Writing last week’s post about my constant worry made me think of plenty of things (not hard to imagine, right?) But since this isn’t a therapy session, I didn’t want to dive into figuring out why this happens. What I thought would be more helpful is sharing what I’ve done to combat this constant worry since I don’t think I’m alone here. Regardless of any diagnosis, plenty of people deal with this issue. Obviously, some have it worse than others (hello!), but we can all use the same strategies to overcome the problem.
Every so often, I look up the symptoms of my mental health disorders. Usually, I do it if it’s been long enough that I can’t remember the last time I did it. Sometimes I get lost and end up in a DSM wasteland (that’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders), but I try not to get too deep into it because I am not a mental health professional.
Anyway, I was doing this last week when I decided I hadn’t checked out the symptoms of GAD in a bit. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, aka GAD, affects 3.1% of the entire U.S. population, so it’s not like it’s an entirely foreign disorder. But since everyone is different, certain symptoms of GAD can impact people more than others. For me, it would be the ‘excessive anxiety and worry’ symptom that strikes time and again.
I have a short answer and a long answer to the question above. The short answer? Yes, it is. The long answer? Give me a second.
When I ask questions in my posts, I often turn to Google to gauge how legitimate my question is. This time, though, I looked for something more specific – the dates of the results on the search page. I knew there would be articles, posts and web pages asking my same question, but I wanted to know if they were old or new. And what I found was that there was a mix of both. I’d see a study from 2012 next to a blog post from 2015 all jammed between two articles from May 2019. What did that show me? That this question is an ongoing discussion about how we deal with mental health in the United States.
The long answer to this question: while it is still stigmatized, it seems like that stigma isn’t as strong as it once was. That’s what I feel comfortable saying.
That answer doesn’t sound long, does it? Look at what I wrote though. The stigma isn’t as strong as it once was. What I’m saying is that I believe it’s not as bad as things used to be. Usually, that would imply that things are good in the present. But the argument that things are better than before is a dangerous argument to make (see: most of History). Will taking that approach with mental health help in the long run?
I’m encouraged at the number of celebrities who are being more open about their mental health. I feel proud when I see a professional athlete say they’ve gone through tough periods of depression or anxiety because I was an athlete growing up; I understand how brave you have to be to do that. I know these stories help other people who struggle with their own mental health and that’s wonderful (I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s truly wonderful). But we also have to acknowledge that if there wasn’t such a strong stigma, a famous person talking about mental health wouldn’t be so groundbreaking in a country where 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness every year. And yet, it is.
Has the stigma surrounding mental health decreased? Sure, you could say that. But if you do, look at where it used to be. That might reframe how you answer the question. And honestly, there’s plenty of ways to discuss/debate this topic. Is the stigma decreasing? Are people being more open about mental health? How can we reduce the stigma, or just overcome it?
All are valid questions, but there’s a reason I asked the question the way I did – I wanted you to react. When you read that question, you had an instant reaction. It might have been yes, no or somewhere in between, but you thought something. A key way to break down a stigma – any stigma – is to talk openly about it. So we need people to think about it and talk about it. Whether they think they’re right or wrong, opinionated or not. Because as long as mental health is stigmatized, there’s still work to do.
One of the most common symptoms of clinical depression and other depressive disorders is feeling worthless. I’d delve more into why this happens and how this affects people, but that’s not my main point today (though I have written before about recognizing the signs of depression).
The symptoms might be similar, but each person’s experience with depression is unique because of their personality and life experiences. You and I might both be feeling worthless right now, but the way it manifests itself in our daily lives could look extremely different. However, there’s one important aspect of this struggle that is overlooked, underrated and 100% true: your experience – whatever it is – is worth something.
For the past week, my anxiety has been something terrible. While it was triggered by something specific, it’s wedged its way into every facet of my life and crushed my thought process. Every day, I feel like I can’t help going into a downward spiral every second my mind isn’t concentrated on a specific task. And it sucks – to put it lightly.
I was going to write a post about how much this anxiety sucked, but something popped into my head as I started writing. I thought about how this recent bout of anxiety has diminished the progress I’ve made in recent months. It made me feel like all the progress I made recently was wasted. That it was pointless. That I would have to go back to square one when it came to my mental health.
This always makes me think of the term ‘relapse.’ While it’s more commonly associated with drugs and alcohol, I’ve also seen it used in regards to mental health disorders. And while I don’t like to use that term when it comes to my mental health, I couldn’t help but thinking that I was going through a relapse. I was afraid I was reverting to the old me – the one that got sent to the psych unit after a panic attack and suicidal ideation.
What stopped me from going down the rabbit hole of a relapse was reminding myself that my battle with mental health is not linear. I won’t just slowly improve until one day I’m rid of my demons. There are peaks and valleys to my mental health, just like anything else in life. Some days will be good and others will…not. I put so much pressure on having good days because I’m afraid that a bad day will negate all my progress. But is that true? No.
A bad day will get in the way of improvement. It might get in the way of doing some things that I would usually do. But it does not cancel out the months, the years of hard work that I have put in to get to this point. And the same goes for you.
