How to Take Control of Your Life When You’re Anxious or Depressed

There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like your own mental health is out of your control. Having anxiety and depression can make you feel like your emotions, your behaviors, and I’d even go as far to say your entire life, are uncontrollable. You may feel like you’re on a never-ending whirlwind ride of anxiety, pain, lack of motivation, sleep deprivation, anger, bitterness, horribly timed panic attacks, irritability with the people you love most, guilt, self-doubt, and all of the other unbearable emotions that anxiety and depression cause.

You may have even already tried several different medications, therapists, and all of the suggestions your therapist and multiple self-help books have offered you- but still have had little success (or maybe even regression).

Now, I’m not here to say that I can solve all of your problems! I definitely can’t do that. But, anxiety and depression are issues I’ve dealt with most of my life and are issues I continue to struggle with. So, although I’m still (and may endlessly be) in the process of tweaking and figuring out exactly what will help me feel back to normal, I’ve definitely learned how to cope with anxiety and depression in healthier ways and how to gain some control over my rampaging emotions. Sometimes, that’s all we can hope to do while time, growth, and learning along the way work their magic in solving these long-term issues.

If you commit to making these strategies a part of your everyday life, or at least giving them a try, you’ll start to see a difference in your ability to cope with the challenges life throws at you and in your anxiety and depression levels. They may not completely “disappear” (my goodness, wouldn’t that be nice?), but you’ll feel stronger and more capable of taking on all of these messy emotions you’re feeling. You’ll feel more whole, happy, healthy, confident, and strong. So, let’s get this started!

1 | Let Go of the Guilt

Guilt is one of the main symptoms of both anxiety and depression, so you’re most likely spending a lot of your day ruminating in guilt- guilt for something you didn’t do, guilt for something you did do, guilt for something you didn’t do well enough, guilt for something you did 10 years ago that everyone else has forgiven you for …just a whole lot of guilt.

First of all, many of our thoughts simply aren’t true. For example, yesterday I thought my husband was mad at me because when he got home from work, he started watching videos on his phone instead of talking to me like he usually does.

I started feeling guilty, so I asked him if he was mad at me and he let me know that he wasn’t and that he was just feeling anxious because he’d had such a hard day at work. I had regarded my own worry and thought as a fact (that he was mad at me), when it wasn’t a fact at all. By letting ourselves believe that all of our thoughts are facts, we feel a lot of unnecessary guilt and stress.

Maybe you’re thinking, well, I actually have done bad things that have hurt people. Isn’t my guilt for those things justified? 

Maybe you did do something terrible. Maybe you feel bad because you became a stripper or were horrendously awful to every person in your life that you care about and ended up pushing them all away. BUT…the simple truth is that no matter what you did, it’s time to let the guilt go. Your guilt is not justified. You clearly already felt sorry and that’s enough. No good will come out of beating yourself up over and over again. Don’t waste time beating yourself up. Use that time, instead, to start fresh and begin again- in confidence and with love for yourself, despite whatever mistakes you’ve made.

2| Stop Caring About Others Expectations of You

Other people’s expectations of what you should do or become or say or think do not matter. I repeat, they DO NOT MATTER. Your values, morals, and beliefs are entirely up to you to decide. An article that became an internet sensation a few years back, titled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” illustrates just how important this is. The articles’s all about Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware’s, monumental discovery about her dying patients. In their final days alive, most of them mentioned very similar regrets, the NUMBER ONE regret being, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

We as humans are prone to make others expectations of us our own expectations for ourselves, which leads us to living our lives constantly seeking the approval of others & being unfulfilled because we aren’t being true to ourselves. It can cause anxiety and keep it going for years or even for our entire lives, if we let it continue.

I came to realize that some of my own anxiety was coming from my desire to please others instead of myself. I was constantly failing them because my heart wasn’t in it when I was trying to do what they wanted, so I wasn’t excelling or proving myself worthy. And most importantly, I was disappointing myself because I wasn’t doing what felt right to me. I wasn’t being authentic to who I am.

