It’s been 3 years since my last battle with depression and anxiety. It has been 3 years since I struggled to climb out of bed for anything but work. It’s been 3 years since everything was a blur and nothing made me happy. It’s been 3 years since I wrestled with God while tears filled my pillow. It’s been 3 years since I had anxiety that would wake me up in the middle of the night and cause me to go all day without eating because I was sick to my stomach. It’s been 6 years since my anxiety was so bad in my college classes that I sometimes had to tell myself over and over to just stay another minute. It’s been 6 years since my nighttime dreams attacked me. It’s been 6 years since I feared I would have to drop out of college because I was convinced I was going crazy. It’s been 15 years since I first experienced depression. It’s been 15 years since I didn’t know what depression was. It’s been 15 years since I thought I might not survive it. I’ve struggle with seasons of depression and anxiety 3 different times in my life. I am happy to say that thanks to God, Family, friends, prayer and therapy tools, I am happy and healthier than I’ve ever been.
First, let’s define depression. Depression is feeling sad or feeling nothing when your life is going well. If something difficult is going on in your life it is normal to feel sad. If you are sad because you experienced a loss of someone, a job, a friendship, or a season in life, that’s called grief.
Allow Yourself to Feel Sad and to Grieve.
After my first experience with depression I was afraid for a long time to feel sad. It made me concerned that I would slip into depression again. What I have learned is that I need to cry and grieve over loss and cry over things that make me sad. If we don’t grieve loss properly, we will only defer it. Then we will have to suffer the consequences of unhealth and still have to grieve at a later time.
Find a Therapist
I know that I am biased because I am a therapist. However, I have been training for many years to help people work through their problems. A therapist is an expert on problem solving and is highly skilled on working through depression and anxiety. I wish that I had gone to a therapist as a teenager. I may have learned some of the things that I am sharing with you, a lot sooner. I know going to see a therapist can be hard. However, a therapist is not someone that will judge you or tell you that you are crazy. A therapist is simply someone who will help you find the answers to your problems that you already had, you just didn’t know they were there.
Learn Coping Skills
When I was 14 the only way that I knew how to cope with depression and anxiety was to sleep. I had no idea that I could learn tools that could not only help to prevent depression and anxiety but could also help me survive it in the moment. Coping skills vary from person to person. Some of the coping skills that have helped me have been deep breathing, self-talk, sharing vulnerably and exercise. Grounding and meditation are also helpful. I know that when I mention meditation to some Christians, they look at me like I joined a cult. Not all mediation is bad. There are Christian options of meditation out there. Mediation is simply doing a combination of deep breathing and focused thinking to bring you to a state of feeling calm and peaceful. Research actually shows that practicing meditation regularly can rewire the brain and relieve anxiety.
Keep Doing the Things that You Don’t Feel Like Doing
When I experienced depression while I was in grad school, I considered taking a leave of absence. I was convinced I was losing it and could not handle my responsibilities. My mom convinced me to just keep trying to make it through one more class, one more hour, one more day. I would struggle to get to my internship and initially felt overwhelmed. However, by the end of the day I felt good that I was able to accomplish something and do something good for others. It made me feel stronger, like I could get through it and maybe I wasn’t going to lose everything. I was reminded by a friend that everyone struggles to get out of the bed in the morning. Everyone struggles to get started on work. However, you just have to start somewhere and then a little turns into a lot and you’ve created a new habit. You can build momentum by just starting with doing something small.
Find a Community.
Each time I have experienced depression, it has gotten easier for me. The big reason for this is that I now know how to rely on my community. My family and some of my friends know how to care for me when I’m struggling. My mom gives me hugs, just listens and reminds me that everything is going to be ok. My sisters let me share all of my unrealistic worries and they would pull me out of bed and push me to exercise. And my friend Sarah would just be with me and watch movies, never forcing me to be anything else but real. My people have brought me comfort and accountability in my times of depression. I could not have survived it without them.
The only way my people have been able to be there for me is because I told them I was struggling. When I was a teenager I tried to hide the depression. I thought I was the only person in the world struggling to feel happy. I thought I was the only person crying themselves to sleep for no reason. I used to be so embarrassed. But the more I am open about my worries and my struggles the more I realize that I am not alone and I am more normal than I once believed.
If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, exercise should be the first thing that you do. Even if it is just 20 to 30 minutes a day. There is research that has found that exercise can not only decrease depression but prevent it in the first place. There are also studies that have found that for people with moderate depression, exercise is just as beneficial as taking an anti-depressant. Exercise also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important role in regulating your mood. Exercise also helps to improve sleep and sleep has a big impact on your mood. Exercise is one of the only coping skills that has the ability to immediately lower anxiety by reducing cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body. This year I decided to be proactive before the gloomy Michigan winter started and I hired a trainer. I made it part of my routine to work out 5 days a week. I feel healthier, happier and more relaxed this winter then I have felt in years.
Change Your Diet
What you eat matters. There has also been a lot of research released recently around the gut and the guts impact on our brains. It is pretty basic. Protein, fruits, vegetables and some dairy is good for our brains. We need to eat more vegetables than we do. Sugar on the other hand is very bad for the brain. Bottom line, eat more vegetables and less sugar to relieve depression and anxiety. This is not easy to do. I still eat foods with sugar in it. But I have cut way back and have increased my vegetable intake. I want my brain to be healthy and I want my mood to be stable so I suck it up and do it.
Get 8 Hours of Sleep
This one is actually at the top of my priority list. I work very hard to get 8 hours of sleep. Any less than 8 hours of sleep is damaging to the brain and can cause depression and anxiety and any more than 8 hours is also damaging to the brain and can cause depression and anxiety. I love Netflix as much as the next person but when it comes to my mental sanity, watching another episode is not worth it. Go to bed.
