For many of us, the days follow a relatively stressful routine. We cycle through our household chores, family related tasks, busy workdays and finish with an evening full of last-minute to-do list items. When the body and brain are placed under chronic demands, they respond with a “stress response” that is designed to help us function in high-gear for short periods of time.
The problem with this response is that it was not designed to run all of the time, and leads to a breakdown of the overall system. Consequently, we experience the symptoms of burnout: Insomnia, depression, irritability, impaired concentration, anxiety and relational conflict. So how do we kick this stress-response system back into idle? Here are our five healthy habits that you can fit into your life starting this week:
Habit #1 – Moderate Exercise Makes a Huge Difference
All of the major mental health treatment organizations agree on this one: Regular exercise is an effective moderator of mood, stress and anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins, which are hormones that help decrease the stress response and can positively impact mood. Fitting this in several times a week can help flip your reset switch, and get your day started on an optimistic and energetic note. Keep it simple! Even a 10-minute jog every morning can make a huge impact.
Habit #2 – Find Time for Yourself
They tell you on commercial airlines that you should put on your oxygen mask before helping those around you if there is an emergency. This is to make sure that you remain physically able to help those that may need your help (you won’t be able to help anyone if you pass out yourself). The same concept applies to your emotional well-being: If you do not take time to care for yourself and replenish your emotional reserves, you will have a tougher time being flexible, available and responsive to your relationships which can in turn add to an already stressful day.
Habit #3 – Don’t Skip Out on Your Friends
Empathy is one of the most powerful tools we have to help reduce stress and depression. Humans are social in the truest sense, and emotional isolation from an over-loaded schedule keeps us from connecting. Research shows us that it gets much harder to form new friendships beyond the age of 30 (due to our increased time spend with family and with our work). Finding ways to foster your friendships as a routine practice can help make sure that the support you need will be there when you need it most. Get out with your friends before you need to!
Habit #4 – Your Brain is Part of Your Body, So Take Care of Both
Stress and Depression both entail changes in diet as a response to the symptoms. Depression can cause significant weight gain or loss and chronic stress can drive us to seek out unhealthy foods as a way to cope. Your body and brain need a wide variety of healthy nutrients to stay at the top of their game. Dehydration can contribute to feelings of fatigue as well, so have a look at your eating and drinking habits, and avoid overuse of alcohol during periods of stress or depression. Seek out a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and seek out ways to get in foods that support your brain’s health (such as those containing Omega fatty acids). Make sure that you are drinking plenty of fresh water too.
Habit #5 – Meet with a Counselor
Counseling can provide a good “check-in” point to the week, allowing you to re-focus on the ways you are working to decrease stress and depression. Life tends to take center stage, and counseling can be a great way to achieve consistency despite a lack of available time, energy and motivation to do so on your own. Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Professional Counselors are highly trained in all of the facets of managing stress and depression and can help you modify your behaviors and thoughts in a way that improves symptoms. They can also help address relational problems that contribute to stress and depression. If you’d like to meet with one of our clinicians, fill out our contact form and we’ll help get you back on track!