By: Angus Munro - clinical psychologist, and director of Angus Munro Psychology in Sydney
Your mind has a big impact on your body. Stress and depression can have a serious effect on your mental wellbeing, which in turn has a knock-on effect on your health and fitness. Constantly feeling low or having high levels of anxiety and stress can affect your body in surprising ways, from increased risk of illness to weight gain, hair loss, difficulty sleeping and even reduced sex drive.
Luckily there are ways you can fight the effects of mental distress, and ways to protect your body from its damaging consequences. Here are ten of the best.
The magic cure-all for any mood problems you might be experiencing is to step up your level of physical exercise. Using your muscles releases endorphins in the brain which give you an instant mood boost. Not only that but a good exercise routine will give you a way to unwind at the end of a tough day and give you a sense of satisfaction. Obviously it will also help with the weight gain side of things too!
Where exercise releases brain chemicals which fight stress, high levels of caffeine have the exact opposite effect. Too much coffee raises levels of the stress-inducing hormone cortisol, so it might give you a quick jolt of energy but you'll end up feeling worse overall. You might feel like you need a few cups of coffee to get through your day, and while one or two isn't an issue, anything more will end up raising your stress levels considerably. If you need the extra energy there are plenty of healthier alternatives to coffee, like green tea or any herbal tea with ginger in it. Of course if you really struggle with energy a better idea might be to…
3. Get More Rest
One of the first things to go when you're stressed or depressed is your ability to get a good night's sleep. Having anxious thoughts and worries flying round your head makes it hard to switch off at night but there are ways you can make it easier. Avoid using your phone or computer right before bed as the light from the screen will make you feel more awake. Try to establish a good rhythms of always going to bed and getting up at the same time so that your body gets consistent amounts of rest. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine to help you unwind- a nice hot bath, some scented candles, ten minutes reading a book or whatever works for you.
4 Start the Day Right
It's easy for stress and worry to take hold of you when you start your day in a mad rush. Waking up ten minutes before you're supposed to be in work sets you up for a day of frantic worries and frayed nerves. Getting up half an hour earlier won't make much difference to your sleep but it will give you time to eat a decent breakfast and get yourself looking and feeling like you're ready to face the day.
This should be a no brainer, but if you're struggling with depression then using alcohol as an escape is about the worst thing you can do. Alcohol compounds the depressive effect of stress on your body and makes you even more susceptible to negative thoughts and worries, while also adding to your weight gain and poor health. Unwinding with a glass of wine a couple of nights a week is one thing. Anything more than that will start to take its toll on you very quickly.
When you're stressed it can reduce your motivation and your ability to focus and stay organised. Keeping your house in order can help you get ahead of this so you aren't always stressing about where you left your keys or your phone. A tidy and well ordered house can even help reduce the effects of stress by creating a calm and appealing space for you to spend time. Staying on top of cleaning also improves the air quality in your home which will help with staying healthy.
7. Muscle Relaxation
Constant stress or worry makes you tense, and that tension can be felt in the muscles all over your body. You can fight this by learning some good muscle relaxation techniques. You don't have to be a yoga guru to make the most of this- just ten minutes of stretches or relaxation in the evening can make your entire body-and mind- feel a million times more relaxed.
When you're stressed it can feel like you're flying from one crisis to the next. Suffering from depression or anxiety can likewise make you preoccupied with negative thoughts and fears about the future. So every now and then it can be helpful to just pause for a second and re-focus yourself on the present. Each time you start a new task or reach a break in your day- take a moment to stop, breathe deeply, re-focus your mind, and then carry on.
9 Talk About It
Don't keep your feelings to yourself. The simple act of telling someone how you're feeling has a profound effect on your mood. Suddenly it's not just your problem- you have others who can share the burden with you. Talk to your friends or to your family, and if stress, anxiety, worry and depression are really eating away at you then consider looking for expert depression counselling in your area.
10. Go Out and Have Fun
Having someone to talk about your problems with is important… but so is having people to not talk about them with! Everyone needs to spend some time away from the reality of day to day life. So go out, have fun, do things you enjoy and hang out with the people you love. Stress doesn't need to stop you having a fun and active life.
Conclusion: Stress and depression can have serious effects on your body and mind, but they don't have to. Our simple tips can give you some great ways to counter the effects of stress and build a healthier, more relaxed lifestyle. If you are suffering from long term depression or severe stress then seeing professional help can also be a good plan to help you get back on your feet. Look after your mind and your body will take care of itself.
Author Bio: Angus Munro is a Sydney-based clinical psychologist, and director of Angus Munro Psychology in Sydney . He excels in evidence-based therapies for a comprehensive range of emotional and psychological challenges. He has a special interest in treating all aspects of anxiety and has previously been involved in delivering anxiety programmes at the Anxiety Research Unit at Macquarie University. One of his passions is engaging, educating and helping people work through all manner of mental health issues to live their best life.
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