Do you often feel your daily activities become overwhelming? Are the “usual stresses” becoming too much for you to handle? Do you experience random boosts in energy and motivation, only for it to die down fairly quickly? Well, you could be among thousands left depressed by modern-day life. Although traumatic experiences, severe grief and other medical conditions are understandable reasons for depression, growing research suggests that regular exposure to mild stress can lead to depression. This is also the opinion of a leading pharmaceutical firm, Pharma Dynamics.
The firm has conducted research which currently suggests that the worldwide increase in the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression is linked to a more demanding day-to-day schedule.
Getting out of the office
In an economy-driven society, work takes priority. However, if you are someone who stays in the office all day, perhaps you should try stepping out for some fresh air and sunshine!
Pharma Dynamics central nervous system portfolio manager, Abdurahman Kenny explained that spending too much time in the dark reduces your production of the “happy” hormone, Serotonin.
“An Oxford study showed that there are just small changes that we can make that can have a positive impact on our mental health. One of the factors is actually exposure to sunlight. So, because of the amount of time that we are spending indoors – especially if we think about those individuals who may be working in an office, for example – we are not actually getting enough natural sunlight, and sunlight is very important in terms of our general well-being.”
“For example: sunlight is important in terms of the production of serotonin, which is an important hormone that makes us feel good about ourselves. That is why, when we go stand outside in the sun for a while, we end up feeling much better.”
However, absorbing sufficient sunlight shouldn’t take too long, according to Kenny.
“Another factor that sunlight is important for is the production of vitamin D. Research has shown that as many as a billion people around the world are actually vitamin D deficient, while vitamin D is also important in protecting against depression,” he said.
“Research has shown that we only need between 10 and 15 minutes of direct sunlight per day in order to produce the amount of vitamin D that we need.”
Every-day activities (including social media)
Kenny emphasised that daily tasks which require patience often cause stress as well.
In a fast-paced and ever-developing world, slowing down and “taking it easy” are a luxury not many can afford. Despite this, Kenny advised that it is necessary to learn how to manage the smaller stresses to avoid them becoming unbearable.
Whether a driver or public transport commuter, the common nightmare many of us wish we could blink away is traffic.
Kenny explained that finding a relaxing technique that works for you in traffic is important.
“The average South African spends about three hours on the road. So, it’s definitely having an effect on our daily lives. But there are certain things that we can do that can actually help us in this in these situations. Some things are in our control.
For example: if you are stuck in traffic, there’s not much you can do about the environment outside of your car. But what you can do is try to create the positive environment inside your car [or mode of transport] by maybe listening to some of your favourite radio stations.”
Social media has also been thrown into the spotlight as millennials have been labelled as the loneliest generation.
Loneliness is also a contributing factor to depression.
Researchers from Ottawa Public Health found that those who spend more than two hours a day on social networking sites are more likely to suffer from psychological distress and suicidal thoughts than those who spend less time online. Kenny said South Africans are particularly at risk.
“We are living in the digital age where social media has become an integral part of our lives.”
“We’re not saying that social media is a bad thing, necessarily. In fact, it’s a very useful tool – especially if we think about the possibility of connecting to those that we love. When it becomes a problem is with excessive use…
On average, South Africans are spending nearly three hours a day on social media, which is actually an hour more than the global average.”
The recommendation is to be aware of the amount of time you are spending on looking at your screen, especially during times you should be developing your personal relationships.
Its no secret that being “fit” can help you look good – but it also makes you feel good.
As Kenny explained, exercising is an important helper for mental health.
“Exercise is important for not only our physical health but our mental health as well,” he said.
“Just getting that blood flowing allows the body to release endorphins, which is very important in terms of us feeling good about ourselves. So, it’s important for us to find some form of exercise…even if it is walking during our lunch hour.”
“…it’s important to also remember that it’s normal to feel down every once in a while. When it starts becoming a long-term thing and it starts to affect our ability to live a normal life, then that might be a cause for concern. We have a toll-free helpline if you do feel yourself feeling a bit down for an extended period of time and feel you need to speak to a healthcare professional. We encourage individuals to make use of the toll-free helpline which is manned by trained counsellors available from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.”
Common symptoms of depression
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook — nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
- Loss of interest in daily activities.
- Significant weight loss or weight gain — a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
- Sleep pattern changes.
- Anger or irritability.
- Loss of energy.
- Reckless behavior.
- Concentration problems.
- Unexplained aches and pains.
Some tips to improve your mental health are listed below:
1. Value and take time for yourself
How you think about yourself can have a direct effect on how you feel. It is important to treat yourself with kindness and respect.
2. Express gratitude
Gratitude has been linked to improved well-being and happiness. The regular expression of gratitude can lower stress levels and improve your immune system.
3. Be kind, be generous
Research from the University of British Columbia found that people who regularly do ‘nice’ things for other people experienced reduced anxiety, an improved mood and a decrease in social avoidance.
4. Healthy body, healthy mind
Needless to say, nourishing your body will nourish your brain. Eat healthily, drink plenty of water, exercise and get enough sleep.
According to a study by University College London, exercising three times a week decreases your risk of depression by 19%.
5. Sit straight, think straight
A study published in the Health Psychology journal found that slouching makes you feel more sluggish, fearful, quiet and hostile than sitting upright. Keeping your shoulders straight and your head high evokes happier and more powerful emotions.
6. Surround yourself with good, positive people
7. Stop multitasking
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking has been proven to be inefficient and actually causes you more stress.
One trick is to “fully experience” your routine activities such as taking a shower, eating lunch or walking. Pay attention to the physical sensations, tastes, sounds and smells. If your mind starts wandering- remind yourself that these activities do not take too much time and deserve your full focus.
This practice allows you to get in touch with “the now” and trains your brain to ignore “background noise”
8. Take time off from your digital devices
9. Know when to get help and get it you need it!
If you have negative opinions about “people who get depressed,” you may unconsciously not want to recognize the condition when it shows up in your own life. Symptom of depression can be experienced in a ‘milder form’, making it difficult to distinguish between symptoms of depression and similar things you’ve felt in the past.
Symptoms may also be different from what you imagined depression to be like.
For example, you may have thought depression resulted in consistent crying, but, people with depression often feel more numb than sad.
Do not be ashamed to seek assistance – there are trained professionals who have studied for years to equip themselves with the skills and education necessary to assist those suffering from depression and other mental illnesses.
Pharma Dynamic’s toll-free helpline: 0800 205 026
For additional support, visit www.letstalkmh.co.za