Guest writer: Alexis Puckett, HW Intern
Coping with depression and anxiety can be a long and arduous battle. Like many people who fight this conflict, I would do anything to feel content with my mental illness. I have tried all the allopathic tactics, such as seeking therapy and different concoctions of medications for both my depressive episodes and anxious personality. I do not discount these options, in fact, I personally believe that seeking help is the first thing anyone should do when in search of healing. However, after years of experimenting with different medications and countless therapists, I wanted to seek a different approach that took my entire being into consideration. I wanted to find methods that not only eased my mind but my body as well. In addition to the regimens I already have in place, I wanted to make specific lifestyle changes in order to observe their impact.
In order to accomplish this, I first had to reflect on my own journey thus far and see what changes I could possibly make. I began to write down what I did throughout a typical day. From this, I was able to investigate my habits: negative and beneficial. To reiterate, I continued to follow my usual regime which includes meeting with a licensed clinical social worker once a week to attend cognitive behavioral therapy and taking a prescription from my healthcare provider. I cannot stress the importance of discussing options with your healthcare provider, whether it be your primary care physician, herbalist, or mental health specialist, and I in no way endorse simply halting all therapeutic medication.
I personally have never been very fond of antidepressants. It was my early teen years when I was prescribed my first SSRI, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Alongside my physician, I experimented with different kinds in order to find the “right match.” While doing so, I was looking for improvements in mood and energy and decreased depressive episodes and anxiety. Although I found that these therapeutics did in fact increase my quality of life, I did not feel completely fulfilled. I still had moments of anxiety and depressive episodes, just not nearly as often as I had before beginning treatment. I always felt that there was more I could be doing to help myself heal.
I sat down, began my research, and devised a plan. Where in my life could I make changes in order to live life to its fullest? To figure this out, I had to consider nearly an entire decade of my life. I looked deeply into what has changed since I started feeling the way I currently feel, and I narrowed it down into two basic categories; emotional and physical well-being. I created a list of tactics from my personal research that I believed would not only improve my well-being but that I would enjoy.
Meditation once a day: meditation has been found to reduce depression in adults by calming the mind and lowering stress and anxiety levels. The practice is able to do this by training an individual to “achieve sustained focus,” allowing them to break the connection between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex, two areas of the brain that are overworked during moments of depression or anxiety (Harvard Health, 2021).
One thing that I strongly believe causes my poor mental health is my stressful schedule. I consistently have a large assortment of tasks at hand. This being said, I always have a significant amount of things on my mind. Using guided meditation, I attempted to quiet down those trains of thought in order to alleviate stress. Over the course of three months, I did this once a day for approximately 30 minutes. An unchallenging and helpful tool for those who want to begin meditating is guided meditation. These guided sessions can be found online; the ones I used were conveniently from Youtube. Practicing guided meditation once a day helped calm and ground me. By doing so, I was able to take a break from my hectic lifestyle and listen to what my body was telling me.
Positive affirmations: oftentimes, negative emotions are subsequent to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Positive affirmations can improve self-esteem and beneficial neurochemicals that promote physical and emotional welfare in order to combat this imbalance (University of Utah Health, 2021).
I tend to be my own worst enemy and truthfully, my biggest bully. One thing my therapist has told me was to be kinder to myself, in order to build my self-esteem. Every day over the course of this journey, I would wake up and repeat the positive attributes that I hold. For example; “I am beautiful,” “I am kind,” or “I am worthy." Repeating positive affirmations helped improve my self-esteem, and performing them in the morning seemed to put me on a good foot for the day.
Disconnecting from my devices: there have been many studies conducted on the link between device usage and mental health disorders. One study, conducted by Kim et al., found that despite technology's positive attributes, research shows that overdependence on smartphone usage in adolescents can lead to stress, loneliness, sleep dissatisfaction, and an altered understanding of happiness (Kim et al., 2022). In another study completed by Alhassan et al., depression and smartphone use had a direct connection; an alarming finding for our technology-heavy society (Alhassan et al., 2018).
Before I began this journey, my average “screen time,” or how much time I spent on my phone, was nearly 7 ½ hours. Between my cell phone and laptop used for school, much of my day is spent looking at a screen. In addition to this, I spent much of my time on social media when not completing schoolwork. I decided to limit my cell phone use to three hours a day, undeniably one of the harder tasks I attempted! I believe that disconnecting from my devices improved my self-esteem. Much of what I viewed on social media caused me to compare myself to others, increasing stress and negative feelings towards myself and my own accomplishments.
Yoga: yoga, as traditionally intended, can bridge mind and body to help an individual observe and understand negative emotions and improve “mental balance” (Shohani et al., 2018). In a study done among women, depression, anxiety, and stress appeared to decrease after regular yoga practice. The study also found that the activity may possibly be a helpful tool in treating depression and anxiety symptoms alongside ongoing treatment (Shohani et al., 2018).
