Anxiety and depression are the most diagnosed mental health problems in the country. An estimated 19 percent of US adults have experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year, and about 7.8 percent of US adults have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Like any mental health issue, learning how to cope with anxiety and depression is imperative to improving a person’s overall mental health and well-being.
Anxiety and depression are more than simple episodes of worry or sorrow. These are dysfunctional patterns of thought and behavior linked to irrational negative thinking, causing disorder at home and in the workplace, affecting a person’s life in their day-to-day.
Some anxiety disorders include symptoms of physical panic and hyperventilation, seeing things that aren’t there, and feeling disturbed by intrusive thoughts. Some depressive disorders include symptoms of suicidal ideation, periods of anhedonia, or an inability to feel pleasure or joy.
How Do Coping Mechanisms Help?
Treating anxiety disorders or depressive disorders usually requires a combination of talk therapy and patient-specific medications. But lifestyle changes and applied coping mechanisms are important, too.
These coping mechanisms help put the lessons of therapy into use, finding ways to circumvent or overcome unwanted or negative thoughts, supersede them with rational and positive affirmations, introduce ways to raise the body’s natural stores of feel-good chemicals or distract oneself from negative thoughts in a positive way.
Healthy vs. Maladaptive Coping Skills
To cope generally means to find a way to live with something. There are good and bad ways to cope. Whether something is a good or bad way to cope depends on whether it improves your life or drives you into a different, or even worse type of misery.
A common maladaptive coping mechanism for depressive thoughts or anxious symptoms is drinking. Drinking does help make these thoughts go away and can even replace them with feelings of contentment or euphoria for a time. The effects of alcohol closely mimic those of anti-anxiety medications, even.
But using alcohol to drown out your negative thoughts often makes them come back ten times worse while introducing a new host of issues created by a long-lasting drinking habit, from nerve pain to liver cirrhosis and cardiac deterioration, as well as alcoholism.
Constructive, healthy coping mechanisms help a person live with their symptoms while reducing the severity and frequency of their episodes and improving their life. An example of a healthy coping mechanism includes an artistic talent like woodworking or oil painting, different forms of self-expression such as journaling or singing, or healthy physical endeavors, such as cooperative sports or hiking.
In other words: maladaptive coping mechanisms leave you worse off than you were before. Positive or constructive coping mechanisms help you improve your life.
The Need for Professional Help
Coping skills can make a genuine impact in anyone’s life, especially someone struggling to function in their day-to-day life due to their symptoms. But they are not a replacement for professional help.
Going for an outdoor hike on a regular basis can do wonders for both your physical and mental health, but it isn’t a panacea for depression or anxiety disorders. If you or someone you love has been struggling with unwanted or uncontrollable thoughts of sadness or worry, consider going to a professional and talking to them about it.
They can help guide you towards potential coping mechanisms while helping you reduce the severity and frequency of your thoughts and feelings via medication and psychotherapy.
Exercise and Movement for Mental Health
When it comes to natural coping mechanisms for stress, you can’t go wrong with movement. Getting up to grab a walk, hitting the gym, going to practice with some friends, jogging through the woods, visiting the ice rink, or even taking a few minutes to jump up and down on the trampoline you’ve built for the family can make a genuine and lasting impact on your mental health.
The only requirement for a prescription of exercise and movement to really work is some level of consistency. Doing something good for your body once or twice can leave you feeling great, or just tired. Doing it again and again, for weeks and months, is what brings lasting results. Like a diet, that means sticking to something you actually somewhat enjoy. Otherwise, all you feel is irritable.
It doesn’t have to be a jog or rigorous training. It could be a few rounds of Just Dance or Wii Sports in front of the TV. It could be a group activity you do with your friends every weekend.
Nature and Outdoor Activities
In addition to moving around, there’s an even greater benefit to be found in moving around in nature. A walk in the woods, a swim in the lake, a stroll along the beach, or a hike through the mountains.
Whatever access you might have to a patch of unurbanized land around you, consider visiting that patch a few times a month for a long breather. Plus, it’s a bonus if you can find someplace with a view that stretches to the horizon.
Standing in awe of the beauty of nature is an excellent way to practice gratitude for some of the things in life that are much bigger than us, and take a moment to forget about some of our worries for just a little while. It also seems to have an impact on our mental well-being.
Hobbies, Skills, Interests, and Depression
Among its list of symptoms, depression carries with it a marked disinterest in old hobbies and activities and a lack of joy. It becomes harder and harder to have “fun” when you’re depressed.
One way to circumvent that is to spend time finding something new to engage with, especially with a friend or partner. You may find love for your old hobbies with time, but until then, discovering the joy of something new can help create a fresh opportunity to cope with your feelings. Spending time trying out different activities and picking up new skills is a worthwhile investment.
Journaling for Depression and Anxiety
Simply writing down your thoughts and feelings can be strangely cathartic, whether you prefer to do so through a structured story, bullet-point thoughts, or just a pure stream of consciousness.
Journaling has long been one of the most effective coping skills taught to patients struggling with anxious and negative thoughts, and there’s plenty of literature detailing how effective it can be at managing these thoughts. Journaling helps you self-reflect and process your thinking, and even identify erroneous or irrational thoughts as they crop up time and time again.
Lifestyle Changes Do Not Replace Therapy
It bears repeating that these are important supplemental activities to continue coping with a mental health condition that can continue to affect your life for years or decades to come. At the end of the day, it’s essential to talk to a professional about your mental health issues. Lifestyle changes will not replace therapy.
On the other hand, going to therapy regularly without addressing the way you live can be counterproductive. This is where support comes in. When a person is struggling to motivate themselves to live, it can be hard to worry about nutrition or healthy sleeping patterns.
Similarly, when their worries overwhelm them, it’s easy to forget to take a moment to loosen up and do something you enjoy or take a breather in the woods.
Start Learning How to Cope with Anxiety and Depression Today
A holistic approach to mental health means taking into consideration all the ways in which a person can improve their mental health, from talking to someone about it and taking medication, to adopting healthier coping skills. Take the next step in bettering your mental health and call us today.