5 Secrets for Making Depression and Anxiety Suck Less
Upon meeting me, you’d probably never guess I know anything about depression or anxiety. You’d probably notice how much I laugh and smile, that I say “awesome” a lot, that I make lots of beautiful art, and that I’m kind of a grammar Nazi (sorry, but not sorry).
Mental and emotional struggles are sneaky buggers. Unlike most physical ailments, they lurk below the surface, and those of us that grapple with these issues often keep them secret for fear of being slapped with a label or being told to “get over it”. Far too often, we struggle alone.
I understand how impossible happiness can seem when you’re in the throws of a panic attack or down in the gloomy doldrums of depression, or riding the roller coaster cycle between the two. It sucks rocks. For years, I struggled to make art, write, and do the things I loved because all my brain power was sucked into worrying and feeling like a failure. Nothing kills creativity like depression and anxiety.
I have a message for you though: It doesn’t have to be that way. After years of scrambling to get on top of my own issues, I’ve learned how to not only manage them, but to thrive and realize what a gift those things can be in helping me understand myself better.
After years of experimenting in my own private lab of life, here are my five favorite ways of making depression and anxiety suck less:
- Remember that the depression and anxiety is not YOU. I like to think of it as a little gremlin in my head feeding me harmful thoughts. That gremlin isn’t me, and neither are the thoughts it feeds me. If the gremlin’s been around for so long that you aren’t sure who you are without it, remember how you were as a child, or what traits you really admire in others. Write them on a sticky note and put it where you’ll see it every day. For example, the sticky note I’ve kept around for years says “I am a creative, joyful, loving, courageous woman of light.” Look at it every day.
- You don’t have to believe your thoughts. Your thoughts are just thoughts, not the way things are, were, or will be. You’ve gotta learn to talk back to them. I carry a notebook with my everywhere so that when I have stressful or depressing thoughts, I write them down and work through them. My favorite way to do this is by using The Work from Byron Katie, which is a simple and thorough way to handle these thoughts. If I’m worrying about something, I might also ask myself “What’s the worst that can happen if this does come to pass?” or “Why does the thought of this happening scare me?” Usually, even the nastiest thing I can think of wouldn’t be a huge deal in the long run.
- Take care of your body. Anxiety and depression start in the mind, but they can affect and be perpetuated by the body. Respect the holy trinity of physical health: nourishing food, movement, and good sleep. Make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats and complex carbs. Take a high-quality, whole foods multivitamin. Get into a regular sleep schedule and shoot for at least 7 hours a night. If you often have a hard time falling asleep, take melatonin an hour before bedtime (ask your doctor before taking new supplements). Put your alarm far away from your bed so you have to get up to shut it off, and immediately get some exposure to light. I like use a light box in the winter to help me wake up. Make sure to get bursts of movement throughout the day to keep your body strong and to get a nice shot of endorphins. Pick movements you like so you don’t dread doing it! For me, this means a little yoga and hula hooping in the morning and a walk after work. For you, it might mean playing with your dog, spinning classes, or air guitar in your living room. It doesn’t matter how you move, as long as it’s fun!
- Surround yourself with beauty. It’s easy to get stuck inside your head when you’re worried or depressed, but things that excite your senses and nourish your soul can pull you out of that. Spend plenty of time outside. Surround yourself with art, beautiful music, great smells, anything that appeals to you. Go to wonderful performances like plays or dance concerts and read wonderful books.
- Immerse yourself in what you love. If you can’t aren’t sure what you love to do, think of something you’ve always wanted to try, or what you loved to do when you were a kid. Our passions are part of our identity, and mental illness has a way of muddying our view of ourselves so that we forget who we are. Leaning into your passions not only boosts your mood and helps you express yourself, it reminds you that you’re more than the sad thoughts, the panic attacks, and the constant struggle. I love to write, make art, and do soul work like journalling. These things light me up and push me forward. Do whatever makes you feel like yourself.
A word about meds: Some people think antidepressants are Satan in a bottle and others are fine with them. I say, do what you gotta do. I don’t think they’re a good long-term solution for most people (they weren’t for me), but they’re helpful if aren’t yet at a level where you can do these other things that can help. If you need that temporary leg-up so you can get a handle on things, that’s ok!
When I do these things, I feel good most of the time. Of course, I do have some pretty spectacular bawl sessions and the odd day when I just want to hide in bed under the electric blanket and eat Ritter Sport bars. Every once in awhile my throat constricts and my hands shake as I feel the panic rise like a wave, but I can talk myself down 99% of the time. I know the world won’t end, and that everything is actually ok. Life is pretty good. Anxiety and depression are a kind of gift actually. They’re like an alarm bell to let us know when something’s out of whack and needs to be tweaked whether that’s a change in our coping tools or something outside ourselves like a cruddy job or toxic relationship. Just as physical disease forces us to take care of our bodies, emotional and mental illness invites us to care for our souls.
McKella Sawyer is an artist, writer, wife, and soul explorer who dreams of helping women create beautiful lives in which they can thrive! When she isn’t creating or doing soul work, she loves going for walks, doing yoga, reading, and eating unladylike amounts of dark chocolate.