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Many clients have recently asked me how they can achieve their New Year’s resolution of improving their mental health in 2009.  With the stress of a struggling economy and growing demands from their jobs and families it can be quite difficult.   There are several things you can do on a daily basis to find that balance, but self awareness and prioritizing are key.   It’s important to learn to recognize your stressful feelings and emotions, so you can quickly find effective ways of dealing with and preventing them.

Stress may often trigger anxiety.  Anxious people often feel tense or on edge.  If people are anxious they may find themselves worrying excessively, not sleeping well, feeling distracted, and irritable.  Life stressors may also lead to symptoms of depression including sadness, crying spells, lack of pleasure in life, sleep and appetite disturbances, as well as feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or even suicidal thoughts.

There are several things you can do proactively to prevent depression and anxiety from developing or worsening.  Some techniques are very easy to implement.

1.  Maintain a regular sleep schedule.  Going to bed at the same time and waking  up at the same time.  Avoid naps longer than thirty minutes as they may disrupt your nighttime sleep.

2.  Eat a healthy, balanced diet and get thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week through something as simple as going for a walk.  The malls can be a good place to walk on cold, winter days.

3.  Journal or blog to have an outlet for your feelings or emotions.  You can even throw the paper away when you’re done writing if you are a private person.  The important part is getting it out.

4.  If you are unemployed (or even if you are not) find somewhere to volunteer between interviews and searching.  This helps your self esteem and also helps to maintain some structure and purpose in your life.

5.  Participate in religious or spiritual practices, preferably with others, to foster a sense of fellowship and hope.

6.  Communicate to your family and friends that you are feeling “sad”, “stressed” or “anxious” so they can reach out a helping hand.  If family or friends are not around consider a support group either online or in person.

7.  Refrain from drug and alcohol use as this can exacerbate or cause depression and anxiety.  Also avoid excessive amounts of caffeine as it can contribute to anxiety.

8.  Find a new hobby or interest.  Especially one that involves socialization to help foster new relationships.

9.  Adopt a pet (only if you are able to care for it).  Their unconditional love and daily needs provide reassurance and structure to your life.

10.  Consult a mental health professional when in doubt!  Meet with a psychiatrist and a therapist. 

It has become more common and socially acceptable to utilize mental health services. No matter how hard some people try to stay positive and be proactive they still may feel depressed and anxious.  Some folks are already suffering so much that they do not have the energy or motivation to help themselves.  These people may have a chemical imbalance that requires psychiatric medication, but only a physician and preferably a board certified psychiatrist can determine that.

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