Earlier this week I wrote a guest post for The Wolf and Me on my ongoing struggle with anxiety and depression. Throughout my life I have tried a variety of medications but last summer I made the decision to stop taking the anti depressants I was prescribed, and have been trying to find ways to deal with my illness naturally, with varying levels of success. Below are some of the things that help me to deal with my challenging feelings.
I know when you are feeling anxious sleep can be difficult, it is something that I constantly struggle with, but it is a powerful tool to use. The National Sleep Foundation recommends these relaxation exercises – it’s worth a try. If you are depressed and are sleeping all the time, even napping during the day, my one piece of advice would be just do it! Don’t feel guilty about it. At the times when I was most depressed I slept a lot and I truly believe it was my body’s way of healing me. It was what I needed in that moment, and it helped.
There really is nothing else quite like it for boosting your mood, the problem is when you are feeling at your lowest finding the motivation to exercise can be virtually impossible. My advice is start slowly – you don’t have to be running marathons or winning weightlifting competitions. Try and just go for a short walk, or do some simple yoga and breathing exercises to begin with, you may find that this leads to other more strenuous activities, but if not that’s okay too.
This is very individual and of course won’t apply to everybody but it may be that you would benefit from some counselling sessions. If that doesn’t appeal to you then simply confiding in a friend or loved one can be hugely beneficial. At my lowest points I have been extremely paranoid and highly suspicious of even my family and best friends, leaving me feeling isolated and incredibly lonely. It is a viscous circle. If you can find just one other person to confide in, I promise you will feel lighter. Don’t deal with your feelings alone – reach out for help.
I am an absolute coffee addict but I do find that if I am struggling with anxiety too much coffee can leave me jittery and frazzled. Herbal teas are often recommended but I just can’t force myself to be a fan. I find that ‘builders’ tea (black tea with milk) is much easier on the nerves than coffee and I love it so don’t feel as though I am depriving myself.
I find public transport extremely stressful. Crowds of people, particularly in the summer months when it’s very hot, are highly anxiety producing. One of the best ways for me to combat this is to download classical music and listen to that on my iPod, I have never really been a big classical music fan but this has been a real tonic for me. If you haven’t got a clue where to start why not have a look at this list of the most relaxing classical music?
Spending time in nature is invaluable for me when I am struggling with my mental health. I know it is not always easy for those of us who live in big cities but even a short walk around the local park can work wonders. As soon as the sounds of the city are swapped for the birds singing in the trees or the waves lapping at the shore my shoulders relax and I begin to feel better. Taking deep breaths is much more appealing when you are inhaling salty sea air or the fresh smell of the forest and not exhaust fumes.
I really struggle with my hormones, and it is easy to forget that I am feeling so terrible for a reason. I got a free app called Glow on my iPad, which is actually for family planning, I use it for keeping track of my periods and it has been a revelation. It is certainly less annoying than my husband telling me I am crying because I have PMT, even though he is usually right.
For me there is very little in this world that makes me as happy as animals. There have been periods of time when I have been so anxious that I struggled with being touched by another human being, I never feel like that about animals and having a pet to worship (cats), or that worships you (dogs) is wonderful.
Helping others feels good! Why not volunteer at a local charity? You may not be in the right headspace to commit to something as big as volunteering at the moment but perhaps you could offer to walk a friend’s dog, babysit, or pick up some shopping for an elderly neighbour? Bringing a little light into other people’s lives often illuminates our own.
I spent many years of my life feeling as though I was not a creative person, in hindsight that was just another way for me to put myself down. I love to write and for me it is very therapeutic, it helps me to organise my thoughts and since I have been writing publicly about my struggles with my mental health I have been amazed at how many people have reached out to me to tell me that they have had similar experiences. I have also taken up photography, which I am really enjoying, if you have social anxiety being able to hide behind a camera can be very useful!
Drugs and Alcohol
It is so tempting when you feel bad to self medicate with drugs and alcohol but one thing I have learned through bitter experience is that this is the worst thing you can do for your mental health. I still struggle now with accepting that although it might seem like fun to go out and get steaming drunk with my friends, it is simply not worth the week of utter despair that inevitably follows.
It is so easy to comfort eat when you are feeling down but one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself is stay hydrated and make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. We all have our weaknesses and mine is undoubtedly food but I know that when I eat nothing but a buffet of white bread and sugar I feel like crap. Again this is something you can build up to, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. To begin with drink a couple of glasses of water when you wake up in the morning and eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day. Give it a week and see if it makes a difference, it might surprise you.
Having something to wake up for everyday, structure, and focus can be hugely beneficial for your mental well being. That being said, working environments can also be toxic. I have learnt after many years that I simply cannot function in a stressful work environment without it having a detrimental effect on my whole life. It’s difficult to accept that you may need to give up on your dreams but you have to put your mental health first.
As we get older it can be easy to forget the things that we really love. My greatest passion is reading and I like nothing more than getting lost in a good book. For you it could be baking, gardening, playing music, drawing or painting. What is that thing that makes your toes wiggle and your heart sing?
It is very easy when you are feeling low to forget to take care of yourself. When I am down I can barely be bothered to have a shower and brush my teeth but personal care is important. Small things like getting your haircut, and having a manicure or pedicure can really help. If you find these kinds of social interactions stressful, or you can’t afford it, you can buy manicure sets and lotions in the pound shop and do it yourself! Having said that I would not advise cutting your own hair. Having a terrible, self inflicted haircut is not going to improve anyone’s mood.
In my experience mental health problems such as anxiety and depression tend to fluctuate wildly from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour. If you have tried to help yourself with little success and the symptoms persist it is worth consulting your GP. There is no shame in taking medication and although for me they are not a long term solution I have found anti depressants helpful at times when nothing else seemed to work. Failing that take the advice of my friend’s 99 year old Grandma who, when asked what lessons she had learnt from life replied, ‘keep it simple, appreciate what you have got rather than concentrating on what you don’t have, love your friends and family and have a little bit of what you like every day.’ Now where’s that chocolate…