felt more stressed than I had before I started. Maybe mapping out my day loosely is the trick, and trying to break it down to every single hour is too much — at least, while I'm still working multiple jobs.

  4. Growing/taking care of plants: 1. I got a sunflower grow kit that I was really excited about. Didn't realize I wasn't supposed to pour all of the seeds into the soil... after a few cute sprouts, they all perished in what I imagine was a brutal, botanic Hunger Games scenario where they all fought each other to be the last flower standing. That was pretty disheartening. (I've been gifted another plant and it's doing okay... but the whole thing has been kind of tainted, honestly.)

  5. Playing video games: 4. It's a useful distraction when I do it with others, but when I game by myself, I feel this looming cloud roll in and shame me for being unproductive and lazy. Then I stop whatever game I'm playing and try another one, until I slowly realize I can't concentrate on anything for more than 30 minutes before feeling like I'm not getting enough out of it.

  6. Reading books: 5. Similar feeling to video games, but when I get really engrossed by a book I like a lot, the feeling goes away. Again, it's hard to find the book that will cater to the mood I'm in. For a while it was Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos, but I've taken a break from that because it reminds me of a friend who is no longer in my life, and it just kinda bums me out now.

  7. Watching TV: 10. Yeah, this is kinda just coping now. But getting really invested in a long-winded story has genuinely been the best distraction as of late, and discussing the twists and turns with friends and family feels so much easier than trying to dredge up original thoughts... it makes socializing easier, and it gives me something to root for. Right now, it's Succession and Search Party on HBO that have given me the most pip in my step.

  8. Morning Walks: 8. It's been a nice way to start the day, and it's more low-pressure than exercise. I've stopped since quarantining, which has been a bummer.

  9. Listening to music: 8. I've tried combining this with morning walks, to pretty good success. I pick an album I haven't listened to in its entirety, and I walk for as long as the album lasts. The only downside is, sometimes I end up walking too long and I get too late a start on my work. Also, if I'm not enjoying a song or album, I'll force myself to listen all the way through because of some invisible sense of duty I've placed upon myself. But overall, one of my favorite activities.

  10. Spending time with others: 9. One of the best parts of my life as of late has been bonding with friends and making new ones. But sometimes, I feel like I'm not really advocating for myself because I want to keep other people around, and I wind up being inauthentic or going along with things I'm really not that excited about. Sometimes, I want to just bail on plans, curl up in a ball and do absolutely nothing. You know what I mean?

Writing all these out, it's nice to see fewer small numbers than I expected. Quantifying the things that help, it makes the feeling of disassociating feel less overpowering and frightening. Plus, I know there are so many more things in the world. For example: I kind of want to join a bowling league. Or ping pong, or something. Like, competitive, but not seriously competitive. I don't know. Just spitballling, you know?

If you're feeling like me, don't stop trying new things. They might just feel like futile distractions, or wastes of time and money, but I'm a firm believer that nothing is a waste. When you try something you end up hating, you're narrowing down the pool of things you could like. If you don't feel passionate about anything, maybe you just haven't found that thing yet. I'm not even sure I have. But we've got to keep trying.

Peace and love, all.

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Pssst. Don't freak out -- everything is okay! I figured it's been long enough, and I'm not quite tired enough to sleep, so I'm writing these things down to manifest them/to hold myself accountable: I