Monitor Your Mental Health: Checklists for Emotional Wellness

Young woman with depression

These days, it feels like society as a whole is stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. These are natural reactions to a difficult time, but for some, these feelings become chronic. It affects not only their physical health, but also their mental well-being.

Yet many who experience these long-term feelings of stress and anxiety don’t seek treatment. Some say it’s because of the stigma of being labelled as having a mental illness. For others, the expense feels like a luxury they can’t afford rather than a medical necessity they need.

May is Mental Health Month and your Capital Women’s Care team wants to help raise awareness of how vital your emotional wellness is to your overall health. We examine symptoms, causes, diagnoses and treatments of common mental health issues to help you identify and manage feelings of stress, anxiety, depression and being overwhelmed. It’s also important to us you understand and know when to seek professional help.

Sobering Statistics

Mental illness knows no boundaries, affecting people of all ages:

  • In 2017, 46.6 million U.S. adults were treated for mental illness, or 20% of the adult U.S. population.
  • One in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year.
  • One in 6 U.S. youth age six through 17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in those age 10 through 34 in the U.S.

However, women are more vulnerable to experiencing mental health disorders:

  • More than one in 5 U.S. women experience a mental health condition during a year.
  • Women from puberty through age 50 are twice as likely to experience mental illnesses (depression, anxiety, panic or phobias) than men. 
  • Women are more likely to experience multiple mental health issues during their lifetimes than men.

Health care professionals warn that stress is often one of the underlying factors of mental health disorders.

What Is Stress?

Stress is how our body reacts to challenges or changes. Some stress is important, as it helps initiate our instinctual “fight or flight” responses, as in a short-term, quick-thinking reaction of hitting your car brakes to avoid an accident. However, chronic or long-term stress at all levels of intensity can greatly impact physical and mental health over time; constant stress can even become the groundwork for developing mental health disorders in women, especially depression or anxiety.

Stress and stressful situations, like relationship violence, trauma, discrimination, living at or below poverty levels or drastic life changes, are leading causes of mental health conditions in women.

Some ways chronic stress affects women include:

  • pain, including back pain
  • heart problems like hypertension, heart attack or stroke
  • greater risk of chronic diseases like diabetes or cancer
  • skin problems, including acne, rashes or hives
  • withdrawal from socializing
  • headaches
  • upset stomach
  • feelings of having no control
  • forgetfulness
  • lack of energy and/or focus
  • overeating or decreased appetite
  • becoming easily angered
  • sleep issues
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • loss of interest in things previously enjoyed
  • less interest in sex than usual

Stress Management Strategies

If you experience stress-related symptoms, there are many ways to manage it:

  • Get regular physical activity and exercise.
  • Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, tai chi or massage.
  • Do your best, avoid worry and accept that you can’t control everything.
  • Maintain a sense of humor, positive attitude and thoughts.
  • Journal when feeling stressed or anxious to help identify triggers.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Make time to enjoy favorite hobbies.
  • Volunteer or give back to your community.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Avoid tobacco and illegal substance use and excess caffeine and alcohol.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a serious mental health condition that goes beyond feelings of sadness or being overwhelmed. About 50% of the 300 million people currently living with depression worldwide aren’t getting treatment; depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Women are 70% more likely to develop depression than men and can experience bouts of unique female-specific depression directly linked to hormone fluctuations, especially throughout menstrual cycles, during perinatal and post-partum stages of pregnancy, and at the onset of menopause.

Depression is defined as displaying depressive episodic behavior lasting more than two weeks. Symptoms include:

  • loss of interest/pleasure in all activities
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • sleep disturbances
  • physical aches and pains
  • changes in movement
  • feeling agitated or slowed down
  • fatigue
  • feeling low self-esteem, guilt, hopelessness or shortcomings
  • difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions
  • or suicidal thoughts or intentions.

