Prioritize Your Psychological Well-being
Mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, affects one in five adults in the U.S. every year. While it can be tempting to put your mental health on the backburner, this can often cause symptoms to worsen and/or manifest in other ways.
“Your mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked,” said Brian Kelty, MD, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist at CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group. “Research has found that individuals with mental health diagnoses have a higher risk of certain medical issues, such as coronary artery disease and diabetes. You cannot simply neglect one and focus on the other; you have to care for both.”
If you ever question whether what you are feeling is normal or start experiencing symptoms that are more severe (thoughts of self-harm, for example), Dr. Kelty suggests discussing your concerns with your primary care provider. He or she will be able to assess your symptoms and determine whether treatment, such as medication and/or talk therapy, would be beneficial, and if any further testing is necessary to ensure that your symptoms are not the result of an underlying medical condition.
In addition to clinical support, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to better care for your mental health. These include eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, spending time outside in the sunlight as much as possible and maintaining a consistent routine.
“I tell people, ‘Imagine the happiest, healthiest person you can and ask yourself what kind of lifestyle that person has,’” Dr. Kelty said. “‘Now, try to emulate that lifestyle for yourself.’”
Is Winter Bringing You Down?
Many people experience a temporary change in mood during the winter months. For some, however, this change is more persistent and/or severe. This is known as major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern or “winter depression.”
“It shares many of the same symptoms as major depressive disorder, but you experience them exclusively or more intensely during the winter months,” said Brian Kelty, MD, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist at CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group. “It is often associated with reduced exposure to light, but there are also environmental factors. For instance, when it is cold and dark outside, you may be less likely to exercise, eat healthy, go outside and socialize. Sticking with these healthy habits year-round can make them easier to maintain during the wintertime and help keep symptoms under control.”
If you have questions or concerns regarding winter depression, it is important to discuss them with your primary care provider. To find one, visit our provider directory.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Winter 2020 edition of Spirit of Health. For more stories like this one, subscribe to Spirit of Health magazine today.