"Lifestyle changes to improve and prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety."
I knew he’d run the other way if I jumped too quickly into a medical referral or diagnosis, so we started with the most human approaches — connecting about what was really going on for him, and exploring readily available lifestyle changes that aligned with his interest, motivation, and values. Within weeks, his spark started to come back, and within months he felt he had a new lease on life. He wasn’t suddenly happy all the time. But he felt a new sense of his capacity to take charge of his mental health.
Will everyone have an outcome like Roy from lifestyle changes? Definitely not — anxiety and depression are complex conditions with tremendous individual variation, varied underlying causes, and varied levels of severity. But can everyone benefit from learning the foundation for how to care for their mind either separately or as an adjunct to professional treatment? I believe so.
The following seven health behaviors are key ones linked to prevention or symptom improvement of anxiety and depression.
While everything on this list is simple, it’s far from easy. Change is hard. And if you currently have depression or anxiety, it can be especially challenging. That’s why one of the key behaviors is being kind to yourself.
If moved to do so, choose one area to work on at a time, perhaps an area you feel especially motivated or confident to address, or an area that feels aligned with your most important values. Then take it one step at a time. The funny thing about change is we often don’t know it’s happening, we just keep rowing in the right direction, and usually after a few, or a few thousand, twists and turns, we look back in awe at how far we’ve come.
While 10-18% of adults in the U.S. experience chronic sleep issues, this number jumps to 65-90% of those with depression, and over 50% of those with generalized anxiety disorder. Of those with depression, 65% had sleep issues first. Addressing sleep issues can alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions, and given sleep problems are a risk factor for mental health conditions, can also help protect your mental health.
There are many resources to help improve your sleep, such as this free app.
A disposition that tends towards self-critical, or perfectionistic, can be a risk factor for anxiety and depression. This can include feeling like you must be perfect to be accepted, an inability to accept flaws within yourself, intense self-scrutiny, or an unrealistic sense of others’ expectations and your capacity to meet them.
Despite the fear of many who have this characteristic, the antidote to perfectionism isn’t letting it all go, or saying goodbye to standards – it’s self-compassion. According to researcher Kristen Neff, self-compassion has three components: self-kindness vs. self-judgment, common humanity vs. isolation, mindfulness vs. overidentification. How we treat ourselves through the ups and downs of life can have a tremendous impact on health and mental health.
3. Social Connection
From the time we are born, we need social connection in order to thrive.
A recent study lead by researchers at Harvard sought to understand what could most protect us from depression that is within our control. After analyzing over 100 potential factors, they found that social connection was by far the most important protective factor.
It’s been a lonely year for many. And many are anxious at the prospect of going back to normal. But connection doesn’t mean a big party or bustling office. It can be confiding in one trusted person about how you’re really doing, listening to how someone else is really doing, giving a meaningful thank you, or having a (safe) visit with any family member or friend. If this feels out of reach, try making a short list of people who at any point have given you a sense of belonging. Other studies have shown that just calling positive relationships to mind can have a positive impact on our capacity to tolerate stress."
by Alexandra Samuel-Sturgess| February 5, 2021
"The best way to feel empowered during your pregnancy and birthing experience is through education on the process and exercising your right to choose. This starts with making your first prenatal appointment. Making that appointment is imperative, but can feel scary if you do not know what to expect.
Here are eight steps to help you feel empowered during pregnancy and as you enter into parenthood.
Contact your Insurance Provider
If you do not have insurance at the time of pregnancy, you have options. Please reach out to your local social service agency for assistance with State Assisted Medicaid in order for you to have access to prenatal care.
If you already have health insurance, it is time to do some research. Contact your insurance provider to understand your benefits during pregnancy, which may cover the cost of a birthing center or doula support. Also, speak with your insurance company to discuss preferences for your doctor such as sex of the doctor, ethnic preference, language preference, location preference, etc. You have a right to request what you would like; do not be afraid to ask!
