I’ve always had a hard time telling people that I have anxiety and depression. In fact, I even wrote an entire post on how to cope with mental illness and didn’t even say that I STRUGGLED WITH ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION! Like, what the!? When I went back and read that post, I was sad that I hadn’t had the courage at that point to be vulnerable about my struggles. But there’s a few reasons I’ve had a hard time sharing these things.
For one, it seems everyone in the world has anxiety and depression right now, so I don’t want people to think, “Oh, another person with mental health issues. Big deal.” Nobody likes to have their feelings and experiences diminished.
And for two, some people (especially the older generation) don’t always quite understand anxiety and depression. I even dated a guy once who’s mom told him that he should never date someone with mental health issues because it wasn’t something he should have to deal with. Hearing that was hurtful because I didn’t choose to have anxiety and depression and I thought, Wait, if this guy and his family who I think are pretty great can’t even accept me for who I am, who will? It made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of love.
Don’t get me wrong. A lot of people, even older folks, do get it. And I appreciate those people! But the fact that I feel like I have to filter, downplay, or hide my struggles from some people in order to seem “normal” and “put together,” makes me sad. Fortunately, I’m working really hard to ignore the doubters, haters, and judgers these days, so I’m just going to open and honest about how anxiety and depression affect my life and what I do to manage them!
How Anxiety and Depression Affect Me
Fortunately, I’ve gotten some help for my anxiety and depression and feel like I’m at a place where I can offer advice to people who are struggling! I still struggle at times, but it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. I should also mention that I’m not a trained professional, so I can’t say exactly what you should or shouldn’t do, but I can tell you about my experience and what has/hasn’t worked for me. We’re all in this together, so I’d love to hear what’s worked for you, as well!
Also, there’s a difference between anxiety and depression. I’m not trying to lump them together. I just struggle with both of them, so for me they often go hand in hand. It does seem like I go through periods of time when one is stronger than the other and I’d say that I tend to be more anxious than I am depressed at this point in my life, but I’ve struggled with both!
When depression strikes, it leaves me feeling unmotivated, worthless, hopeless, exhausted, and unconfident. I become my own worst enemy because I start hating everything about myself, from the way I look to the way I talk. It makes me feel like I’m not worthy of love or attention, so I don’t reach out to anyone. When I’m feeling depressed I often just lie on my bed and cry, too sad to even look at my phone or read a book. It feels as though nothing, absolutely nothing, will help. Everything feels dark and dreary. I could be at Disneyland and it would feel like I was in hell (and that’s saying a lot, because I love Disneyland).
Depression is hard to write about accurately when you’re not in the midst of it. I did try my best to explain how it feels when I’m experiencing it, but it would probably sound a lot darker and more “depressing” if I was actually feeling depressed at the moment. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a lot easier for me to explain because it’s something I struggle with almost every day. It has gotten better and I wouldn’t say I have “extreme anxiety,” but it is something that’s been really difficult for me.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
You might not know that there’s actually several different types of anxiety! I’ve been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Generalized anxiety disorder causes me to occasionally have racing thoughts and incessant worries about unrealistic things. When I’m feeling anxious, the things I’m worried about seem realistic, but when I look back on them they usually aren’t. The anxious thoughts sometimes take over my mind and make it hard for me to focus on anything else. Sometimes they even lead to panic attacks.
Social anxiety sometimes makes it difficult for me to talk to people. If I’m not comfortable with someone or a group of people (so basically if they’re not my mom, dad, step-dad, step-mom, siblings, husband, or best friends), I often have trouble speaking to them. I overthink each sentence and constantly think What are they thinking of me? and Wow, that sounded so dumb. Why did I say that? It’s absolutely exhausting. I hate the fact that I want to be myself around certain people but there’s a mental block that doesn’t allow me to.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
I don’t have excessive OCD, but even the mild amount I have can make it somewhat more difficult for me to relax. Everyone with OCD experiences it differently, but one of the ways it affects me is by making me feel like I need to control my physical surroundings (things, not people). Obviously, I can’t always control everything around me and the more I can’t, the more anxious I get. I start to panic when things are messy and disorganized. I like to make sure certain things are straight (like books on a desk) and that my bed is always (always, always) made in the morning. I’ve never left the house without making my bed. Ever!
