Summer has officially ended, and fall is here. With the arrival of fall comes higher rates of depression and anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental health. It is strongly recommended that you go to therapy if seriously depressed or considering suicide. But when one is struggling, it can be hard to simply shower, much less make an appointment. If you are looking to make some progress in your own mental health but don’t know where to start, here are a few first steps you can make to take your mental health back into your own hands.
Don’t isolate yourself
The first instinct for many young adults who are struggling is to isolate themselves from other people. It feels easier to separate yourself from those around you rather than engaging with others when you are feeling depressed or anxious. While being alone can feel like a solution, it can actually make one’s struggles worse.
“Isolation is often a silent killer especially in this COVID era,” said Licensed Counselor Christian Sarran of Sarran Counseling PLLC in Tyler. “It’s just really important that even though we feel like we can handle it on our own that we need to step out of our comfort zone of the moment and reach out to people so that they can give us that social peace that we need for the struggles that we’re in right now.”
A support network is a group of people one trusts to be there when help is needed. They comfort during the lows and celebrate the highs of our lives. According to an article posted on mentalhealth.gov, a good support network “lets you freely express your feelings and emotions without judging, teasing, or criticizing.”
Focus on your physical health
“Exercise has been shown to improve the moods of people with clinical mental health problems, as well as those who only show mildly depressed symptoms,” according to Simplypsychology.org.
You can relieve some anxiety simply by going outside for a short walk or jog to release endorphins and increase serotonin levels in the brain. “You know 5-10 minutes just walking, jogging or even stretching,” Sarran said, “can really help enhance the endorphins in our brain that we need to feel good and reduce anxiety levels that we may be dealing with.”
But some days getting out of bed feels impossible. When struggling to physically go outside, you can crack open a window or open the blinds in your room to help balance out the chemicals in your brain. “We know that the sun provides vitamin D and helps with our mood stabilization,” Sarran said. “In the summer, we feel better but when the fall and winter comes we lose that sunlight.”
Feeling good physically allows your brain to focus on itself and what it needs to be healthy again, instead of working overtime to take care of the physical body. Feeling good physically allows our brain to focus on what is making it unhappy in order to better fix it.
Stay away from drugs
While getting high or using mood-enhancing drugs has become a popular method for easing anxiety, it can actually make your anxiety worse. Sarran said, “Honestly, it will just create more anxiety. It tells the brain you need to work harder.”
Using drugs in this way may seem like it works in the short term, but the effect it has on your brain can be detrimental. “It over-stimulates the pleasure principle of the brain and makes your brain actually have to work harder, which can actually increase anxiety,” Sarran said.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings is a great way of sorting them out. When thinking of a million miles a minute, it helps to slow down for a second and try to figure out what exactly you are feeling at the moment. Journaling is an exercise often given to therapy patients but can be utilized by everyone.
“Writing or drawing can be therapeutic in itself,” Sarran said.“Writing down feelings or thoughts can create a picture or map of what you’re dealing with and help you be able to move forward.”
Writing down things you are grateful for each day, the people you love, or the new experiences you had that day will help remind you to live each day to the fullest even when it feels impossible.
You can set goals in your journals, as well. “Something small can help create a sense of accomplishment for feeling better about yourself. ‘OK, I’ve done something productive’ and that can really help advance someone’s mood or mental state of being at the time,” Sarran said.
Little tasks like making your bed or cleaning your clothes off the floor can feel impossible in the midst of depression. But by making a goal to do something small every day, you can slowly clean up your space and feel productive at the same time.
While none of the activities are substitutes for actual professional help, it can be empowering to take your mental health back into your own hands again. If seriously depressed or considering suicide, seek professional help. But if you can do nothing else, find your support group and remember to lean on them when you need to. Take care of your physical health as best you can just by opening a window to let the outside world in a bit, and when things feel too big to deal with, write them down.
You are wanted and you are enough.