7 simple habits to protect your mental health

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  • Lifestyle changes can help people manage anxiety and depression and take charge of their mental well-being.
  • Some behaviors related to improving or preventing anxiety and depression include solving sleep problems, connecting with others, eating a nutritious diet, and exercising.
  • Change can be difficult, especially for those who suffer from anxiety or depression, so it’s important to be kind to yourself.
  • The best way to take care of your mental health is the approach that’s right for you. In some cases, professional help may also be necessary.

When Roy came to me for long-standing symptoms of depression and anxiety (they often coexist), he was hesitant at best. He wanted to feel better, but “getting treated” didn’t fit his account of what he was “supposed to do as an adult” in his culture. He had a decent and regular job, but felt his life lacked meaning and joy. He was so hard on himself and avoided others for fear of judgment.

Source: Ian Stauffer / Unsplash

I knew he would run the other way if I jumped into a medical referral or diagnosis too quickly, so we started with the more humane approaches – tapping into what was really going on for him and exploring the changes in him. readily available lifestyle that aligned with his interest, motivation and values. Within weeks, his spark began to return, and within months he felt he had new life. He wasn’t suddenly happy all the time. But he felt a new sense of his ability to take charge of his mental health.

Will everyone have a result like Roy of lifestyle changes? Certainly not – anxiety and depression are complex conditions with huge individual variations, various underlying causes, and varying levels of severity. But can everyone benefit from learning the basics of how to take care of their mind, either separately or in addition to professional treatment? I believe him.

The following seven health behaviors are key behaviors related to preventing or improving symptoms of anxiety and depression.

While everything on this list is straightforward, it’s far from easy. Change is difficult. And if you are currently suffering from depression or anxiety, it can be especially difficult. That’s why one of the key behaviors is being kind to yourself.

If you’re driven to do it, pick one area to work on at the same time, perhaps one area that you feel particularly motivated or confident to tackle, or one that you feel aligned with your most important values. Then take it one step at a time. The fun thing about change is that a lot of times we don’t know it’s happening, we just keep rowing in the right direction, and usually after a few or a few thousand twists, we look back in wonder. how far we went. to come.

1. Sleep

While 10-18% of adults in the United States suffer from chronic sleep problems, that number increases to 65-90% of people with depression and more than 50% of those with generalized anxiety disorder. Of those with depression, 65% first had trouble sleeping. Treating sleep problems can alleviate the symptoms of mental health problems and, since sleep problems are a risk factor for mental health problems, can help protect your mental health as well.

There are many resources to help you improve your sleep, like this one free app.

2. Self-compassion

A self-critical or perfectionist disposition can be a risk factor for anxiety and depression. This can include feeling like you have to be perfect to be accepted, an inability to come to terms with your flaws in yourself, intense soul-searching, or an unrealistic feeling of other people’s expectations and your ability to meet them.

Despite the fear of many who have this characteristic, the antidote to perfectionism is not to let everything go or to say goodbye to standards – it is self-compassion. According to researcher Kristen Neff, self-compassion has three components: benevolence versus self-judgment, common humanity versus isolation, mindfulness versus overidentification. The way we treat ourselves through the ups and downs of life can have a huge impact on health and mental health.

Essential reading on depression

3. Social connection

From the moment we are born, we need social bonds to thrive.

A recent study led by Harvard researchers sought to understand what might best protect us from the depression that is under our control. After analyzing over 100 potential factors, they found that social connection was by far the most important protective factor.

It has been a lonely year for many. And many are anxious to get back to normal. But connection doesn’t mean a big party or a busy office. This could be letting someone you trust how you are really doing, listening to how someone else is really doing, sincerely thanking, or having a (safe) visit with a family member. or a friend. If that seems beyond your reach, try making a short list of people who, at some point, made you feel like you belonged. Other studies have shown that just thinking about positive relationships can have a positive impact on our ability to tolerate stress.

4. Exercise

Exercise can be important in preventing depression because a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor. A study have found that 15 minutes a day of vigorous exercise significantly prevents depression. Another study found that 12 weeks of vigorous 30-minute exercise three to five times a week reduced symptoms by 47%.

For coexisting anxiety and depression, a Study 2020 Led by James Blumenthal, professor of psychiatry at Duke University, exercise was most effective when combined with medication. Otherwise, a high level of anxiety seemed to lessen the effects of exercise in reducing depression.

What about anxiety? Studies show exercise can be a positive distraction, which higher activity levels can protect against symptoms, and only one exercise session can have immediate benefits in reducing stress and worry.

5. Food

Much has been written about the connection between food and mood. We have so many neurons and neurotransmitters in our gut that it’s been dubbed “the second brain.” In fact, 95% of the serotonin we make comes from neurotransmitters in the gut. Traditional diets (such as the Mediterranean diet) high in vegetables, whole grains and fat that are good for the brain are associated with 25-35% reduced risk of depression compared to the typical Western diet which is higher in sugar, processed foods and dairy products.

While we generally think of positive nutrition as a preventative habit, a 2020 study found significant reductions in symptoms of depression, as well as concomitant anxiety symptoms, after a 12-week intervention that offered the support of a nutritionist to follow a modified Mediterranean diet. These results suggest that nutritional therapy is a useful adjunct to treatment and may one day be validated as a treatment in itself.

6. Meaning and purpose

No list could be complete without a nudge in meaning and purpose. If we are struggling with mood and negative emotions, it can be especially important to define happiness for ourselves. As Victor Frankl wrote in The search for meaning of man: “Because success, like happiness, does not continue; it must follow.

It is difficult to control “happy”. It is much easier to control the “meaning”.

You can read more about finding sources of meaning in everyday life in my previous post.

7. Mindfulness

Through mindfulness, you can change your relationship with difficult thoughts and feelings. Many find that with continued practice they still have difficult thoughts and feelings, but they can observe them with a little more distance and a little less believing them as facts. A study found that after eight weeks of practicing mindfulness, practitioners have shown an increased concentration of gray matter, which is associated with emotional regulation, among other benefits. Mindfulness is not a panacea, but it can be a very useful tool in changing the way you experience challenges.

To begin with, you can find free guided meditations in line.

Which of these habits is the most effective? Well it really depends on what works for you! If someone tells you that mindfulness is “the only way,” let that notion slip away like the leaves of a river. Like a Revision 2021 from the University of Cambridge have found, for example, that mindfulness is useful in most clinical settings, but not necessarily more than other wellness approaches, such as exercise.

So the best approach is this: get all the support you can get (for clinical levels of anxiety and depression, professional therapy and medical evaluation are the gold standard) and take care of your mind based on what works for you.


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