Exercise and Mental Health

White blonde woman stretching on yoga mat

Exercising is not just about physical health. The point of exercising is to also feel good mentally. Exercise for your mental health helps decrease your anxiety, improve your mood, promote the birth of new neurons in your brain and elevate your self-esteem and confidence. Not to mention, exercising feels amazing! When you feel physically and mentally good, you radiate that positive energy into the world and people can sense it. This can lead to an improvement in your relationships! Start with baby steps if you don’t currently exercise: every day, go for a 20 minute walk on the street. After doing this for a week or two, include some jogging, cycling, weights or whatever you enjoy. You’ll notice soon enough how beneficial exercising can be for your mental health.

Exercise and mental health spinning bike

Exercise and Mental Health: Cycling

Cycling is a great form of exercise and can be done in the convenience of your home. No, you don’t need to buy that $1500 Peloton bike. You can find cheaper bikes on Amazon under $1000 that will provide the same benefits. Cycling is convenient because what can be easier than sitting in place and moving your legs? If you have a bike with a screen and programming, the experience becomes even easier. Besides not being able to afford it or not having enough space in your home, there should be no reason why you shouldn’t by cycling; especially during the pandemic. You’ll tone your calves and upper legs as well as your abs. And mentally, trust me when I say that a 30 minute ride feels amazingly refreshing.

The Weights Are Waiting For You

Lifting weights can also be done in the comfort of your home. You can easily buy weights on Amazon and start lifting in your living room every day. The hardest part are not the weights but the discipline to pick them up and use them. It may be easier to start off with small weights so that you can motivate yourself to use them every day. Once your motivation is there, you can upgrade to heavier ones. If you start with heavy ones, you might get discouraged early on, especially if you don’t have a strong drive to work out. Lifting is great because it shapes your deltoids, triceps, biceps and forearm muscles. When your arms start looking bulkier, trust me when I say that your mental health will bulk up as well.

Stretching is Important

Lastly, you must stretch! I am so guilty of preaching this but not consistently doing it myself. Can you imagine? I cycle and life almost every day but I won’t stretch which is the easiest of them all. Stretching is important to prevent injuries and stiffness. You feel much better after immediately stretching and it will you to avoid stiffness during work. When I feel stiff during work and talking to patients, it becomes a distraction and affects my mental health. I end up feeling annoyed. The worst is when I feel pain that could have easily been prevented with stretching. So if you start exercising after reading this, don’t forget to stretch.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Smiley GIF face

How to Prevent Social Media Toxicity

Hand holding phone with Instagram open near two flat computer monitors

Everyone talks about what they love about social media, but the negative aspects are often left out. Social media can be toxic and detrimental to your mental health when you are exposed to negative comments. These negative comments can be very powerful and make you feel sad at times. Social media is also toxic if you are constantly comparing yourself with people on Instagram who post exotic and wealthy pictures. This can make you feel sad by comparing your life which lacks those elements of materialism. When using social media, keep your mental health in mind and learn to spot and eliminate the negative aspects of them. How to prevent social media toxicity is not difficult, but are you willing to make the changes?

Blue woman thinking about social media applications

How to Prevent Social Media Toxicity Depends on Your Mindset

You have to stop approaching social media with an expectation of change. What do I mean by that? Stop wishing for more likes, follows, impressions, retweets, etc. Deep down, we all desire these features because they make us feel important and popular. Whenever they happen, believe it or not, our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is part of the reward system of our brain and is released to make us feel good. So that’s why when you get that famous follow or a bunch of likes, you feel really excited in that moment; that’s dopamine. The problem is that like with any drug that induces a release of dopamine, a similar experience can be observed with social media.

Instead, approach social media with the intention of just having fun and naturally interacting with others, but without any expectations. If you’re naturally good at attracting attention on these platforms, then it’s even more important that you maintain a healthy life balance. Try to avoid habitually checking your social media pages at the same time; mix it up. Learn to incorporate other activities into your life such as exercising, meditating, stretching and in-person socializing. Don’t fall into the trap of checking your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day. This is when you risk becoming psychologically hooked on the platforms.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

What is Psychoanalysis?