Prepare to Meet Your Provider
Now that your insurance has provided you with options and you have your first appointment scheduled, it’s time for a visit. When getting ready for your first appointment prepare some questions for your provider to help you determine if it’s going to be a good fit. The best way to do this is by having them prewritten on good old fashioned paper or on your phone.
You might be wondering what to ask. Here are a few questions to start:
You made it to your first visit, and the receptionist gives you a clipboard to complete information and documents to sign. Be sure to read the informed consent and pay close attention to your rights as a patient. Learn what to do if you ever need to file a grievance, feel pressured by the doctor, midwife, or staff to participate in testing, or if someone refuses to explain procedures. You have a right to file a complaint with your insurance company and with your state’s medical board if the violation you experienced is egregious.
Ask for Clear Explanations of all Procedures
Now that you have read your informed consent and have your prepared questions for your provider, they will call you back to your appointment. Once you go behind that closed door, ask your provider to explain what will be done during this appointment. It is important for medical professionals to explain what procedures will be done during the visit.
If at any time you feel uncomfortable, please speak up! If you plan to bring a support person such as a partner, friend, or family member to this first visit, it might be helpful to think of a code word beforehand, so your support person can speak up for you if you become overwhelmed.
Don’t forget to ask the questions that you prepared. Feel free to take notes as they answer your questions. Notice how they respond to questions. Do you feel heard or is the provider rushing you? After the visit, take time to reflect on whether or not you felt comfortable with the provider during your appointment. This is a huge deal because if you are not comfortable, it is going to be hard to ask questions or feel as though you are receiving quality care. If you did not feel comfortable, it is okay to search for a different provider. You will be in the care of this individual for 9 months, so it is important to have the right team of people supporting you. You want to feel empowered during your pregnancy.
Bottom line: Tune in to how you feel. As a birthing person, you have choices and rights no matter what birthing environment you choose. If you don’t feel comfortable at any point during your pregnancy, it’s not too late to find a new environment or provider.
Take Advantage of Opportunities for Education
What creates an empowered pregnancy? Education, education, education! Education allows you to make the best decisions for yourself and your family. Search online for different birth techniques and methodologies, and then find a class at your hospital, with a local organization, or even online!
Take time early in pregnancy to think about how you want your labor and delivery to go. Do research on classes that are in alignment with what you desire during the birthing process. There is something out there for whatever you want your birth to look like. Attending various classes can help you learn about different decisions you will have to make once the baby is born. Classes can help you think through decisions like knowing when you want to cut the cord, what newborn procedures you want your baby to have, when to do baby’s first bath, and infant feeding. Education allows space to have conversations and ask for help where needed so you can have an empowered pregnancy.
Find a Community of Support for an Empowered Pregnancy
Nothing says empowerment like community. Join a group in your local community or online for additional support. Find a group of expecting pregnant people so you can add to your support team. Every new parent needs support, so do not be afraid; get involved. There is so much power in feeling understood by someone who has been through what you’re experiencing.
Prioritize your Physical Health
Proper nutrition before, during, and after pregnancy can improve birth outcomes and has significant implications for maternal health. Focusing on whole foods especially fruits and vegetables, eating enough protein and limiting processed food can play a role in reducing the risk of pregnancy-related complications, such as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that disproportionately impacts Black pregnant people and can be a result of the long-term psychological toll of racism as well as current systemic barriers to proper treatment that delay the diagnosis or treatment of the condition. If this all sounds like a daunting task, you are encouraged to seek guidance from your doctor, midwife, doula, or support team.
Doulas can support your nutrition by offering suggestions for healthy meals and providing accountability and support. They can also make sure you’re being monitored for early warning signs of pregnancy-related complications.
Last but not least, physical exercise is another important aspect of prioritizing your physical health. Yes, it is safe to exercise while pregnant! Walking regularly, stretching, and yoga have been found to have significant benefits during pregnancy for both you and your baby. Being idle and sedentary during pregnancy presents its own risks, so do not be afraid to get your body moving. There are modified workouts that are readily available to pregnant persons. It is important for pregnant persons to speak with their provider about exercises that are safe for them.
