10 ways to combat depression and anxiety in the age of COVID and toxic politics

We don’t need psychologists or statisticians to tell us that depression and anxiety are running rampant these days, especially in the United States where we are on the cusp of an election (or right after an election if you are reading this after next week). Between toxic political news (which appears to be happening in more countries than just the United States) and stories about a spreading virus, many people are having a hard time combatting negative thoughts and feelings. Every day there seems to be something new to worry about related to those two issues, and throw those two topics in with our everyday worries and you have the perfect storm for a near, or full, mental breakdown.

Many of us are looking for a break from it all and that’s where unhealthy coping mechanisms step in. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. Some of those unhealthy coping mechanisms include avoidance, turning to alcohol or food to comfort, looking for distractions we may regret later, smoking, eating the wrong food, watching too much television (which could include porn or something else aimed at distracting us but which could harm us in the long run if addiction develops).

If you’re like me, you’re looking for ways to combat depression and anxiety. These are issues for me even when a contentious election or increasing virus numbers isn’t in the news. I thought that today I’d offer ten ways to try to combat depression and anxiety in this season, both for readers and myself. 

  1. Turn off the news. I’ve offered this advice many times on the blog. I want to clarify that this is not an order, it’s a suggestion and it’s a suggestion I’m giving for your sanity. When I suggest you turn off the news, I don’t mean that you never check in to see what is going on that you may need to know, but I don’t believe we need to be completely immersed in the news the way some of us have been for the last several months, maybe even the last several years. If you can’t completely turn off the news (like my husband, who works in media), or don’t want to, then consider reducing your news consumption. Maybe instead of checking a news site first thing in the morning, you set a time during the day when you check the news and also set a time limit. 

I suggest five minutes is all you need these days. If I scroll through a news site for even two minutes I feel my tension and anxiety increasing and eventually, depression settles over me like a dark cloud. Let’s be honest, positive news doesn’t sell these days. Our brains are hardwired to seek out the negative and we can find that in the national media, which they know and grab on to. The national news knows they are addictive, they know you want to hear what’s wrong with the world today because we all have a basic instinct to want to protect ourselves. What better way to protect ourselves than to know what negative events are happening in the world so we can decide if they are a threat to our well-being or not? Right? You may not consciously think that way, but truly I believe our subconscious drives us to read the negative headlines for that reason.

There are so many things you can do other than watch the news and I’ll list some of those suggestions in the tips below but for now, a few ideas are watching comedies, reading, organizing or cleaning out your closets, picking up a new hobby, calling your friends, calling your mother or father, offering to help a neighbor with chores, taking a walk, scream at the sky (sorry, had to had that for fun, but it really is a nice stress reliever. I’d suggest not doing this if you live in a more urban area unless you warn your neighbors first).

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2. Turn off your phone notifications (except messages or calls from emergency contacts). Couple this with turning off the news. I don’t know about you but constant alerts from my phone unnerve me and distract me from what I really need to be doing. The more distractions I have the more unorganized and off-kilter I feel throughout the day. Whether it’s an alert from a social media app, texts from people who stress you out, a breaking news message, or even spam calls, just shut them off. You don’t need that all day long. Our bodies weren’t wired to have to be on constant alert but with the introduction of cellphones, being constantly “in the know” seems to have become normal. 

We are all wired differently so what might be anxiety-inducing for some won’t cause the reaction for another person. 

If constant alerts don’t raise your anxiety, great! But if they do, then they need to go for your sanity. Imagine how nice it would be not to have to be “on-call” all day long. It’s one thing to be on-call for your family and their needs but an entirely different thing to be constantly available for the media or people and apps that serve little purpose for us other than to attempt to influence us.

3. Start your day off with a calm routine. This is a reminder for me because I often find myself starting my day by snatching up my phone and reading a news site or something negative before I even get out of bed. I’ve got into this habit in the last four years to make sure no one has killed the president yet, because I believe even people who despise our current president know what complete upheaval to our nation that would cause. 

I always plan to log on to a news site for a few moments, but then there I sit, scrolling down the page for a good ten or fifteen minutes, reading horrible headlines about horrible things that have happened to people, or could happen to people. It’s no way to start the day. 

A better way would be to wake up and read a Bible verse or listen to a worship song, or if you are not a person of faith, wake up and read a positive attribution or a positive quote and listen to music that lifts your spirits. 

Do any of these things before you do anything else (except maybe going to the bathroom) or while you are eating your breakfast. Don’t open yourself up to negativity in your day before you have to. 

Part of your morning routine could be writing in your gratitude journal or making some sort of list of what you are grateful for. If you’re a list maker in general, listing your goals for the day could be calming for you because it may help you feel more grounded and organized. Simply sitting on your front porch looking out at the front yard or a beautiful view you may have, sipping your coffee, milk, or tea, before the day even begins is another positive and calming way to start your day.

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4. Take a social media break. If you’ve read this blog very long, you know this suggestion is a popular one for me because I have seen a benefit from it. My anxiety and depression are 90 percent better when I’m not logging onto social media throughout the day. Honestly, when I scroll through social media, my brain feels completely overwhelmed and starts to race. Take note if it does the same for you. For me, posts or articles being shared don’t even have to be about something negative. It’s simply there is too much information on there for my brain to take in.