Abstract line drawing of three faces

Psychoanalysis is based on the Freudian school of thought that our unconscious mind contains repressed thoughts, drives, traumatic experiences, memories and unresolved childhood conflicts that influence our present thoughts and behaviors. By accessing your unconscious mind through analysis of your transference during therapy, you can gain a better understanding of yourself and why you say and do the things that you do. Besides formal psychoanalytic therapy with a therapist, you can also analyze yourself. This is helpful to better understand your interactions and behavior, but make sure that you’re not overdoing it. Too much self-analysis can potentially make you rigid if you’re always thinking about why you said this and did that. A healthy dose of analysis is the best way to go.

What is psychoanalysis: abstract picture of human body

So what is Psychoanalysis?

The human brain has a conscious mind and an unconscious mind. The conscious mind is you experiencing life and everything in it. But your unconscious mind is where all the magic happens; you’re not aware of this portion of the mind. But there is a time when you can become aware of it and that is through dreams. Freud referred to dreams as, “the royal road to the unconscious.” In addition, physiological functions such as respiration, heart rate and digestion are unconsciously performed. You’re not aware of these functions; they happen automatically. You can become aware of them but let’s hope you’re not doing that!

So What Does it Do?

What is so great about the unconscious mind? Well, it records everything in your environment, including every waking and sleeping moment of your existence. With the information it gathers, it interprets it, manipulates it, stores it and then pulls the strings of your conscious mind. The strings that are pulled influence your thoughts, actions and behavior. In other words, you’re controlled by your unconscious mind. One can argue that it’s not possible since you have free will to do whatever you want. You are correct in that you have free will, but your free will is controlled as well.

The bottom line is that your unconscious mind is not some malevolent force trying to do you harm. It loves you but it also acts like a computer, studying your every move and action. Sometimes you don’t make the best decisions in life and this ends up adversely affecting you. Where do you think all your baggage is stored? It goes straight to the vault called the unconscious mind. The point of psychoanalysis is to gain access to this vault and retrieve lost memories, lost files and lost experiences. Once you reconnect with them, the pieces of the puzzle fall back into place and things start to make more sense.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

smiley GIF face

Emotional Manipulation

White man wearing black sunglasses smoking cigarette

Manipulators are all around us. Sometimes they are our friends, family members, acquaintances, coworkers or strangers. These people love emotional manipulation and can also use fear tactics to further attempt to control your thoughts and behavior. It’s important that you learn how to catch onto manipulative behavior so that you can protect your mental health. It’s not hard for someone to attempt to manipulate you but it can be difficult to catch onto their behavior if you’re not aware of it in the first place.

Narcissistic man practicing emotional manipulation using shh sign

Emotional Manipulation: What to Look Out For

People who manipulate enjoy getting you to do things which aren’t in your best interest. They use tactics such as lying, deceit, passive-aggressive behavior, withholding information, gaslighting, psychological and physical abuse and even sex to achieve selfish goals. Some manipulators are very obvious in what they do and don’t hide it. They have mastered the art of getting others to do what they want. Other manipulators are very discreet and have learned to manipulate without the other person noticing.

All manipulators are dangerous to your mental health but I would argue that the discreet ones are most dangerous. The classic obvious manipulators are people with antisocial personality disorder and/or substance use disorders. These people get stuck in a life of crime or drug abuse, and resort to manipulation to make their ends meet. They’ve done so much manipulating in their past that it’s second nature for them. Discreet manipulators are those with narcissistic personality disorder or sociopathy.

Narcissists are excellent at getting what they want because their inflated ego is full of confidence. They tend to be sharp and emotionally intelligent and have mastered the art of manipulation. Sociopaths have similar traits in addition to dangerous behaviors such as killing, stalking, raping, kidnapping, etc. Either way, whether you’re dealing with an antisocial, narcissist or sociopath, they all have one goal: to win and to see you lose. Keep in mind that many people don’t have any of these personality disorders but still manipulate. They probably aren’t as intense as those with personality disorders, but they can still get away with manipulation if you’re aren’t aware of what they’re doing.

In the end, trust your gut feeling if you think someone is manipulating you. Your intuition is often right.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Panic Attack Symptoms

Beautiful anxious woman experiencing a panic attack

Millions of people all over the world experience panic attack symptoms. These occur out of the blue and involve a great sense of doom, fear and sometimes even physical symptoms. Panic attacks can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or antidepressants. Don’t be afraid to seek therapy. Would you rather take a chance with therapy and medications or continue to suffer from panic attacks while in public?