To end this point, I just want to add some great advice Jen Sincero gave about responding to the opinions of others. (Sorry, this is a long bit of advice but it’s just too good to cut any parts of it out).

“DO NOT WASTE YOUR PRECIOUS TIME GIVING ONE SINGLE CRAP ABOUT WHAT ANYBODY ELSE THINKS OF YOU.

Imagine how liberating that would be! Other people’s opinions motivate every move we make in our teens and our twenties. And, as we age, if we’re moving in the right direction, our obsession with how we’re perceived by others begins to trickle away, but very few of us are able to escape its pointless grasp completely.

Meanwhile, the truth is, the only questions you ever need to consider when making decisions about your life are:

1. Is this something I want to be, do, or have?

2. Is this going to take me in the direction I want to go (not should go)?

3. Is this going to screw over* anybody else in the process?

*The definition of screwing someone over is taking their money and doing a lousy job or destroying their water source or enslaving populations, things like that- your mother being disappointed or your father disapproving or your friends being outraged does not qualify as screwing someone over.”

3. Practice Mindfulness Daily

I used to think mindfulness was all a bunch of codswallop. My husband was the one that actually convinced me to set my pride aside and start practicing meditation and yoga in order to cultivate more mindfulness in my life. I’m so glad he finally convinced me, because becoming more mindful has seriously worked wonders in my life!

So, what exactly is mindfulness and how can it decrease your anxiety and depression?

Mindfulness is becoming fully aware of or bringing attention to the present moment and can be practiced by doing yoga, meditating, enjoying time without distractions, or by doing other various activities that will help you focus your mind in the present.

Practicing mindfulness is especially crucial for those who struggle with anxiety and depression because your nervous system is often on high alert. Scott Stossel, author of My Age of Anxiety, writes, “The part of your nervous system that is responsible for relaxation and recovery starts to perform more and more weakly, without you being aware of it.” When you practices mindfulness, your nervous system becomes stronger and will be more capable of handling anxious thoughts in the future.

Here are some of the other life-changing benefits of practicing mindfulness regularly:

  • increased calm and relaxation
  • higher levels of energy and enthusiasm for living
  • increased self-confidence and self-acceptance
  • less feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and addiction
  • more self-compassion and compassion for others

4| Practice Gratitude and Joy

It sounds silly to say you have to “practice” gratitude and joy, right? But feeling joy and being grateful are skills that have to be developed. Because of the stress of everyday life (and especially with the struggles of anxiety and depression included in the mix), joy and gratitude don’t simply come naturally.

Now, I’m going to be careful with how I go about this point, because the effects of depression can make it almost impossible to feel any joy at all and that absolutely is not your fault. Sometimes joy can’t be developed because your brain won’t allow you to feel any happiness at all. When that’s the case, medication may be your only option to get your life back on track and start feeling normal enough to even implement these strategies.

When your brain is chemically imbalanced, natural strategies may not be enough to fix imbalance and that’s okay. You’re not weak or incapable or less than anyone else because you need medicine to feel normal. Just as someone with cancer would seek medical attention, your brain sometimes needs it as well.

But, when you are capable of making the effort to start feeling joy and peace in your life again, it’s important that you do so! That often requires a conscious effort on our part, which means you can’t idly sit back and hope happiness and peace will come to you.

Here’s a couple things you can do to start practicing joy and gratitude in your daily life:

1. Commit to occasionally only doing one thing at a time. We’ve all become MASTERS of multi-tasking. When’s the last time you slowed down and read a book or drank a cup of tea without any other distractions- without pinning a Pin, texting a friend back, and watching a TV show at the same time? Take some time to simply enjoy a cup of tea, a good book, a walk around the neighborhood, or a simple quiet moment. Of course, it is possible to enjoy the busy distracted moments as well (some of the best times in my life have been surrounded by business- like my wedding day or a day spent at Disneyland), but it’s important to slow down sometimes, especially when you’ve been experiencing the commotion and chaos of anxiety and depression.

