- Numerous papers have been written on how to treat anxiety and depression but many fewer address prevention.
- Among other factors, knowing precursor signs of anxiety and depression is important for prevention.
- Pay attention to what you are feeling in your body in the present moment.
- If you are not feeling any different than usual, pay attention to what family and friends say about you.
The percentage of adults with recent symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 36.4 to 41.5 percent in the U.S. between August 2020 and February 2021, with the largest increases among adults 18 to 29, according to the CDC
Researchers also estimate that around one in three women and one in five men in the country have an episode of major depression by the age of 65.
Numerous papers have been written on how to treat anxiety and depression but many fewer address prevention.
How do you prevent anxiety and depression from happening in the first place? And, if you've had anxiety and depression in the past, how do you prevent anxiety and depression from reoccurring?
When people ask for my opinion, I tell them about these nine tools.
1. Know your own warning signs
Know your body and be aware of your physical feelings, which can be early signs of anxiety and depression.
People often describe a feeling of tension like a coiled spring in the belly, often accompanied by deep emotional discomfort. Others describe a hollow feeling in the abdomen, also accompanied by deep emotional discomfort.
Because every person is unique, different people will have different warning signs that they need to be aware of. For some people, there is an appetite warning sign, so also be aware if you eat more than usual or less than usual. Other people are unusually tired, have trouble sleeping, trouble focusing, are more irritable, or are more drawn to alcoholic beverages or drugs.
If you experience these signs, don’t wait until things get worse. And, if anxiety and depression are on the verge of starting, reflect on what has recently changed in your life. What are you unhappy about? What needs to change?
It might be very helpful to consult a psychotherapist early on to help with those reflections and to know when to recommend consulting a psychiatrist (who can prescribe drugs).
2. Listen to what people say about you
Some people will not be aware of their own anxiety and depression precursor signs, but family members or friends will.
If somebody who knows you well asks: “Are you okay?” “You don’t look okay,” look deep inside yourself and find out what is happening.
3. Look at recent pictures of yourself
When you look at recent pictures, do you look unusually sad and/or anxious? If so, reflect on what your body could be reacting to.
4. Vent out strong emotions
If you have stress in your life, if you are angry, frustrated, sad, or have another strong emotion, vent it out by talking with a friend, a family member, or a therapist.
You can also safely express your emotion by writing, painting, dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, or taking up a sport or other activity (read my previous blog on creative ways to express hot anger).
If you don’t vent those emotions, a tremendous amount of energy could be used to bottle those emotions in, which could leave you exhausted and could open the door to anxiety and depression.
5. Turn a negative into a positive right away to avoid vicious circles
The longer you simmer in misery, the more difficult it will be to get out of the ditch.
Everybody will get stressed out at some point in their life. What differentiates people is how they react to stress. A lot of people become helpless and lose control of their life, which brings anxiety or depression.
What is important is how you perceive things. What could you do that could be positive in the middle of all the negativity and stress? Can you learn to dance, sing, or play an instrument? Can you start swimming or another sport? Can you learn to meditate? Try focusing on the present moment and appreciating the little things in life that bring you joy.
A study by Tian Rui Zhang from McGill University, Canada published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that remembering negative facts over and over again can lead to depression, whereas remembering positive facts can help alleviate depression.
6. Have a social support system
Chose friends and a partner who can listen to you and vice versa. Chose to hang out with people who have a sense of humor and with whom you can laugh.
If you don’t like people, get a pet.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. It also helps to have a consistent routine: going to bed and getting up around the same time every day.
8. Anti-inflammatory diet
Researchers from the University of Alberta have shown that depression could be linked to inflammation, so one way to prevent depression could be eating anti-inflammatory foods, which will also be good for your joints, lungs, and bowels.
The Harvard School of Medicine has a list of anti-inflammatory foods which includes all kinds of berries, from strawberries to blackberries to cranberries to blueberries, which are also rich in antioxidants.
Other anti-inflammatory foods include cherries; citrus fruits, such as lemons and oranges; apples; stone fruits, such as peaches and apricots; grapes; pomegranates; nuts, especially walnuts and almonds; fatty fish, like salmon and black cod; green, leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale; tomatoes; olive oil; and green tea.
It is also recommended to stay away from alcohol and street drugs.
9. Regular physical exercise
Get in the open air and go for a walk (or any other kind of physical exercise) every day for at least 30 minutes.
A study published in Molecular Neurobiology shows that regular physical exercise not only decreases anxiety and depression but also has an anti-inflammatory effect.
A study published in Nature in June 2022 shows that regular physical exercise increases a compound called Lac-Phe in the blood which will decrease appetite and help with weight loss. The weight loss will also help people feel better about themselves.
Use these nine tools to prevent anxiety and depression and you should be prepared to fight off the stress that will inevitably come your way sometime in your life. Remember that preventing symptoms and nipping things in the bud are usually much easier and faster than treating established symptoms.
Copyright 2022 @Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD
Disclaimer: This article is not intended for any personal medical advice or personal psychological intervention. If you need medical advice or psychological intervention, please call your healthcare provider or your therapist.
To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.