Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Anxiety & Depression

So let's talk about anxiety & depression.

Depression & anxiety.

Not happy topics.

No fuzzy bunnies involved.

I've been debating making this post for a long time, but thought it was better to hide it. No point in dwelling on the negative, and no one wants to read about it anyway.

But I changed my mind.

There's an estimated 1 in 10 adults with depression in the US, and of those, nearly 1/2 are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. That means that there are probably about 12 people who read this blog who are dealing with depression, and 5 or 6 who have anxiety as well.

Well this post is for them.

And for those reading who have a friend or family member dealing with depression or anxiety. (And if you've got 9 of those, one of them probably is...)

And for myself.


We all know the symptoms, right? You've all seen the late night commercials or the ads in magazines for the various antidepressants...
Do you suffer from feelings of guilt or worthlessness? Persistent sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness?

Do you feel anxious or empty? Unable to enjoy the things you used to?

Blah blah blah... Just take this drug & be magically healed!


It doesn't work that way.

I know because for close to 20 years I've been dealing with my own depression & anxiety.

I've tried medicines that made me apathetic, medicines that made my head spin, and medicines that made me break out in hives. I've seen apathetic counselors, therapists that made my head spin, psychologists who cared more about the bottom line than about helping me, and even a priest for a while. I've done tons of reading, checking clinical trials on the latest drugs, and research on the whys and hows of depression & anxiety.

Sometimes, I can forget about it, live and be happy and joyful, and carry on like Everybody Else™. Sometimes, getting up in the morning is hard, (why bother?) but I push through even though most of the day goes by in a grey haze. And sometimes, simple things like making a phone call, going to work, or even to visit a friend, makes me cry and shake, feel filled with adrenaline, heart racing, can't catch my breath...

When things get really bad, I shut myself in my room and try to distract myself from the negative thoughts in my head. (You're so bad.) But it doesn't often help. (Can't do anything right.) They circle around and around in my head, (Badbadbad...) leading me down darker & darker paths... (Stupidstupidstupid...) And I wind up feeling worse.

And truthfully the past few months have been pretty dark for me.

And it's a vicious cycle. I'll have a situation that makes me super anxious, so I'll avoid it, or I'll have a day feeling depressed, so nothing gets done; and then I'll feel bad, because things didn't get done, and I'll find myself depressed and anxious again, and nothing gets done; and so it goes... down, down, down, around & around...

A sketch I did a long time ago; it gives a good visual of how I feel sometimes...
Everyone else laughing & chatting (so loud!) and me locked up inside my own head...
time stopped yet unending, meaningless (like me)...

So what to do instead... How does one dig in and stop spiraling down into despair?

Well, I think it's different at different times and for different people. And that's why you find so many articles out there on how to beat depression & anxiety.

I think the first step, when you are spiraling down, is to realize you're doing it. Recognize that you are sliding into anxiety or depression, and stop your thoughts from continuing on that path.

And that's the hard part. Stopping your thoughts. But there are lots of things you can try, and some might not work for you, and some might not be possible, but here's a list of things I've tried...
  • Tell those voices to stop. Stop stressing (if you're starting to get anxious), stop putting you down (if you're starting to be too negative), stop because it's not true (whatever your head is saying). If saying stop in your head doesn't work, do it out loud.

  • Physically move. Stand up if you're sitting, sit down if you're standing. Lie down. Stretch. Roll your shoulders. Take a walk to the restroom, or to get a drink. Just move your body & concentrate on that.

  • Take a walk. This goes with the previous one. Even in the winter, just going out to get the mail at the end of our driveway is enough to change my mood. Breathe the air, feel the wind, hear the sounds of life going on around you. (It's not that bad!)

  • Put on some music. Something upbeat that you like. No depressing stuff! You can find something appropriate in any genre of music, so find something you like that makes you feel good. Even make a playlist to put on to drown out those voices.

  • Dance! Combine the music with the moving. You don't have to move like Grace Kelly or BeyoncĂ©. Wiggle your butt, flail your arms, shake your shoulders.... Just move your body in a manner that makes you happy!

  • Take a bath or shower. Clean the voices out of your head the same way you clean your body. Scrub-a-dub-dub! Let the water relax you and wash all the negative right down the drain.

  • Find a funny website. Bookmark it, and visit it when you need a laugh. Funny videos, hilarious auto-corrects, adorable animals... whatever makes you LOL for reals, that's the place to go when you need a mental realignment.

  • Cuddle your kitty. Or your dog. Or your bunny. Or spend some quality time with your goldfish. Or even have a chat with your chia plant! Connecting with another living thing can help get you out of your own head.

