An estimated 40 million adults in the U.S., or 18%, have an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s not difficult to see why the prevalence of anxiety is so high. The pace of our everyday lives is much higher than that of our relatives even 100 years ago, and we have demands that stretch us beyond our limits. Too often, we neglect our emotional health, but the cost of that is an increase in chronic stress. When we don’t slow down or allow our minds to relax on a regular basis, we become at risk for an anxiety disorder.
Change the channel
When our minds start racing, it’s difficult to slow it down and get back in control. So catch the negative, irrational thoughts early, and employ a thought-stopping technique. Change the channel. Put your thoughts into a “box” and set them aside for a while until you can more rationally deal with them. If we catch our negative thinking early in the cycle, we can prevent many of the problems that anxiety causes.
When you start to feel overwhelmed with your emotions, grounding skills can help you begin to feel calm again. One simple technique is to list five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This helps “ground” you to the present.
Mindful breathing can be very relaxing. Close the door, close your eyes, and focus only on your breathing. Once you start to calm down, take some slow, deep breaths, completely filling your lungs. Breathe out. Practice this when you are not under stress, and you will find it will come back to you when you are under a lot of stress. This is also called centering or focusing.
Exercise can be very good for decreasing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and enhancing your overall cognitive function. Exercise helps the body produce endorphins, which enhances the ability to sleep well, which in turn decreases anxiety. Exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous to be effective. Even a 5-10 minute walk can be enough to boost your mood.
Use calm, soothing statements to yourself
Most of us engage in self-talk throughout the day; however, much of the talk can be negative. When we find ourselves speaking negatively to ourselves, first we need to recognize it, then we need to change our narrative to something that is more conducive to health. For instance, instead of saying “I’m afraid to try this new thing because I might fail” tell yourself, “I probably won’t get it right the first time and that’s ok, there’s plenty of room for improvement.”
Take a break or a time-out
When you start feeling overwhelmed, take a short break to unwind and relax. Perhaps take a walk outside, or switch to a different task. Take a 5-minute break (or longer). Give yourself permission to unwind after going through a stressful situation.
Listen to soothing music / nature sounds
Get your mind ready to relax, then surround yourself with calming scents, such as lavender, peppermint, or the smell of your favorite flowers. Listen to relaxation music on YouTube. I keep a diffuser on my desk use essential oils, and dim the lights to create a relaxing atmosphere.
I hope this has been helpful for you. I encourage my clients to develop an anxiety control plan, made up of things that work for them. Be sure to practice these even when you are not feeling stressed, anxious, or worried, and you will be more likely to remember them when you need them the most.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (43.8 million, or 18.5%) experiences mental illness in a given year. When we talk about our health, we don’t want to just talk about our physical health, such as heart disease and diabetes, but we want to include our whole selves, including our emotional and mental health. We are not just simply our physical selves. We know that our physical and mental health are intertwined. For instance, when we become stressed, our stress hormones increase and cause physical symptoms, including increased blood pressure and increased risk of heart attacks.
In order to maintain your mental and emotional health and prevent more serious problems, it’s important to remain aware of your own needs and feelings. Understanding your emotions is important. Many people label their emotions as “good” or “bad”, or they try to push aside their feelings instead of dealing with them. Once we understand our emotions are normal, they don’t have to interfere with our living. Here are a few things you can do to manage your mental health and emotions.
Don’t allow your stress and emotions to build up. Talk to a safe, trusted friend. Write your feelings in a journal. Cry. Do what it takes to release the stress and understand your emotions.
Balance! Maintain a good balance between your normal responsibilities and the things you enjoy. Ignoring your desires for good things does not allow for balance.
Be a helping hand. Do things that positively impact others. Being useful to others and being valued for what you do can help build self-esteem.
Practice self-discipline. Self-discipline leads to a sense of happiness and accomplishment, which can help you overcome feelings of helplessness and other negative thoughts.
Learn or discover new things. Think of them as “intellectual sweets.” Take an adult education class, join a book club, visit a museum, or simply travel somewhere new and exciting.