If you work on something – your mental health, a special project, anything – for a long time and then have one bad day, do not discount all the progress you’ve made. You’re not perfect. You’re human. You are allowed to make mistakes. In fact, they are inevitable. So you can either let them get in the way, or you can grow from them.
But while this can apply to all walks of life, I tailor this mindset to mental health specifically because I know what negative thoughts can do to a person. My anxiety works me up into such a frenzy that I don’t think anything else matters besides the anxious thoughts in my head. But that’s not true. I have made progress recently – progress I am damn proud of. And I have grown strong enough to know that one day might set me back, but it won’t take me out of the game. That might not seem like much, but it makes a world of a difference when I try to get out of bed in the morning.
I know it’s easy to say, “don’t let your mental illness negate your progress.” It’s much easier said than done. I can’t even promise that I’ll always take my own advice. But I believe there is bravery in the attempt, and there is power to even have these thoughts in your head. So maybe all this post does is put the idea in your head. Maybe that’s all you need today. That’s okay. Because every day is a new battle, and we should use all the weapons we can get.
I bite my nails. When I’m nervous, when I’m thinking, when I have nothing else to do, I bite my nails. I know it’s not a good habit, and I know I should stop (and I’ve tried before). But it’s a bad habit, one of many I know I have – just like most people.
Why do bad habits exist? You can take the scientific approach or settle for something more experience-based, but where you end up is that there’s something that sparks these habits. Take me biting my nails, for instance. What caused that? My instinct is to say that my anxiety is at the root of it all. And while that might be true in this case, it also leads to a slippery slope of blaming everything on my anxiety.
In the past, I have been quick to blame my shortcomings on my GAD. I am not good at meeting people, so I blamed that on social anxiety. I watch too much TV because I told myself I was too anxious to sit down and read a book. I would eat food until I was sick because it kept the anxiety at bay. The point is, I developed poor habits and made poor decisions that I would chalk up to just being an anxious person. And whether you think that’s right or wrong to do (personally I’d say wrong!), it’s not a healthy mindset to develop.
I can’t help feeling anxious when meeting someone new. But I can develop strategies to use when I meet those people, and I can turn to my friends for help. I can’t help but feel trapped in my anxious thoughts. But I can use the techniques I’ve learned from years of practice and therapy to get out of that trap.
I can’t help but have bad habits. I’m human. But I can make sure that these habits are as harmless as possible, and that they don’t threaten my ability to be a good person. I can learn not to blame everything on my anxiety, and remind myself that there is a difference between being an anxious person and being a person with an anxiety issue.
Sometimes self-improvement isn’t always about the things we do, but the things we don’t do. And I’m learning not to chalk up every misstep on my anxiety. It’s one small step toward becoming a better version of myself – anxiety and all.
I absolutely love live music. I’m not the most musically proficient person (I played the saxophone in middle school and sang in a boy choir until puberty hit), but something I discovered when I reached adulthood was that I love going to live shows. Since a majority of the bands I like are smaller acts, that meant I was hitting small clubs and intimate venues in tons of cities listening to my favorite bands and songwriters.
I’ve had different concert buddies over the years, but there have always been people willing to go see shows with me. One constant concert pal is Kevin, who I’ve seen tons of shows with. We had a particularly crazy stretch where we saw three concerts at three different venues over the course of eleven days. And it ROCKED.
It’s hard to describe what going to a live show does for me. I think the biggest thing is that, for a few hours, it seems like nothing else matters. It’s just me, the people around me, and the band putting on their show. Everything else takes a back seat. All my problems and worries are set to the side while I immerse myself in the music.
An annoying symptom of depression is that sometimes you don’t enjoy things the way you used to. Over the years, that loss of joy has happened with a lot of things. I have fought to enjoy things I once loved, and don’t enjoy certain activities quite like I used to. So when I do find something I love to do, I hold on to it as tightly as I can.
We all have things we love to do – activities, pastimes, whatever you want to call them. There are things out there that make us feel alive, at peace, content – happy. Oftentimes, after we do those things, we think to ourselves I should do this more.
And you’re right. You should. Not just because life is short and you should make the most of your time (though that is a good reason), but because you deserve it. You deserve to do the things you love because it’s another reminder that you’re a human who loves things – just like everyone else. We all deserve it. So what’s stopping you?
I love to travel, write, and see live music. What are the things YOU love to do? Let me know in the comments!
I apologize a lot. I mean, a LOT. I’ve done it so much that it’s like a reflex now – I say sorry without even thinking why I’m doing it.
And I apologize for everything. If I’m running late, I say sorry. If I misunderstand what someone said to me, I say sorry. If I don’t do as good of a job on something as I think should, I say sorry. I know it’s not what I should be doing, but I do it anyway. I don’t even consider whether or not I am actually sorry – it’s out of my mouth before I have time to think.
The one thing I apologize for constantly, and above all else, is my mental health. I say sorry when I can’t meet up with a friend because I’m depressed. I apologize that I wasn’t more social when I’m out because my anxious mind is doing cartwheels. If I have a panic attack in front of someone, I’m more concerned with whether or not that person is okay instead of trying to calm myself down. It’s not good for me – and I want to stop.
