Anxiety and depression affects all walks of life. You can be a doctor, lawyer, accountant or shopkeeper no matter where you are or what you are and still suffer from these. Life is stressful enough that people turn to drug addiction, alcohol, smoking and self harm. But are there alternatives to that we can do to the least find hope to cope with these common mental health symptoms? Is better a better way to cope with these? In this discussion I would like to outline things that you can do to at least lessen the effects and find relief by using coping techniques. I am not here to advocate that you should not seek the help of a mental health professional but I would to outline to you what I teach my patients.
It is well-known that exercise is no doubt a great stress reliever without a prescription. Adults who engage in regular physical activity experience reduced anxiety and depressive symptoms. Exercise increases the levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine which helps keeps us mentally healthy and fit. Studies on depression, anxiety and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can also help improve mood and reduce anxiety.
Regular exercise may help ease depression and anxiety by:
- Releases Endorphins which are natural morphine like chemicals released by the brain during exercise which gives you that “high feeling” and is a pain reliever. Endorphins give you that sense of well being and hence reduced anxiety and depression.
- Regular exercise gives that sense of well being and increases the flow of oxygen to your brain and body. Mentally it improves cognition and sharpness. I exercise early in the morning before work and I feel mentally sharp for the rest of the day. Some people like to exercise after work which can help you sleep because your body is tired.
Regular exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits, too. It can help you:
- Improve confidence. It gives you that confidence that” Hey it was not bad and after all.” It boosts confidence knowing that what seems impossible now seems possible. You feel better about your appearance
- Be more sociable. Specially when you go for a group exercise it give you the chance to meet other people who maybe are also feeling anxious and depressed. This a good chance to go out with other people on social events, travel, dine together and the list goes on.
- Cope in a healthy way. Doing something positive to manage depression or anxiety is a healthy coping strategy. Unhealthy coping habits such smoking, drinking alcohol and substance abuse which has detrimental effects on the mind and body can lead to job loss, marital and financial problems and homelessness.
There are literally many benefits of exercise other than reducing anxiety and depression. Here are some benefits:
- Maintain and lose weight
- Decrease cardiac disease
- Decrease risks of cancer
- Control blood sugar and insulin levels.
- Help you quit smoking
- Strengthens muscle and bones
- Strengthens your immune system
- Improved sleep
- Improved sexual health
- Increased longevity
Eat a well balanced meal
As the old saying goes “You are what you eat.” What it boils down to is that what we eat matters for every aspect of our health, but especially our mental health. In my experience I have seen patients who are obese due to poor dietary choices. One could argue that being depressed makes us more likely to eat unhealthy foods. A well-balanced meal is the right choice to do. It has been proven that a diet that consists of a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods is associated with a decreased risk of depression.
A diet that consists of a high consumption of red or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy and low consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.
I have advised my patients to eat small but frequent meals that way they can control their calorie intake and thus achieve weight control and avoids binge eating when it comes to lunch and dinner. Eat a carrot or a healthy snack in between before lunch and dinner. The benefit is that it keeps the blood sugar levels stable by keeping a steady energy level and a balanced appetite throughout the day making us less likely to eat foods high in sugar, fat and sodium and to maintain or loose weight.
So what are these foods that can help reduce anxiety and depression? Here they are:
- Asparagus – people with anxiety and depression have low levels of folate. Asparagus boost mood.
- Avocados – deficiencies in the B vitamins have been linked to increased anxiety. Avocados have Vitamin B6 that make neurotransmitters that includes serotonin.
- Blueberries – it is rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C to provide anxiety relief.
- Turkey – contains Tryptophan an amino acid also found in cow’s milk makes serotonin which helps regulate sleep and mood. Tryptophan is also found in cows milk because it helps you sleep. Remember your mother telling to drink your milk before you go to sleep. So give credit to your mother.
- Almonds – contains Magnesium and an inadequate amount in the diet reduces the neurotransmitter serotonin
- Salmon – contain omega-3 fatty acids that helps reduce anxiety. Other sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are chia seeds, soybeans, flax seeds and walnuts.
Take time out – Breathing, Meditation, Yoga, Massage Techniques
For many of us, relaxation means sitting in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. Watching the new on TV can create stress and anxiety. To combat stress and anxiety, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga and massage. By including these activities into your daily life can help reduce the damaging effects of stress, boost your energy and mood, and improve your mental and physical health.
- Deep breathing – sit with your back straight. Place your hand on the abdomen and the other on your chest and breathe in through your nose and breathe out of your mouth. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you will be.
- Meditation – it is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. Benefits are better management of anxiety and depression, lowered blood pressure, better sleep, increased sense of well-being, improves focus and memory and improves cardiovascular health.
- Yoga – it is an ancient practice that encourages relaxation and reduce stress. It incorporates breathing exercises, meditation and poses designed to encourage relaxation and reduce stress.
- Massage – it is the manipulation of soft tissues in the body. Massage techniques are commonly applied with hands, fingers, elbows, knees, forearms, feet, or a device. The purpose of massage is generally for the treatment of body stress or pain. Massage increase blood flow to the tissues bringing rich oxygen. This form of therapy involves hands-on techniques to increase circulation, relieve tension, reduce stress, relieve anxiety, improve sleep, and promote relaxation throughout the entire body, as well as many other benefits.
Talk to someone
If you are suffering from anxiety and depression and becomes overwhelming it is best to seek professional help. Deciding who you want to talk to is an important first step. You need to trust them and to feel comfortable opening up to them.
Such services are EAP (Employee Assistance Program) offered by most employers, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services), psychiatrist, crisis line, therapist, counselor and clergy. Other possibilities include close friends (who might relate to what you’re going through) family members (who can sometimes give you great support), teachers or youth workers (who are often good listeners and trained to deal with loads of issues).
Coping techniques that deal with anxiety and depression are exercise, eating a balanced meal, breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, massage and talking to someone. Of course there are other coping techniques that are available out there. Anxiety and depression can affect all walks life young and old, rich and poor. The lesson here is that you are not alone in this. If you feel overwhelmed, stressed or depressed use the above techniques and better yet seek professional help. My last word for you here is that you are too blessed to be stressed.