  • Phone a friend. Use that life line! I know for me this is a really hard thing. Maybe the phone isn't for you either. So instead, try an online chat or text via your cell phone. Just find someone who can listen non-judgmentally, someone you can vent to without having to worry about them trying to fix it or you, just someone to help lift your spirits.

  • Get a hug. Another hard one sometimes. Especially if you're at work, or live alone. But if you can find someone who you can approach and say, I need a hug, and get one. Then do it. It's been scientifically proven to help!

So, now that you've pulled yourself up and out of anxiety or depression for the moment, how do you keep from slipping back into it?

Again, different things for different folks at different times, but these are some things that the experts agree can help...
  • Exercise! Yuck. That's the first thing I think when someone says that. But guess what? It doesn't have to be yucky. All it has to be is you moving your body in a way that makes you happy. It doesn't have to be hard. Click here to read what the Mayo Clinic has to say about depression & anxiety and exercise.

  • Watch your diet! Another yucky one. I feel restricted and resentful and want to eat a whole carton of ice cream just thinking about it. But again, we're not talking strict calorie counting or anything. Just pay attention to it. There is some evidence to support the claims that diets high in simple sugars or caffeine can increase depression & anxiety. I know for myself, when I have a day when I eat things like pasta, rice, bread, desserts, chips, and other refined carbs, I feel more tired and lethargic, and have a lot of aches and pains the next day. It's worth it for me to reduce how many and how often I eat carbs. Also, make sure you're getting all the right nutrients from a wide variety of foods to keep your mind & body working to the best of it's ability!

  • Sleep. Yes, it really does matter. Not getting enough sleep makes everyone miserable, depressed or not. Try to keep a regular schedule of 7-9 hours of sleep, even on weekends, or if you work from home (or are retired). One that works with your natural body clock is best. Sleeping from 11pm - 6am is just as good as sleeping from 3am - noon if that's how your body likes it.

  • Be social! This is another one that can cause a lot of anxiety, but finding people to connect with is one of the most effective ways to keep depression & anxiety at bay. Being depressed and anxious can make you feel isolated, which only gets worse the less you interact with others. They don't have to know you're depressed or anxious, just have a conversation. Say hi as you pass on the street or in the supermarket. Call a friend. Compliment a coworker on their outfit. And don't forget to smile! (Just that alone is said to improve your mood.)

  • Keep busy. Feeling productive is another great way to improve your mood. Wandering aimlessly through life can leave you feeling frustrated and uneasy. Create a routine of daily activities, or choose an achievable goal to pursue to help give your life direction and focus. I know for myself, day after day of not doing anything leads to some depression, and makes me even more anxious when it's time to get back out there and *do* things.

  • Keep a journal. This does not have to be an online public blog. This could be one of those fancy hardcover blank books you can buy at bookstores, or a creative handmade one from Etsy. You can buy a notebook from the dollar store or even looseleaf paper, and you can handwrite it. Or you can create a private online journal or download some journal software if typing is more your speed. From what I understand you can even get one on your smartphone! The point is to get the thoughts out of your head.

  • Be Yourself! OMG HARD ONE! But so true. Don't compare your life to anyone else's. And don't try to live anyone else's life. Doing what someone else says you should do, or being someone you aren't, is a great way to feel like a miserable failure. Make sure you're not letting someone else run your life for you, and that *YOU* are in charge of yourself. If you're finding people in your life who have too much of a negative influence on you, and what you do, then limit your contact with them.

  • Relax! Lots of times we get caught up in really strict thinking; we put all these rules, shoulds and musts, on ourselves & others, and leave no room for wiggles. Things are black or white; no other color. And when we fail to live up to those rules, or when a friend doesn't, or when life in general doesn't, we feel guilty or anxious, angry or frustrated. It's better to relax our way of thinking and how we see things, so we don't get so stressed about things. You ate too many cookies when you were feeling sad earlier? It's ok. You're not bad, just a mistake, move on. Your spouse forgot your anniversary? That sucks, but they love you enough to still be there, and I am sure they didn't do it to hurt you. Remember to pause & then think outside the box!

  • Meditate. Most people think meditation is all about clearing your mind. Letting go of all thoughts, and becoming one with the Universe. Well, that is something that I personally can't do. Thoughts, they keep bubbling back up! And I follow them, one after another, down the rabbit hole! But that's ok. Because that's what everyone goes through. The way to meditate effectively is to focus on one thing, a phrase, a visual focus, your breath, and just Be Present. Yes thoughts may bubble up, but return your focus to that one thing. Just taking a few deep breaths can be a quick meditation to reduce anxiety and ease depression enough to think clearer.

  • Seek help. If you really feel you're in too deep and are thinking of hurting yourself or someone else, talk to someone. Ask your doctor if medicine or therapy could help.

    If things have reached a crisis level, call 911 or visit your local ER, or try one of these methods...

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