Consider Taking Medication
Medication is not for everyone. Medication will not fix your problems. Medication will not take away grief or sadness. There are many other things that often need to be addressed before considering medication. However, I take medication. I take a small dose of an anti-depressant. Depression runs in my family and I was blessed enough to have an older cousin help guide me with what I was experiencing in depression. She reminded me that I did not have to feel guilty about taking medication for a disease. Medication has obviously not been the only thing that has helped to relieve my depression, but it is one of the things that helps to keep me stable. If depression and/or anxiety runs in your family talk to a doctor and then research any medications before taking them. Medications can at least get you to a place of being able to seek therapy or other avenues to help.
I work for a company that specializes in Neurofeedback or brain wave training. I won’t go into all the details because that could be a blog on its own. However, neurofeedback really helped to lower my anxiety levels. The main idea of neurofeedback is that it rewards your brain for making changes so that your brain can heal itself. If you are curious about how neurofeedback might help you, feel free to ask me about it.
Learn About Your Personality
I have learned so much about myself since I first experienced depression as teenager. I have even learned more about my personality in the last 3 years then I have in my lifetime and it has been freeing. There was a time 3 years ago when I felt overwhelmed to be alone. I hated spending time alone. It is true that I am an extreme extrovert. I love being with people! However, this was an unhealthy issue. I would verge on a panic attack when I was alone. So I started spending more time alone. The more time I spent alone the more I could learn about myself. I realized that the reason I hated spending time alone was because I felt invaluable alone. If I was not working or doing something for someone else I felt no sense or worth. I eventually was introduced to the Enneagramm Personality Test. Through this test I learned that I am a 3, a performer/achiever. And what are one of the issues that 3s struggle with? They struggle to feel like they have value when they are alone. The more I learn about my personality and where my struggles are, the stronger I become. I highly recommend taking the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test as well as the Enneagramm Personality Test. The more you know about yourself the more steps you can take to health.
Face Your Fears
There is a type of therapy called exposer therapy. The entire idea behind it is that if someone is afraid of something, like going to school for example, they practice doing that thing until it gets better. So the more you are exposed to it the easier it gets. You learn that something isn’t as scary as you thought it would be once you faced it. It’s just like when I was scared of being alone, I knew that I needed to spend time being alone so that idea no longer controlled me. If I had allowed those thoughts to control me then I would spend the rest of my life putting time and energy into ensuring that I was never alone and that is exhausting. I had fears that were embarrassing to share with others. The last time I dealt with depression I was overwhelmed with this idea that no man would ever want to marry me because I was a twin and because I had mental health issues. I also believed that I should never have children because no child should have a mother with issues. I would try to face the idea of being alone, but I was also afraid of being alone. I remember the night that I sat at the top of the stairs of my home and told my friend Sarah about every terrifying thought I was having. Not only was this freeing but she was also able to help me find logic and truth in my thoughts. If we don’t face our fears and thoughts, they will continue to control us.
Find Your Identity
In the same way that depression and anxiety often drive fears and negative thoughts they can also drive negative beliefs about ourselves. Our identity often is attacked in the middle of depression and anxiety. We start to believe that we aren’t valuable. We believe that we aren’t good at anything or that we are annoying. We believe that others would be better off without us. And none of that is true. You bring talents, and laughter and a presence to this world that only you can bring. Just by being alive you are valuable. Finding my identity in the Lord and discovering my gifts and abilities and the uniqueness that I bring to this world has changed my entire outlook on life. I know that I have a purpose and that God says I have value. Seeking a therapist and your community is a great place to start when it comes to changing thought patterns and facing fears.
Wrestle with God
When I first struggled with depression as a teenager I tried spending a lot of time reading my bible and praying. From what I had been taught by my church, I thought that these acts would fix everything. I became even more distraught when I did not start feeling better. I remember sitting on my bed, crying tears onto the pages of my bible and crying out to God, asking him where he was. Reading the bible had the truth for me but it did not fix how I was feeling. I am the type of person that can’t just believe something blindly. I need answers and reasons. I had to sort this out with God and only God could give me the answers. I have always had very deep thoughts and lots of questions even as a child. At age 10 I was questioning my pastor and my parents on death and the purpose of life. As a teenager I felt overwhelmed by the fact that people’s lives are made up of trying to get to the next season in life with no satisfaction and then they die. It made me wonder what the purpose of living was. I had to struggle through this with God and came out on the other side stronger. I learned that my only purpose in life is to live for God. There have been many quiet times and sleepless nights that I spent crying out to God for answers. While these seasons have been painful they have also made my faith stronger.
Pray Over Everything
The last time I experienced depression and anxiety was not long after I had moved into a new home. After sharing with a friend that I was struggling to sleep at night and felt overwhelmed most when I was at home alone, he suggested that I pray over my entire house. He reminded me that I don’t know what happened in that home before I lived there and that there could still be spiritual presence from the enemy in the home. So I went home and I prayed the blood of Jesus over every room in that house. That night I got full night’s sleep. I believe that there are many causes of depression that are not spiritual, but when you are down the enemy will jump on that. Lack of sunshine is a big factor for me in struggling with depression, but once I’m depressed, the enemy has attacked my dreams. There can be bondage that we are in that we need to be set free from and that is only going to happen through prayer. Pray over your house. Pray over your dreams. Pray over your mind. Pray the armor of God over yourself. Pray for strength from the Lord.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or anxiety please feel free to reach out to me with more questions. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. If someone you know has expressed a plan to end their life do not hesitate to drive them to the emergency room and get help from professionals.