We all deal with periodic bouts of depression and anxiety of varying severity and duration. It’s a fact. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, roughly 40 million adults in the US are dealing with some form of anxiety disorder. In 2017, at least 17.3 million adults in the US experienced at least one major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Depressive episodes are commonly characterized by periods of depressed mood, loss of interest and pleasure in daily activities, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, low energy, difficulty focusing, and a diminished sense of self-worth.
Myriad factors can cause anxiety or depression, including genetics, medication, and conflict. Even seemingly positive experiences can sometimes result in negative feelings. No matter the cause, there are several small things we can do to improve our baseline mental health and help treat some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety in a positive way.
Stop what you’re doing and head into nature. You don’t have to go on some bushwacking expedition or extended camping trip. Just go to the closest thing to nature you’ve got nearby and give it about 15 to 20 minutes.
A study done at the University of Michigan found people who spent short amounts of time in nature had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their system when compared to those who didn’t get outside. That’s it; it’s that simple. Just get out into nature, even for a few minutes, and repeat three times a week for optimal results. It works better if you can leave your phone at home.
Work it Out
If you don’t have ready access to nature, that’s okay, there are other options. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but did you know exercise is good for your health? Shocking, I know. But that goes for mental health as well as physical.
Short periods of exercise can release endorphins and other chemicals in your body and brain that can improve your mood. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what physical ailments you might be dealing with — get up and do some kind of physical activity that requires energy expenditure for at least 15 minutes. Once again, ditch the phone for optimal results.
Be Present in the Present
Sometimes we unavoidably get caught up in our emotions and negative thoughts. When that happens, mindfulness techniques can help ground us. It’s important to remember simple thought suppression doesn’t work, but techniques like body scanning and controlled breathing can be powerful tools to help you through a tough time.
“I like grounding techniques and mindfulness,” says Amanda Moore, a licensed independent social worker and therapist. “Anything that helps you be more present in the present. A simple one I suggest is to write down or say, out loud, five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel [or] touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.”
You might be surprised how helpful a simple exercise like that can be. Give it a try.
Call a Friend
Okay, I know I’ve recommending ditching your phone a couple of times. Well, now I’m telling you to pick it up. Call a friend or family member when things get rough. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve talked — just don’t call someone who will stress you out more.
They’ll be happy to hear from you and a good conversation with someone you care about can be an extremely effective salve. Video chat using a weird filter for increased effect.
Pet a Dog
We don’t deserve dogs. Research has shown that the simple act of petting a dog lowers the stress hormone cortisol (just like spending time in nature). The same study found that spending five minutes or more with a pup significantly increased levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, increased momentary positive emotion, reduced stress-related negative emotion, lowered perceived stress, and improved mood. In short, having a dog around can do wonders for a person’s mental health.
It’s also worth mentioning that studies have shown 84% of those suffering from post-traumatic stress reported a significant reduction in symptoms after being paired with a service dog, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
These recommendations aren’t a cure-all, and they may not work every time for everyone, but they will work often for many, and they certainly can’t hurt.