May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and many celebrities and prominent public figures are…
Depressed or Anxious? Tips to Help You Deal with Depression and Anxiety
According to Mental Health America, depression affects more than 19 million Americans per year. Depression often co-exists with other conditions such as anxiety. Clearly, depression and anxiety are widespread problems in this country, and anyone who suffers from the conditions understands why.
Persons suffering from depression and anxiety are often prescribed medications in conjunction with other treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and counseling. There are some individuals who are greatly helped by anti-depressant medication, and this article is not intended to discourage those people from taking the medications they need. However, antidepressants do nothing by themselves to cure or resolve underlying problems for those whose depression is linked to life events. They may even tend over time to be counterproductive.
Symptoms of Depression
Feelings of depression range from a vaguely mild sadness, being fed up with life, to total despair and withdrawal from society. Depression is characterized by feelings of low self esteem, a sense of hopelessness and sadness, loss of appetite and weight, lack of care in personal appearance, and a general sense that life seems hopeless.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can range from a mild nervousness to extreme panic, obsession or phobia. It is characterized by unpleasant feelings and frightening sensations in the body and the mind.
Tips to Help Fight Depression and Anxiety – Without Pills
But what can you do to help combat feelings of depression and anxiety without taking pills? Here are some tips.
• Get checked out by your doctor – Depression is often accompanied by anxiety, stress, physical illnesses and injuries. Depression exists to some extent in persons with arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart problems and during or after pregnancy. A thorough physical exam will help pinpoint or rule out any physical problems that may be causing your depression.
• Don’t abruptly cease medication – If you are currently taking medication prescribed by your doctor for depression and/or anxiety, don’t just dump the pills in the trash or stop cold turkey. You need to wean off the drugs gradually under a doctor’s supervision. Let your doctor know that you want to stop taking the medications and work together on a plan to help you do so safely.
• Work on managing stress – Stress builds up and makes us feel more depressed and anxious. Here are some tips from Mental Health America on what you can do to help manage stress:
o Learn your triggers – It’s important to identify and understand what and where your stress comes from.
o Know your limits – Don’t take on more responsibility than you can handle right now.
o Take things one at a time – The last thing you need is to attempt to multitask. Just do one project or assignment or chore at a time. Don’t pile up all the other responsibilities in your mind.
o Talk with someone – Just being able to confide in a trusted friend, counselor or minister can help minimize and reduce your stress level.
o Practice stress reduction techniques – Whatever you can do to make your life more calm and peaceful, do it. This may be exercise, enjoying time with friends, or meditation.
• Connect with others – When you’re depressed and anxious, usually the last thing you want to do is interact with anyone else. This is a mistake. We need connectedness to help our lives feel more fulfilled and our mental health to improve. Family and friends are good first choices, but there are others. Join a community organization, attend meetings of support groups, or get involved in charitable or religious activities. The important thing is to reach out to others, to get outside yourself and your problems.
• Find something you enjoy and do it – For some, this may be gardening, painting, redecorating. For others, it may be going to an art exhibit, a classic movie, a concert. You need to set aside time each week just for yourself and the hobbies or activities that give you pleasure. Doing so will help you feel better, ease stress and relax. Laughter is very healing as well, so if you find reasons to laugh, let it go.
• Exercise – Physical activity is helpful in overcoming or helping to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Why? The actions produce endorphins that are like the human body’s own natural antidepressants, as well as pain relievers. Exercise also affects other biochemical markers, although short-lived. The type of exercise you do doesn’t matter, as long as it is brisk. You want to get your heart and lungs pumping, and get your blood circulating. This may be a long walk (at least 20 to 30 minutes), a sports activity, swimming, working out at the gym, whatever you like.
• Go outside in the sunlight – The human body needs sunlight (or bright light from a lamp) in order to produce Vitamin D, to nourish and energize the body, and to ward off depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and many other physical ailments. Aim for 1 to 2 hours per day. Exposure to sunlight also helps promote natural body clock and ability to sleep.
• Distract yourself with activities – Distraction serves to take your mind off of your problems, if only for a while. When you’re engrossed in an activity, whether that’s a crossword puzzle, painting, even shopping, your mind is otherwise occupied. It buys you a little relief time from your depressed, anxious thoughts.
• Tackle tasks in small increments – When the mountain of laundry looks overwhelming, try sorting or folding only part of it, maybe the bath towels. Weed just half of the garden, or only prune some of the rose bushes. There’s always another time. Don’t beat yourself up over unfinished tasks. After all, how much you accomplish isn’t as important as the fact that you make the effort to perform tasks in a reasonable fashion. It’s a form of structure that helps manage stress in your life.
• Don’t push yourself too hard – Look for a job that will satisfy you. Or make changes in your existing job to bring you more satisfaction. It’s the small things that count. Do a great job on a report (even if it’s only for you). Bask in a compliment from your supervisor or co-worker. Give one back in return. Don’t overwhelm yourself by asking for, or accepting, more assignments than you can reasonably handle.
• Get enough sleep – You need a good 7 to 8 hours of rest each night in order for your body to recuperate and your mind to rest. Sleep also helps our brains to process things while we’re in a restful state, and often we’ll wake up with solutions. Set a sleep schedule, go to sleep at the same time every night (including weekends), keep the bedroom cool and quiet, and avoid heavy meals before going to bed.
• Eat a balanced diet – Your body needs to be nourished in order for your mind to be at its best. Don’t overindulge in sugar, avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and drugs.
• Pray, meditate or do yoga – The benefits of prayer cannot be minimized, whatever your religious persuasion. If you are not a religious person, you must believe in something. Meditation and yoga can help to help break depression’s vicious cycle so you can deal with your underlying emotions. Some of the techniques include: being alert to what you are doing and doing so with care, paying less attention to your worries, adjusting to your life and circumstances, and living in harmony.
• Cognitive-behavioral therapy – In this form of therapy, psychotherapists help clients to uncover and alter distortions in perception and thought that are causing or prolonging psychological distress. This is the most rapid of psychotherapy, with results obtained in an average of 16 sessions. The approach is that thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not things. We can change the way we think and feel even if our environment doesn’t change.
• Call for help if you’re in crisis – There’s always help available, through local crisis hotlines, mental health centers, your support group, church, family and friends. If you find you can’t deal and have reached a critical point, call for help. The Mental Health America hotline is 1-800-272-TALK.