Set safe and healthy boundaries. A boundary is simply a “fence” or a “property line”. It differentiates between your needs and others’ needs, and helps you learn to say “no” when you need to.
Take good care of yourself. Self-care is important. Start off by getting enough sleep! Eat healthy meals as opposed to meals high in carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Get adequate exercise. Find joy in what you do.
In May, we will celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month. Follow along to learn more about mental illness. #CureStigma.
Special thanks to Danika Perkinson of Unsplash for the photo
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 16 million adults in America had at least one major depressive episode in 2012. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Depression is a widespread problem everywhere. Medications are often helpful for relieving symptoms of depression because they target the chemicals responsible for lowering our mood. But there are other things you can do to reduce symptoms of depression. Try just one or better yet, try them all.
Get enough sleep, but not too much
Getting too little sleep can make us more irritable and unable to focus or make decisions, and staying in bed and sleeping too much can worsen symptoms of depression. Set a bedtime routine that allows you to go to sleep and to wake up at the same time every day.
Eat healthy meals and snacks
Eating processed, unhealthy foods high in carbohydrates and unhealthy fats will lead you to feel sluggish, and can lead to health conditions that could also increase your feelings of depression. Healthy, fresh foods can improve your mood and increase your energy.
Even a moderate walk for a few minutes every day can do wonders for your brain and your mood. Take a walk. Go to a yoga class. Lift weights. Do something to move your body and elevate your heart rate.
Talk to a friend
You don’t have to pour out all your feelings, but just having a conversation with another caring human being can be helpful. And sometimes we need to be distracted from our negative thoughts, so talking to someone else can make a difference.
Self-care is very important. Treat yourself to something that is calming, such as a bubble bath with scented candles, listening to relaxing music, or reading a favorite book. Even 15 minutes can make a huge difference in your mood.
These are just a few tips to reducing your depression. What would you add? What works for you?
I talk a lot about self-care with my clients, friends, and pretty much everyone I meet. And I have a large repertoire of activities I have developed over the years. But today I want to talk about why we need self-care.
Life can get tough, and there’s not always a lot of time to take a break from all the busy-ness. We keep going and going, making demands of our tired bodies and limited resources. We amaze ourselves when we don’t “break” under pressure, quietly giving ourselves accolades for our strong spirit. But we are tired of the constant stress and pressure and want nothing more than to escape for a few hours, or disappear, or even just sleep-in with no crying children or demanding spouses or pets.
Many people shun self-care, thinking they need hours or days. But that’s just not true. Self- care can be so many things. It can be putting down that extra project and getting one extra hour of sleep. Or carving time out of your busy schedule to go to the dentist for a long overdue cleaning to prevent pain in the future. We maintain our vehicles on a regular basis, and at least get gas and oil changes (right? Right???). But we sometimes neglect ourselves when we need it the most.
What is Self-Care?
So let’s get to some specifics, what is self care?
Self-care is anything we do to take care of ourselves. And this is going to be different for every person, and sometimes in every situation. When I was a young mom, I needed sleep. Even when I had help from my wonderful mother and sister, I didn’t want to take it, so afraid I would miss something. Later, I would take on too many responsibilities. I needed to say no, and not feel guilty about it. Today, I need to give it all over to God and let go of worry.
We need to nurture our souls, and this is what most of us think when we hear self-care. What makes us happy? Relaxed? Satisfied? Serene? It’s important we identify those things. Years ago, I started working a new job that was stressful to me, and I did a lot of local travel. The travel made me increasingly tense, but why? I realized my soul longed for the country, and so I varied my routes so I could see pasture, trees, birds, and water. My tension eased up.
We need to learn to relax. It’s not all about bubble baths and a glass of wine, it’s about changing our thoughts, and maybe putting things in perspective. Or maybe we need a little music, something soothing with no words. (I like spa music when tense, and New Orleans Jazz when I want to be energized).
