In this video Dr Julie presents 6 simple strategies to help protect you from depression and keep you feeling psychologically fit and healthy. The video explores the importance a few key factors that can protect us from depression and other mental health problems.
Think exercise is all about weight loss? Think again. A surge of scientific research into the links between physical exercise, the brain, and mental health in the last few decades has revealed more and more great reasons to get moving. Below are just some of the ways in which exercise has an impact on how you feel.
1. Research shows that regular exercise (burning around 350 calories three times a week) can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression. In fact, studies have shown exercise programmes reducingsymptoms as effectively as antidepressants. The side effects of exercise are more pleasant too.
2. Stress causes our bodies to show signs of ageing right down to a cellular level. Researchers at the University of California have found that vigorous exercise significantly reduces the signs of ageing on our cells. So after a bad day at work a game of tennis could be a better stress reliever than watching television.
3. Participating in yoga three times per week has a significant effect on the chemicals in our brain associated with depression and anxiety. This makes it a great complement to both pharmacological and psychological therapies.
4. The runner's high is no myth. High intensity exercise such as interval sprinting can lift your mood and leave you feeling uplifted for the rest of the day. But you don't have to be a runner to get the effects. Cycling, swimming, football or tennis will have the same effect. The important part is just to involve bursts of high intensity with short rests in between. Get the heart pumping and the blood circulating and your body will do the rest.
5. Exercise can improve your confidence, but you don't have to wait for radical changes in your waistline to feel it. Studies have found increases in self-esteem and body image just from reaching goals such as lifting heavier weights, running a faster time or winning a game. Furthermore, taking the focus away from weight loss and paying more attention to improving your performance can be much more motivating and enjoyable.
6. Depression has a negative effect on concentration and memory. But a study in Germany found that students scored better on high-attention tasks after doing just 10 minutes of exercise compared to those that did not. Their scores were even better if that exercise was something complicated such as dancing or a racquet sport. This is because complicated activities that require our full attention and hand-eye coordination improve our capacity to learn by enhancing attention and concentration skills.
These are just a few of the ways that exercise influences the way you feel and so, if you do nothing else today, exercise. Any form of activity that gets your heart rate up and makes you feel a little out of breath. If exercise is new to you, visit your GP to get some advice on getting started, or seek out a therapist who can support you in gradually increasing your activity level to help improve your mood.
Most of us feel shy from time to time. That moment of awkwardness and uncertainty that makes you feel anxious around other people. Many people admit to feeling shy when they meet someone new, go on a first date, speak to people in authority or in a job interview. In these situations it is not uncommon to worry about being criticized or judged. Your voice starts to sound shaky, your mouth goes dry, you sense the heat across your face as you blush. Your mind goes blank and you don’t know what to say next, allowing those awkward moments to last even longer. It is only later, when you are back home, that you begin to think, ‘I should have said this or that’. It’s important to remember that these feelings are normal and very common. Research suggests over 98 per cent of people report having these shy and anxious experiences.
So when does shyness become a problem that you need to work on? For some people, shyness begins to take over. You begin to avoid doing certain things that are good for you and that you once enjoyed. You start spending less time with friends, turn down that party invite, avoid using the gym, or even decide not to apply for that job you wanted. Shyness becomes an invisible barrier holding you back from living the life that you want. The isolation that results increases the risk of developing low mood and mild depression. Listed below are some of the signs and symptoms of a social anxiety problem.
If these symptoms seem to describe your experience, then you could have a problem with social anxiety. But don’t panic. The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to rebuild your confidence. In some cases, it may be appropriate for you to seek professional support to help you along with this, but below I have described a useful exercise taken from the ground-breaking Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) to help you to start by helping yourself.
Those with social anxiety tend to be highly self-critical in the way they talk to themselves in their own heads. When they make a mistake they can be very self-attacking. The result is more anxiety, more self-loathing, shame and more avoidance of things they value. In fact, constant self-criticism has the same affect as it would to live with a bully 24 hours a day 7 seven days a week. Not a pleasant idea. But learning to replace that harsh self-talk with a more compassionate one, when you have made a mistake, helps you to calmly engage with the situation so that it can be repaired and you can move on with confidence. Here is one exercise that is sometimes used in therapy to help individuals tackle that very critical self-talk that keeps shyness alive.
Step 1. Think of a specific situation that causes you to be self-critical.
Step 2. Write a list of all the self-critical thoughts you have bout this situation.
Step 3. Next to each thought, write down a more compassionate perspective, one that is understanding of your feelings, kind to yourself, focusing on your strengths and positive experiences. Generate alternative thoughts about the situation that are more supportive.
This can be incredibly difficult to begin with. After all, it is likely that you have a lifetime of practice at being self-critical. To make it easier, consider what you would say to a good friend in the same situation. Remember to be honest, kind, understanding and encouraging. With plenty of practice at doing this it will eventually become a habit that helps.
What pushes your buttons? Is it a noisy neighbour? Maybe when you have too much to drink or someone said something? Maybe a series of small things happen to build your frustration through the day until you explode when your partner forgets to do something? Whatever leads to a rise in anger, lashing out does nothing to improve your life. In fact, it does the opposite, leading you to hospital, prison, or unemployment and leading your partner out of the relationship.