2. Celebrate the little things that bring you joy. I think my husband might sometimes think I’m a crazy person because of how excited I get about the “little things” in life- like going to the grocery store, finding a good book to read at the library, my favorite tea being in stock at the store, or the leaves changing color. I used to be this way when I was kid but when my anxiety and depression were at their worst, I lost that part of myself. I stopped being excited by the little things. I recently made a commitment to myself to find beauty everywhere and to make a conscious effort to let things bring me joy like they used to.

3. Do one thing each day that makes you happy and one thing each day that needs to be done. The crippling reality of depression and anxiety is that it can seem absolutely impossible to do anything at all.

The other day, I was feeling so depressed that I laid in bed for hours and didn’t even feel capable of watching TV or pinning on Pinterest (which are two of my favorite activities.) Eventually, I forced myself to get up. It was the LAST thing I wanted to do. I could have laid there in misery for 10 more hours- or maybe even for the rest of my life, but I MADE myself get up and I started doing something I usually enjoyed doing even though it didn’t sound enjoyable at all at the time. But, after awhile, I actually started to feel better, which I didn’t think was ever going to happen again (yes, depression tricks us into thinking that).

Sometimes, all it takes is the courage to get up and start doing ANYTHING! Even if it’s going to the bathroom or brushing your teeth. Or, you could even commit to doing one thing every day that you usually enjoy (even if it doesn’t seem like it would be enjoyable AT ALL at the time) and one thing a day that you have to get done (the dishes, picking one piece of dirty laundry up off the ground). Eventually, you’ll start feeling more capable and confident and you’ll start enjoying life again.

5| Take Care of Your Body

Your mind can’t work properly if your body isn’t getting the essential care it needs. It’s somewhat ironic (and terrible and frustrating) that many of the coping mechanisms that people turn to when they’re feeling anxious or depressed are harmful to the body and therefore put their minds and souls in a far greater predicament.

Some things you might be tempted to do when you’re feeling anxious or depressed are:

  • binge eating
  • drinking
  • smoking
  • not eating enough
  • not exercising
  • exercising too much
  • eating unhealthy foods
  • harming your body

Our brains sometimes trick us into thinking a short-term fix will actually bring us happiness and stop the pain for awhile, but it’s not true happiness and it only makes it harder for us to repair the damage that’s done to our bodies and minds. Many of these are far greater issues than I’m equipped to advise you on, but I can say that I’ve given some of these a try, and they ARE NOT worth it.

I’m not a trained professional, so I would advise you to seek professional help if you’re tempted to start or overdo any of these unhealthy coping mechanisms or if you’re having trouble discontinuing them on your own.

Here are a few healthy alternatives that’ll give you that “quick-fix” feeling that you might be looking for in the midst of your very deep pain (most of which are also helpful long-term):

  • exercise
  • yoga
  • meditation
  • Positive Energy Yogi tea (tangerine flavor is my favorite)
  • Yerba Mate tea (this is my favorite brand)
  • Ashwagandha 1000mg pills (have a calming and energizing effect and are also a great substitute for prescribed medication- but do your own research on these)

I really hope this post helped you learn how to better cope with your anxiety and depression and take some control over your life. If you start implementing these strategies, you’ll see a drastic change in your life and in your ability to cope with your anxiety and depression!

Please comment below if you have any other suggestions. What have you done that’s been helpful in coping with your anxiety or depression? What’s your biggest struggle with anxiety or depression?

Also, if you liked this post and found it helpful, I would love if you pinned it to your Pinterest! That’ll help spread it around and could potentially help others who are suffering from anxiety and/or depression. Thanks!

 

Author: Coral Allen

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