Today is World Mental Health Day. And let’s be honest, every single person knows someone affected by mental health issues. According to the World Health Organization, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, and around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions. Mental disorders are also among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. That is a lot of people. And yet it’s so rarely talked about publicly. It’s a shame too, because there is so much to learn from one another’s experiences.
I have always been an anxious person. I can remember being so nervous about my 6th grade class trip to Camp Mohican (an excited nervous) that I gave myself my first migraine. But I never really thought it was a problem because it didn’t regularly affect my daily life. I was always able to push past it. Until I wasn’t. My turning point started when I had my first kid. My old coping mechanisms – working out regularly, taking a night or a weekend to veg out, reading – were suddenly things I didn’t have time for. Or, more truthfully, wasn’t finding time for. It slowly crept further and further into my life until it eventually took over after my second was born. I had full-blown postpartum anxiety. Unfortunately it took me almost 7 months to realize it because it’s not well-known (postpartum depression gets all the spotlight). Once I read the symptom list though, I knew. My patience was nil, my temper was through the roof, I was constantly nauseous and lightheaded, I was convinced I had all kinds of illnesses (I made a lot of trips to the doctors in those few months) and my mind was constantly racing and working through far-fetched, worst case scenarios. It was exhausting and it was taking a seriously negative toll on my life and my health.
For me, just admitting that all of my symptoms were attributed to anxiety was the first step to moving forward and feeling better. Now, just over a year later, I am in a much better place. I have good days and bad days – heck good and bad moments – but the good far outweigh the bad now.
So in honor of World Mental Health Day, I wanted to share a few ways I’ve had success in coping with my anxiety. Hopefully one or more of these can help you too.
I will admit this is something I’m not very consistent with. I used to be a gym rat, but those days are long gone. When I do work out I feel a positive difference, and quickly, but I end up picking sleep over exercise time and time again. I know it’s not an either/or, and the two combined have a much more powerful impact on anxiety, so I’m continuing to try to get on a workout routine I can stick with.
- For some, exercise works as well as medication to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long lasting.
- One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.
- A 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout to see a benefit (good news for me!!)
I had heard and read so much about the benefits of meditation before I finally took the plunge. To be honest, I think the thing holding me back was feeling silly about the whole thing. Sitting still with my eyes shut and just breathing also sounded somewhat torturous. But when the alternative is feeling like crap every day, you’ll try anything. I’m still a newbie, and working to be consistent, but this is probably where I notice the biggest difference. One 10-minute meditation session keeps me significantly more calm and patient for hours afterwards. It by no means makes me immune to the whining of my children, but it does allow me to take a moment to think before I respond. I use Calm, which is an app you can download to your phone. It has a wide variety of meditation topics and themes, as well as meditation music if you would like to go guidance-free.
- Mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
- Meditation helps preserve the aging brain.
- Meditation’s effects rival antidepressants for depression and anxiety.
Did you know there is a thing called bibliotherapy? It’s exactly what it sounds like: reading as a form of therapy. And it’s a great way to cope with anxiety. I know that when I get lost in a book, there is no longer room in my mind for the worries or stresses that were nagging me all day. And it’s a glorious feeling.
- Just six minutes of reading can help reduce stress by as much as 60%, which is better than listening to music, drinking tea, and going for a walk.
- It lowers your heart rate and ease muscle tension quickly and effectively.
Sip on tea
There are several teas on the market that claim to help reduce anxiety. While these may work for some people, I haven’t found a particular tea blend that lives up to the claims. However, I do still recommend tea drinking as an anxiety fighter for two reasons. First, you can’t drink hot tea too quickly, so you’re forced to slow down when you’re drinking it. That’s a good thing. Second, tea often becomes in integral part of your day, whether as a morning or nighttime (or both!) beverage. Routines can be very calming and relaxing.
On the flip side, caffeine revs up anxiety, especially in those prone to strong caffeine side effects. I’ve significantly reduced my caffeine consumption over the past few months and have felt better and calmer for it. So, stick with herbal teas when possible! My favorite is Traditional Medicinals Dandelion Root tea.
Staying hydrated is so important to your health. It’s even more important when you’re dealing with anxiety because dehydration makes your symptoms worse. I don’t know about you, but in the throws of anxiety the last thing I’m doing is thinking about drinking my 8+ glasses of water a day. And if I’m being honest, I bet there were some days where I drank only one.
- Being just half a liter dehydrated can increase your cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
- Even mild dehydration that can occur during the course of our ordinary daily activities can degrade how we are feeling – especially for women, who appear to be more susceptible to the adverse effects of low levels of dehydration than men.
Step away from the smart phone
I think we all know it’s true, even if we don’t want to admit it. Our smart phones are seriously stressing us out! They’re addictive and they’re always with us. We are constantly connected via text, email and social media, so it’s no wonder we can’t turn our minds off. I’m just as guilty as the next person of being on my phone more than I should and at times when I should be more tuned in to the situation around me. But it’s rare that I end a long session on my phone feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the day. Instead I typically feel tired, jealous, annoyed or you guessed it, anxious. It’s a constant goal of mine to spend less time on my phone, and it will stay that way until it becomes my new normal.
Count your blessings
Have you ever heard of positive psychology? It’s described as the science of positive aspects of human life, such as happiness, well-being and flourishing. In positive psychology research, gratitude is often associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people to feel more positive emotions, enjoy the good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. It’s suggested you reflect on several things you are grateful for each day, and many recommend doing this in a journal. I found The Five Minute Journal to be tremendously helpfully in keeping me on track and practicing regularly. There’s something about just filling in the blanks that makes a task that much more manageable. But honestly, a blank piece of paper will do, or even just a mental list before you go to bed.
- Higher levels of gratitude are associated with better sleep, and with lower anxiety and depression.
- Keeping a gratitude journal produces greater optimism. It also causes greater improvements in exercise patterns and a reduction in physical ailments.
These suggestions are really just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many things people use to deal with anxiety such as coloring, painting, getting out in nature, spending time with loved ones, traveling, etc., etc., etc. The point is, find what works for you. And that’s usually a combination of things, rather than one thing that will fix all.
What have you found works best for you?