Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mental Health Checkup: Avoidance, Eating Habits

By Gina Duncan, M.D.

I am continuing my list of topics to consider in a mental health checkup. Remember, if any of these issues raise red flags for you, your family doctor, family member or clergy may be a good place to get advice about next steps.

Avoidance — Do you feel like you’re avoiding yourself? It may seem like a funny question, but if you find yourself going out of your way to keep from being by yourself, then that could indicate that there is something you are trying to avoid emotionally. Many people find that their feelings of anxiety or worry are intensified when they are alone, and so they find ways to distract themselves by staying busy. We can often be unaware of this subconscious strategy to protect ourselves from painful feelings. If you think that this describes you, when you have a moment, go to a quiet place where you will be uninterrupted and sit quietly for a few minutes. How do you feel? Take a moment to write it down. If you find that even the thought of spending quiet time by yourself makes you tense, write that down as well. The goal is not to avoid your problems, but to find effective ways to deal with them.
Eating Habits — Has your appetite changed? Are you eating too much or too little? And what are you eating? If you find that you’re craving foods that are high in carbohydrates (sugar) and fat, or that you’re eating larger quantities than usual, it could be a sign of emotional eating as a response to stress. While temporarily satisfying, high sugar and fatty foods ultimately zap your energy and leave you feeling lower. Not to mention that the added pounds can become an additional source of stress.

Tomorrow I’ll round out my topics for a mental health checkup by discussing mood, concentration, balance and energy.

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