Between work and family responsibilities, there is rarely any time to maintain physical fitness, let alone mental fitness. Psychological wellbeing is often neglected as individuals struggle to keep up with the fast-paced environment that is today’s American society.
For most of us, by the time you run out of hours in a day, you’re fatigued, stressed, and already feeling overwhelmed about tomorrow. Unfortunately, this is a common symptom of American culture; forty million adults nationwide suffer from anxiety disorders, and approximately seventeen percent of U.S. citizens will suffer from depression at some point in their lives.
If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. In fact, the United States is ranked number one worldwide in anxiety and depression prevalence – and that’s not a competition we want to win. Mental illness is such an issue in the U.S. that May has been officially declared Mental Health Month in an effort to raise awareness and bring about change.
What are anxiety and depression?
Anxiety and depression are both natural responses to common stressors. Anxiety is the normal reaction to stressful situations that may become excessive and can cause sufferers to dread everyday situations, and depression occurs when overwhelming negative emotions such as sadness and anger prevent us from leading a happy, productive life.
Feelings of anxiety, frustration, and sadness are not necessarily unhealthy; for example, feeling anxious before a presentation or feeling sad after losing a loved one are both healthy responses to stressful situations. It is when these emotions begin to rule your behavior or change your lifestyle that they become a serious problem.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is often characterized by deep feelings of dread concerning money, work, and health. It lasts for at least six months and can cause serious health problems such as insomnia, digestive issues, headaches, cardiac problems, and can lead to depression. Untreated depression can put you at risk for diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and cardiac issues.
What causes anxiety and depression?
As is the case with many mental illnesses, some people are genetically vulnerable to anxiety and depression. This means that they may have inherited a predisposition for these conditions from their parents. However, despite an individual’s genetics, there are a number of environmental factors that increase a person’s risk for developing anxiety or depression. By identifying and avoiding these controllable risk factors, a person can decrease their vulnerability. Some of the most notable risk factors are unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as lack of exercise, alcohol or drug abuse, and poor diet. Stress, a challenge or a threat to our well-being, is also a major factor in the development of depression and anxiety disorders.
How can anxiety and depression be prevented?
While there is no guaranteed method for preventing these illnesses, those who are at-risk or interested in staying mentally fit can form habits that protect against psychological problems and cultivate mental wellbeing.
- Follow a healthy sleep routine to ensure that you get enough sleep every night
- Exercise regularly; physical fitness and good mental health are closely connected
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, and avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive drugs
What strategies help maintain strong mental health?
- Seek Support: Having a reliable and trustworthy social network can benefit those who feel at-risk for depression or anxiety. Friends and loved ones can provide emotional support and push you to do stimulating and rewarding activities that bolster emotional health.
- Set Goals: Sit down – alone or with a therapist – and make a list of clear, attainable goals. These can be short-term or long-term, as long as they are specific and realistic. This task can provide a rewarding sense of accomplishment and self-worth once goals are achieved.
- Stay Positive: Take some time out of every day to make a mental or physical list of things you are grateful for. And when you can, speak positively about your past experiences and future plans. It may sound strange, but our brains learn from the things we do and say, and our emotional reactions to life events can be determined by how we view those situations. By consciously choosing to have a better attitude, you are teaching your brain to respond positively to even the most stressful situations.
- Get Help: Despite national efforts to raise awareness about mental illness, these conditions are still widely stigmatized. Many people feel ashamed or helpless about their psychological conditions and refuse to seek proper medical treatment.
It is vital to remember that seeking care for mental illness is not a sign of personal weakness; rather, it is an important part of acknowledging and recovering from any psychological unrest that you may be feeling.
If you think that you – or a loved one – might be suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder, please do not hesitate to seek professional help. There are a variety of services available to those who need them, and your mental health is of the utmost importance. Your mind makes you… well, you – and that is something worth caring about.