May is Mental Health Awareness Month
There has been a long-term rise in the number and severity of mental health problems due to stress. Stress which comes from having too much work or worrying about not having enough to make ends meet. Stress also appears when we are faced with making big changes or in times of uncertainty, such as the last pandemic year.
Released one year ago on 2020-05-27, The Canadian Secretary General of the United Nations has stated:
“The mental health and wellbeing of societies have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and are a priority to be addressed urgently. Fears about the health impacts of the virus, concerns for family members, extended social isolation, economic risk and uncertainty are all common sources of distress around the world.”
Statistics Canada monitored the mental health through an online survey of approximately 46,000 Canadians from April 24 to May 11, 2020. Almost one quarter of the participants (24%) reported fair or poor mental health, compared to previously published data from the 2018 Canadian Community Health Survey, which found that only 8% of Canadians reported fair or poor mental health.
However, a whopping 88% of participants experienced at least one symptom of anxiety in the two weeks prior to completing the survey. The impact of a pandemic can be experienced in many ways, including feelings of depression, grief, fear, panic, and anxiety. These can be normal responses to situations when day-to-day routines are disrupted; but how do we control our emotions during times of stress?
In this article, we will be exploring the causes of mental disorders and holistic remedies for the most reported mental disorders: anxiety and depression.
Causes of Mental Disorders
The development of mental disorders/dis-orders is often preceded by a stressful life event, such as puberty, bullying, separation, relationship changes, illness, grief, and more.
Once stress is established after a certain event, the chemicals in the brain have been altered, usually sending more stress hormone signals than normal. The next time a stress event presents itself, it immediately feels overwhelming compared to before. Also, the body may send more stress signals than normal during non-stressful events. This is where the mind is in dis-order, and whether it becomes a full syndrome depends on perpetuating factors that can maintain the illness.
Perpetuating factors include social events such as those affected during Covid-19: concerns for family members, extended social isolation, and economic risk. Following these changes, the psychological reaction is that of stress because our environment has been changed.
When change is sudden or unwanted, this creates a cognitive distortion of how the mind is used to viewing these things, which are already concerns to most of us.
A cognitive distortion enhanced with a global, societal event can raise negative questions towards the things we’re used to, such as:
· “is this accurate?”
· “is this necessary?”
· “is this a double-standard?”
· “I have to…”
· “I cannot…”
These uncertainties can cause one to feel over-whelmed, irritated, angry, or apathetic. These are just some of the ways cognitive distortion becomes a mental health issue.
Now that you can see it in this way, know that it’s not your fault!
Know that you can change your thoughts from negative to positive. Flip the script, they say.
Instead, re-phrase your questions into examples like:
· “is there evidence to support this?”
· “am I assuming the worst?”
· “is this thought helpful?”
· “am I making this personal when it isn’t?”
· “can I find the silver lining?”
These are just a few ways to stop, recognize the situation for what it truly is, then proceed with a better and more calm state of mind.
Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety: Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. This is often known as General Anxiety Disorder or GAD.
Depression: Depression is a mental dysfunction/dys-function that can both cause and result from stress. It keeps mood and energy levels low which develops into feelings of sadness, apathy, self-ridicule, and isolation.
Recognize and reduce triggers. If you recognize that a certain event or person causes you stress, then it is up to you to reduce the reaction. It’s all in how we respond.
Set realistic expectations. In today’s society, life is go, go, go. The other thing you can decide to do is “Go” easy on yourself.
Examine your values and own them. This follows the previous point. If you try this exercise, to slow down and examine your values in life, you may notice that the way you have been responding is not who you truly are. The accumulation of stress can become overwhelming and can challenge or even change who we are.
Assert yourself. Once you know that your reactions have been due to being under lots of pressure and not because you’re an angry or mean person, then you want to do everything you can not to revert back to that way.
Create a Lifestyle Against Anxiety and Depression
Exercise: get moving or take a walk outdoors, this will help increase your endorphins- making you feel good.
Avoid alcohol and cigarettes: the toxins in these substances can make anxiety worse and lead to other health problems.
Eat healthy: eat fresh food and avoid fast-food and junk food as they can lead to less energy and amplify shortness of breath.
Get quality sleep: set yourself a new sleeping schedule which enables you to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Drink plenty of water: even mild dehydration can affect your mood.
Meditation and breathing: when feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to focus on your breath. Breath work calms down any thoughts that may be racing through the mind, which can then relax the body.
Listen to music: it can also help you change your focus from your thoughts to external noise, which is a nice break from always being in the mind.
Talk to someone: tell someone how you’re feeling, there’s no need to feel shy.
Talking to someone always helps to get things off your chest. It can be a friend, family member or a professional in mental health or a bodyworker. Bodyworkers often include massage therapists, osteopaths, and Reiki masters. These types of practitioners often believe in the body and mind connection, therefore, once an anamnesis (health information about the individual) is conducted, they can further discuss with the person what is off balance mentally and physically.
Then they can help ease feelings of anxiety and depression through their natural holistic remedies. Massage therapy is excellent to ease muscle aches and pains but also to ease tension in the mind. Massage therapy can help with mental and emotional problems including stress, anxiety, and depression because it elicits feelings of calm and deep relaxation. When the body is fully relaxed, we can calm the mind.
Diet and Water
Finally, another natural and healthy way to fight anxiety and depression is through our food! Nutritional deficiencies are often seen in people with mental disorders due to poor appetite, skipping meals and giving into cravings which usually lead to unhealthy food choices.
Few people are aware of the connection between nutrition and mental disorders, like anxiety or depression; because these mental dis-orders are typically more emotionally rooted, but poor nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as the severity and duration of the symptoms.
Avoid foods that trigger anxiety, such as:
● Caffeine: a known stimulant for triggering the body's fight-or-flight response.
● Fast-food or artificial/processed foods: these foods tend to have food additives that can cause unpleasant physical reactions.
● Gluten: instead of wheat and sugar, eating complex carbohydrates instead like oatmeal, quinoa and rice which are known to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain. This gives a happy and calming effect on the mind.
● Alcohol: affects our ability to cope with and manage stress, leads to reduced inhibitions making the emotions worse.
● Soda: is high in refined sugar, one can of soda is like eating a piece of cake. Your choice of beverage should always be water.
Having control over the foods we eat can make us feel like we have control in life. Supporting our bodies with fresh foods that are rich in B vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids helps with mood, energy, and focus. Drinking lots of water and teas like valerian root, chamomile, and green tea can also have the same benefits because the body is hydrated, and the teas offer further nutritional support for the immune system.
Boosting your immune system by eating well ensures that you have enough of the proper fuel to tackle the day ahead. Even if what lies ahead seems to be difficult, you will have provided your body and mind with the right nutrients to avoid cognitive distortions, which can lead to confusion, anxiety and/or depressive thoughts. Instead, you will be able to begin a new train of thought, ask a new set of questions, all with a new perspective; and enjoy a new energy!
This is what the expression “Change your thoughts- change your life” means.