Living with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and her bluesy sister, depression, has drastically changed how I handle everyday life. PTSD changed me from a determined and self-sufficient tigress with a moody disposition, to a wimpy and terrified house mouse. There are days I can hardly rouse myself from the couch, let alone take life by the horns to fight for my keep. I have beat myself up about my inability to follow through. In the pre-diagnosed days of my PTSD, I turned to alcohol to ease the panic and dull the pain. Anxiety and lethargy applied for permanent residence in my body, and I thought I had to fight to have their applications thrown out. Turns out I didn’t have to fight, I had to give up and stop trying to control everything, including my drinking. My saving grace has been learning to cultivate gratitude, even in smallest measure. No matter how down and out you are, there are ways to access serenity during the darkest days of trauma.
1. Step outside and sit in nature, let some sunshine on your skin.
Once in a while, I can get myself to step out onto the balcony in the morning. Standing barefoot on the cool tiles, eyes closed, the sun warms my skin. If I do this short ritual, my day is always better than when I don’t do it—even if I only step out in my pajamas for a minute, it makes a difference.
There has long been anecdotal evidence that time outside is a mood booster. In the 19th century, it was common for a doctor to tell a patient with melancholy to take an extended trip to a remote locale. Now there is scientific research to back up what we knew all along. A 2016 Harvard study looked into the connection between outdoor green spaces and mortality rates. Over eight years, they followed 100,000 female-identified nurses. Turns out, the women who lived in the areas with the greenest spaces had a 12 percent lower rate of mortality than their concrete jungle-living colleagues. They took into account clinical depression diagnoses and any prescription medication for depression. A whopping 30 percent of the benefit gleaned from nature at home was directly correlated with mental health and lower rates of depression.
The sun on your skin is essential to physical and mental well-being. The World Health Organization encourages people to get out in the sun, because too little sunlight is more dangerous than too much. When the sun’s powerful UVB radiation comes in contact with your skin, it kicks vitamin D production into gear. Vitamin D is in every tissue of the human body, and is the only vitamin that does double duty as a hormone. Vitamin D deficiency is strongly correlated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other mood disorders, particularly depression.
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