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The first time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I sat across from my psychiatrist and watched her draw a wavy line on a piece of paper.
“These,” she said, “are your moods.”
The line immediately made me think of the ebb and flow of calm waves in a harbor. I cocked my head to the side and thought, “That doesn’t seem so bad.”
Then she reached for a thicker pen and began drawing again. This time the waves were bigger, the peaks much higher, and the valleys dismally lower. The bay turned into a violent ocean, whipping debris from all the ships stranded at sea.
“These,” she corrected, “are your moods when you have bipolar disorder.”
This simple illustration landed hard.
It explained the days of elation, like I could conquer the world. It also helped me understand the dismal depression that I often felt. Those waves explained why one moment, I could be charging hundreds of dollars on plane flights and then be suicidal just hours later.
I’ve lived with bipolar disorder for almost two decades now. Like many chronic illnesses, there are days where it’s seemingly unbearable. There have been moments when I’ve been convinced that my brain was broken beyond repair. But, more than that, there have been stretches of months where life is good. Where I’ve built a family, a career, a life that I love.
Trust me, my path to wellness has been a journey. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way that have helped me manage my mental health:
It’s easy to disregard our mental health symptoms as “having a bad day” or as “being too emotional.” If your mental health is impacting your daily life, I suggest seeing a specialist for a diagnosis. A specialist has experience with the nuances of different mental health issues and can provide you with more effective treatments than a general practitioner.
Perhaps it’s coffee with a friend, a heart-to-heart with a trusted family member, or (my favorite) a weekly session with a licensed counselor. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those. Either way, find someone that you can trust and confide in on a regular basis.
Find what feels good for you in this season and go with it. It could be walking your dog. Powerlifting. Perhaps it’s swimming laps or playing soccer. Studies have shown that regular exercise helps increase your brain’s serotonin production, so try to exercise 3-5 times a week.
A mental illness trigger is something that tends to make your symptoms worse. For me, it’s lack of sleep. For other people, it can be alcohol, spending too much time on social media, or perhaps a toxic person from their past. Take some time to learn what your triggers are and work hard to navigate around them.
At the end of the day, I encourage you to remember that mental illness is a diagnosable disorder. It is not a lack of personal discipline, an inability to shift to a more positive perspective, or a weakness of character. All illnesses can benefit from wellness practices such as movement, meditation, and self-care. Often, though, these practices must be balanced with professional medical supervision and medications. Repeat after me: there’s no shame in my SSRI game.
Want more mental health and wellness talk? Follow Paula on Instagram at @paulatamarahoss to read more about her story and tips!
I’m celebrating week 21 of pregnancy. Baby is the size of a banana or bell pepper. I don’t know why it’s so fun to compare a growing fetus to a fruit or veggie, but it gives me a much-needed laugh while I make note to avoid consuming bananas for the week. This is also ultrasound week. I’m no longer able to bring my husband and daughter to the appointment, but we understand that these restrictions are put in place to protect us. Like so many pregnant women and mothers across the world, I’m doing my best to adapt to the new norm and changes that COVID-19 has introduced to my already stressful life.
Pregnant women across various metro cities are beginning to face fears of delivering their baby without a birthing partner by their side for the duration of the hospital stay. Family members and friends may not be able to meet baby in-person for quite some time, so those special first meetings happen over FaceTime. New mommy groups switch to virtual meetups. I’m feeling the weight of it all (and I’m not referring to the extra weight I’ve gained from WFH snacking), the heaviness of the unknown that we all carry as we navigate through all of this change.
Tuning into nightly news or googling the latest COVID-19 death tolls is a surefire way to lose sleep, but we do it anyway because we want to stay informed as we wrap our heads around how much this pandemic will change our world. Maybe your anxiety and personal despair grow as you hear from a friend who recently lost their job or read about your favorite restaurant unable to keep its doors open. Canceled events, long-anticipated vacations, and temporarily closed fitness studios are not only inconvenient, but force us to reframe our attitudes.
I can hear my mother’s voice telling me to relax. She tells me that the baby can feel my stress, and that isn’t good for anyone. I begin to feel guilty about my inability to quiet the negative feelings and decide that something needs to change. We can’t change what the media reports, the pressure at work, or predict how long it will take for the economy to recover. But what if we reminded ourselves to do the best with what we have and keep moving forward—one day at a time. Amidst the chaos, we’re becoming a stronger, kinder community, and that is truly a beautiful thing to see.
The journey to my second trimester wasn’t an easy one. I suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage a few years ago. I made time for my body and mind to heal after the loss. Float tank sessions, meditation, vinyasa power flow, and frequent facials helped me connect with my body. I can’t say self-care alone healed my depression, but it certainly helped me discover the importance of self-love and repaired my self-confidence.
After many pregnancy tests and negative results, I was at peace with accepting that having another child may not be in the cards for me. Fast forward to age 37. I was shocked to see a + symbol on three pregnancy stick tests. Although I’m medically referred to as a geriatric pregnancy, my OB/Gyn said there was no reason for me to go into this pregnancy with a negative mindset. Eat healthy, stay active, and focus on being POSITIVE. Maybe the pursuit of happiness and path to personal wellness was really that simple.
On my 38th birthday, I celebrated my 20th week of pregnancy—I’ll refer to it as the “Pregnant in a Pandemic Party.” I blew out a candle on a warm chocolate chip cookie that my husband and daughter baked together. They were my only party guests, but I didn’t need a room full of people at a fancy restaurant to feel pure gratitude. People across the world continue to test positive for COVID-19. I was safe in my home with my family. I was right where I needed to be.
Although the past few weeks have brought a wide range of emotions for all of us, I’m choosing to use this extra time to self-reflect and bond with family. I’m mentally recording my five-year-old daughter as she whispers to my stomach and tells her baby sister that August couldn’t come soon enough. This is life. So perfectly imperfect at times, but beautiful in more ways than we know. We may be housebound, down to the last few rolls of toilet paper, and our hair hasn’t seen a salon in over a month. The loss of control and routine over our daily lives can make us feel like failures. Trust me; we’re not. We were never meant to get through this alone. Together, we will get through this—one day at a time.