People often get angry when they feel they are losing control of a situation. It has been said that taking a stand shows strength. But in reality, the person losing their temper is the one who loses control and gets into trouble. People avoid them and they often end up alone. Holding on to your temper, holding on to calm and control, holding on to your family and friends has a much better outcome for your life. But it requires much greater strength than anger. If you want to better understand and control anger, follow this short guide to anger management. With practice, these techniques may help you keep your temper.
Step 1. Know what makes you angry.
The best racing drivers in the world would not race on a track before getting to know, in painstaking detail, every tight bend and slippery surface. Similarly, understanding inside out the people, places and situations that always seem to push your buttons enables you to do what you need to do to stop them being pressed and taking you by surprise. Don't just think about it for a moment. Take a seat and write down all the things that have ever made you feel angry. Then go through your list and consider ways to avoid or better handle those situations before they arise.
Step 2. Get familiar with the early warning signs.
Heading for a bend in the road, a good driver can judge if he is going too fast to handle the corner well. The signs can be subtle but crucial. If missed the results can be lethal. Losing your temper can feel like it comes out of nowhere. In fact, there are many small changes in how you feel before you explode with anger. If you spend time getting to grips with these and examining your own unique process with the precision of the driver getting to know his track, you can't go wrong. Specifically, look for physical signs. Your shoulders may tense up, your breathing might change, you may start clenching your jaw. Another area is to examine the changes in your thought processes. You may start to have overly critical thoughts of someone else, or yourself. You may think you are being ignored or insulted. Any signs that warn you of building anger are useful in your mission to keep your cool. They are the voice in the drivers ear describing the corner ahead. They give you the chance you need to put your plan of action in place.
Step 3. Have a plan for emergencies.
Top drivers gain experience of reacting quickly in dangerous situations to steer themselves safely through hairy moments. You need two or three crisis plans that will get you out of trouble if you have missed those early warning signs. Some people immediately get themselves outside and away from the situation to allow them to calm down safely. Others have a certain word or phrase to say that helps to defuse the situation and reminds them of how they want to deal with things. Counting to 10 can also allow time to consider the best way to handle things rather than react on impulse. Other options include stopping in your tracks to hum your favourite song. If you are humming, whistling or singing it is harder to shout or act out. It buys you time to slow things down and change direction. Smiling is another one. There is plenty of research to show that smiling works on a biological level to influence how you feel. It also helps those around you to calm down. A great de-fuser.
Planning to manage your anger in great detail, writing things down and sharing them with loved ones, all helps to increase your ability to use these strategies. When you successfully control your temper, give yourself credit for being strong and keeping control. The more you practice, the easier it will become. For those who need a more structured and supportive approach, working with a therapist on this may be the best option.
One of the first signs of low mood and depression is that you no longer feel like doing all the things you normally find enjoyable. You don't feel like socialising so you stop seeing friends as much, you feel that you can't be bothered to tidy the house or play sport. Over time your mood drops even more. Doing less opens the way for sadness, emptiness and depression. You feel worse, so you avoid even more things. You stop answering the phone, you don't cook for yourself. Your whole being is telling you to curl up under the duvet and hide. The less you do, the worse you feel and the worse you feel the less you do. You get stuck in a vicious cycle of depression. The good news? You can break the cycle. In fact you already have by looking for this article and reading to this point. These small steps of positive action is all it takes to begin to turn your life around.
Follow the steps below to keep breaking that cycle each day and you'll notice how quickly you start to feel better.
Keep a diary. Simply list everything you do in the next couple of days. Include all the small things like getting out of bed, washing up, talking on the phone, etc. Then give each item a score out of 10 for the amount of pleasure and the sense of achievement you got from it. At the end of each day you can then look over the diary and consider both the positive aspects of your day and what was missing.
When you feel low, small essential tasks like looking after yourself, paying bills and speaking to friends can all seem too much. However, we know that the less you do the worse you feel. So take just one thing that you notice is missing from your day. Just one. And do it – now. Add it to your diary and notice how you feel.
Build a routine that gets you out of bed in the morning. If you have children or a pet this makes it easier. But if you don't, then choose something every single day that you must get up for. Involving friends and family in this can help because its harder to stay in bed when you know you have to meet a friend or call a family member. Plus, time with others helps you to feel connected to the world again and lifts mood.
Make a list of all the things you have stopped doing but used to enjoy. Then give them a pleasure rating out of 10. Don't expect yourself to do them all at once, but take a couple to add to your routine. You may not get the same pleasure from them as you once did, but keep using the pleasure scores and watch as they increase.
Exercise is one of the best ways to boost mood, energy and motivation. I'm not talking about a 10k run, just get outside and walk faster than you usually do so that you feel a little out of breath, or any alternative that gets your body moving. Try a little gardening or cycling to the local shops. It needs to feel challenging but achievable. Remember to record how it made you feel.
What if it doesn't work? Don't worry if you find yourself taking two steps forward and one step back. Change is difficult. Just by starting you have broken the cycle. If you find yourself falling back into the old ways, simply start the steps again. If you are struggling, you may need some extra support from a therapist to help you along or look at things in more detail.
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