Scientists believe several factors contribute to cause depression:  trauma; genetics (mood disorders and suicide risks especially); life circumstances; brain structure signifying depression, such as a less active frontal lobe or changes in how pituitary gland and hypothalamus respond to hormone stimulation; medical conditions like sleep disturbances, illness, chronic pain, anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or drug and alcohol abuse. 

Treatments for Depression

Fortunately, depression often responds well to the right treatment. The key is to get a specific evaluation and treatment plan, which may include:

  • Medications – Antidepressants, mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications are often prescribed with positive results if taken exactly as directed by your physician.
  • Psychotherapy – Cognitive behavioral therapy, family-focused therapy and interpersonal therapy are options to discuss thoughts and feelings one-on-one with a mental health professional or doctor or as part of a guided group involving family, friends or people in similar circumstances.
  • Light therapy – Light box exposure to full spectrum light to regulate melatonin hormone production.
  • Exercise and getting outdoors
  • Alternative therapies – Initializing acupuncture, meditation, nutrition and pet/animal therapy to enhance mental wellness.
  • Mind/Body/Spirit approaches – Take part in meditation, faith and prayer.
  • Self-management strategies and education

What is Anxiety?

Stress oftentimes leads to feelings of anxiety felt by all of us. But when intense fear and distress overwhelm thoughts and inhibit daily routines, anxiety disorder may be the cause.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the U.S. Almost 40 million U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder, or 18% of the adult U.S. population. Roughly 8% of kids and teens experience the negative impact of anxiety disorder at school and at home. 

Those experiencing an anxiety disorder may have differing symptoms changing how they function throughout day-to-day lives. Symptoms may include:

  • feelings of apprehension or dread
  • feeling tense or jumpy
  • restlessness and irritability
  • anticipating worst case scenarios
  • intense watching for signs of danger
  • pounding, racing heart and shortness of breath
  • upset stomach
  • sweating, tremors and twitches
  • headaches, fatigue and insomnia
  • upset stomach, frequent urination and diarrhea

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Different anxiety disorders have varying symptoms, thus requiring unique treatment plans. Common anxiety disorders include:

  • Panic Disorder – Includes sudden feelings of terror (panic attacks) that may occur repeatedly and without warning. A panic attack causes powerful physical symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and stomach upset and is often mistaken for a heart attack.
  • Phobias – Incite intense panic due to several triggers. Depending on type and number of triggers, this fear and attempt to control it can seem to take over a person’s life.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – GAD produces chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday life, can consume hours daily and make it hard to concentrate or finish routine daily tasks. Those with GAD are usually exhausted due to constant worry and experience headaches, tension or nausea.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – Causes intense fear and irrational worries focused on social humiliation. Those usually withdraw, become isolated and avoid conversations, discussions, or offering ideas. Common reactions include panic attack symptoms.    

Genetics and stress play pivotal roles as factors that can contribute to anxiety disorder cause.

Diagnosis of anxiety disorders usually begins with a physical examination and interview by your doctor and ordering appropriate lab tests if applicable because physical symptoms can imitate those of medical conditions like heart disease or hyperthyroidism. Once medical illness is ruled out, your doctor may refer you to see a mental health professional for screening and diagnosis.

Anxiety Disorder Treatments

Due to the various types of anxiety disorders having different symptoms, treatment plans your mental health professional may recommend can vary. Common treatments include:

  • psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • medications, including anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants
  • and complementary health approaches, including stress and relaxation techniques.

Seeking Help

If your symptoms continue or worsen after implementing efforts to alleviate and manage your stress and inhibit your day-to-day life, do not hesitate to ask for help from a mental health professional.

You can get help online with a free, private mental health screening through the Mental Health America (MHA) website:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also has a toll-free Help Line: 800-950-NAMI (6264.)

If you need immediate assistance, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK, or text "MHA" to 741-741 to talk to a trained counselor from the Crisis Text Line.

Your Capital Women’s Care team is here for you should you have any questions concerning mental health care, wellness and treatment.

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The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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