Now this next little secret I’m letting you in on is embarrassing but I’ve already unleashed so much, so I’m not stopping now! You might even laugh at this one, but it’s actually really hard for me to deal with. Okay, are you ready for it? I feel really anxious about hairs getting in my food. It makes me feel panicked every time I cook and especially when other people cook for me, since I know they probably don’t lint-roll themselves before cooking, like I do.
My anxiety about hairs in my food has been around for as long as I can remember. In fact, since we need some lighthearted humor to break up all this sad, here’s a picture my college roommate posted to my Facebook wall a few years ago!
7 Things I Do Regularly to Manage My Anxiety and Depression
1. Regular visits to the mental health clinic.
There’s been times in my life when I’ve neglected to visit the doctor (especially when I’ve felt depressed and was unmotivated to go) and during those times it felt like I lost myself. When I visit regularly, I feel more in control of my life and emotions. If you’re worried about getting help or not sure if you should go, I think the fact that you even considered going is a good sign that you should go! You’ll be amazed at how much your life can improve if you get the proper help that you need.
If you’re “not so sure” you should go, here’s your kick in the pants to GO! Even if they say, “We don’t think you need medicine,” or whatever you think they’re going to say, all you’ll have lost is a $20 copay and an hour of your life. But most likely, they’ll at least give you some direction on how you can improve your life, whether it’s with medicine, regular therapy, vitamins, coping techniques, etc.
2. Regular exercise.
This is one I’m not good at doing regularly, even though I know how much it helps. When I first met Connor, I was exercising almost every day and I was feeling like my best and happiest self! I slowly stopped exercising as much (is it normal for people to stop exercising once they’re married or am I just making excuses for myself!?), but I’m trying to get back into it because I know how important it is!
It seriously makes A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE. There’s nothing better you could do for your mental health than to exercise. Every time I go to the doctor, they ask me if I’m exercising and when I reluctantly say, “Not as much as I should be,” they say that medicines and self-help books can help a little but exercise is the thing that will help me the MOST.
3. Reading helpful books.
The reason I said “helpful” books and not just “self-care” books is because there are sososo many books out there that aren’t helpful at all! 256 self-help books later (that’s just a guesstimation by the way- yes, I know gueststimation isn’t a word but I like it) and I’ve only found a couple of really good ones that actually improved my life. I try to read the ones I do love regularly because it’s important to feed my brain positive words, advice, and actionable steps!
Here’s my list of favorites (If you can’t tell, I love Brené Brown to pieces):
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
- I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) by Brene Brown
- Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
- The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
- Rising Strong by Brene Brown
- You Do You by Sarah Knight
- How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety by Ellen Hendriksen
4. Getting enough sleep.
Okay, so here’s the thing. I HATE SLEEP. I’ve always thought of sleep as a total waste of time. I’m such a “get-it-done” person that to spend countless hours just laying there… with my eyes closed… doing nothing… is torture to me! We literally spend almost half of our lives with our eyes shut, which saddens me greatly. But after watching this podcast on Hidden Brain (my fav podcast btw), I was brutally ripped from my naive way of thinking that I could go with very little sleep and survive.
Not only is getting enough sleep important for our physical health, it also allows us to process information. Not getting enough of it is linked to anxiety and depression. Mental Health America states, “Sleep may seem like a waste of time. You could instead be answering e-mail, doing the dishes, repairing the deck or decking the halls. But research shows that you’re more likely to succeed at your tasks—and enjoy greater well-being—if you get some serious shuteye.”
If you’re having trouble falling asleep (because of your anxiety, perhaps) you should try to drink teas that will help you feel sleepier, refrain from caffeinated beverages for several hours before you want to go to sleep, take a hot bath, meditate, write down your worries in a journal before bed, and make your bed a safe-haven where you can feel relaxed (which might mean not having your phone in bed with you).
