Effective Coping Skills
The Doctor is Out, so Help Yourself Out
By Craig Struble, LCSW, LAC
I think we all can agree that society today is so much different than how it was for our grandparents or even our parents, depending on your age. The hustle and bustle to survive, both parents having to provide income, and just the cost of living are all things that have changed dramatically since the 60s, 70s, 80, 90s, and even 2000s. Technology has been a blessing and a curse. It has allowed for us to be more independent and reach out to others from far away, but it has also allowed us not to interact with each other and/or isolate. Diagnosis like depression and anxiety have always been around, but I would venture to say they have increased per capita exponentially over the last decade, and the number for what the Covid pandemic created won’t be known for several years, but it certainly increases this in society. The stigma around mental health issues has been slowly changing from a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ ideology to ‘it is okay to talk about it.’ There is certainly a greater awareness of behavioral health than ever before. People are seeking the services to help address these issues more now than ever. The problem now is that agencies and private practice providers have wait lists sometimes that can take six months or a year to get to see someone. So, what are some things you can do to cope in healthy ways with behavioral health issues while you wait for the opportunity to work with the professional?
One of the best coping skills is exercise. Now I am not saying that you have to hit the gym and do a complete CrossFit workout, although that would certainly be an effective coping skill. Any sort of exercise can be beneficial to addressing anxiety or depression. Stress over the long periods of time can have a damaging effect on the body and the mind. Stress is linked in several studies to mental health issues. Exercise releases numerous chemicals into the body, one of which is norepinephrine. This chemical helps the body to regulate how we deal with stress and be more efficient at doing so. Exercise also stimulates endorphin production which helps to provide a calming effect. Feel-good chemicals such as adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine are also released when we exercise.
Another area that we certainly look at with regards to physical health, but we might not see with mental health, is nutrition. You probably have never heard of gut-brain connection or that the gastrointestinal system has been referred to as the second brain. This system houses trillions of microbes that serve numerous functions, one of which is synthesizing neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the messaging system that connects with the brain to regulate sleep, pain, appetite, mood, and emotion. This gives the statement ‘you are what you eat’ a little different perspective. Studies have shown that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in processed meats lower depression. It has been well studied how certain substances can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Alcohol, caffeine, and sugary foods all have this potential. Eating foods high in saturated fat, low intake of fruit, and poor overall diet quality also have been shown to have correlations with symptoms of anxiety. Studies have shown that increase in fruits and vegetables lower tension and give a greater satisfaction with life and that a better quality diet improves the mood. So, eating a well-balanced diet can help with mental health.
Another step you can take to help reduce some of what might be going on is limiting the use of screen time. Studies are showing that excessive smartphone use is lowering mental health well-being and increasing stress levels for kids and adults. So, while these devices may be necessary in our everyday life, we need to make sure that we set them down and disconnect from them.
Lastly, self-care is another way to lessen some of the impacts of mental health. Everything we have discussed so far could really fall into self-care because they are really just things you can do for yourself to reduce stress levels. Some other suggestions might be taking a bath, reading a good book, getting a massage, or practicing a hobby. Aromatherapy is another useful tool. Spending time in nature for as little as 10 minutes can help reduce stressors. Spending time with a pet, especially dogs, has also been shown to reduce anxiety and create a more positive mood.
So just because you cannot get into your provider doesn’t mean you have to continue to suffer with the effects of mental health issues. Seeking out professional help is always the right thing to do, but you can also take some control by changing what you do. Remember change won’t happen if you keep doing the same thing.