Find those things that take away your joy. Is there anything you can do about them? Maybe take a break from social media for a few hours or days? Or go to the gym for some exercise? Or maybe a healthy, veggie-filled meal?
Whatever it is, make a list. A plan. I have my anger management students create an anger-control plan. Maybe you could create your own self-care plan.
What are your favorite self-care strategies? What would you add to this list?
As I add to my website and blog, I will be adding to my resources list. I am all about sharing what I find. What resources do you find helpful?
If you need help and don’t know where to turn, here are a few links that may be helpful.
Sparoom Scentifier – This is the diffuser I use in my office to create a calming environment. Choose various essential oils to create a different mood.
Feelings Chart – Magnet – I LOVE my feelings magnet, and so do most of my clients. It’s a fun way for young kids to begin to identify their emotions.
Books I recommend
Anxiety Cure – Dr. Archibald Hart
Boundaries – Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl in You – Chrystal Evans Hurst
Do you ever find you get too busy for self-care? That you spend a lot of time taking care of others, but forget to nurture yourself? I think most of us do. We start our day in a rush, trying to get everything done before we leave the house, then in the evening we rush around, staying up late to finish everything on our to-do list, until we find we have stayed up way too late, and crash.
Life doesn’t have to be like this all the time. Sometimes we neglect the simple pleasures in life, feeling they are too selfish. But these are often the things that nourish us.
Several years ago, I had started a new job, and I was feeling irritable and out of sorts. It’s not that I disliked my job, it’s that I had neglected a few things that were important to me. I had been driving the interstates for most of my day. But I missed seeing the countryside. So I took the back roads so I could see trees, cows, lakes, birds, and more. I had missed those things in the hustle and bustle of life, and I didn’t realize how important they were to me.
A few ideas
Below are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing on your quest for self-care. What would you add to this list? What self-care activities do you currently do? I would love to hear what you find most helpful.
- Take a walk
- Call a friend
- Light a candle
- Sleep-in on a Saturday
- Take a walk in the woods
- Splurge just a little
- Hide a piece of chocolate in your desk
- Wear comfy slippers at your desk
- Spray your favorite scent on your pillow
- Watch your favorite movie – again
- Have a good belly laugh with a friend
- Do a few stretches before your feet hit the floor
- Take a day trip
- Be a tourist in your own town this weekend
- Pay attention to your breathing
- Do some baking
- Crochet / knit
- Turn up the radio and sing at the top of your lungs
- Hug your kids / pets
- Go to the zoo / aquarium
- Create a dream board
- Take a hot bath / shower
- Read a novel
- Take the scenic route home
- Listen to spa music
- Enforce a boundary
- Pray / meditation
- Read your Bible
- Leave your job worries at work
- Write a self-care strategy on your calendar – schedule it
- Have a do-nothing day
- Go to the park and swing
- Watch a sunrise or a sunset
- Play frisbee at the park
- Dream big
- Buy a plant
- Sit in the sunshine
- Make a list of things you are grateful for
- Color for 30 minutes each day
- Write down the positive things people say about you and read it later
- Go to the park, lay on your back, and watch the clouds
- Take a nap
- Practice a random act of kindness
- Create a “happy” playlist
- Say an affirmation statement to yourself every morning
- Get a pretty calendar to keep track of your appointments and to-do lists
- Get a diffuser and essential oils to create a calming environment
Good mental health does not start with medication and counseling; it is much more fundamental. Good mental health starts with proper self-care resulting in improved mood, increased energy, and sound sleep. The basic building blocks of good mental health are as simple and basic as a healthy lifestyle. Our brains naturally produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine, but stress depletes them. If you would like to see amazing improvements in your mood, increase your energy, and sleep sounder after a few weeks, follow these five simple strategies.
Start with a good night’s sleep
I know, easier said than done, right? But your brain will not function well with less than optimum sleep. Adequate sleep (6-8 hours) is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It improves memory, increases creativity, improves learning, sharpens attention, increases metabolism, decreases stress, and improves reaction time when driving. Lack of sleep can contribute to depression and anxiety.