I want to stop because of all the people who have told me not to say sorry. They don’t want me to apologize for my mental illness – they just want me to be okay. And over the years, I missed that. I prioritized things incorrectly, and it stopped me from dealing with my mental illness in a healthy way.
Yes, apologize for the mess-ups. For the mistakes you make. But don’t apologize for who you are. I was ashamed of my mental health for a long time, and it held so much power over me. Now that I’m not ashamed, that power is gone. Yes, it’s still something I deal with, but I’m not afraid to deal with it. I’m not sorry. Hope that’s okay.
There’s no doubt about it, depression sucks. Whether it’s having no energy, not enjoying anything, crying for no reason or just wishing you weren’t here (fun STUFF am I right?), there are plenty of symptoms that can be a sign that something is off.
When depression hits, I try to fight it. I’m not saying I’m always successful, but I do make the effort – much more than I used to. And I’ve learned a thing or two over the years about what can help turn a depression day into a (somewhat) normal day. That might not sound like much, but to me, it’s enough. Here are five things you can (try to) do when depression hits you like a ton of bricks.
Get out of bed
Depression can sap you of your energy and make you not want to do anything – even something that seems as simple as leaving your bed can be a monumental task. It’s not always easy, but getting out of bed and interacting with the world can go a long way. It’s easy to stay in bed when you’re tired or you want extra sleep, but when you feel crippled by depression and don’t want to leave, that’s a sign that you might need help. I’ve had many days where I feel like I didn’t accomplish anything, but when I remember that I got out of bed and chose to be a human – that day gets a little easier.
Eat healthy foods
Eating healthily might sound like a pro tip for the general public, but it can also help improve your mental health. Sometimes when I’m depressed, I have the urge to eat junk food until my stomach is sick – making me feel as bad physically as I do mentally. Seeing the link between mental health and physical health is an important step toward self-improvement. If you can improve how you feel physically, that may help how you feel mentally.
It’s important to tell someone that you’re feeling depressed or having an off day. No, they are not responsible for making the depression go away. Sometimes there isn’t anything they can do at all. When I am depressed, I feel like I’m all alone – that no one else is going through what I’m going through. Since in reality, that’s not true, reminding myself that I’m not alone is paramount to getting through the depression. Having someone out there that knows how you’re feeling can go a long way, and make you feel less alone in your struggle.
I’ve talked about physical wellness before, but it’s an important aspect of getting out of that depression funk so I don’t want to gloss over it. Please know that when I say exercise, I don’t necessarily mean hitting the gym and lifting weights. Any form of exercise can be helpful to someone who’s depressed. Going for a run, doing yoga, biking outside, or even just taking a walk around the block can help keep those depression symptoms at bay. Try to do get some exercise when you’re feeling down – it’s more important than you think.
Practice Coping Strategies
We all have different coping strategies for dealing with mental illness. Over the years, I have found what works – and what doesn’t work – when it comes to my depression and anxiety. But that came after a process of trial and error. Use this time to practice coping strategies that you’ve learned from friends, therapy, the Internet, wherever. They might not all work. That’s okay! You practice them so you can see what works for you. Everyone’s different and oftentimes, it doesn’t matter what you do to cope with depression as long as it’s healthy and keeps your feelings at bay.
By nature, I am an indecisive person. Whether that’s a genetic trait or something I’ve taught myself over the years, it’s true. Painfully true. Whether it’s a massive decision or the tiniest little thing, I overthink just about every single thing in my life. From deciding where to live or what to eat for lunch, each moment of decision comes with a thousand other thoughts. I weigh all possible outcomes, and think about how they will effect me now and in the future.
Being indecisive isn’t fun. It’s even less fun when you have GAD. While I do think my indecisiveness is a personality trait, I know having an anxiety disorder doesn’t help things. So how do I make decisions? There seems to be a simple answer (you know, make them), but it’s taken me years to figure out a way I can – somewhat – be decisive.
The most important decision I make every day is to get out of bed. It might be a reflex for some people, but for me it’s always a choice. I choose to take on the day and its challenges. Some days, it’s easier to leave the bed than others. A symptom of my depression is a severe lack of energy. On days where it’s particularly difficult, I don’t – I can’t – leave my room. This symptom used to be much more prevalent in my life, but it doesn’t hold as much power over me as it used to.
So I make the decision to get out of bed. I make the decision to get dressed. I make the decision to be a person that day. And that changes everything.
Those decisions at the beginning of the day are the most difficult ones for me – but they have the most impact. After that, all my other choices seem easier. What to wear, what to eat, what to get done at work. Those choices pale in comparison to the massive one I’ve already made that day to be me.
Before you get the wrong idea don’t worry, I’m still indecisive. I can’t change overnight! But the decisions I make don’t have as much staying power as they used to. I still agonize over the decision but once it’s made, I move on. Because by being here, by choosing to be a person and interact with the world, I’ve already made the most important decision I can make. Nothing really tops it.
Making decisions while living with an anxiety disorder isn’t easy. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that it is possible. I make the decision every day to get out of bed, put some clothes on, and try to be my best self. And to me, that’s the most important decision I’ll ever make.