May is Mental Health Month and recently it got me thinking about a common voicemail my office receives. “Hi Dr. Bartell, I’d like to make an appointment…I’m not crazy…really. My husband wants me to go. You’ll see that I’m as normal as anyone else.”
It might come as a surprise to hear we are all a bit crazy. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself these questions: When you fly, do you swallow a Xanax with an airplane-bottle vodka chaser? Are you addicted to reality TV or celebrity magazines? Do you ever talk to yourself? Do sad commercials make you cry? Do you feel like yelling at every “idiot” out there?
Answering “yes” to even one of these questions might have met the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis years back, but today crazy is the new normal. We live in economically unstable times, as well as being under the threat of terrorism. It is almost impossible not to feel a little emotional instability occasionally. In fact, over the last several years, being “cray-cray” has become a method for celebrities to clutch the spotlight—think Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus.
Craziness is becoming commonplace and determining whether a particular instability requires a little professional tweaking or is a version of “normal craziness” is a challenge. To find out, ask yourself whether the behavior interferes with your ability to have a full life. If watching so much reality TV means you rarely interact with your partner, you might be looking for happiness in someone else’s life. Talking to yourself more than with others can indicate a struggle with social anxiety. If you cry often, not just at sad commercials, you may be clinically depressed. If you pop Xanax daily, you could have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Yelling at “every idiot out there” might point to anger management issues.
When I met the woman who left the voicemail, I discovered she had an overwhelming terror of bridges—the kind of fear that makes it impossible for her to travel any route that includes even the smallest bridge.
She is certainly not crazy, but her fear makes it impossible to live life to the fullest. Another common example: Those who find themselves frequently disorganized, missing deadlines and not being able to follow through with tasks. It happens to everyone from stay-at-home moms to professionals and depression, anxiety, ADHD or stress can cause it.
Those are extreme examples, but what if anxiety, sadness or anger is not as severe but you still don’t feel good? You might benefit from support, but first I suggest the following “mental health toolbox” to help get through challenging periods. On the go, try massaging lavender or vanilla-scented hand lotion into your hands to relieve stress. The brain responds positively to these calming scents. Preparing and sipping hot herbal tea can promote a sense of well-being. Venting to a friend or a journal is another excellent way to reduce anxiety and gain perspective.
Something as simple as a 20-minute nap helps because sleep deprivation is a top cause of sadness and depression. In addition, getting enough sleep will give you enough energy to exercise. This is important because regularly moving your body enough to sweat has been proven as effective as medication for mild to moderate depression. Occupying your brain with a crossword puzzle can reduce negative thoughts and feelings and help you devise the solution to an emotionally laden problem better than thinking about it directly.
Trying these techniques consistently for a couple of months should result in alleviating minor negative feelings. However, if after two months you are still feeling bad, it may be time to reach out for help. Remember that life is fraught with ups and downs. It’s the way we approach these that makes all the difference!
Illustration by Tom LaMothe