Many of us are dealing with heightened emotions at this unprecedented time. I have suffered from chronic depression and anxiety off and on since my teen years and I hope to offer you some strategies that have worked for me in managing my illness. Please keep in mind I am not a mental health or medical professional and this is not advice. I do highly recommend talking to your doctor or getting a referral to a counselor, especially if you are feeling prolonged bouts of sadness and hopelessness. Many counselors are offering tele services at this time. Getting help saved my life. If untreated depression can kill. Don’t forget that.
I am not trying to frighten you, though. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety please know it is not your fault. You are not alone. You will get through this. Your depression and anxiety is not who you are and very often lies to you.
Currently, my anxiety manifests in swings between rage, nervousness and disassociation. The rage for me is rage, not anger. It is a black oozing thing that coils in my brain and reacts at the slightest provocation, infecting my body like a poison. Meditation and breath work really do help. I take a moment to close my eyes and visualize a peaceful, beautiful scene. I visualize the black slime slithering away. “Let go,” I say. “Let go what does not serve me.”
Disassociation is the one I have a trickier time managing. It’s a defense mechanism really, to become numb to the pain of the world. But sometimes you need to sit with your pain and learn what it can teach you. I have found art and writing are the only things that will bring me back. Creativity. And something else: Moving your body.
If you can’t leave the house you could still do yoga, pilates, or lift dumbbells. When I was trying to get over my disassociation once I got into running. It took me out of my head and brought me into my body. Everything you do becomes a kind of meditation in mindfulness. Seeing my body smash goals I didn’t think I could handle became an adrenaline rush. Sweat. Endorphins. All that good stuff. The tricky part is making a habit.
Speaking of habits, hygiene is also really important. With all the focus on hand washing you would think this would be a no brainer. But depression brain forgets to shower. Depression brain neglects tooth brushing, flossing and face washing. Depression brain wants to stay in bed all day.
For me, the only way I have found through this miasma is establishing strict morning and evening routines. When my brain is chaos, I cling to structure like a comfort food. I wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. It can be as simple as eating breakfast and making your bed, or you could journal, wash the dishes, do your skincare routine, read, exercise.
That brings me to another part of my routine: Sleep. A side effect of anxiety is insomnia. When I don’t get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, I’m a complete and utter wreck. It builds up and up and wears me down over time. Eventually, lack of sleep will affect your mental health. It’s just a matter of time. Physical and mental health are all intrinsically linked.
Self care. A modern term for taking care of yourself. But you know what to do. Move your body. Take breaks from social media and the news. Don’t drink so much. Eat your veggies.
And finally, I would say be kind to yourself. Surprisingly, this has been the most difficult one for me to adopt. Give yourself a hug. Give yourself the kindness you give to others. Judgment has no place in community and it does not belong in your mind, either. You are doing the best you can with the information you have at the time. As humans, we evolve and change as we get new information. But you’re always doing your best, and you are good enough.