When I think about anxiety or depression, I think about it by breaking it down into a bio-psycho-social-spiritual (and sometimes pharmaceutical) model. It’s impossible to think about it in a vacuum because there are just so many factors that go into something triggering anxiety or depression (for me personally). And if any one of the spheres in that model is out of balance, you may start to feel the effects.
First and foremost, I think about ways that I can contribute to my mental health wellbeing daily, especially when I’m feeling well. I implement certain techniques everyday so that when I start to feel myself crumble or get swallowed by a shadow, I have some tools ready to be utilized.
I choose foods daily that are nutrient dense, low in processed sugars and carbohydrates, gut-friendly, and high in healthy fats. And when I’m already feeling low, I steer clear of alcohol. It’s a depressant and typically makes things worse in the long run. Diet is obviously important for mental health, and is one of the main reasons I started my account as a #goodmoodfood #feedyourbrain movement. When I begin feeing anxious or depressed, I really go back to basics. Foods that are going to feed my microbiome in a meaningful way, so as to do everything in my power to set myself off on the right foot. Keeping that highway between brain and gut communicating clearly. I spoke about this concept a bit more about this in my post on comfort food.
Beyond diet, I aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and I exercise regularly. I also embed stress reduction techniques into my daily / weekly life.
THIS RIGHT HERE IS THE BASELINE. I think of the biological part of anxiety / depression sort of like the bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is the most basic formula to keep my symptoms at bay.
The psychological side of things takes many forms as well. Its definition is rooted in therapy, mindfulness, breathwork etc. I’ve spent years of my life in therapy. And I try for one mindfulness activity per day, i.e. walking while noticing everything around me, a guided meditation, a longer savasana in yoga. I also keep a notepad of things and smells that make me happy, a gratitude list, journaling, and an album of screenshots that guarantee make me smile. It’s about having enough tools and options in your kit to be able to use different ones when you start feeling anxious. Because it’s impossible to predict what you’ll need in a time of anxiety or depression at its onset. But if you have a list of a variety of things written down that have guaranteed made you smile in the past, it makes it all the more easy to pick and choose different ones until you find one that fits in a time of sadness. It’s about collecting data on yourself when you’re in a steady state of wellness. Ask yourself, when you’re feeling your best, what are the things that feel right? Write those things down! They enable you to sift through feelings of anxiety and depression when they strike, and help you come to conclusions about what the trigger was and how to soothe it.
HUMAN CONNECTION. This is such a challenge in our current social climate. I have been so fortunate to be able to Zoom and Facetime friends and family regularly. When we’re not in our current state, I like to call or FaceTime friends, experience new restaurants together, write letters to friends, volunteer in my community, participate in a local dance company. Anything to keep up that social aspect of life and forge deep connections with those who really matter to you.
Truthfully, I don’t have a strong spiritual basis in my life (grew up going to catholic school and it just never landed). So I have the tenets of yoga that I’m kind of counting for now. Though definitely room for improvement. My sister reads the Bible every morning and journals about it, and that is the ultimate mindfulness, meditation, and solace for her. We are all different and relate to different things. It’s about finding a spiritual language that speaks to you, and incorporating it into your life regularly.
Most importantly, it’s knowing yourself well enough to know when you’re struggling and need additional help. When I was in elementary school, I was on medication for anxiety, which was manifesting through some compulsive behaviors. While I am not currently on medication for anxiety or depression, it’s something that ought to be mentioned, if only to normalize and remove the shame from the decision. Always discuss with your provider to come to the safest and most appropriate decision for you.
As you can see, there are so many different aspects that go into keeping my mental state at a place that feels comfortable. It’s a choreography with so many things dancing at once. I’m actively trying to think about how all of these different categories are working together and playing out in my life, knowing that only a minor shift can result in feelings of stickiness and sadness. Because we are complicated beings with complicated thoughts living in a very complicated world right now, with so many things in flux and changing, it’s only natural to be feeling waves of sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, despair, overwhelm.
When things start to feel imbalanced, take note early and start to incorporate your self-soothing mechanisms from any of the above spheres. Sit with it, notice it without judgement, and then give yourself a break and give yourself grace. Take things a little slower. Sleep more. Ask for help. Talk to a friend or therapist. Cry. Scream into a pillow. Reach out to a mutual aid group in your town. Anything to connect your mind back to your body, rather than letting it continue to spiral.
Know that I am thinking of you all as we try to process and download what is happening. Always just an email away.