Learning to Ride the Waves of Anxiety and Depression
by Shiri Macri, MA, LCMHC, Behavior Leader at Green Mountain at Fox Run
“You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Feelings of anxiety and depression can sometimes stop us in our tracks when it comes to living life fully. Whether symptoms are serious and require professional help, or are milder and more manageable on our own, there are proven self-help strategies that are natural, inexpensive and can make a real positive impact on anxious or depressive tendencies.
Challenge your thoughts. In other words, when you think “I can’t handle it” or “I’m going to get fired”, etc., dig deeper and question this thinking. Will you really get fired? What’s another possibility? What specifically can’t you handle? And what can you handle? When we pick our thoughts apart, we come out of fight-or-flight and begin to put perspective on a situation
Live your life anyway. Take your anxiety/depression on a date. Sometimes it’s about accepting things as they are and continuing on. If your anxious/depressive tendencies are limiting your life, try to put a new spin on it and take them with you while you live. When you notice anxiety/depression creeping in, notice that it’s there and imagine putting it in your pocket while you go for a walk, go to work, cook dinner, help your kids with homework, hang out with friends, etc.
Meditation. Start small with 5 minutes of deep breathing, 3 times a day, or try taking 5 breaths each time you see something beautiful or someone says something nice that makes you feel good. There are also great resources out there online, as well as helpful apps such as Headspace and Mindfulness Coach.
Self-Care and Stress Management. When the stress response is activated, we’re functioning in a state of survival, which feels like high-level fear. Many of us are dealing with chronic stress, which keeps the stress response constantly activated. This is exhausting and has profound impacts on our physical and mental health, including anxiety and depression. By adding self-care into your life we can reduce the impact that stress has on us. I know…one more thing. But if we can carve out 10 minutes a day, or 2 hours per week to take care of ourselves even just a little, we ‘re taking it down a notch or maybe a few. Try a bath, a massage, a cup of tea, a craft, hobby, or any activity that makes you feel peaceful.
Movement. Physical activity releases endorphins that interact with receptors in your brain and trigger a positive feeling in your body. Stress is reduced, feelings of worry, fear, and sadness are alleviated, which in turn end up treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Here’s a simple recipe for a movement practice:
- Start slow and small.
- Add people and variety.
- If possible, go outdoors for a boost of vitamin D.
- Do it as regularly as your body will allow without pain.
Sleep. It’s hard to know which came first: did the sleep difficulty lead to the problem or is the problem making sleep difficult? Either way, we know a lack of sleep affects anxiety and depression and vice versa. Here are some helpful tips for getting a good night’s rest:
- Create a relaxing sleep environment – keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
- Create a relaxing ritual prior to bedtime, such as a cup of tea, a warm bath or a meditation.
- Avoid discussing stressful situations prior to bed.
- Use the bed only for sleep or intimacy, not work, eating, etc.
- Get out of bed after 20 minutes or so of tossing and turning to do something calming, then try sleeping again.
Nutrition. Eating in a health-supportive way supports healthy emotional functioning. Include the essential nutrients of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, in the form of plants, much of the time, to see some relief from mild/moderate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Social. We, as humans, have a need for belonging and connection. Getting a dose of compassion, empathy, and validation from a friend when you’re “what if-ing” or feeling down in the dumps, can be so helpful in working through anxious or depressive thinking.
In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Life happens and we can’t control how it comes at us. Sometimes this means that we have anxiety or depression to deal with. What we can do is use these strategies to surf those waves of emotion.
Shiri Macri is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and leads the behavioral program at Green Mountain at Fox Run. She uses her extensive background in working with anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and mindfulness to help women overcome struggles with eating, exercise and weight.