What are some Panic Attack symptoms?

The most obvious is fear. I still remember my first panic attack because the fear was insane. It was a Saturday night in Redlands, California the day after I drank a lot; typical freshman college weekend. I went to a Chinese store to order some food with a friend and while standing in line, started to experience fear. I had never just randomly experienced fear before. This time was different because there was nothing to fear besides fear itself. But then the fear started to make more sense. I was afraid of standing in line and being in the store.

Then there are the physical symptoms such as sweaty palms, lightheadedness, dizziness, tachycardia and shortness of breath. Some people also tremble. My physical symptoms weren’t as bad. I would only experience sweaty palms thankfully. But I can imagine how more intense physical symptoms can worsen the panic attacks, worrying the person into thinking that others are aware of their symptoms. For me, sweaty palms were a sign that I was getting anxious and that a panic attack was looming around the corner.

Then there are the symptoms of overthinking, a general feeling of anxiety, heightened vigilance for danger and wanting to escape your environment. Some people also get depersonalization and/or derealization. Depersonalization is when you don’t appear real in your surroundings while derealization is when your surroundings don’t appear real to you. I experienced some derealization but it wasn’t until in my late 20s. My panic attacks started when I was 20.

The Fear

The worst part of the entire experience is definitely the fear. It’s like experiencing a sense of doom like something really bad is doing to happen to you. This is accompanied by the thought that others around you could be noticing you having a panic attack. This further motivates you to leave the vicinity. I don’t believe that I ever walked out of a classroom or mall (the majority of my panic attacks occurred in college lecture halls or in the mall). However, I do remember being in an Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh with my mother once, and I had to get up from the table and go outside because the panic attack was too unbearable.

Lastly, the most important feature that distinguishes isolated panic attacks from panic disorder is the worrying about future panic attacks. People with isolated panic attacks have them too randomly to worry about future ones. But people with panic disorder constantly worry about future panic attacks; it becomes part of their daily thought content. This is another worrisome symptom because it can prevent you from going to places where you previously experienced panic attacks. For me, I was worried to go to the mall thinking that I would have another one. This symptom can get tricky because it can easily lead to agoraphobia, which will be discussed elsewhere.

Antidepressant medications for panic attack symptoms

So what do you do about them?

If you keep experiencing them, than what should you do? Honestly, what worked for me was an antidepressant called Prozac. I took about 20 mg once in the morning. Probably within six months of consistent use, my panic attacks significantly went down. The medication was like a miracle. How did I improve so much just from taking one pill every morning? The dose was low too. Prozac goes up to 80 mg. But I can’t complain. I started the medication when I was 20 and continued it until 28. I know, eight years is so long! But the problem was that I stopped taking it a few times and my panic attacks had returned.

The reason I tried to stop again at 28 was because I was ending medical school and had matched into a residency training program. I was in a good place mentally, free of panic attacks for many years and was ready to try going off the medication again. My recommendation is that you need to be in a good place in your life to try to go off an antidepressant for panic attacks. Panic attacks can be induced by drugs, alcohol, stress and genetics, so it’s important that you’re in the right state of mind when discontinuing an antidepressant. Overall, panic attack symptoms are brutal.

Have you had an experience with panic attacks?

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Thank You for Being a Friend

Portrait of beautiful blonde white woman

Approaching your day by being thankful is something we always hear about but rarely apply. It’s such an easy tweak to your mindset but gets lost in your daily stressors and struggles. Sometimes you don’t have a friend to share you feelings with. Sometimes telling yourself, “thank you for being a friend” is the best thing you can do for yourself. By being thankful more often, you will notice your mental health improve. But you may ask, why be thankful when I have so many bad things happening to me? And I’ll reply, maybe these “bad things” are happening so you can be more thankful for what you have. Life is not always smooth-sailing. The downs that follow the ups are necessary to build up your character and increase your wisdom. However, the process does become smoother when you are consistently thankful for what you have.

