Wednesday, March 18, 2015

10 tips for fending off anxiety and depression

Hi, Friends!

What follows -- in another TWO PARTER post, whaaaat?! -- is something I drafted out approximately three whole years ago.

And here it is, finally, at your doorstep. Desktop. Something.

Not one, not two, but 20 whole pieces of advice to help you fend off depression and anxiety.

You may have been laughing yesterday when I posted "tips" on how to be organized, given my tendency toward slobbishness.

But this topic -- this, my friends, I can speak to authoritatively. While I can't tell you with confidence that I have trustily made my bed every day for 29 years, I can tell you that I've spent countless days feeling anxious and/or depressed. So I was not surprised that when I sat down to make a list of tips to help one weather such feelings, I was able to come up with so many pieces of advice.

Take them as you will, of course, but if you've ever experienced some anxiety or depression, or think you might be, please read on. Of course my hope is that you won't ever have to experience either. All my best to you. Loves.

1.      Unclench your teeth, and fists

You probably don’t even realize you’re doing this. But throughout the day, try and notice if you’re grinding your teeth, or if the two rows are even touching each other. Consciously open your palms and rest them by your sides, face up. Relax your mouth so that you’re not biting down. Biting and gripping build up a tremendous amount of unconscious stress, which can be prevented.

2.      Eat, including protein

I’m the worst at this. But I have trained myself that at the first sign of feeling down, or on edge, to eat. Some people overeat, particularly when stressed or depressed, so be on guard for this, but if you’re the type to not make meals a priority, make sure you’re eating. I’m always surprised – legitimately, each time – at how much eating just a little bit makes me feel emotionally more comfortable. I feel more calm, happy, and ready to tackle something that 20 minutes before seemed insurmountable.

3.      Make yourself get up in the morning and go to bed at night

You can have breaks from a rigid routine – you can let yourself sleep in on Saturdays, while you’re on vacation, etc.

But in general, give yourself a wake up time and a bedtime. My brother implored me for years to go to bed no later than 11 p.m. Now, I gladly go to sleep at 8 p.m., but for a long time I just let the night take me away. This is a horrible idea. Your mind just wanders more and more, and if you find yourself freaking out, it’s much scarier at night, and you find yourself more hesitant to reach out to family and friends who are likely sleeping.

That said, I am well aware that – and well experienced with – insomnia is rampant, particularly among the anxious and depressed crowd. What I am asking you to do is get into bed at bedtime. Don’t punish yourself if you can’t sleep, but as best you can, have your teeth brushed, computer off, body in bed by your set bedtime. The sleep routine is SO helpful and huge in giving your mind some calm and rest.

And of course, if you will, read before bed. It will knock you out. It’s voted as my favorite before-sleep activity, hands down.

4.      Limit caffeine, particularly in the afternoons and evenings.

I had an internship once in which I would get all rowdy on Friday afternoons and let myself have an extra cup of caffeinated coffee after lunch.

But in general: decaf, People. Try to stick to one to two cups of caffeinated coffee or tea in the morning, then cut yourself off after lunch. Be grateful there are decaffeinated forms of coffee, tea, and soda, so we can all still enjoy the tastes of our favorite beverages without making ourselves feel over-crazed.

5.      Exercise. Exercise. EXERCISE!!!!!!!!!!!

This one I can’t express enough.

Hate exercising? I can understand that, but I can’t imagine that you’d rather feel anxious and depressed than get yourself on a treadmill for 20 minutes.

Exercising does soooooo much good for you. I get a very defined feeling of calm immediately after a good cardio workout, particularly a run. I sleep better – fall asleep faster and get more bang for my buck in the hours that I’m unconscious – I’m happier, I’m more calm and able to handle hiccups at work. The list goes on and on.

And it eats up time. When I’m particularly anxious or depressed, I just want time to pass. Exercising is a great way to do this. Don’t like the isolation of it? Go to a gym instead of working out at home, go with a friend, pop in some headphones, watch TV on the treadmill. It doesn’t have to be silent time. But you need to do it. Need.

