One of the main reasons I spend time researching and actively trying to pursue a good life is undoubtedly due to the times where I have struggled with anxiety or depression. In this modern world with nanosecond technology and cities that never sleep, people are becoming more and more stressed and unhappy. This can lead to some succumbing to forms of anxiety or depression. In Britain, a major statistic shared repeated at the moment is that one in four people experience a mental health problem each year. I imagine this figure may even be higher as some people choose to suffer silently.
I won’t indulge in my particular experiences for too long, in fact all I shall say is that from time to time I suffer from anxiety and that in bad cases this has led to bouts of depression. There are a few reasons for not revealing the details, I shall state but two. Firstly, in my view, each person’s experience of suffering or happiness (assuming that our experiences bottle down to this hedonistic view) should be viewed as relative to the person experiencing that sensation. Let me elaborate with an example:
Ben is suffering from anxiety after being too stressed from school work and his part time job. Lara is suffering from a long bout of depression after both her parents lost their battles against long-standing illnesses days apart. Lara lost her job with all the time she has taken off work and has begun to irritate her friends as she’s becoming more anti-social the worse her suffering gets.
One would be inclined to say that Lara is in a worse position as they compare the suffering of these two people. This may or may not be true. If we could quantify how each person feels, Lara may be very resilient and Ben may not. Thus, it could be that Ben is actually feeling far worse than Lara. What I am trying to suggest is that however awful the reason for a person’s anxiety or depression may or may not be, we should not forget that they feel this way and they need help. Telling you my particular experience could lead you to compare our situations when really the comparative reason for the suffering of a person is insignificant, what is important is that people feeling this way get help and realise they deserve help.
Secondly and far more insignificantly, I am not writing to wallow in self-pity nor inflate my ego with pride, at least not for the time being ;). In fact what I want to do with this particular post is give a few tips, tricks and pieces of advice that have helped me in bad times and continue to help me during the days/weeks where I am not feeling 100%. Most of what I will say has probably been said before, but I may, at least, organise these tips all in one place. If you are reading this with anxiety or depression or know someone who may be suffering, don’t waste time. You don’t have to take my advice, but at least contact your doctor or do your own research for ways to combat anxiety or depression. Take action! Without further ado, we shall commence!
It might not be advisable to tell people you’ve just met that you are dealing with anxiety or depression, although there may be exceptions. However, I believe it is important to tell your friends and family. It is easy to get wrapped up in our heads with the horrible thoughts anxiety and depression can bring. Sometimes, speaking aloud to someone close to you about what you have been feeling really does help. Furthermore, it is easy to downplay or neglect how you’ve been feeling, telling yourself that you are being ‘stupid’ or ‘silly’. Contrary these self-lamenting thoughts, speaking aloud actually helps one realise how bad they have been feeling. I have seen others (and myself) talk candidly about their thoughts and cry once they have said it to another person. If Inside Out taught me anything, is that it is okay to be sad! Thus, talking to people and the crying that may or may not ensue leads to a better understanding of what you are going through, bringing about an acceptance and a platform to help yourself feel better. In addition, it helps set up an invaluable support network of people who know what you are going through. Some or all of the friends and family you tell will continually ask how you are feeling. My girlfriend asking how my ‘prangs’ were made me feel loved and my friends awkwardly asking similar questions reassured me no end. It is worth talking to people about anxiety and depression.
There are many studies stating how exercise releases ‘good’ neurotransmitters, making you feel happy. In times of depression and anxiety, using how your body functions to your advantage is not something that should be scoffed at or taken lightly. There have been a few instances where I have not felt 100% for a few days, which in my experiences could sometimes lead to longer bouts of anxiety. The times when I have gone for a long run or had a great game of rugby or squash have signalled the start of a return to a healthier, happier me. Not only do I love exercising and sport itself, but I love knowing that it has positive biological effects on me. Of course not everyone can engage in such rigorous tasks and you should consult your doctor if you are unsure, but even going for a gentle walk through natural terrain can increase your mood. Use your body!
It seems obvious to do this, but sometimes negative thought patterns at times of anxiety or depression can make treating yourself the last thing you want to do. Don’t doubt how much you can improve your mood by doing something fun or nice for yourself. This can range from going bowling, getting a takeaway, buying clothes or going to the cinema. Everyone has certain things and activities that make them feel good, indulge in them and remind yourself of what makes you feel great. Of course, and this leads me to my next point, this does not mean indulge in alcohol, drugs or go on month long food binges.
Look after yourself
This links with exercise and seems contradictory when considering that I have just told you to get a takeaway! By all means treat yourself to a takeaway once a week or fortnight, or buy some chocolate once in a while for after dinner. In between these treats look after yourself. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Make sure you get a good amount of sleep. In particular, avoid alcohol and drugs. There may be some who say otherwise, but in my view, having alcohol or drugs can make you happy for a short while, but ultimately they tend to make your mind fragile when you should be doing everything to make it strong and healthy. Looking after yourself makes you feel healthier and this in turn will make you feel happier, helping to combat anxiety and depression head on.
Mindfulness and meditation
All of the above have helped me overcome anxiety and depression before, but I believe that practicing mindfulness and meditation has tied it all together. There are many different techniques and teachers of mindfulness. I will leave researching these techniques and teachers up to you (however, I will say that the famous Thich Nhat Hanh is a good place to start), but ultimately they usually teach you to slow down, listen to your breath and rejoice in the simpler things in life. This very act of slowing down, listening to my thoughts and trying to appreciate the present moment has had a spectacular impact on my anxiety. It helps me realise when I am not feeling great and enables me to know when I need to look after myself better. Furthermore, it has given me a self-understanding that is invaluable, I know I am susceptible to feeling anxious from time to time but that is okay and it’s a part of who I am. I feel that for some people meditation and mindfulness has a sort of stigma attached to it, disregard this and try it. It sounds scary to sit and listen to your thoughts, but it has helped me no end.
This is said a lot but it is often underestimated how hard this can actually be for a person suffering from anxiety or depression. One particular time I found myself staring at a cigarette in the depths of serious bout of anxiety, I was so close to smoking it and starting up again to quell my feelings (not that this would ever help). However, I told myself ‘I would get better eventually.’ Never underestimate how hard it can be stay positive, but also never underestimate how simply telling yourself you will feel better can greatly affect you in the darkest of times.
Everything I have outlined, even talking to people, is something which benefits you and can prevent anxiety and depression in the future. I have found that as I continue to look after myself, treat myself and practice mindfulness I am much more likely to continue living a healthy, happy life without anxiety. Ultimately, I am telling you to be pre-emptive in your attempts to combat anxiety and depression, just because you feel okay now, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to prevent your future self from suffering. Remember how far you’ve come and appreciate everything you’ve done to pick yourself back up again.
That is all I can think of for the time being. I must make a few disclaimers! Of course I am not a qualified therapist or councillor so please don’t take my advice as if I am a professional. I simply want to inform you of some things that have helped me and may help you or others – I would recommend you seek help from someone qualified to provide further advice! Furthermore, with regards to the dietary and exercise suggestions I have given, you should always consult your doctor!
I hope these brief steps have informed you of ways to make you or your loved one feel better. Feel free to comment your thoughts or criticisms!