Thank you for being a friend: abstract picture of mystical woman with roots growing around

Thank You for Being a Friend: Being Nice to Yourself

It’s very easy to become bitter, self-critical and put yourself down when things aren’t going your way. This is especially true if you lack a social life and close friends. Sometimes the only friend you have is yourself and you need to remind yourself of that every day. If you’re currently in a position of not having any close friends, the last person you want to put down is yourself. In all cases, you need yourself the most! Think about it; how can you be thankful for what you have if you’re not even thankful for your own presence?

Be nice to yourself and work with your mind on developing a plan for improvement. If there are traits you don’t like about yourself, identify and change them. If there are habits you despise, identify and change them. The first step in being thankful for what you have is treating yourself with love and respect; the same way a good friend would do. After you become comfortable with yourself, you can start being appreciative of everything you have. Be thankful for the roof above your head, clothes, food, family and relationship with God. Don’t lose yourself in the struggles of life. What happens out there does not need to be brought back into your personal space at home. Have courage.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Sleep Hygiene

Woman sleeping in bed

Many of us underestimate the power and benefits of a good night’s sleep. Consistently going to sleep around 9-10pm will help your mood, concentration and memory. Establishing an excellent sleep hygiene will pay off in the short and long-run. But realistically speaking, we are too distracted by technology, social media, Netflix and cell phones. If you learn to become disciplined by cutting out technology at 9-10pm and training your mind to fall asleep, you will start to notice positive changes to your mental health.

The Importance of a Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep is one of the most underutilized tools for mental performance. Especially in modern-day society, most of us seek ways to optimize our performance during the day. A lot of people rely on coffee, others seek amphetamines and designer drugs, and some work extremely hard while sacrificing quality sleep at night. Let’s not forget cigarettes; many smoke before activities to get that increased stimulation. What’s missing from this picture? Quality sleep. We’re pumping stimulants and hard work during daylight hours while sacrificing quality sleep during nighttime hours.

Sleep is extremely important for the brain to rest and recover and the body to rejuvenate itself. The brain consolidates memories during sleep and the body heals from stress and pain. With a good night’s sleep, your memory, concentration, alertness and mood can significantly improve. Even a few hours of sleep can make a huge difference! But you can’t just go to sleep early once a week and expect to see consistent changes. You have to make a good sleep hygiene a new habit in your life.

First things first: you must want to go to sleep early. If you don’t want it, it’s going to be very difficult for you to apply the sleep hygiene recommendations I’m about to share with you. Okay, so let’s say you want it, but how do you go about doing it? Right when you feel sleepy around 9pm or so, stop everything you’re doing, turn off the lights and go to bed. I’m serious! If you can capitalize on that sleepy moment by trying to fall asleep, it will be much easier to do so. You won’t even be aware of the time. If you’re willing to do this, then keep reading.

White woman sleeping in bed practicing sleep hygiene

Sleep Recommendations

  • Go to sleep early when you’re actually sleepy (9pm is the sweet spot)
  • Turn off the lights (yes, that nightlight as well)
  • No electronics! (I’m serious, no cell phones, iPads or television)
  • Get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes (go to the couch and read or just lay there for 15 minutes, then return to bed)
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex (no laying around just for fun – well I guess sex is fun but you get the point)
  • Go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time (your brain doesn’t like change when it comes to sleep)

It might not be easy for you to incorporate the above recommendations, but if you keep practicing, it will eventually come to fruition.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Isolation and Depression

Depressed white man sitting on sidewalk wearing white hoodie

Some of us never felt isolated prior to the pandemic while many of us became even more isolated during this time. Either way, isolation is a breeding ground for mental illness. Three ways of dealing with isolation and depression include going outside, socializing and exercising. While it may seem obvious, you’d be surprised at how many people avoid taking advantage of being outdoors, socializing more in person or exercising to improve their physical and mental health.

Isolation and depression: sad woman with hands on window

Isolation and Depression: The Solution

Start off by spending more time outdoors. When people are depressed, they tend to isolate in their home and lose interest in the outside world. This is exactly what the illness wants you to do, but there is nothing good about it. To counteract this urge to isolate and become even more depressed, force yourself to spend time outdoors. Something as simple as going for a walk in your neighborhood or park can help you feel better. Sure, there’s nothing exciting about walking, but seeing people and breathing fresh air can help.

