A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Behavioral tips to help beat depression and anxiety

Two women listening to music as they get ready to exercise - Behaviors to beat depression

Regular exercise is known to improve depression, anxiety and mood systems. For support, team up with a friend who practices self-care behaviors.

Stress, adverse experiences and genetics increase your risk for depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.

You can’t change family history or the past, but you can take steps to modify your stress level and reduce your vulnerability to mood and anxiety disorders, said Dr. Jennifer Michels, a Marshfield Clinic psychologist.

These techniques work in combination with medications or, in some cases, on their own to prevent or improve mood and anxiety symptoms.

Practice wellness behaviors

These five self-care behaviors can help improve mental health and reduce symptom severity:

  • Exercise: Aim for 30 minutes of activity with an elevated heart rate five times a week.
  • Good sleep hygiene: Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Healthful diet: Eat a balanced diet of vegetables, fruit, lean protein and whole grains.
  • Meaningful relaxation and leisure time: Find hobbies, sports or volunteer work you enjoy.
  • Behavioral activation: It may be difficult to do, but get going by structuring part or much of your day with activity.

“Exercise is the most important of these self-care behaviors,” Michels said. “Research shows strong evidence that exercise reduces vulnerability to mood and anxiety symptoms and can significantly improve existing symptoms.”

Connecting with a friend or family member who practices wellness behaviors is a great source of support and motivation.

Learn coping and stress management skills

It sounds easier said than done, but these three tips can help you successfully cope with and reduce stress:

  • Problem solving: List your options for solving the problem that’s causing stress. Weigh the pros and cons of each, seek advice from support sources and decide your next steps.
  • Cognitive reframing: Try to think of the stressful event as temporary and external instead of permanent and your fault. Focus on when the situation might improve and aspects of the stressor you can control.
  • Emotional regulation: Recognize that you’re feeling stressed and use relaxation techniques to calm yourself.

Seek social support

Social support can come from family, friends, medical providers and in-person or online support groups.

Seek different types of social support:

  • Emotional support from friends you can talk to.
  • Informational support from health care providers with whom you can discuss your medical care.
  • Physical support from people who can take you to appointments or bring you a meal if you’re feeling down.

“People who make meaningful social connections tend to fare better with stress than those who don’t,” Michels said.

Talk to your doctor

Many resources, including books, apps and websites, are available to help you start and maintain healthy habits that improve mood and anxiety symptoms. If your mood symptoms don’t improve after trying these techniques, talk to your primary care or mental health provider.

Behavioral health nurses who work alongside primary care providers in many Marshfield Clinic centers can assist in connecting patients with mental health resources and providers.

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