5. Taking a bath.
There’s been a quote floating around the internet that said something about how self-care isn’t all “bath bombs and $20 face masks.” While I definitely agree that you have to do WAY more than pamper yourself to stay emotionally healthy, pampering yourself is a GREAT place to start. And an important self-care strategy to continue! Ever since I started taking regular baths, where I do indeed fill up the tub with bath salts and all sorts of fun stuff, I’ve felt A LOT happier.
Not only is it important because you need that time to relax, but baths are also scientifically proven to restore your soul! I didn’t even know this until I read it in one of my favorite magazines recently. I knew baths made me feel better but didn’t quite get “why” they did.
Here’s a few things baths do to improve your emotional (and physical!) wellbeing (These are taken from the Breathe magazine):
- Detox and cleanse: Sweating is your body’s natural way of detoxifying: hot water opens the pores causing you to sweat and release toxins, which results in fresher and cleaner skin.
- Reduce stress: The state of relaxation that soaking in hot water usually provides is generated by the sense of weightlessness you feel and the massaging-like sensation of the water.
- Help to manage headaches: As your body and mind relax, you release natural mood-enhancing hormones (serotonin) as well as pain-relieving hormones (endorphins).
- Lower blood pressure: Taking a soaking hot bath for just 15 minutes can suppress blood pressure for several hours as blood vessels dilate to help get rid of the excess heat.
- Calm muscle pain: Adding sea salts to your bath will help relax tight muscles and loosen stiff joints. They will also calm the central nervous system, reducing aches and soreness.
- Improve blood circulation: Hot water- as well as a good body scrub- increases blood circulation as arteries and veins expand, allowing more space for blood to flow.
- Reduce cold symptoms: Similarly, the heat opens nasal passages and relieves congestion by reducing inflammation. The steam created clears the sinuses, helping you breathe more easily.
- Alleviate insomnia: Bathing can help you to sleep as it reduces brain activity, but the graduation drop of body temperature after a hot bath can also influence how fast you fall asleep.
6. Sitting in front of a happy light.
After I woke up to MORE snow the other day, I was so over it and finally decided to buckle down and get a happy light! The weather really affects my mood, so winter is always a struggle for me. But these lights are great for anyone who needs a major mood-boost. I’m not an expert on exactly how it all works, but you can read all about the science behind it here. I was weary of it at first (I’m always weary of things like this) but I actually have seen an improvement in my mood already! I love that I can use it while I’m working and reading. It’s an easy way to get the sunlight our minds need to be happy!
I got the Verilux Happy Light because it was the least expensive one on Amazon and it had the best reviews!
7. Watching positive shows & movies.
For the longest time, I was absolutely OBSESSED with true crime shows, podcasts, books, etc. I thought I might be weird for being interested in those things until I discovered that most of my husbands siblings and a whole bunch of other people are interested in that stuff too. It’s just fascinating! But, unfortunately, I’ve realized that the negativity of true crime starts to really wear on me and make me feel more depressed/anxious.
I think some people can handle it better than me, but I noticed my mental health getting worse the longer I spent focusing on those things. I’m totally bummed about this discovery because I LOVE true crime, but it’s made a world of difference for me since I stopped watching/listening/reading it. I’ve switched to more positive shows/podcasts/books like The Bachelor (yes, The Bachelor actually makes me happy!), Parenthood (Yes, that one makes me cry- but it makes me cry with sadness AND happiness, so it’s okay), and Hidden Brain (which is a more positive but still fascinating kind of podcast).
Even if you think certain shows, music, books, or movies don’t affect your mental health, it might be worth it to consider focusing on more positive things, to at least see if it improves your mood. And you can always go back to the sad stuff later, once you’re feeling like you’re more in control of your emotions!
I would love to hear about your experiences with depression and/or anxiety in the comments below. Have you experienced any of the same symptoms as me? And what helps you feel less depressed and/or anxious? What doesn’t help as well? We’re all in this together, so let me know!