Many of us have been there before – you’re in a stressful situation and can feel your heart racing or a sudden feeling of being overwhelmed. Anxiety is kicking in. It’s the body’s natural response to stress but these days, it may feel more prevalent or prolonged than usual.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states the occurrence of anxiety symptoms reported in June was three times higher than the year prior.
“In the beginning, we thought this was short-term. Now that we look at it months later, it’s taken a mental toll on individuals,” said Dr. Monika Roots, psychiatrist and chief medical officer of Sanvello. “We are in an emotional burnout.”
For some people, that mental toll may lead to pervasive anxiety or even depression. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, a good starting point may be to consider how your lifestyle choices may be playing a role on your mental health.
While changing these habits may not treat a mental health disorder completely, they may be an essential tool to help manage your symptoms. Dr. Roots shares some of the lifestyle changes she recommends:
- Prioritize sleep
Sleep is interconnected with mental health. Dr. Roots recommends adults should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and that includes on the weekends.
“Your brain likes routine, so that’s why if you want to sleep well it’s so important to implement sleep hygiene techniques,” she said. “This means going to bed at the same time every night, waking up at the same time every morning and minimizing naps during the day."
If you have trouble falling asleep, Dr. Roots suggests taking a hot shower or bath two hours before going to bed. The drop in your core body temperature when you get out of the warm water helps stimulate melatonin release, which is the hormone that regulates your sleep.
- Stay active
“Daily exercise alone can help you manage anxiety and depression,” Dr. Roots said.
This is because your body may produce more serotonin and endorphins, which can have a positive effect on your mind and your ability to manage stress. Working out may also help reduce fatigue, decrease tension and elevate your mood. Looking for a place to start? Practicing yoga has been found to help relieve stress and anxiety through controlled breathing and physical focus.
Consider scheduling in 30 minutes or more of exercise at least three to five days a week.
- Focus on good nutrition
Dr. Roots suggests having balanced meals throughout the day that include both complex carbohydrates and protein. Complex carbohydrates, she said, are synthesized by your body into serotonin, which is the calming chemical that our brains need to help mitigate depression and anxiety. Protein is also important because it helps keep you full, longer, which may help stabilize your blood sugar.
“When our blood sugar levels drop, our energy drops and your mood actually starts to cycle,” Dr. Roots said. “You can get more anxious because of that.”
Part of healthy nutrition is also making sure you are drinking enough water. Even if you are just mildly dehydrated, it may impact your mood. Dr. Roots recommends aiming for 6-10 glasses of water a day.
- Avoid or limit alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant. While in the moment, it may help you feel calm, there’s always an after affect. You may notice the next morning you feel anxious or on edge. This may be due to mild detoxification, which may make you feel jittery or anxious. Alcohol may also affect your sleep — even one drink may disrupt your natural cycle and leave you feeling restless the next day.
If you are taking an antidepressant, mixing alcohol may worsen your symptoms and may cause unwanted side effects.
- Practice meditation
Meditation may help bring a sense of relaxation and a more tranquil mind, which may reduce stress and help calm anxiety. When you meditate, even for just a few minutes, you help clear your mind from daily stressors, which may help regulate your emotions. This may be a key component to reducing symptoms of anxiety or depression.
There are many different kinds of meditation from breathing techniques to walking. Whatever method you choose, it’s important to focus your attention, be free from distractions and relax your breathing.
It’s been a stressful year for some, and it’s important to know, you are not struggling alone. Consider these lifestyle changes to help you cope and better manage your symptoms and reach out to a professional for help when needed. If your symptoms are moderate to severe, consider seeking out a mental health professional for additional support. Consider these resources: