Psychiatric medications are commonly prescribed for depression, anxiety and various mood disorders. While they can be life saving and otherwise useful for some, their use can be even more effective when paired with other forms of self care and wellness practices.
In my experience, medications have been necessary for me to function and be productive in school and work. They lessen my physical symptoms of anxiety, which allows me to stay calm in situations I would otherwise be unable to face. In the past, medications have gotten me back on my feet when I was missing school due to issues with anxiety and insomnia. I do not personally believe that the goal should be to alleviate symptoms so that medications are not needed. Some say that because the long term effects of common psychiatric medications are unknown — because they are still relatively new (according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, they were first used in the 1950s and became more widely accessible in the 1980s) — they should be avoided. My answer is this: the long term effects of mental illness are harmful and can even lead to death (as they have in my family), so it is best to pair the use of medication with other forms of wellness, according to the medical professionals I have seen. Unless a person has enough free time or ability to practice extremely focused self care, the use of medication can be life saving. These are some self care and wellness practices that have helped me, although solutions can vary from person to person.
- Talk therapy: Talk therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and its related Dialectical Behavioral Therapy have given me the skills to confront internal and emotional issues that come with anxiety and depression, while medication has lessened physical symptoms. Many insurances cover talk therapy, and eight sessions of counseling per year are available to Mills students at no cost in the Cowell Center.
- Exercise and healthy eating habits: It can be difficult to balance these practices with schoolwork, so it is helpful for me to think about them in small ways. For example, if it is not possible to visit the fitness center on-campus a few times a week, taking a daily walk around campus can make a sizeable difference in my mood. Likewise, the goal of eating a few servings of vegetables every day is less daunting than changing my entire diet. For those looking to set small goals to improve their wellbeing, free health coaching is available through Vera Whole Health on campus.
- Sleep hygiene: For me, anxiety and sleep issues go hand in hand. Not sleeping can worsen any symptoms I may be experiencing and I must make an active effort to sleep well. It is helpful to stick to a consistent bedtime, to avoid caffeine and to avoid bright screens an hour before bedtime.
As a busy student, self care can sound daunting, but it does not have to require a large time commitment. It is important to be patient and gentle with myself and to avoid setting goals that are too large when it comes to wellness and balance.