Ask the Psychiatrist: Everyday Tips for Better Mental Health

“When you treat a patient holistically, you not only treat the symptoms, you work with the patient on eating healthy, staying away from alcohol and drugs, and focusing on exercise as medicine,” says Rachel V.F. Rohaidy, M.D., a psychiatrist at Baptist Health Primary Care and medical director of The Recovery Village at Baptist Health.

“I’m a huge fan of holistic treatments which concentrate on the whole body because our body doesn’t function in separate boxes,” Dr. Rohaidy says. “Our thoughts and emotions affect the way we feel physically, just as the way we feel can affect our mental outlook.”

Rachel V.F. Rohaidy, M.D., psychiatrist at Baptist Health Primary Care and medical director of The Recovery Village at Baptist Health

The number of people struggling with anxiety, depression and stress today has increased since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Rohaidy notes. “We’re seeing more people seeking help for those symptoms, along with an increase in patients presenting with substance abuse disorders,” she says.

According to the National Mental Health Association in 2019, 51.5 million adults in the U.S. were dealing with some type of mental illness. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says 25 million American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder and, according to the World Health Organization, one in 13 adults globally battle anxiety.

“Psychiatrists are not the type of doctors anyone really wants to see,” acknowledges Dr. Rohaidy. “It’s sad that, for some people, seeking help is taboo. Most people who deal with anxiety and depression have had symptoms for 10 years or more.”

We can all relate to that feeling when our anxiety level rises in response to a perceived threat or danger, Dr. Rohaidy says. “It’s when we have those ‘fight or flight’ moments that our body’s sympathetic nervous system kicks in and we get an adrenaline push which helps us during and after the incident, she says.

There are also times when we feel anxious, nervous, sad or depressed. “We’re human – those feelings are normal,” Dr. Rohaidy says. “But ‘normal’ can become a disorder when those feelings don’t go away, and when your sympathetic nervous system is constantly on and doesn’t switch off.”

When anxiety, depression or stress begins to affect your daily life, the way you feel and act, or your relationships with your family, friends or colleagues, that’s when she says it’s time to seek help.

Dr. Rohaidy offers specific and practical tips on how you can ease unwelcome feelings when they do occur, along with simple steps you can take every day to help ensure better mental and physical health. “All of these tips are good for you, even if you’re not experiencing anxiety or depression,” she says.

Everyday Steps to Better Mental Health

  • Take a time-out. “When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it helps to find a healthy way to step back from the situation,” Dr. Rohaidy says.
    • Take a moment for yourself, have a bath or a shower. Heat can reset the nervous system.
    • Drink chamomile or green tea which can be restorative to your system and reset that stress response to your anxiety.
    • Green tea can be helpful but there are no studies. Tea tends to be more forgiving in the treatment of gastritis and on the GI system.  
  • Eat your way to better health. “Eating well is especially important because there is a clear gut-brain connection,” Dr. Rohaidy says.
    • Issues with going to the bathroom can cause a backup in the gut which can lead to moodiness, irritability and anxiety.
    • There are foods that have been shown to help with the treatment of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other disorders. These foods help with anxiety and depression, and are also anti-inflammatory.
    • Eat leafy greens, vegetables, nuts, seeds, (watch for allergies), fatty fish, halibut, salmon, and other foods rich in Omega 3.
    • Omega 3 and other fatty acids are important for long-term health benefits for your health. You want about 1,000 milligrams in your system daily, which you can get from fatty fish, spinach and supplements. 
    • Eat a little turkey – it contains tryptophan which is said to produce healthy sleep patterns and boost your mood.  
    • An apple a day keeps the doctor away. There is a huge benefit to fresh fruits and vegetables. 
    • Ginger and turmeric are anti-inflammatory spices and can help with rheumatoid arthritis and other issues.
  • Limit consumption of alcohol and caffeine. “Caffeine is a stimulant,” Dr. Rohaidy says. “When you increase your caffeine intake, you can also be increasing your anxiety levels.”
    • Caffeine can be sneaky– darker teas have caffeine in them, drink more on the light side.
    • Limit energy drinks because they have caffeine. There is a condition known as Caffeine Use Disorder.
    • If you can’t pronounce it, try to stay away from it. You only want to put things in your body that you can pronounce. 
    • Alcohol is toxic to every cell in your body. Drinking increases breast cancer risks in women and increased kidney cancer risks in men.
  • Get more – and better – sleep. “We all need healthy, restorative sleep – ideally, 8 to 10 hours daily,” Dr. Rohaidy advises. “Sleeping more than 10 hours may be a sign of depression, however.”
    • Have a sleep schedule. Try and go to bed and wake up at the same times every day.
    • There is a reason why we sleep – our brains need to disconnect from the day and sleep is the way to convert our short-term memories into long-term memories. 
    • Alcohol ruins the sleep architecture and prevents you from going into deep REM sleep. Surface sleep means you’re not dreaming and not getting enough restorative sleep.
  • Exercise! “It really is the best medicine,” says Dr. Rohaidy.
    • You don’t have to go to a gym – walking, washing your car, anything that gets your heart rate up a little bit is good.
    • Just 10 minutes a day can bring the stress levels down and help you feel better.
    • Exercise activates endorphins in your brain that perk up your mood and make your feel better. 
    • Take a moment to get out of the four walls. This can bring down blood pressure, settle your heart rate, prevent cardiovascular events and overeating.
    • Spend time in nature, go walking on a trail, ride a bike, just be outside.
    • Exercise helps build up some resiliency and the ability to bounce back after a trying situation.
  • Take a deep breath and count to 10. “When you feel overwhelmed and can’t take any more, count to 10 slowly and focus on your breathing,” Dr. Rohaidy advises.
    • Doing a little meditation can help in stressful moments and, although it may feel silly, meditation can be practiced throughout the day.
    • There are great apps like Headspace that can help you easily incorporate meditation into your daily life.
    • Dim the lights, change the lighting close your eyes, breathe for three or four minutes. 
    • Sit, relax and restore, and that accelerated stress response will slow down.

The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, Dr. Rohaidy acknowledges. “It’s affected so many people in so many different ways – chief among them creating a sense of loss and isolation.” As more people get vaccinated, she predicts, things will begin to improve and “some of the isolation and anxiety people have felt over the last 15 months will begin to go away.”

To help fight feelings of isolation, Dr. Rohaidy recommends joining an online group with a shared interest, whether it’s gardening, cooking, photography or whatever activity you enjoy. “Make it a habit. Feeling a part of a community helps you feel connected and will improve your mood,” she says.

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