If you need help finding easy, delicious recipes that focus on healthy fats, protein, and fruits/vegetables, check out our 5-ingredients or less recipe generator. Click to learn more about the benefits of doing a Whole30 while pregnant!
Prioritize your Mental Health
Focusing on your physical health during pregnancy is important; however, do not neglect your mental health. Venturing into parenthood is wonderful and stressful at the same time. If you are feeling overly anxious or depressed, ask for help.
Mental health professionals can equip you with tools for how to manage your stress, learn how to better communicate with your partner, heal emotional wounds, and help you replace toxic thoughts with more positive ones. Look for a trained perinatal mental health professional."
"Even babies notice differences like skin color, eye shape and hair texture. Here's how to handle conversations about race, racism, diversity and inclusion, even with very young children.
A few things to remember:
By Allison Aubrey| February 4, 2020
Photo: Chelsea Beck, NPR
"Have you ever noticed how tough it is to be present? We spend so much time planning and worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
"We're in a trance of thinking. We're time traveling," says Tara Brach, a world-renowned psychologist and mindfulness teacher. "We're in the future, we're in the past."
And all this ruminating gets in the way of enjoying life — we can miss out on the good stuff.
If you reflect on your life, Brach asks, how often can you sense that the fear of failing or not being good enough "was in some way dampening or contracting or pulling you away from real intimacy or spontaneity or enjoying a sunset?"
Life Kit host Alison Aubrey spoke with Brach about her latest book, Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the practice of RAIN. The book outlines the mindfulness tool, RAIN, an acronym for a four-step process: recognize, allow, investigate and nurture.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is mindfulness at its core. Can you describe mindfulness in a sentence or two?
Mindfulness is paying attention to what's happening in the present moment without judgment.
What is the purpose? What is the benefit of paying attention to the present moment?
We step out of our thoughts about the past and the future, and we actually start occupying a space of presence that is bigger than the particular emotions or thoughts that are going on.
Mindfulness gives us more choice as to how we want to experience things, what we want to say, what we want to do. So instead of reacting, we can actually respond from more intelligence, more kindness. It actually lets us inhabit our best selves."
The mother-son duo made up after the adorable incident
By Kelli Bender| February 28, 2020 1:10PM
"Its a familiar scene: a mom trying to do her best with a tired, whiny kid refusing to budge from their spot on the floor or a public place.
This time the tantrum didn't play out at a shopping mall, grocery store or playground; it was at the Pairi Daiza Zoo in Belgium.
According to the Daily Mail, three-year old orangutan Berani didn't want to leave playtime when mom Sari came calling. when mom tried to move the little primate from his spot, the kid threw a bit of a tantrum.
Instead of giving in, Sari, a skilled and doting mother, literally took matters into her own hands, grabbing Berani and dragging him to a different spot in the zoo exhibit.
The relatable moment was captured by photographer Koen Hartkamp, who also witnessed the mother-son duo make up after the silly incident.
"Just like all small children, Berani still has to listen to what mum says even though he's getting a bit more independent. ..and judging by the picture he didn't like it," the photographer told Daily Mail."
By Meredith Goldstein
"I've been the relationship advice columnist at The Boston Globe for more than a decade. That means I've answered thousands of letters from the lovelorn.
But when friends and family ask for advice, it's more complicated. It can be fraught-sometimes I know too much and it can be difficult to remain objective.
Also, if I don't get it right, I could hurt someone I love.
I think it works that way for a lot of us. Helping a stranger can be easier than advising someone we've known forever.
That's why I teamed up with Life Kit to figure out some best practices. Turns out, good advice is often about loosening the body, opening the mind and, more often than not, keeping your mouth shut."
July 4, 2019
By Lana Hallowes
"How awesome are these NICU nurses? They are going about their important tasks while babywearing the bubs they care for when their parents aren’t able to."
"The photos, shared by Kangatraining Austrailia show the hardworking nurses in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Germany doing what they do best-loving and caring for needy babies.
