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We often assume that depression and other mental health issues are brought about by events beyond our control –a job loss, the death of a loved one or financial difficulties. While this can be true, there are many choices we make throughout the day that can have significant effects on our mental health. Your sleep routine, smartphone use and even the way you walk can play a role in how you’re feeling, both short- and long-term. Here are just a few ways you may be undermining your mental health, and what you can do to get back on track.

1. You Don’t Sleep

Most of us know firsthand that sleep affects our mental state. After all, there’s a reason it’s said that someone in a bad mood “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” And it works both ways: Mental health disorders often make it harder to sleep well. At the same time, poor sleep, including insomnia, can actually lead to, and gradually worsen, our mental health. After all, sleep is our bodies’ way of regenerating and without it the system malfunctions.

Do this: Determine exactly how much sleep you need,  try to figure out why you aren’t sleeping and then take the steps necessary to get the sleep you need. A common cause of sleeping problems is poor sleep hygiene. Stepping up sleep hygiene by cultivating habits and a bedroom setting that are conducive to sleep can go a long way in reducing sleep disruptions.

Be sure to check with your primary care physician to determine whether your medications or an underlying condition could be the culprit.

2. You Can’t Live Without Your Mobile Phone

When was the last time that you were completely electronic-device free? Research shows that excessive smartphone use can lead to anxiety, chronic stress and depression. Here’s just one example that may sound familiar: the alarm on your phone goes off bright and early. Instinctively, you reach for it. Next thing you know, you’re texting, emailing, checking your voice mail, or just scrolling the internet or social accounts. In other words, you’re checking what messages or news you’ve missed overnight. As a result — you’re setting yourself up for a stressful day.

Do this: Aim to reduce the amount of total time you spend on your phone. Set a goal of only 30 minutes or an hour a day and see if you can work your way down from there. If this isn’t realistic because you use it for work, try shifting as much as you can to your laptop or desktop.

If you’re having trouble regulating yourself, there are plenty of tools available today that can set time limits on apps or block certain apps altogether. Some of these tools may already exist on your phone. Check out these timers available for Android and iPhone devices.

3. You Don’t Exercise

You already know that exercise is good for your body. But did you know it can also boost your mood, improve your sleep and help you deal with depression, anxiety, stress and more? Consider this: If you become more active three times a week, your risk of being depressed decreases 19 percent, according to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry. Also, University College London researchers found a strong correlation between physical activity and depression. People who were depressed were less likely to be active, while those who were active were less likely to be depressed.

Do this: Just get out and move. It doesn’t need to be for long—walking to errands if possible, taking the stairs—but any activity will help keep your mind moving.

4. You Slouch When You Walk

How we feel can affect the way we walk, but the opposite is also true: Simply rolling your shoulders back and lifting your chin when you walk can reduce symptoms of depression, according to a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. The study also found that when subjects were asked to walk with shoulders slouched, hunched over, and with minimum arm movements, they experienced worse moods than those who had more pep in their steps.

Do This: The next time you are feeling down or depressed, pay attention to your posture. You’ll likely be slumped with your head and neck curved forward and down. A simple change in posture may help you feel more confident, energetic, and happy.

Where to Start

If you haven’t been feeling like yourself and think you might have a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, speak with your primary care physician first.  If you don’t have one, The Brown & Toland Find a Doctor tool can help you find one close to home.


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If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately, call your doctor, or go to the emergency room/urgent care.