Treating My Depression & Anxiety, Part 1

by Ginger on June 5, 2012

in I'm a Disaster

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*.

Therapy Helps

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.

Lifestyle Changes

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.

Emily @ The Happy Home June 5, 2012 at 9:44 am

oh, thank you SO much for writing this! i’m still not sure if any sort of therapy would be covered by insurance (and even if it was, we couldn’t afford it). i really appreciate you sharing the journey. i’ve had to stop being as involved in politics lately because it was winding me up to the point of shriek-y, angry fits, during which i was possibly mistaking my anger and stress with passion. i can’t imagine how stressful it must be to have anxiety issues and then to have a baby… you have so much strength!

Ginger June 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm

You know, you may be able to find a counselor who would do a sliding scale for you, even without insurance. Even if it was just for a couple of sessions–I found the first 3 were the ones that were incredibly eye opening.

Sheila June 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I read recently that insurance companies are required by law to cover mental health services. Give yours a call and find out what you can do. It’s worth the trouble.

shasta June 5, 2012 at 10:30 am

I, too, feel weird doing visualizations because they always always end up putting me sleep. If I can’t fall asleep or waking up at 3AM all angsty, though, I turn on the fan, close my eyes, and pretend I’m chillin’ on a beach veranda. Works every time.

Erin June 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

Really good info … I think about people in my life dying every day. Like, all of them. I worry that my thinking about it is going to cause it to happen. It’s sort of a vicious cycle. Avoiding the news helps, but this is hard for me because I’m a news junkie. Interested to hear more in Part II!

Ginger June 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm

It’s one of the most horrible parts of my anxiety. And even when I know the ideas are ridiculous (no Ginger, the house isn’t going to slide off the hill and crush us all), it’s hard to battle them without help.

Tragic Sandwich June 5, 2012 at 11:52 am

My depression was situational, not chronic, but I found a lot of this to be true for me as well. The first thing I did was choose to go to therapy; the second thing I did was find another therapist, because the first one wasn’t a good fit.

The second was great. And one of the things he had me do right away was get a one-week prescription for Ambien, because my insomnia was getting completely out of hand. Once I’d finished that week, I had been able to break the insomnia cycle and get better rest–and I was much more able to participate in and benefit from therapy.

He also had me avoid anxiety triggers; I don’t watch televised news to begin with, but I had recently read a bunch of super-depressing, post-apocalyptic books, and had watched exactly the wrong movies (I could not go out to hang laundry at night without wondering thinking about the Zodiac killer suddenly stepping around the corner in my back yard). I knew the things I was imagining were not real, or even plausible, but I was still imagining them because I was exposing myself to them. Accepting that limitation on entertainment really helped me as well.

And exercise was huge, too. Just getting off the bus a few blocks ahead of my stop made a big difference in my day, particularly if I did it in the morning before the day had exhausted me (for others, afternoons might be better).

I didn’t need medication (beyond the aforementioned Ambien), as it turns out, but I’d have taken it if I did. I hope your combination of approaches helps you, and I look forward to your next post.

Ginger June 7, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Yeah, I have to be pretty careful with books now, which can be tough to know in advance (yeah, no kids dying please), but it’s really big. Accepting that limitation has been tough, but makes SUCH a difference.

Marlena June 5, 2012 at 2:48 pm

It sounds like things are going better! Awesome! I have to agree with cutting down on caffeine. I used to drink a LOT of coffee and then green tea all day, and I was still always tired. It took me 3 weeks, but now, for the past month, I drink half a mug of coffee in the morning and then 1 cup of green tea. And guess what? I’m not as tired. Sometimes I am, but no more than when I was a caffeine-fiend. I agree that it helps!

Nicoleandmaggie June 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I love the CBT stuff– it’s useful even now that my situational anxiety is gone. I feel like it should be taught in high school PE or something.

I’m glad you’re moving forward! Looking forward to the next installment. Drugs can be so tricky to get right but when you find a good fit it can make a universe of difference.

Ginger June 7, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Honestly, CBT is great for SO MANY aspects of daily life, particularly in our over connected world. It’s not always easy to do, but has been so SO helpful.

Nicoleandmaggie June 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I thought it was hilarious when I took a Bradley natural childbirth class and recognized most of the relaxation exercises from CBT. 🙂 (And they work!)

CBT definitely takes a lot of practice and repetition, but I love how when I start feeling anxious my relaxation breathing automatically starts without me thinking about it. I’m so much of a more even-keeled person since having done it.

Cloud June 5, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I don’t think you should feel bad AT ALL for not listening to the distressing news. It is not like you listening to it helps anyone. I think that as long as you inform yourself about the issues when it comes time to vote, you’re doing what civic responsibility requires of you.

Honestly, the fact that we can all know about tragedies in every corner of the world is one of the downsides of our interconnected age. I don’t think our ability to cope with the emotions created by the news has kept up with our ability to learn about news from around the world. We’re all left to try to cope with things as best as we can, and I do what you do- I switch to a different station if a story I don’t want to hear comes on, and I avoid news sites altogether if I know there is something out there that will upset me. It is not that I don’t care about the people in the story. It is that I care too much.

Ginger June 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm

You’re absolutely right about the ability to learn about news all over the world. It’s so much more volume of bad than we ever had to deal with before, just in sheer quantity. I will immerse myself in that news if I’m not careful–no wonder it drowns ME!

I’m learning to not click certain links–often, the headline is enough to get the gist of what’s going on, and anything beyond that will just be too hard for me to take. It’s tough sometimes to have to say “I have to stop reading this because I care too much” but that’s exactly what it is.

dana June 5, 2012 at 10:43 pm

I was told once that if you struggle with anxiety its usually indicative of depression. Not true. This I discovered after trying an antidepressant and THEN seeing a new Dr. After explaining my struggles to him he diagnosed me w ADD. I take a nonamphetimine perscription. It has helped with my anxiety .

Ginger June 7, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I have symptoms of both anxiety and depression, so they’re definitely linked for me, but I have heard of the anxiety/ADD link too. That’s why I think it’s so important to see a dr, not self-diagnose (and a doctor you feel comfortable with and trust), so that you’re getting the help YOU need. (uh, not YOU you, just the general you. You know what I mean.)

Erin June 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Thank you for sharing this. I dealt with serious depression and anxiety in college, and I’m starting to think that I need to deal with my anxiety again. Your thoughts about death pointed something out to me. Since I’ve had the girls, I have a lot of those kinds of thoughts. Like…when I think about our cruise, I have visions of them going overboard, or the plane crashing. When I’m standing at the top of the stairs, I worry that we’ll fall down, or that the TV is going to fall on them. It seems like maybe it’s more than just normal maternal worry. The thoughts don’t plague me, but they are pretty consistently present in my life. Ick.

Ginger June 7, 2012 at 3:42 pm

My therapist said that everyone has those kinds of thoughts “sometimes.” But if it’s daily, if it’s more than just “sometimes?” You’re probably dealing with something more than just typical parental nerves.

And that stair one? I basically have that every time I walk up or down the stairs with J. It was, I think, the one thought that all the others grew from.

Hope June 9, 2012 at 9:38 am

Sounds like great progress!

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