This increases endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters, and improves mood. Exercises could be as simple as taking a walk, a swim, or anything that gets you moving. People can feel an improvement in their mood immediately after exercise. If you are inactive, check with your doctor before starting exercise. Choose an activity you love, make an “appointment” with yourself, and make it a priority.
Food is essential to your health. Good food, that is. Remember the old adage, “you are what you eat”? Studies show that if you eat a diet full of fresh, whole foods which provide essential vitamins and minerals, you will feel healthier and have increased energy. Simple carbohydrates and saturated fats turn off the brain and make you feel sluggish. Surprisingly, long-term abstinence from caffeine can improve mood and performance.
Nothing can lift the mood like spending time with a good friend. This helps you cope with stress, decreases stress hormones, increases the feel-good chemical oxytocin, increases feelings of belongingness, increases happiness, decreases, stress, and helps you cope with life stressors.
Laughter increases your immune response, increases sleep, helps you to stretch muscles, breathe faster, and move oxygen to the tissues, similar to exercise. Spend time with good friends. You laugh more with your friends than when you are alone.
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. There is so much more that we can do to increase our well-being. I recommend the book Anxiety Cure by Archibald Hart. I enjoy this book so much, I have given away several copies over the years
The days leading up to New Years’ Day always make me think about my goals and my life’s direction. Almost always, I make resolutions and make some progress, but last year, I actually achieved several of them. So I thought about what makes some of the goals fail and some achieve.
We create unrealistic goals.
Is it realistic to think that we will lose 20 lbs every month or that we will never cheat? That we will write 1000 words every day without fail? Sometimes we set our goals with ideal conditions in mind. “We will lose weight because temptation will never be in front of us.” Never mind that there are luncheons, family dinners, birthdays, and so forth that are very tempting. The thing is, we don’t truly know what the future will bring.
We start or stop cold turkey
Over the years, we have built habits, good and bad, effective and ineffective. We recognize them and then try to change them all at once. Then when we fail (and we will), we give up on the resolutions altogether.
We have a short-term outlook
What we should have is a long-term outlook. If we want to lose weight in 2016, then we should measure our success at the end of 2016 to see if we achieved that goal. We succeed if we do.
We believe we must start January 1st
While this is a great starting date for diet and exercise goals, it isn’t the only date we can choose. The best time to start is now. You will start when the pain of not starting is greater than the pain of starting.
We don’t really want to change
Yes, we all want to achieve our goals, but we don’t necessarily want to change. Change is difficult and it requires a lot of effort and attention. The truth is, I really want to eat however I want and I don’t want to change that. I would rather sleep in than get up early to work on my goals. I am learning to say “I want…” instead of “I need to”. So, “I want to get up early because it means can do what makes me feel better about myself.” Or “I want to eat foods that give me more energy.” When we want to do these things, we have a better chance of actually doing it.
What are some other reasons you have seen resolutions fail?
It was a long and trying week, and I needed a break Friday afternoon, some place to escape the pressures of life – demands on my time, my energy, my compassion. My favorite spot for the past several years is the beach – one far enough away to truly escape. Many of my favorite old spots had become too familiar, and too close to the things contributing to my stress. So I point my car south and begin the journey to my little piece of paradise.
As I arrive and drive into the narrow public beach parking area, I feel the tension beginning to leave my body. I take off my shoes, leaving them in the car, carrying only my keys and cell phone tucked snugly in a pocket.
Between the sandy parking lot and the beach is a small sand dune covered in overgrown brush, including a few small Black-eyed Daisy’s. There is a narrow path through the brush with a small bench near the end. A well-dressed elderly man and his daughter are sitting quietly on the bench, together. At the end of the dune is the beginning of the beach – thick, white “sugar” sand, the most perfect kind. I am glad I left my shoes in the car. My toes were warm in the sand, but the weather is not yet warm enough to heat the sand to a burning point, and I am grateful.