6.      Don’t do any activity indefinitely

I don’t care if it’s your favorite activity. Even if it distracts you from your feelings of discomfort – and here’s hoping you have activities that do this for you – don’t do it for hours and hours on end.

Because eventually you’ll get bored, and hungry, and agitated, and then you’ll be anxious or depressed again.

Quit while you’re ahead. Get in 40 minutes of scrapbooking, and while you’re still enjoying it, get up and go for a jog. Wash the dishes. When you come back to the scrapbooking, you’ll still have a good taste in your mouth from your latest memory of participating in the activity, and you can dive right back in.

Ultimately, I just think that after an hour or so of doing anything, we start to lessen our productivity and our happiness with the task. Maybe I just have ADD and need a lot of breaks, and should only speak for myself. But I think getting up and readjusting is a good way to keep your brain – and feelings – fresh.

7.      Surround yourself with people – Get out. Of your own. Head.

Are you an overthinker? Analytical?

Thought so.

A lot of us who suffer from anxiety in particular fall in these categories. And if you’re depressed, it’s likely you’re ruminating over your life – and Life itself – too much. I know all these thoughts and questions seem worthwhile, and they are, to a point, but you’ve got to get a break from that noggin of yours.


Trust me. Please. I speak from years of experience.

You know how above I said that I’m always surprised how much food can make me feel better? Same thing goes for getting myself around people.

Some – all – of my worst moments in life have been followed by some respite, and that respite has almost always involved human contact. It doesn’t have to be special, with flair. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s casual. Don’t worry about what you’ll say, how you’ll act. Just get yourself in the presence of people who love you. It’s best if at least one of them knows that you’re feeling off, but even if they don’t, you will fare well from hanging out with them.

I’ve been to so many blah social gatherings, but even so I have walked out of those events with a new spring in my step. Sometimes -- and I'm not kidding when I say this -- a life-saving spring in my step.

And when you’re seeking people out, remember that people who are both funny and serious are the ticket. In my humble opinion. If someone meets both these criteria, to me that is a sign that not only can they lighten you up when you’re feeling blue, or tense, or keyed up, but it shows me that they have survived something. Because if you’ve survived, then you know how serious life can be (so these survivors will take you and your feelings seriously) and you also know that if you don’t laugh, you die.

Find those people. Now.

8.      Consider therapy

I am a huge proponent of therapy, and while it can be expensive, it’s also rather readily available and affordable, if you know where to look.

If you’re a college student, you probably have about 10 free counseling sessions at your disposal – look into it. A lot of therapists will allow clients to pay according to income – called a “sliding scale” method – and most metro areas have county or state operated facilities that offer walk-in crisis counseling, for free. These places are often open during the holidays, too.

I’ve gone to both crisis counseling and student counseling, and benefited from both.

Oh. And if your “crisis” is that you’re home for Christmas and you’re really uncomfortable being around your family and feel like your heart is beating out of your chest?

That’s OK. That’s deemed a crisis. If it’s suffocating you, then it’s good enough to take to a counselor. It’s very tempting to compare ourselves to others who (we only assume) are not in therapy, and think we’re doing OK, that our problems aren’t that bad, and talk ourselves out of therapy. I think everyone can benefit from therapy, anytime, anywhere. Do yourself a favor and talk yourself into it.

9.      Be careful with your media consumption

Don’t get me wrong. On many occasions, a funny movie or a stupid sitcom can keep you from losing your mind. And it can be great background noise, particularly if you live alone, while doing the dishes, cleaning, putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

But like any other activity, it can pull you into a vortex. And as we all know, TV and the Internet have a lot of unrealistic, best-foot-forward images that can distort our sense of reality, cause us to compare ourselves in an already fragile state, and thus just set ourselves up for more struggle.

That said, one of the best things you can do for yourself when you’re feeling down, in my book, is to call a friend, grab a movie, pop some popcorn, and just chill out together.

Just stagger it. No 10 hour TV marathons, please. (Though I know how tempting those Kardashians can be to watch (not kidding)).

10.  Don’t drink if you’re feeling down

This is kind of old advice, but still relevant. If you feel yourself on unsteady footing, probably not the best idea to get yourself near any gin.

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