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What does being nervous have to do with wellness?

Ana Polanco

pier light houseSince I can remember, the women in my family and all the women they knew only ever suffered from three illnesses… la gripe, dolor de cabeza y los nervios (“a cold, a headache and the nerves”).  For a long time I wondered what is this “nerves” illness they keep talking about? And why are all these women always nervous? Is nervousness an actual illness? I had a billion questions. When I was very young the adults would not tell me what it meant and I could not find it in the encyclopedia so I had to just go along. Eventually I grew old enough to understand that los nervios was code for anxiety or stress. As I listened closely I also discovered that this idea of nervousness was also code for depression.

As leaders at home, in our communities and at work, it’s important that we take a proactive approach to our well-being. When we are healthy and well, so are the people around us. If we are avoiding our emotions, we are likely to stagnate and grow our anxiety and even become depressed.  While there is no magic cure for anxiety, stress and depression, Here are some ideas about how to stay on top of it:

Check the State of Your Wellness Often

As Latinas we face constant demands from work, expectations from our family and in society. This can at times feel overwhelming or impossible to meet. Sometimes our ideas and experience in the world can feel radically different from that of our family’s. This can cause anxiety, stress or depression if it goes unchecked. That’s why it’s important to check in on your wellness from time to time. A normal amount of stress at work or at home may happen occasionally. However, if you find that your default state is stress and anxiety, then it might be time to check in on how you spend your time.

Here are some questions I like to ask myself (as often as necessary):

  • Am I fulfilling my purpose? Am I focused on my priorities? What’s distracting me?
  • How do I spend my time (work, family, friends fun, learning, exercise)
  • What am I eating? How does the food I am eating make me feel?
  • Am I avoiding something or someone? Why?
  • How much time am I spending with TV/technology v. mindfulness/contemplation
  • What is the quality of my sleep? What causes it to disrupt?
  • How much time indoors v. outdoors?

Sometimes the answers come to us immediately and we can course correct. Other times we need to observe our behavior for some time to determine the problem. Some of these questions may require several days of observation and journaling.  When I feel physically dragging or tired, I often resort to journaling my days out so I can see what the problem is and course correct. My discoveries often help me establish or refresh a routine to pull me out of a funky mood, change food habits or reorganize my work and play schedule. I have grown to love these check-ups because they are also signs of personal growth and allow me to reset the way I do things in order to keep stress levels down.

Learn to Ask for Support

When you get on a plane and they review the safety measures, they always tell the passengers, “in case of an emergency, put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others.”  Healing yourself is also like that.

When you’re feeling sad or lost or even depressed, it’s okay to prioritize yourself and get the support you need. Asking for help is a sign of strength and makes for effective leadership at work and at home. A different way of thinking of getting help, is learning something new or expanding your thoughts. Someone who thinks differently than you may be just the person you need to show you an option you might have been blind too in an anxious state.

 Find the Right Practice

When I was young, the women from my community often went for guidance to a natural healer, other times a tarot card reader or someone who could interpret dreams and sometimes it was your religious guide: nun, priest, pastor, rabbi, imam etc. Whoever it was, there was someone in your community that you could seek guidance from on your most pressing concerns.

Today we have that and so much more. We have psychiatrists, psychologists, therapist, yogis, physical trainers, run groups, healing conferences, life coaches and organizational coaches and tons of books on changing your life. Today you also have greater access to explore other faiths and ways of life or mindful practices to amplify your well-being.

The key here is to figure out what kind of help you want, what resources are in your community and to take the first step towards getting help.

 Speak Plainly about Depression

Depression still remains too much of a taboo in the Latino culture. Some of the taboo is due to us clumping depression along with other issues like stress into one category. While anxiety may pass, depression might not go away so easily. You may need support. The rates of depression and suicide are so high in our community, especially among Latinas that we can’t afford to avoid the conversation.

According to the National Association for Mental Illness, “in any given year, 10-14 million people experience a clinical depression; women ages 18-45 account for the largest proportion of this group. Latinas may be at an increased risk: They experience depression at roughly twice the rate of Latinos (National Institute of Mental Health, 2000) and they are more likely to experience depression than Caucasian or African American women. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control, Latina teenagers in the United States are the group most likely to seriously consider suicide, which is associated with depression.”

That’s a lot of people. If we are going to remove the taboo, let’s educate ourselves and start talking openly about the signs of depression before it starts so that we can support and encourage each other to find help. To learn more about the signs of depression, go to the National Institute of Mental Health.

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