Whether or not you have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression or both, there is no doubt that you have been affected by these two conditions at some point in your life’s journey. And if you can imagine these two on a spectrum, we all find ourselves somewhere on that spectrum from day to day and even moment to moment.
And just like there is a spectrum of symptoms, there is a spectrum of treatments. Make no mistake, medications and psychotherapy have their place and are valuable tools in treatment, but did you know that there are some extremely accessible treatments that are available to all of us right now? And that these treatments are backed by neuroscience? Integrating lifestyle changes and holistic practices like exercise, diet, and flooding your attention with positive sensory inputs can significantly impact mental well-being. Let’s dive in and get those dopamine cascades flowing!
1. Exercise: Moving Towards Mental Health
Physical activity is a potent tool in combating anxiety and depression. Engaging in regular exercise triggers the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that act as natural mood elevators. Whether it’s a brisk walk, yoga, or a gym workout at DSC, exercise not only improves physical health but also significantly enhances mental well-being. It reduces stress, boosts self-esteem, and promotes better sleep—vital for managing anxiety and depression. And you don’t have to wait for it either, the effects are felt while moving and especially, immediately following! If you have ever done a hard effort, try and recall the positive emotional surge immediately following it. That is available to us each and every day!
2. Diet: Nourishing the Mind and Body
“You are what you eat”, we’ve all heard this a bunch of times. Have you ever heard this one? “You are what you don’t eat.” The link between diet and mental health is increasingly recognized due to a massive amount of data that supports it.
A balanced diet rich in nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, is vital for overall well-being. Research suggests that certain nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins, can positively impact mood and brain function. And, taken one step further, minimizing the intake of processed foods and excessive sugars will help stabilize mood and energy levels.
Pro tip: Instead of thinking about what you are not eating right, try and make the mental connection between how you feel when you make the right choices. By focusing on the rewards of getting our diet right, we are more likely to repeat that behavior in the future. When we choose to focus on how we feel when making the wrong choices, that negativity becomes our mindset. Next thing you know, you’re already 4 frosted cookies in (based on a true story😊)
3. Positive Sensory Inputs: Elevating the Mind
Think – Positivity in, positivity out. Conversely, negativity in, negativity out.
In my own personal experience, this one is key. Flooding your attention with positive sensory inputs can significantly impact mental health and it happens nearly instantaneously! Engaging with pleasant sensory experiences—listening to uplifting music, surrounding oneself with soothing scents, enjoying art, or spending time in nature—can help redirect focus from negative thoughts. Engaging in activities that bring joy and comfort can disrupt patterns of rumination and promote a more positive outlook.
By deliberately focusing on positive sensory experiences, we can cultivate a sense of mindfulness and presence in the moment. It’s a technique that can help counteract the cycle of negative thinking often associated with anxiety and depression. In fact, it’s my number one go to when I hear my inner voice getting negative. I literally flood it out with inspirational/motivational speeches or talks on apple music or on podcasts. If I am in a place where I can read, I will dedicate 15 minutes to reading something positive. Never once has this approach let me down and the science backs it up!
Think about a time when you were in a terrible mindset. Imagine your negative self talk about how silly you sounded at the meeting or how you are a victim of your circumstance and then you encountered someone in an equally bad mindset or worse. Then you two collaborate and get into a complaining session about everything that’s wrong, and bad, and start seeing yourself as a victim. Feels worse right? Does it lift you up or feel like it drags you down?
Now, think about a time when you were in a terrible mindset and you encountered someone with a warmth, kindness, and positivity, maybe even enthusiasm. Did it change your mindset? Was it contagious? Science🤓💪
These tools can be great when you need a solution right now and while these practices can be immensely beneficial, it’s important to remember that they’re not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each person’s experience with mental health is unique, and consulting mental health professionals can provide tailored guidance and support.
Moreover, integrating these approaches should be seen as complementary to, not a replacement for, professional help. Seeking advice from therapists, counselors, or psychologists is crucial for proper diagnosis and personalized treatment. I have used professional therapy in my own mental health hygiene practice and highly recommend!
The journey towards managing anxiety and depression has many faces. Incorporating lifestyle changes such as exercise, a balanced diet, and positive sensory inputs can significantly impact mental well-being. By prioritizing these non-pharmacological fixes and seeking professional guidance, we can all take meaningful steps towards a more balanced and healthier mental state.
Who doesn’t want that? Let’s go team DSC!!