Practical Steps to Better Mental Health

This past year and a half has been challenging, right? Ponder this fact:

The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed. From January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screen, a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens.” (https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america)

And then there’s this from the same source: More people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever been recorded in the MHA Screening program since its launch in 2014. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread rapidly in March 2020, over 178,000 people have reported frequent suicidal ideation. 37 percent of people reported having thoughts of suicide more than half or nearly every day in September 2020.”

Now I am no counselor nor will I pretend to be. If you need to seek an educated counselor, please do so. That can be a great investment in you if you are suffering from anxiety and depression. In my past, I have met with a counselor who did so much good for me. It is worth it.

In my experience, here are a few things that have helped me battle anxiety and depression. Again, I’m no counselor. I’m simply sharing my story in case it will help you.

Stay Connected with Positive People

I have found in my own life and from observations of others that when a person becomes stressed and depression starts to set in, withdrawal happens. Pulling away from people that support and love you – this is dangerous. I can lose perspective so quickly when I withdraw from others. I only end up playing “bad tapes” that can drive me deeper and deeper into depression.

Years ago, I had breakfast with a friend who was going through an ugly divorce. “I just don’t know what to do right now!” he told me that morning. “Doing what?” I asked. “I just want this all to go away and I feel like I’m supposed to be doing something right now.” I replied, “You are. You’re meeting with me. Don’t forget the friends you have. We are here to support you, to listen to you, to help in anyway we can. Stay connected.”

He did. And he was able to navigate those stormy relationship waters.

Pay Close Attention to What You are Saying to Yourself

Dr. Shad Helmstetter wrote one of my favorite books – What to Say When You Talk to Yourself. Self-talk – and we all do it – is very important when you and I are fighting anxiety and depression. I would highly recommend this book and practice what Dr. Shad teaches. Our tendency is to talk negativity into our lives. We replay so many “programs” we’ve grown up with. But there is hope! You can re-program your brain. You can.

Jon Acuff in his book Soundtracks approaches the same topic. He also talks about former programs, soundtracks, that we habitually play. To overcome negative thinking, Jon tells to create positive soundtracks that we say to ourselves often.

If you know you overthink and talk negatively to yourself, get these books. Fight for a healthier you.

Walk it Off

I’m not suggesting that exercise, even a 20 minute walk, will eradicate anxiety in your life instantly, but doing something as simple as taking a walk has huge benefits for our physical and mental health. Here’s what one article listed as benefits:

  1. Protect Your Heart – in just a 20 minute walk everyday, you may reduce the risk of heart issues by 30%.
  2. Slim Down – for many of us, weight gain is a point of anxiety. Consistent exercise can improve your health in so many ways. You already know this. Try walking for 20 minutes a day. Then slowly increase it. Clear your head. Breathe. Walk.
  3. Keep Your Memory Sharp – in one study, people who walked regularly tested better on memory tests and the levels of the protein in the brain responsible for learning increased.
  4. Improve Your Mood – a study by Cal State University found that the more steps you take during the day, the better your mood. Endorphins are released and you will feel happier.
  5. Sleep Better – who doesn’t want this?! Harvard conducted a study that revealed that those who moderately walk every other day feel asleep 50% faster.

To read this article, follow this link.

Remember Your Good Times

Your life and my life have good memories we can recall. Do it. Remember something funny from you past and laugh about it again. Remember something that really touched you and feel those feelings.

Years ago, one of my teams did something for me that still moves me today. They (unknown to me) surveyed everyone on the teams that I led asking them what they think about when they think of me. They then presented me with the following. This is how they saw me:

I look at this often. I remember. I become grateful that I had the privilege of leading this team. They made me laugh, think, and they helped make me better.

Don’t let our current world-wide issues drag you down. You can do very practical things to improve your mental health. As I wrote earlier, practicing these ideas is an investment in YOU. You are worth it. You truly are.

From Depression to Stronger Together

In Shawn Achor’s book, Big Potential, he shares this sobering data:

“The average age of being diagnosed with depression in 1978 was twenty-nine.  In 2009, the average age was fourteen and a half.  Over the past decade, depression rates for adults have doubled, as have hospitalizations for attempted suicide for children as young as eight years old.  What could possibly have changed so much to account for this?”

Achor points to rise of technology and social media.  For kids, there is a never-ending need to announce accomplishments and the whirlpool of competition (from boyfriends to athletic prowess to stupid tricks to selfies) keeps spinning faster and faster dragging more and more people in.  And then there is the pressure that continues to ramp up in schools and on the athletic fields and arts platforms.   Better grades.  Higher batting average.  Flawless performances.  Pressure! Pressure!  Pressure!

For adults, it is not much different.  Promotions, projects, and performance all set the stage for continual pressure points.

Achor’s challenge and call is for us to understand that our potential is “interconnected with others.”  “We need to stop trying to be faster alone, and start working to become stronger together.”

Good words for today, right?

We are about to enter a time when we need each other more than ever.  When the economy opens back up, we face choices.  Everyone for themselves or everyone helping each other to recover.  People want and need to get back on their feet.  Each of us can help someone succeed.  How?

  • Be an encourager.
  • Help someone find work.
  • Listen to a hurting friend.
  • Support a local business and encourage others to do the same.
  • Celebrate someone else’s win.

“Because when we work to help others achieve success, we not only raise the performance of the group, we exponentially increase our own potential…making others better takes your success to the next level.”

happiness Achor