Stress, anxiety and depression

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How to feel happier

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Media last reviewed: 02/03/2015

Next review due: 02/03/2017

Try our five tips, designed to help you be happier, more in control and able to cope better with life's ups and downs.

Manage your stress levels

Being in a stressed state of mind a lot of the time can make it easier for you to overreact or feel negative compared with someone who is relaxed.

Managing your stress can be a gradual process. Look at your lifestyle. If you have a lot of stress in your life, find ways to reduce it, such as asking your partner to help with chores in the house, taking a relaxing yoga class, or talking to your boss about changing your working hours.

Introduce regular exercise and time to yourself. These are positive changes. Taking control of your time in this way can effectively reduce stress.

If you have feelings of anxiety along with your stress, breathing exercises can help. See Relaxation tips for stress for advice.

Use humour and enjoy yourself

A good sense of humour is a great inner strength. Try to see the funny side of situations and you'll often be able cope better. Jokes have a way of making worries seem less important.

Doing things that you enjoy is also good for your overall emotional wellbeing. Watching sports with a friend, having a soak in the bath, or meeting up with friends for coffee are examples of small activities that can improve your day.

Doing something you're good at, such as cooking or dancing, is a good way to enjoy yourself and have a sense of achievement. "If you're feeling low, tell yourself how good you are at the activity. It really gives you a lift," says clinical psychologist Isabel Clarke.

Try to avoid things that seem enjoyable at the time but make you feel worse afterwards, such as alcohol, or clothes shopping if you're on a tight budget.

Build up your self-esteem

Self-esteem is the way you feel about yourself. Lots of things can lower our self-esteem, such as a relationship break-up, not getting the job you wanted, or putting on weight. None of these things makes us worth less, but it can feel that way.

If your self-esteem is low, it's important to learn how to improve it. Clarke says the best way to improve your self-esteem is to "treat yourself as you would treat a valued friend", in a positive but honest way.

Notice when you're putting yourself down, such as thinking, "You're so stupid for not getting that job", and instead think, "Would I say that to my best friend?". You probably wouldn't.

Tell yourself something positive instead, such as: "You're a bright person, you'll get the next job".

Have a healthy lifestyle

Limit your alcohol intake

You don't have to give up alcohol completely to be emotionally healthy, but avoid drinking more than the recommended limit. If you're a man, don't regularly drink more than three to four units a day. If you're a woman, don't regularly drink more than two to three units a day.

Use the alcohol tracker tool to help you stick to the recommended daily limit.

When times are hard, it's tempting to drink alcohol because it "numbs" painful feelings. However, it can exaggerate some feelings and make you feel angry or aggressive. It can also make you feel more depressed.

If you think that your drinking might be becoming a problem, talk to your GP for advice.

Read more about the effects of alcohol on your health and find simple tips to help you cut down.

Choose a well-balanced diet

Making healthy choices about your diet can make you feel emotionally stronger. You're doing something positive for yourself, which lifts your self-esteem, and a good diet enables your brain and body to work efficiently.

Aim to have a balanced diet that includes the main food groups (see Healthy eating for more information).

Do some exercise

Even moderate exercise releases chemicals in your brain that lift your mood. It can help you sleep better, have more energy and keep your heart healthy. If you're trying to reach a healthy weight, exercise will help you lose the pounds.

Choose an exercise that you enjoy. If it helps, do it with a friend or listen to music. Adults should aim for 150 minutes a week.

Get enough sleep

Around seven to eight hours is the average amount of sleep an adult needs for their body and mind to fully rest, but this can vary. Some people need less and some need more before they feel ready for the day.

Whatever the case, make sure that you make sleep a priority. Some people, such as new parents and shift workers, can find this very hard. Ask your partner or a family member to help you so you can catch up on your sleep.

Get 10 tips on overcoming insomnia.

Talk and share

Communication is important, whether it's with a friend, family member or counsellor. Communication enables you to release tension, rather than keeping it inside. Isabel Clarke advises: "If you're talking about your innermost feelings, be careful who you talk to. Make sure that it's someone who has your best interests at heart."

Talking about your feelings doesn't have to be formal or too serious. You can discuss small things that annoy you or make you sad. You might end up laughing about a previous difficult experience. It helps you to strengthen your relationships and connect with people.

Many people find that talking to a counsellor about the things that are troubling them is very helpful. See The benefits of talking therapy and Can I get free counselling? for more information about how it could help you and how to find a counsellor.

If you want to talk anonymously or urgently, you can call the Samaritans 24 hours a day on 08457 90 90 90.

Resilience grows by making something worthwhile out of painful times. Starting a support group to help others, or making something creative out of bad experiences, such as writing down what has happened, painting or singing, can help you express pain and get through hard times.

Read more about depression support groups.

Page last reviewed: 04/04/2014

Next review due: 04/04/2016


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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Bee24 said on 05 January 2015

Honestly, these are awful tips and clearly were not written by someone who has experience with this illness. Anyone who has had this disease has tried all of these at some point. "Have better self-esteem! Don't beat yourself up all the time!" Um, right, you say that as if we haven't already thought of it and tried to fix it. The reason we're sick in the first place is because that simply isn't possible. Being depressed is very, very hard because the things on this list are the things we already know we should be doing, but can't bring ourselves to do because that is the nature of depression.

Repeating the same general concepts over and over again is useless and makes us feel more like a failure with every passing tip. Instead, try suggesting little things, like "put on your favorite song" or "look out the window as much as you can", or "do what you feel like you need to do to keep yourself from going insane" (a personal favorite of mine). These are small tasks that have tangible ways of being completed that we know we can do, which I see as a much better approach than big, fuzzy ideas that seem impossible and overwhelming to someone who can't find the motivation to get out of bed, much less find joy in life.

So please, before you write another article on depression, consult someone who actually knows what it feels like to ensure that you're not making it worse for anyone (because I definitely felt way worse after reading this).

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LittleLotte said on 16 November 2014

Firstly, how can you tell people with depression to "have a sense of humour" ? Is that not like telling people with arthritis to go for a run?
Have we also not lost a large number of comedians to suicide?
I find this incredibly dismissive.

Also, regarding access to talking therapies - there is none to be had.

All that can be accessed is one-size-fits-all short bursts of counselling, or even worse, phone sessions (where
you get little to no actual counselling)... that is IF you get on the list.

Really, as a Healthcare organisation you should not be contributing to the idea that depression, which is a debilitating illness the same as any other, can be laughed or exercised off. They are helpful in the short term but patients need the correct care - and most of all we need to eradicate mental health stigma.

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LittleLotte said on 16 November 2014

How can you say "Try to access talking therapies" when there is absolutely nothing available, that is actually worthwhile? I've been diagnosed BPD and waited 2 years now, still no help, and my partner has depression - he was given a course of one-size-fits-all phone counselling that has done more harm than good!
NHS - I understand you are underfunded, but you need to pay more attention and give better care to patients with mental illnesses!
As for the comment about having a sense of humour - That is horrendously belittling and offensive. Robin Williams had a sense of humour, didn't he? Look what happened there.

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Cupel said on 29 November 2012

This article is confusing.

First I read 'Avoid things that seem enjoyable at the time but make you feel worse afterwards, such as alcohol, ' and then further on I read 'You don’t have to give up alcohol completely to be emotionally healthy,'

Am I suppose to avoid alcohol or simply limit my intake? Both cannot be right.

If alcohol is safe below the recommended limits then the article should say so, It should highlight the benefit of a drink at the end of a stressful day which enhances well-being, helps relaxation, promotes rest etc.

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Media last reviewed: 11/07/2013

Next review due: 11/07/2015