In 2011, I began a journey toward deep healing in my life after falling victim to anxiety in the most intense way I have ever experienced in my life. (read previous post for the deets)
My bout of anxiety threw me into a depression, because apparently these two illnesses are friends. They go hand-in-hand.
Some key feelings/situations/thoughts I remember from my experience is this:
- Anxiety that overtakes you feels uncontrollable.
- Anxiety makes you feel like the world is ending and there's no way to stop it.
- Anxiety and depression are very physical. Your whole body feels sick, not just your mind.
- You do not feel like yourself when you are going through this. You feel like something is wrong with you.
- You do not have enough energy to do anything but want to feel better.
- You cannot watch a movie or carry a conversation with someone without feeling like your thoughts are louder than anything else.
- You don't want to see people or talk to them because you don't feel like yourself.
- It is easy to panic about things that do not make any sense because your ability to be rational is skewed.
- Its hard to sleep, and even when you do sleep, it doesn't feel like you got rest.
- The world looks grayer, dimmer. I vividly remember light looking different to me. The world looked darker.
- You constantly want to feel better. You constantly think there is something WRONG with you and you are desperate to feel better. You will DO ANYTHING to feel better!
Those are the first things that come to mind.
I received lots of advice from lots of sources on how to fight depression. Read tons of blogs. Went to therapy. Read books. Spoke to people who went through similar experiences. Here are some reflections and thoughts on that:
Get a support system
Whether it is family members (ones that do not TRIGGER anxiety or depression in you) or friends, get three or four people, that you trust, to confide in and have available if you ever need them to talk. Knowing that I had several people at my disposal to cry with or go on and on about how I felt, helped me a lot. People who can support you at your lowest are the truest companions. They are the people who deserve to be with you at your best. These are the people who are down with you no matter what. You will know who they are (even though your judgment may be off due to your anxiety or depression) because they are willing to listen and they look for you. If they are making an effort to look for you, make the effort to seek them out when you need it. Don't isolate yourself. That is when you are the most vulnerable to do things you wouldn't normally do. This is where church family is key.
Don't feel like it? Do it anyways
Your ability to make judgments based on feelings is flawed. Do not base anything on feelings during this time. Base it on what you know is right to do. Don't feel like taking a shower? Do it anyway. Don't feel like going out with friends? Do it anyway. You may HATE every moment of the girls night out, but without you realizing it, it's helping you. I distinctly remember hating Easter Sunday 2012. I was completely out of it and my family had a gathering, like they do every year. I forced myself to play kickball and run around with the kids. I forced myself to talk to people and smile. While I don't think that this one endeavor helped me get better, doing things like this over time did. It was a series of unhealthy choices that got me into my mess, it was going to take a series of healthy choices to get me out. Write down two healthy choices you are going to be consistent about this week and do them no matter what. Next week, add two more to the list. By the end of this month, you will have eight new healthy choices a week. Start small and don't compromise. DO IT ANYWAY.
Take it one day at a time
There are only 24 hours in a day. You cannot go any faster than that. Some days are better than others. On good days, be thankful. On bad days, be more thankful. What helped me through what felt like an overbearingly slow process was keeping a positive journal. I would only write positive things in there and things to be thankful for. It is scientifically proven that physically writing things down changes your brain chemistry. It is also proven that you can condition your brain to think more positively. This exercise can help you take one day at a time like a champ. Patience is key. One day at a time. Say it to yourself. No one is going faster than you on this one. No one. We all endure the same 24 hours in the day, 60 minutes per hour, 60 seconds per minute. This is your pace.
Eat healthy, exercise, change your habits
This is probably the WORST time to try to motivate yourself to be healthy. Refer to the 'do it anyways' advice above. Eating healthy and exercising are proven mood-boosters. Can't do 30 minutes of cardio, start off with 10 minutes a day. Walk around your neighborhood. Buy a fitness DVD and try it out. Go on YouTube and try a video from Fitness Blender, Jillian Michaels or Billy Blanks. Try yoga. Actually, yoga is very effective for individuals who struggle with anxiety; it's calming and soothing. Follow people on instagram who are into fitness and motivating others. If you're feeling lazy on this one, then start changing your diet first. There are plenty of foods out there that are calming and soothing to your system. Herbal Teas are exceptionally good at calming your body. Eat more fruits and veggies, stay away from carbs that make you feel sluggish and lethargic. Stop eating sugars, drinking sodas and sugary juices. Take a multivitamin. Omega-3 fish oils are known to help with anxiety and depression; eat more fish or take a supplement. Vitamin B complex is great for an energy boost, especially for depression.
Give yourself permission to feel
I remember trying so hard to force myself to feel a certain way, never embracing my feelings where I was at. There is a balance with this, as you do not want to allow yourself to sulk for an entire week either. Give yourself an allotted time to embrace where you are at. You can give yourself no more than 15 minutes to think it out and come to an acceptance of where you are emotionally. Reflect and be honest with yourself. If you feel poopy, you can acknowledge that thought, but once you do, affirm yourself and pick yourself up. "It's a bad day today, but tomorrow is going to be better."
It's easier now for me to look back and give this lofty advice. I know many might say, I've done all of this and none of it has worked. This is going to take vigilance and consistency. This is HARD WORK, and I know that's difficult and un-motivating to hear when you don't feel well. I know how difficult that is and it might make you cry to read those two words together; hard work. You have been working so hard already to help make yourself feel better, and nothing is working.
I get it. This is where I would go a step further. We will discuss the next steps in our next post. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts and reflections on these points. Have you ever felt any of the above? Have you tried any of these tips yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts.