Thanksgiving and my birthday are a few days apart, so I often look back on my year this week to see what the last 12 months have meant for my personal growth. I’ve always dealt with anxiety and depression, but last year I was in an exceptionally dark place. I was dealing with a lot of anxiety issues, very overwhelmed, unsure what to do next with my career, and feeling kind of like a failure. I felt like I was spinning out of control, and when I sense a loss of control, I lose my ability to function (and I also bring out my label maker). Anxiety and depression for me run below my surface. I’m simultaneously high functioning and nonfunctioning, which is a weird place to be. Today, I can’t say I’m less overwhelmed, but I do have better control over my anxiety. I have a better idea where I’d like to take my career, though the plan is still developing slower than I’d like and in general just feel more like my normal self.
Mental health is such an important topic. We need to be able to speak openly in our families, schools, with our friends, and in our government about getting people the resources they need. I’m incredibly fortunate to have access to all sorts of resources, from working regularly with a therapist to using state of the art work out equipment (and having the time to use it) and even trying homeopathic remedies, I’m able to incorporate it all into a regiment that works for me.
As I’ve learned more about my anxiety disorder (categorized as general anxiety) and depression I was shocked to read the statistics surrounding both. For example, anxiety disorder affects 40 million-plus American adults. Which means we either personally suffer or know someone who does. Because of that, I thought I would share some of the things that have helped me feel calm, in control and generally lighter over the last year.
1. Practice gratitude. Every day I write down three things that fill me with gratitude. Somedays it’s more, but on bad days I can find three. The positive energy becomes contagious, and you start to rewire your brain.
2. Break a Sweat. I’ve always been good about exercise, but I realized my real mood booster is high energy cardio set to dance music. Only good things come from a 45-minute dance cardio class. Not only are your endorphins pumping, but you get your body moving, which for me is half the challenge. I also love a more complicated class where the only way to survive is to pay attention to how and when to move. The time not spent in my head is a great way to start or end my day.
3. Ditch the hormones. A few months back, due to a separate medical condition, I stopped taking hormonal birth control and can I just say, who knew I was such a chill person? I’ve been on it for twenty years, and as I’ve aged, it started to change my personality and made the anxiety even worse. While it’s not a solution for everyone, if it weren’t for a helpful nurse telling me about her positive experience getting off of it, I would never have considered it, so I’m passing it on.
4. Talk to a professional. I hate talking about myself, especially if I’m struggling with anything. (I prefer to bottle it up and then freak out at unsuspecting friends and family.) But talking to a professional is a great way to work out your stuff. Finding a therapist takes time. You have to work with someone you feel comfortable with and is your style, for lack of better word. I like someone casual and approachable who feels like they are fully present and provides practical advice. Things don’t seem as bad when you articulate them; I don’t feel like I’m burdening anyone and I walk away with a plan to handle my feelings when they come up.
5. Remove the negative. This is a tough one that I’m still very much working on, but you need to start to eliminate situations and relationships that aren’t healthy. A few years back I started to realize that a certain “friendship” left me feeling bad about myself and that started a spiral of negative self-talk that took me down a dark path. Once I was out of it, I felt like walking in the sun after a long time in the dark. Get rid of or limit your interaction with people that leave you not feeling like your best self or who don’t adhere to your moral compass.
6. Cut out the booze. Ugh, I love wine, but it’s a depressant, and I don’t need it. I’ve done well with my no-drinking-on-weekdays-rule for the most part. The holidays are going to be super hard, but I have a plan to keep it under control and to not drink on days when we have nothing special going on. I do feel a massive difference in how much better I sleep, react and process information, plus I have a lot more energy and my skin looks great.
Finally, let the people you share your life with know what is going on and what you need to stay level. Communication is essential to manage your day-to-day. Bri and I have been together forever, so he knew I struggled with this, but didn’t have the right words to define it until recently. I’m now able to tell him what I need for success (an organized house, set schedule, routine, and general peace) and he understands that I’m not just crazy type-A. He now realizes that lack of order, disorganization and contention are all triggers to bring on my anxiety, especially if I’m already quietly anxious about something. Also, when something does come up, I’m able to discuss it with him, and he’s ready to help me work my way out of the weeds. It’s made all the difference in the world.