Mental Health: Make Time to Take Time for You

Mental health struggles are as unique as the person dealing with them. How can help ourselves and loved ones?

Thumbnail of Mental Health: Make Time to Take Time for You

Mental Health: Make Time to Take Time for You

Tanner feels broken, but he hasn’t always felt this way. A snapshot in time, two years ago, would have shown him gainfully employed, volunteering in his community, and involved with his family at home. He has always dealt with varying levels of depression and anxiety but was able to find happiness utilizing a combination of medication, staying active, and practicing mindfulness. However, like so many others, when the pandemic hit, his ability to maintain his mental health crumbled.

Mental health struggles are as unique as the person dealing with them. While depression for one might look like a loss of interest in the areas where they previously found joy, someone else might experience weight fluctuations and the inability to make decisions. Mental health problems can have any number of causes, with people being affected differently by each stimulus. What can these causes look like? Below are just a few potential causes of deteriorating mental health:

  • Social isolation
  • Long-term health conditions
  • Unemployment
  • Abuse, trauma, or neglect
  • Poverty and debt
  • Substance abuse
  • Severe or long-term stress

As a part of their ongoing monitoring of stress levels in America, the American Psychological Association recently reported that 84% of respondents felt at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress in the prior two weeks, with anxiety, sadness, and anger being the most common feelings. While it isn’t always possible to remove stressors, it is possible to take the first step toward better mental health by focusing inward.

Symptoms of depression

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is defined as the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health. This can be done in a variety of ways. One way is to make sure your body is getting enough of what it needs in order to optimize energy.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much restorative sleep do you get each night?
  • Are you fueling your body with nutritious foods?
  • Are you focusing on staying hydrated?
  • Do you make regular exercise a priority?

Coping Skills

What happens when self-care doesn’t keep stressors in check? What can be done to alleviate the elevated levels of distress? Here are some suggestions:

Deep Breathing

During stressful events, it is quite common for breathing patterns to change. These changes can vary from breathing too quickly (hyperventilating) to not breathing at all. Taking deep breaths not only helps physically but also gives the person a new focal point. Instead of focusing on the stress trigger, they can focus on counting breaths, how the deep breaths feel, inhaling/exhaling, and more.

Exercise

Exercise is proven to make people feel better. With the increased levels of endorphins produced, as a result of working out, the feelings of happiness and euphoria rise. In fact, endorphins actually bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and can therefore produce a feeling of euphoria very similar to that produced by other opioids like morphine or hydrocodone. Even just moderate exercise throughout the week can improve depression and anxiety.

Self-Talk

Humans are notoriously unkind to themselves. With a continual dialogue of negativity, it can feel impossible to take on new tasks or improve. Sometimes it is hard to replace the negative talk with a positive counterpart. In situations like these, it is helpful to have one or more positive affirmations in place to focus on in lieu of the negative self-talk. These can be anything! Try “I am strong and powerful,” “I am nice,” or “I am a necessary part of my family.” Whatever thoughts lead to positive self-talk and empowerment can be turned into go-to affirmations.

Meditation

Meditation comes in many forms that can provide the practice with a better sense of calm and balance. The Mayo Clinic has identified the following potential emotional benefits of meditation:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Building skills to manage your stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Focusing on the present
  • Reducing negative emotions
  • Increasing imagination and creativity
  • Increasing patience and tolerance

With the potential emotional benefits, it’s no wonder meditation is recommended as a way to cope with negative emotions.

Meditation can be practiced in multiple ways, a few of which will be highlighted here. Mindful meditation is centered in being fully present with a person’s thoughts. With mindful meditation thoughts and emotions are observed, but the meditator passes the thought through without making judgement on the thoughts. Transcendental meditation utilizes a mantra, typically a word, sound or phrase repeated while sitting in a specific pose. The intent is to ease the meditator into a state of relaxation and peace without concentration or too much effort. Another form of meditation that has taken on increased popularity is guided meditation. With YouTube channels, apps, and podcasts all available to assist the meditator, guided meditation is typically a method where mental pictures or situations are formed to provide relaxation. With no shortage of meditation types available, meditation is a coping skill that can be used almost universally.

The Pharmacogenomic Difference

Unfortunately, self-care and coping techniques can’t always resolve mental health issues. Remember Tanner? He has tried focusing on self-care. He has tried countless coping techniques, and his previously effective medication doesn’t seem to make a difference. What does he do now?

Medications serve as the primary course of care for depression, yet fewer than half of all depressed patients respond well to their first prescription. Some people have to go through the emotional roller coaster of trial and failure of different mental health medications.  It is recommended that a mental health drug be tried for at least 6-12 weeks before counting it as a failure. Based on genetic variations in DNA, people respond differently to various medications, so it’s very difficult for prescribers to know which drug will work for which person right away.

With IPM’s Pharmacogenomics Programs, members can take a simple cheek swab to find out how they will respond to a particular medication, or if they have an increased risk of side effects. This is all completed before embarking on the often relentless journey of trying multiple mental health medications. If you are interested in learning more about pharmacogenomics, contact us today.