May 4, 2023

Taking Charge of My Mental Health: 10 Practices That Make a Difference #MyStory

Taking Charge of My Mental Health: 10 Practices That Make a Difference #MyStory

Tech leader Dan Gunn share's his story and tips from his mental health journey.

About Dan

Dan is a community leader, mental health advocate, and supporter of the mission behind Cognito Health. We reached out to Dan recently to ask him if he’d be open to sharing his experience with the Cognito community as part of CMHA Mental Health Week 2023 and their theme of #MyStory. His openness to sharing his story is in efforts to support mental health awareness and reduce stigma.

Dan's Story

I’ve dealt with depression most of my life. Up until recently, I thought of it just as dark periods. Each time I started to feel better, I figured it was behind me. Last year, things were much darker and difficult to manage, which made it clear that this was something that requires me to be vigilant on an ongoing basis. So, as I (for the umpteenth time) began seeking help and researching what I could do for myself, I began to keep notes on the tactics I was implementing to help me stay consistent.

I did not stay consistent.

It’s easy to let off once you’re feeling better. A year later, I’m once again struggling with my mental health and have pulled out my notes. While I was at it, I decided to create this article to make it an easier reference for me and to share it in the hopes it might help others too.

First and foremost, it's important to note that depression is a complex condition that requires professional treatment. If you think you may be struggling with depression, I encourage you to speak with a primary care provider or mental health professional. With that said, here are the tactics that have helped me manage my symptoms:

1. Vitamins/Supplements

I have found that certain vitamins and supplements have helped me feel better and improved my energy and mood.

  • Magnesium
  • Turmeric
  • Fish oil
  • B12
  • D (I like taking this as drops under the tongue for better absorption)
  • Pre and Probiotics
  • Electrolytes (I use Nuun tablets)
  • A greens powder (added to a smoothie or just mixed with water)

2. Health Shakes

I start my day with a health shake that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and an all-in-one shake powder. It's a great way to start the day on a healthy note and provides me with sustained energy throughout the day.

My favourite shake recipe:

  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup of frozen berries (I like to have blueberries in there for the antioxidants)
  • ½ cup of frozen mango
  • 1 cup of baby spinach (sometimes I just mix in a green shake powder like Athletic Greens)
  • 1 scoop of protein shake powder (I like Vega’s Chocolate All-in-One Powder)
  • 2 cups of water (whatever it takes to get the consistency you like)

3. Internet Fasts

Taking a break from the internet can be incredibly beneficial for mental health. To reduce mental clutter and be more present, I like to spend Sundays offline and I try to not look at my phone until I get to the office in the morning. This has been so effective that I’m trying to expand my fasting into more of the weekend and even weekday evenings.

If you try this I think you’ll be surprised by how cluttered your mind gets by all the alerts, reminders and notifications. I’m not using an app for this (yet) but there are many and I’m considering trying Freedom to keep me off time wasting platforms during the day.

4. Exercise

I try to get out for a long walk every day, for anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes. This has changed my life and I have a few tips!

  • I like to listen to podcasts. Not surprisingly, a lot of them are about psychology. Check out Hidden Brain…it’s fantastic!
  • Wearables work. My whole walking regimen started because a watch tracked and gamified getting 10,000 steps/day. Being prompted and encouraged along with having data made it much easier for me to be consistent.
  • On the days you don’t want to (and they happen to all of us), just go put on your shoes and coat and step outside the door. Tell yourself you don’t have to go for the walk but you do have to get ready for it and step outside. I have never once turned back inside and skipped the walk. Motivation comes AFTER starting!

5. Accepting your unique mind

I’ve had too many serious concussions, and I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, dysgraphia, and depression. I finally realized that while these differences give me advantages in that I see things differently than most, they come with a cost too. Like you, I have to use energy to manage my mind and relate to others. Accepting these differences has made it easier to forgive myself for being different and put my energy into being effective instead of wasting it on frustration born out of guilt and shame.

I’ve found that learning from experts about the realities of my attributes has validated the struggle while offering coping mechanisms and tactics to leverage the benefits and/or mitigate the challenges. One of my favourite YouTube creators is Dr. Tracey Marks, I love her videos.

6. Getting Enough Sleep

It's easier said than done, but getting a regular 8 hours of sleep is a game changer.

  • If you get away from the internet by 9pm, it’s easier to get to sleep by 10pm.
  • Right before bedtime I’ve found sublingual Melatonin tablets (under the tongue) or powdered magnesium citrate (mixed in hot water) can really help me drift off into a restful sleep.
  • I use the Calm app for daily meditation, but they also have both sleep meditations and white noise you can play to help you get to sleep (Skylight Rain is my favourite).

7. Practicing Gratitude

It’s easy to take moments throughout the day to appreciate things big and small. I have so much to be thankful for. However, it's important to remember that it's okay to struggle with mental health even if things seem good on the surface. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your life is too good for you to feel down.

8. Openly Sharing

Talking openly about my struggles with depression has been helpful in reducing feelings of isolation and providing support. I’ve learned that just about everyone is dealing with something, and you can help both yourself and them to feel less alone. There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, but it’s getting easier all the time to be open about it.

9. Drink Water!

You just can’t hear this enough. Never say no to a glass of water. It almost always makes you feel better. If you struggle in the mornings, try drinking two cups of water as soon as you wake up. It’s amazing how that can get you up and going.

10. Meditation

Another one you’ve heard time and again. It works. Too many people think meditation is about this perfect Zen state but really, if you take at least 10 minutes a day to focus on breathing and calming your mind, you will feel better at least for a bit. The key is to practice, so that you have the mental muscle memory when you need it most. Heck, if you don’t want to sit still and close your eyes just stop and take 10 slow deep breaths or learn box breathing. I find guided meditation apps really help me and I use both Calm and Tripp (VR).

I hope the list above helps you as you develop your own set of effective tactics. You’re not alone. Do what you can for yourself and get help when you need it.

Disclaimer from Cognito Health: This is Dan’s personal story about his mental health journey. The methods and techniques stated may not be applicable to your own mental health. Nothing stated in this article is intended to replace professional treatment for mental health. We always recommend talking to your health care provider before making any changes to your lifestyle, diet, and supplementation.
If you are in emotional distress, please contact the resources below
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