Tips for Preserving Mental Health

Not too long ago I posted some suggestions for combating stress, a condition that most people are feeling these days. Particularly given these unsettling and difficult economic times, people are worried, stressed out, and feeling a lot of uncertainty. I am seeing people with these feelings in my psychotherapy practice these days. Some people have lost jobs; some are struggling to find jobs. And others, still working, have lost huge amounts of savings in the recent stock market debacle. Many have worries about putting children through college or maintaining their mortgages.

These are indeed tough times. And more people are coming into therapy in order to talk about these times, their feelings, and gain support. A recent article in the SF Chronicle (“High Stress of Recession Leading Some to Depression” in the Monday, June 1, 2009 edition) focuses on the deteriorating mental health of the average person undergoing such stress. The article lists some helpful “tips” for helping to maintain one’s perspective and overall well-being. I have listed such tips myself, but I thought I would pass on the ones given in the Chronicle. They are:

Eat Right: Stress might drive you to crave comfort foods, but try to keep your diet healthy.

Sleep: If stress is keeping you from falling asleep, create a “buffer zone” before bed – give yourself an hour or so to unwind with a calming activity like reading.

Exercise: Being active, even if it’s just taking a 30-minute walk, is a natural way to comeback chronic stress.

Fight bad habits: It might be tempting to smoke or drink to deal with stress, but look for healthy alternatives instead.

Think positive: It might sound a little too Pollyanna, but experts say positive thinking can relieve stress.

Seek help: If stress or depression is making it difficult to function, and especially if you’re having suicidal thoughts, see a mental health professional.

A brief comment. While I certainly adhere to the power of positive thought, and work with a lot of clients who try to maintain such a positive attitude through adversity, I also hold to the power of communicating one’s negative thoughts. There needs to be balance. Expressing one’s worries, fears, and sadness, helps to move those feelings along. Talking about the issues and expressing the feelings might not change one’s job situation or money left in savings, but it does help to manage these feelings. Which leads to the last tip mentioned above: seeking help. I would encourage people to seek help before feeling depressed and possibly dealing with suicidal thoughts. Therapy is one such avenue of help. And one does not need to be in a crisis to come into therapy. Given the chronic stress that we all face today, it seems we all good use as many tools as are available to navigate these rough seas. Psychotherapy is one such tool.

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