It’s been a little over 3 months since I first got my anxiety/depression diagnosis, and I wanted to share how I’ve been doing. It feels strangely more indulgent to write this post than that one (and I’ll be honest, I’ve really shied away from writing about it at all lately), but I figured a few people might be interested in reading what’s been working for me*.
First of all, I started working with a therapist right away. If you’re at all dealing with anxiety and depression, I think this is really a good place to start, because I’ve found it to be not only helpful, but really enlightening. In the beginning, we worked on some ways to try and deal with the worst of my anxious thoughts. I didn’t get into it much before, but one of the worst parts of my anxiety revolved around thoughts of death. Not in a suicidal way, at all, but more in a catastrophe type way, where I would think things like “oh, that plane flying overhead is going to crash into my building” (I work in a building that’s directly in the flight path for the Marine Corps Air Station. There are a lot of jets that fly overhead is what I’m saying). I’ll just say, thinking about someone dying every day (either myself, my family, or my friends) was exhausting.
SO! We worked on things like breathing exercises, positive affirmations (“This thought isn’t real, everything is ok right now”), doing something that takes mental focus for 5 minutes like a su doku puzzle, and something to engage my physical body (jumping jacks, splashing cold water on my face, that type of thing). I’ll be honest, this felt really ridiculous at first, but it helped me learn how to identify the beginning of an anxiety filled moment, instead of just being in a haze of anxiety all day.
The other things she had me start doing right away were:
- Go to bed earlier. Sleep is important yo. And I really REALLY notice the difference in this when I don’t sleep now. It’s drastically better when I can get a consistent 7-9 hours of sleep instead of a consistent 4-6 hours.
- Spend at least 30 minutes before bed doing something to detach from my day. For me, it was read a book (as long as the book wasn’t something that would amp me up, or make me stressed), but she also recommended taking a bath or meditating or sit with a cup of herbal tea. Calming, relaxing things.
- Work on getting even 15-30 minutes of exercise a day. Even if it’s just in the form of walking the dog. I’ll admit, I still have the hardest time with this one, but it makes a real difference when I do.
- Cut back on caffeine. I’m slowly working on this one, but I’m down (most days) from a 4-5 can a day Diet Coke habit to a 1-2 can a day habit.
- She also taught me some relaxation visualizations. I still find them REALLY hard, but even when I’m only able to do it for a little bit, they can help me calm my mind.
Stop Inviting Anxiety
The final thing she had me do right away: stop listening to NPR, stop watching the news, and stop reading stuff online that would trigger that anxiety. This has been maybe one of the biggest things that I’ve been learning: I’m willfully ignorant on some things now, for my mental health. I really can’t handle stories about death, fatal illnesses, war, etc. I especially can’t handle stories about moms, dads, kids, or families dying. Even hearing the traffic report in the morning can be tough, especially if there are wrecks with fatalities. It makes me feel like a bad, uninformed citizen sometimes to be so vehement about not knowing those stories, but it makes such a BIG difference in how I feel that I’ve come to accept that I’d rather be a bad citizen than someone who has to battle my mental health.
Now, after I had been going to my therapist for a while, I found myself not feeling much progress. Things were a little better with the thoughts of death, but I still wasn’t finding myself able to complete tasks or care about doing things other than lumping. I still felt like I was barely BARELY holding on to any semblance of control over my day to day life and sanity. I would say that instead of my anxiety being at, say, 90%, it was at 70%. Better, but not enough to give me full control of my thoughts.
That’s the point at which we brought in medication…
To be continued tomorrow…
*I am not now, nor have I ever been a doctor. PLEASE PLEASE do not take this as medical advice, and if you think you may have depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor about it. I’m just blathering here on the internet, I’m not an expert.
Tags: anxiety, depression, getting better