I have never been an athlete. I was always more of a fan of the arts, so theater and concert choir were my niche. When I was reflecting on what physical activity I could explore, I landed on yoga. In addition to the less intense and more relaxed physical flow of the practice, I preferred its integration of mindfulness as opposed to other rigorous physical activities. Over the course of three months, I practiced yoga 4-5 times a week for an hour a day. The class I took was offered by my school and combined gentle stretching moves and meditation. The gentle stretching definitely improved physical comfort, yet I cannot say the same for my mental health. I personally did not find any improvement in my anxiety or depression.
Mindful eating: it is important to consume a healthy diet while not skipping any meals. Evidence shows a healthy balanced diet including foods high in antioxidants such as vegetables, nuts, and fruit, can improve anxiety symptoms. Low antioxidant intake has been linked to higher anxiety levels (Naidoo, 2019).
For as long as I can remember, my relationship with food has been unhealthy. So, choosing good nutritious food to put into my body was not the simplest task. However, I attempted to be a mindful eater, eating when I was hungry, and paying close attention to what I was eating. I attempted to eat more unprocessed foods and took my time when eating them. Being more mindful of what I put in my body, like more greens and whole foods, improved my energy and subsequently decreased stress and depression.
Sleeping 8+ hours: sleep is a crucial part of our lives. During this time of rest, our bodies have time to repair and recover (Antoline, 2001). Similarly, the body needs sleep in order to maintain good mental well-being. Those who sleep less deeply have a higher chance of depression - and to think, it is suggested that 75% of people have a difficult time staying or going to sleep! (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2021)
As a senior in college, this was a difficult task for me to achieve. Between classes, homework, and attempting to maintain a social life, adequate sleep is definitely not in the cards. However, over the past few months, I attempted to get at least eight hours of sleep a night on average. Contrary to what I originally hypothesized would happen, it appeared the more sleep I received, the less energy I felt throughout the following day. I found that the right amount of sleep for me was somewhere between 5 ½ to 6 ½ hours. I felt increased energy when I slept this long, decreasing feelings of anxiety and stress.
Throughout my journey, there were some tactics that worked much better than others. These results are based purely off of my personal experiences, so just because some of these may have helped my mental health, does not mean they would not help others. Meditation, positive affirmations, disconnecting from my devices, and mindful eating all appeared to improve my mental well-being, or at least lessen the symptoms of my anxiety and depression. However, yoga and 8+ hours of sleep did not appear to improve my anxiety or depression. Despite these tactics not necessarily helping my mental well-being, I did learn something from each. I will continue yoga because it improves the feeling in my muscles and joints. Additionally, I discovered more about what specific sleep patterns fit my lifestyle, and I will apply this in the future. I feel as though if I were to observe these methods over a longer period of time perhaps my results would have differed. I believe that this especially would reflect in my sleep patterns.
This journey took place over the course of approximately three months. Although some of my tactics did not perform as planned, I do understand there were time limitations surrounding my journey. Perhaps more time could have shown more benefits from yoga or sleeping eight or more hours. However overall, all of these strategies added to my normal regime, and I highly recommend trying new things such as herbalism.
Guided Meditation- Headspace: I highly recommend these quick guided meditations to calmness.
A World of Calm: a relaxing HBOmax series that I recently discovered. Unfortunately, you do need an HBO subscription to view it. This is a series of relaxing episodes approximately 20 minutes long. The episodes are also narrated by some pretty big names!
About the Author
Alexis Puckett is a senior at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is currently studying Allied Health with a minor in public health. When not studying, Alexis loves to spend time with her friends and family and be outside. She enjoys hiking, kayaking, and people. After completing her bachelor's degree at Eastern, she plans to conduct research while continuing to advocate for the emotional and physical well-being of others.
Alhassan, A. A., Alqadhib, E. M., Taha, N. W., Alahmari, R. A., Salam, M., &
Almutairi, A. F. (2018). The relationship between addiction to smartphone usage and depression among adults: a cross-sectional study. BMC psychiatry, 18(1), 148. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1745-4
Antoline, A. (2001, April 26). How Sleep Helps Healing. NIACH.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2021, October 21). Depression and Sleep: Understanding the
Connection. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/depression-and-sleep-understanding-the-connection
Harvard Health. (2021, February 12). How meditation helps with depression.
Kim, N. H., Lee, J. M., Yang, S. H., & Lee, J. M. (2022). Association between
smartphone overdependency and mental health in Korean adolescents during the COVID pandemic; Age-and gender-matched study. Frontiers in public health, 10, 1056693. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2022.1056693
Naidoo, U., MD. (2019, August 28). Nutritional strategies to ease anxiety. Harvard Health.
Shohani, M., Badfar, G., Nasirkandy, M. P., Kaikhavani, S., Rahmati, S., Modmeli, Y.,
Soleymani, A., & Azami, M. (2018). The Effect of Yoga on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women. International journal of preventive medicine, 9, 21. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_242_16
The University of Utah Health. (2021, January 12). HAPPINESS HELPS: IMPROVE YOUR
MENTAL HEALTH WITH POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS. healthcare.utah.edu. Retrieved February 26, 2023, from https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2021/01/love-yourself-with-kind-words.php