Secondly, force yourself to exercise, even if it’s walking. Exercise is great for mental health and can make you feel awesome when those endorphines are released. A boost in confidence provided by exercising is exactly what you need when feeling depressed. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You don’t have to lift heavy weights or get a Peloton bike. Maybe try jogging or if you already belong to a gym, hop on those machines and exercise with very light weights. There is something magical about exercising. It’s definitely a natural remedy for poor mental health.

Lastly, you have to talk to people. Depressed people who isolate are at increased risk for suicide than depressed people who still socialize and engage with others. Isolation is a breeding ground for depression because a lack of people promotes negative thought cycles. Isolation can cause thoughts such as, “no one likes me anyway,” “even if I kill myself, no one would care; they probably wouldn’t even notice.” So keep in touch with your friends and family and tell them how you’re feeling. They may be the reason you end up receiving the professional care you deserve.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Comparing Yourself to Others

Social media images of people smiling

We all make the mistake to assume that others are happier than us just because they’re doing activities that sound fun. You are constantly comparing yourself to others which can be toxic for your mental health. This is especially true if you’re constantly putting yourself down while believing that others are living the life. Even if they are living fancy lives, what does this have to do with you? You waste so much energy magnifying their life instead of using it to improve yours.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

People have always compared themselves to others since the beginning of time. Physical comparisons focus on musculature, height and beauty. Material comparisons focus on wealth, cars, clothes and homes. People even compare their character traits by trying to emulate others. They love those who display humor, are the center of attention, attract attention from the opposite sex and demonstrate leadership. But the worst of them all is social media comparisons; people do it unconsciously.

What do I mean by unconscious social media comparisons? Take for instance Instagram, where you can find thousands of images on beauty and materialism. Some people will open the app every day and admire the lives of others that they don’t have. But rather than admiring them in a good way, they sit there feeling down because they lack the beauty and wealth which they see on the screen. This causes them to feel insecure and sad and results in a loss of confidence. I say this is an unconscious process because many people don’t realize that it’s the images that are making them feel down. They just keep looking at them day after day.

Comparing yourself to others: eyes with colors of Google logo

The Solution

Be comfortable with your physical traits and what you have. Start practicing gratitude and stop focusing on what you wish you had. There’s a difference between dreaming and seeking and comparing yourself to others. Dreaming is coming from your healthy, motivated side of your mind, while comparisons come from your insecure part of your mind. Why are you tapping into the secure portion of your mind? Let go and stop connecting with it. Focus on being thankful, practicing gratitude and keeping yourself inspired with awesome dreams.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Misinformation on Social Media

Art of two women staring at computer screen

Be very careful with others on social media spreading information on psychiatric medications. Oftentimes, this information is false and not accurate. Always seek professional advice from a doctor. Anyone can post misinformation on social media about psychiatric medications. Believe it or not, many also have an agenda to bash medications that help millions of people worldwide live better lives. They’re probably paid to do it, angry about personal adverse outcomes or simply don’t understand their importance.

Misinformation on social media: hand holding cellphone next to laptop

Be Careful with Misinformation on Social Media

Sometimes the truth is distorted to suit certain intentions. What makes it believable is that the misinformation can be based on truth, but tweaked with a hidden agenda. Sometimes you can spot the agenda but you must keep your eyes open and your mind sharp. I’m not suggesting that all alternative information is misinformation. There lies much truth out there that is not presented in the mainstream media. I’m suggesting that you don’t get your information from sources that can spread misinformation.

The problem is identifying these sources that spread misinformation. The good ones disguise the information so well that it’s hard to tell if it’s misinformation. In return, you end up reading or hearing something presented on medications and you believe. You don’t question, you don’t challenge and you don’t bother. You accept because it sounds good and the person presenting it has caught your attention. It’s very easy to get hooked this way. Believe it or not, all great media sources are skilled at capturing the minds of many. You just have to spot which have good intentions and which don’t.

When it comes to psychiatric medications, stick with healthcare professionals, preferably in person. Things have changed a little bit since the pandemic started, with telepsychiatry gaining more popularity. Telepsychiatry involves remotely seeing your psychiatrist or mental healthcare provider from any location. It doesn’t require you to be in an office. It’s very convenient for patients to do these sessions from the comfort of their home (sometimes discomfort if you know what I mean). Whether you choose telepsychiatry or in person appointments does not matter. Just don’t start out with internet sources.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)