Returning to work or school can be a trigger for anxiety. During this time of year, many people may experience mood fluctuations. This is especially true since the pandemic has kept many people at home for extended periods of time. Patients of all ages can have increased stress levels and can feel more easily overwhelmed, irritable, sensitive, emotional, chaotic, etc. But a few key steps can help ensure a smooth transition back to a daily routine.
Map out a schedule: Routine is an important concept in mental health. Too much down time leads to overthinking, racing thoughts, being inside our own heads. It is important to maintain time for ourselves — time to reflect and be mindful. Having too much time in our own heads, however, can leave more time for negative thoughts to pop up. My advice: Stick to a consistent schedule as much as possible. Stay busy physically and mentally. This should help energy levels stay constant throughout the day and should help distract from racing and often “intrusive” (unwanted) thoughts.
Exercise: I always recommend trying to get at least 30 minutes of exercise MOST days of the week. Exercise helps to release endorphins, a natural way to help improve mood. Many patients tell me they feel an “afternoon slump,” referring to low energy in the afternoon after school or work. My advice: Get moderate to intense cardio or strength training exercise to help build energy levels. This can be fast walking, following a Youtube exercise video, playing a sport, etc. Exercise in the afternoon can also help reduce afternoon food cravings or peaks in afternoon hunger prior to dinner time.
Talk therapy: If therapy is needed or required, make sure a consistent regimen is set up. It is important to process emotions and to learn coping skills. It is always good to act preventatively in mental health, so an increase in stress levels can be addressed before they become unmanageable. My advice: Be proactive about having therapy appointments in place, so you don’t have to scramble to set something up last minute. Medication regimen (if applicable): Now is the time to be consistent with any prescribed medication regimens. It is important to limit the variables that could contribute to mood changes. If patients don’t comply with medication daily, mood fluctuations can occur. This can make it hard to tell what is contributing to negative aspects of mental health. It’s hard for mental health providers to know the full efficacy of a medication if it is not being taken on a regular basis. My advice: Take medicine as prescribed so changes to medication can be made easily if needed.
Hallie Alpern is a physician assistant at Young Minds Psychiatry, a practice for all ages in Atlanta. Young Minds Psychiatry specializes in mental health evaluations, diagnoses and treatment plans for patients who struggle with conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD and schizophrenia.