As a former marriage and family therapist working with clients experiencing depression, anxiety and other disorders, I’ve seen firsthand how our anxieties and insecurities can escalate the more we feel helpless and realize that many things we once believed about our lives are no longer valid or true.
To learn more about how we can manage depression and anxiety in these uncertain times, I caught up with mental health expert Dr. Gregory Jantz this week on my podcast Finding Brave for his insights and suggestions.
Below, Dr. Jantz shares his insights and strategies for helping us manage depression, anxiety and mounting fears during this current crisis and beyond:
Kathy Caprino: In these rapidly-evolving times, what are you seeing as the top symptoms people are experiencing, in terms of their mental health?
Dr. Gregory Jantz: During times of uncertainty we see an increase in worry, fear, and anxiety. Symptoms manifest in the physical, psychological and emotional being. People are experiencing trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, irrational obsessions with worst case scenarios, uncontrollable crying, fatigue, and physical symptoms of anxiety like headaches, nausea, and even panic attacks in extreme situations.
Here are some tips for whole-person care that have been shown to be effective:
Invest in all three areas of your well-being–your mind, body and spirit–to maintain your strength.
For your mind, surround yourself with positive, supporting people. Practice positive self-talk and remind yourself you have control over your actions and thoughts. If you need additional support, speak with your counselor or therapist.
For your body, commit to daily fitness, even if it is just a brisk 20-minute walk. Sweat a little bit and get your blood flowing. Eat a consistent, healthy diet that includes leafy greens, omegas, lean protein, vegetables, and is low in sugars. Avoid alcohol. Supplement with a good probiotic.
Be disciplined to create a restful sleep environment where you can get at least seven of of uninterrupted sleep nightly. Do not eat within two hours of going to bed, and do not watch television, especially stress-inducing programming, within two hours of going to bed. Ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool for optimum sleeping. Invest in a quality mattress and a quality pillow. They can make a world of difference.
For your soul, be purposeful in your thoughts and actions, and reflect on and commit to your core values daily. Be compassionate and help others who are in need.
Caprino: Depression, anxiety and substance use often rise in crisis situations like these, and for many, panic is setting in. What steps can people take today, to help them rein in their fears?
Jantz: The World Health Organization notes that depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, affecting more than 264 million people. In the U.S., the American Association of Depression and Anxiety notes anxiety is the #1 mental health disorder, affecting over 40 million–almost 1 in 5–adults. And the numbers are increasing. Columbia University noted that depression rates are rising at accelerating rates since 2005, especially among adolescents.
The good news is that both depression and anxiety are treatable. A whole personal approach to care–mind, body, and soul–has proven to produce lasting results. Dialectical Based Treatment (DBT) is regarded as a very effective tool to empower individuals with the tools and techniques they can use every day to manage their depression and anxiety.
Here are some tips to help address fear and anxiety:
Manage your stimulation: Turn off the television and put down the mobile device for extended periods of time.
Increase a focus on positivity: Invest in positive self-talk and in conversations with friends and family who are also positive and supportive. Remind yourself that you can do the things required to create a healthier, safer environment.
Don’t neglect your body: Keep your body strong emotionally and physically by avoiding stressful conversations or news reports, and by eating well, exercising, and getting good sleep.
Caprino: What are the most difficult anxieties and fears to navigate through regarding the pandemic, and what are the best three strategies to navigate through and effectively address these fears?
Jantz: A pandemic like this one can exacerbate existing mental health challenges around stress and anxiety. Persistent, irrational thoughts are a real concern, as they lead to unhealthy outcomes like anger, sadness, paralyzing fear, a lack of sleep, and even physical debilitation.
Three key strategies can help:
1) Acknowledge your challenge and address it. Use small steps to restore calm and strength. Practice positive self talk and proactive actions like creating healthy meals and maintaining fitness.
2) Unplug. Limit your screen time to minimize distressing news. Keep up healthy non-digital activities–walk the dog, finish a project, read a book.
3) Include family and friends in a positive, online support group. Encourage others. Surround yourself (however you can, using online tools) with those who are positive and who will support you.
Caprino: What about uncertainty? When so much of what we’ve counted on and taken for granted in our lives, society and in our world is shifting, what do we hold onto and focus on?
Jantz: Remember that tough times will pass. That doesn’t mean they are not challenging, but there are positive things we each can do to protect ourselves and support others. Heed the advice of medical professionals and practice social distancing, use good hygiene, eat well and maintain fitness. These are proactive things we all can do. Know that there are others who are here to help you. If you are struggling, speak with a mental health counselor. Treatment programs are available. Connect with a strong support network.
Difficult times can amplify all potentials within our personality and the foundation of who we “are.” Demonstrate compassion, empathy, joy and commitment to help others during these times. You can be a strong example of strength and steadiness during these times that can inspire others.
Caprino: Can you talk about priorities right now? How to set them and achieve a sense of balance and security by attending to these priorities? What are some priorities we can hang on to?
Jantz: Here are some helpful priorities to focus on:
Keep your physical body healthy. Avoid alcohol and stay well-hydrated. Maintain a healthy diet and support your immune health. Did you know 70% of your immune system resides in your gut? Take a daily probiotic to support your immune health and infuse greens into your daily diet.
Get good rest. Your body recovers and heals while you sleep. Avoid unnecessary contact with others, hunker down and embrace the opportunity to connect with family in your home. Challenge yourself to start a meaningful project.
Support your mental health. The worry and anxiety you may be feeling is legitimate. These are uncertain times. For many of us, finances, employment, elderly family members, and the fear of sickness can combine to create significant stress in our lives. If you need support to manage these challenges, ask for it.
Avoid negativity and reinforce positivity and HOPE. So many can become consumed by (irrational) worry and fear. Break out of that mindset and think positively, objectively and clearly. There is much we can do to help out, and encourage others.
Overall, focus on what you can do and put your best efforts forward to maintain a strong mind, body, and soul. Remind yourself that your surroundings are within your control, along with the quality of food and exercise you get. Do your best to be positive, comforting and helpful to others which will, in turn, help you become stronger and more resilient to face the challenges of today.
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