Anxiety and Depression: Are your lifestyle choices improving your mental health?
If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, a good place to start may be to consider how your lifestyle choices may be playing a role in your mental health. Although changing these habits won’t completely cure a mental health disorder, it can be a necessary way to help you manage your symptoms.
Many of us have been in a stressful situation where we may experience heart palpitations or a sudden feeling of being overwhelmed. This means that anxiety is surging. This should be the body’s natural response to stress, but these days it can take longer than usual.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the COVID-19 pandemic may be linked to prevalent mental health issues. More than 40% of adults say they experience symptoms of anxiety or depression these days.
For some people, the mental toll from grief, loss of routine, job instability, family, and other disruptions can lead to generalized anxiety or depression. Disruptions to sleep, nutrition, and other routines can contribute to and worsen mental health issues. As events continue to cause global ups and downs, it can be helpful to understand and assess how your habits have changed.
Here are some practical tips and recommendations:
1. Prioritise sleep
Sleep has been linked to mental health. Adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night and try to keep a regular schedule of bedtimes and wake times, even on weekends. Even when we’re not getting the full amount of sleep we need, there are steps we can take to improve the sleep we’re getting. For example, try listening to podcasts instead of watching TV in bed, and avoid exposure to bright lights when trying to fall asleep.
Keeping a diary of your sleep can help identify which changes have been most helpful.
2. Get active and get out
Daily exercise may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. But you don’t have to run a marathon to feel the benefits of exercise. Just walking for 10 minutes every day can make a difference in how we feel. It’s about movement, not athleticism.
Actively moving your body stimulates the production of serotonin and endorphins which can have a positive effect on your mind and your ability to handle stress. Exercise can also help reduce fatigue, reduce stress, and improve your mood. A few minutes of fresh air and sunshine can also help improve our mood.
3. Focus on good nutrition
When we are stressed, we often forgo good nutrition and look for things that comfort us. Take a look at your eating habits, especially the changes you’ve made since you’ve been feeling more and more anxious. What habits would you keep and what would you like to change?
Take a few minutes to think about healthy snacks and prepare them in advance. Then, when you’re too hungry to plan, you’ll have nutritious, balanced snacks ready to go.
One of the easiest ways to improve your diet and mood is to simply drink more water. Even mild dehydration can affect our mood. The next time you want to grab a quick snack, drink a cup of water first. It can satiate hunger pangs and keep you hydrated.
4. Avoid or limit alcohol and other substances
Alcohol is a depressant. It may help you feel calm at the moment, but it still has an effect. You may notice that the next morning you feel anxious or nervous. This is due to a mild detox, which can make you feel irritable or anxious. Alcohol can also affect your sleep. Only one drink can disrupt your natural cycle and make you restless the next day.
Track your usage. Notice how you feel now, later, and the next day. Examining the how, when, and why of our habits can provide useful information for making decisions that improve our mental health.
5. Practice meditation
Meditation can help bring about a sense of relaxation and a calmer mind, which can reduce stress and help calm anxiety. When you meditate, even for a few minutes, you help clear your mind of daily stress, which can help control your emotions.
There are many types of meditation, from breathing techniques to walking. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to focus your attention, free yourself from distractions, and relax your breathing.
Consider these lifestyle changes to help you cope, better manage your symptoms, and seek professional help if you need it. Consider talking to a mental health professional on AwayDoc.
The article is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about any questions you have about a medical condition.