When stepping onto the beach, I stop to take in the splendor and thank God for His creation. The gulf is wide open – no islands marred the image. Not that islands are bad; they have their own beauty. But today, the water is perfect without them. A sail boat, with white and blue sails, is seen in the distance, and what looks like a pirate ship is heard in the distance firing its cannons (just in time for the Gasparilla festival).
The sun will be setting in an hour or so, and there are just a few people left on the beach. Most are simply walking along the beach or wading in the water or fishing from the shore. Some appear to be visitors, perhaps staying at a beach-front house. They have no beach towel or radio, just a chair and a few beach toys for their kids. The sunset-watchers begin to arrive, bringing their glasses of wine along.
As I walk toward the water, even more tension is melting away. The sand became more compact close to the water; the tide is low. Many tiny, beautiful shells lined the beach. There were large shells as well. Not many shell-pickers appear to have visited the beach today. As the water receded, I noticed bubbles where baby Cochina had buried themselves. A quick dig with my hand discovered 50 or more tiny Cochina, alive, digging themselves further into the wet sand. I decide to move on, not wanting to disturb them any further.
The afternoon is perfect for a beach walk. Temperatures are about 70-75, cool evening air, and a light breeze. I now have a smile on my face. I, and several visitors, watch a family of dolphins pass by, just outside the no-wake zone. There is a large flock of birds in one spot: several Sandwich Terns, a few Black Skimmers, and many short- and long-billed Dowitchers. No pelicans, though some were seen on the drive toward the beach.
I stroll along the beach for what seems like a mile and decide to turn around. I have no problem walking and turning back, I know where my car is parked, regardless of how dark it gets. The wind is now on my face, but I don’t mind. The sun is beginning to set, so I pull out the camera, capturing the progression. The sky is a mixture of turquoise and orange, the sun made the clouds look as if they were on fire. Several minutes later, the colors begin to soften, and after sunset, become pinks, blues, and purples.
I decide to stay a little while longer, so I walk beyond where my car is and walk another half-mile or so, then turn around, and got a chair from the trunk.
At this time, most of my tension is gone. My prayers for myself and my situation are done by this point, and I relax. It is dark, but this is a safe beach and I have few worries. When it is light, I might roll up my pant legs and wade almost to my knees. After dark, I wade to my ankles, if that far.
Not long after dark, the sky becomes so dark from the lack of city lights that the Milky Way becomes visible. What a spectacular sight! And meteors are common. Sometimes they are quick and leave a thin trail, other times they move slowly – one was like a large green ball, moving almost horizontally for 5-7 seconds. My first thought was not a meteor.
A short time later, I go for another walk, but a short one. The horizon is very dark, almost like a black cloud. I turn around and walk back to my chair. By this time I can barely make out anything on the beach. Kids’ sand castles were hard to see. I sat down and look back, and what I had mistaken for a sand castle had moved – it was a Sea Turtle returning to the water after looking for a spot to lay eggs. I noticed a few friendly 20-somethings with flashlights throughout the evening, now I am guessing they are looking for Sea Turtle nests to block-off.
It’s finally time to leave. I have a hard time pulling away, but decide to return to the beach one day soon. It is still early, so I decide to drive around the island for a few minutes. Some of the stores are closed: the gift shops and shell shops especially. The restaurants are open. With my windows down, I can hear some live bands playing at one, and see the remnants of a beach wedding at another. The public beach is now empty and visitors have moved on to the restaurants.
I dream of living on the island. While most houses were turned into rentals, there are many residential homes as well. I can see myself spending many weekends browsing the little shops in search of home-made treasures – and maybe creating some of my own treasures to sell.
I remember past beach trips with friends and mentally began planning the next trip. I remember coming out once when it was so cold, I worried I would have to call for a search party when I had walked much further than anticipated (and turned around with bitter cold wind in my face). Fortunately, I am pretty tough and made it back to the car quickly.
It really is difficult to leave the beach and the island this evening. There is a longing to stay. To linger.