As any babywearing mama, or dad, will know, all babies love to be held close and carried, with the movement soothing them and often putting them to sleep."
By: Ali Rosen
"When I was pregnant with my son, I didn’t announce anything. I let photos of my growing bump speak for themselves. With twins on the way now, I’ve given a lot of thought to how to share the news because this pregnancy is completely different. Even people who have seen me in person would never even know, because my children will be born through a surrogate.More and more, children are born through assisted reproductive technology. But where in vitro fertilization has become more commonplace, there remains an air of mystery, suspicion and misunderstanding around surrogacy. I certainly didn’t understand it until it became my only biological option to have more children.
My decision started with a medical mystery that yielded a diagnosis seemingly more fitting for a sci-fi novel. After numerous miscarriages and multiple failed rounds of IVF, I learned I am a genetic carrier of HY-restricting HLA class II alleles, which means that my son’s Y chromosome lingers and attacks all subsequent pregnancies. In essence, if you have this small genetic component and you have a boy, your odds of successfully carrying another child are slim to none. My husband and I could create an embryo, but my body could not carry it. So I started down the rabbit hole of surrogacy."
Women's Mental Health At Key Stages In Life
Photo: Katherine Streeter for NPR
Menopause Can Start Younger Than You Think: Here's What You Need To Know
By Emily Vaughn & Rhitu Chatterjee
"Would you recognize the signs that your body is going through the big hormonal changes that lead to menopause? Here's what to look for-and what you can do about it."
"Sarah Edrie says she was about 33 when she started to occasionally get a sudden, hot, prickly feeling that radiated into her neck and face, leaving her flushed and breathless. "Sometimes I would sweat. And my heart would race," she says. The sensations subsided in a few moments and seemed to meet the criteria for a panic attack. But Edrie, who has no personal or family history of anxiety, was baffled.
She told her doctor and her gynecologist about the episodes, along with a few other health concerns she was starting to notice: Her menstrual cycle was becoming irregular, she had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and she was getting night sweats. Their response: a shrug.
It wasn't until Edrie went to a fertility clinic at age 39 because she and her partner were having trouble conceiving that she got answers. "They were like, 'Oh, those are hot flashes. It's because you're in perimenopause,' " she says.
If you haven't heard the term "perimenopause," you're not alone. Often when women talk about going through menopause, what they're really talking about is perimenopause, a transitional stage during which the body is preparing to stop ovulating, says Dr. Jennifer Payne, who directs the Women's Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins University."
HOW PUBERTY, PREGNANCY AND PERIMENOPAUSE AFFECT MENTAL HEALTH
Listen to the four podcasts below:
"January 14, 2020 • NPR's Morning Edition explores the key reproductive shifts in women's lives — puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause — and how the changes during those times could impact mental and emotional health."
"January 16, 2020 • Women with a history of depression and anxiety are at a higher risk of having a flare-up during the time leading up to menopause. And getting doctors to take the issue seriously can be challenging."
"January 15, 2020 • Nearly 1 in 7 women suffers from depression during pregnancy or postpartum. But very few get treatment. Doctors in Massachusetts have a new way to get them help."
"January 17, 2020 • NPR's Rachel Martin talks to menopause expert Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, division director of the Midlife Health Center at the University of Virginia, who answers listeners' questions."
By Guy Winch
"At some point in our lives, almost every one of us will have our heart broken. Imagine how different things would be if we paid more attention to this unique emotional pain. Psychologist Guy Winch reveals how recovering from heartbreak starts with a determination to fight our instincts to idealize and search for answers that aren't there -- and offers a toolkit on how to, eventually, move on. Our hearts might sometimes be broken, but we don't have to break with them."
By Guy Winch, Ted Talk
"We'll go to the doctor when we feel flu-ish or a nagging pain. So why don't we see a health professional when we feel emotional pain: guilt, loss, loneliness? Too many of us deal with common psychological-health issues on our own, says Guy Winch. But we don't have to. He makes a compelling case to practice emotional hygiene — taking care of our emotions, our minds, with the same diligence we take care of our bodies."