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Anxious, Depressed? These Tips to Self-Care May Help

A lot of people are dealing with anxiety, depression or just general unhappiness.

Worry, sadness, restlessness, irritability and trouble sleeping are just a few symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Therapy and medications can help. But some simple self-care ideas can lift a person’s mood and add a sense of peace and joy to everyday life.

“Fortunately, there are things that people can do on their own, either in place of a professional mental health professional or while waiting in line to see someone either virtually or in person,” said James Maddux, professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology and senior scholar in the Center of the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

All of these techniques can help people dealing with the stress and emotional traumas of life to be happier, Maddux said.

1. Mellow out with meditation

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Doing this quiet activity for just 10 to 20 minutes helps a person slow down and pay attention to what’s going in inside, Maddux said.

Becoming more aware of what you’re thinking and feeling is a big step toward learning how to better manage thoughts and feelings, he said.

2. Get moving

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Research points to exercise as a way to help manage anxiety and depression, Maddux said.

Evidence suggests that exercise leads to physiological changes in the body and brain that help deal with these issues, he said. It also requires focus, which can help distract you from the day’s problems.

3. Spend time in nature

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Take that walk outdoors to get extra benefit.

Being in nature is associated with improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and increases in empathy, according to an APA story.

4. Healthy diet helps

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The NIMH suggests a balanced diet with plenty of water can improve both energy and focus.

Harvard Health says that foods with lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants protect the brain from oxidative stress, while those high in refined sugar impair brain function.

About 95% of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps mediate moods and more, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, according to Harvard Health, which suggests two weeks of eating a clean diet followed by adding foods back and seeing how you feel.

5. Are you sleeping enough?

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When people are overtired, they’re more vulnerable to extreme emotions, Maddux said.

Lack of sleep may interfere with the brain’s consolidation of positive emotional content, influencing mood and emotional reactivity, according to the foundation.

6. Schedule activities and set goals

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While people tend to block out time for work and appointments, it’s also important to plan time for fun.

Think about what you liked doing and schedule it, even if it’s just for 10 to 15 minutes, Maddux suggests. It might be getting together with other people or just watching something you find fun on Netflix.

7. Step back from social media

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Sometimes it’s what you don’t do that matters. Social media not only eats away at time that could be spent on more fruitful self-care, but it can impact a person’s self-esteem.

“Social media encourages people to engage in what psychologists call social comparison, literally comparing our lives to the lives of other people,” Maddux said. “And, of course, everyone on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, whatever, they're mainly putting out there the best parts of their lives.”

8. Source and more information

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Source: James Maddux, PhD, professor emeritus and senior scholar, Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va.

For more information on mental health, check out these additional resources:

How to Deal With Stress and Stop Being So Stressed Out

How to Deal With Anxiety

How to Help Someone Dealing With Depression

How To Recover From Burnout