Like the suggestion of shutting off the news, you may not want to take a complete break from social media. Instead, setting a time limit for social media use can be beneficial. I would suggest not only setting a limit in your mind, but setting an actual limit on an actual timer, either on your phone or computer, watch, or even an old-fashioned egg timer. If you only want to be on social media for five minutes, set your alarm for five minutes and when that five minutes is up, log off, no matter what. 

So many of us don’t have healthy boundaries with social media and setting time limits can help make our relationship with social media something that enhances our day, not hampers it. 

5. Pick up a new, fun hobby. Hobbies are a great distraction from the stresses of life and sometimes those hobbies can even develop into something more. Is there an activity you enjoy doing now, or once enjoyed, that could become a hobby for you? When people think of hobbies they often think of stamp collecting or model making, but there are so many activities you can toss into the hobby category including photography, writing poetry, baking, playing an instrument, getting involved in a sport, collecting objects, art, board games (ex. Chess or Checkers), reading, painting, sketching, quilting, sewing, knitting. . . the list goes on and on.

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6. Listen to music. Take time out of your day to listen to some music you enjoy and that calms you. You could do this while participating in other stress relievers such as taking a walk, relaxing in a bath, exercising, or preparing for bed. Music can make everyday chores seem less time consuming (well, except washing dishes. I don’t feel like anything makes that feel less time consuming and boring). If you can’t have music on throughout the day where you are, then maybe you can take music breaks throughout the day instead. Sit somewhere for even five minutes and listen to a couple of favorite songs. You’ll be surprised how much better it will make you feel.

I’m sharing some of my favorite music here to help give you a start and ideas for music that can help perk up, or mellow out, your day.

Listening to this helped me feel more positive about cooking dinner this week. Go figure.

7. Read more (uplifting, light, or silly books). Reading more, in general, can be a nice distraction from the things that are getting us down, but reading lighthearted, funny, or sweet books can help even more during stressful, toxic times. I’ve crawled inside books more and more these last couple of years and especially in the last six months. Of course, reading a book can’t actually solve our problems and eventually, we have to face them head-on, but we can use reading to help balance our emotions as we prepare to face the challenges of life. In other words, we can escape from reality for a little while so that when we face reality again it might not seem as daunting.

8. Journal. Sometimes writing your feelings out can help put some things in perspective for you. Writing about what you are anxious or depressed about in a private place, where no one else can see it, can help you organize your thoughts and feelings.

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According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, expressing yourself through writing can help control the symptoms of anxiety and depression by: 

  • Helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
  • Tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them
  • Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors

I once journaled all the time, almost every day, from junior high up until my son was about 5 or 6. After that, I journaled less and I did find myself struggling to organize my thoughts even more and prioritize what I was struggling with during a particular season. I haven’t been journaling lately, but I do have a journal app on my phone where I jot down a few thoughts here and there. In the past, all my journals were physical and I’m thinking about starting that again. 

There is something about sitting down with an actual pen and paper versus typing on a phone or computer that helps me to channel my thoughts better and get them out. Writing in a physical journal can also help eliminate distractions that a device or computer would bring. I suggest shutting off your phone or silencing it when you are writing in your journal. You don’t have to carve out a large amount of time to journal either. Even a few minutes a day can help organize your thoughts, or simply record the positives of your day. If you don’t feel comfortable writing your thoughts down, then try a gratitude journal, which is a place you can write down what you are grateful for. Focusing on what you are grateful for in your life can often make the negatives less prominent. 

Just a reminder: You don’t have to buy a fancy, leather-bound journal to write in. Any cheap notebook will do the job just as well.

9. Connect with nature. Taking some time out of your day to walk or visit nature can help slow things down. There are a variety of ways you can do this, even if you live in a more urban setting. Maybe you don’t have time to find a place to take a hike, but even a few minutes outside, taking a few deep breaths can help calm your nerves a little and maybe even lift your spirits. Some suggestions to connect with nature include:

  • Sit on your front porch and watch the squirrels climb the trees or the birds eat worms in your front yard. 
  • Taking a walk, jog, or hike
  • Search for leaves or different varieties of trees
  • Bird or animal watch
  • Getting out on the water through rafting, boating, or fishing
  • Collecting pretty rocks

10. Focus on your faith. Our faith can be a huge benefit to our emotional wellbeing, but only if we focus on it and not on all the rest of the stresses of the world. As a Christian, I know I feel so much worse when I don’t get into God’s word or listen to sermons that point to Christ. As I mentioned about a week ago, it’s so important to keep our focus on God, the ultimate author of our stories, no matter what our circumstances. Starting your day off with a verse, or a devotional can help you focus more on your hope in a power greater than the chaos swirling around you. If you are not a Christian but follow a faith, find something encouraging from that part of your life to help keep you grounded throughout the day. For me, that means not only reading the Bible or listening to a sermon on Sundays. Reading a portion of the Bible, a devotional, or listening to music throughout the day helps keep my focus on what is important in life — and that is not the craziness going on in our world today.

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Bonus tips to combat depression and anxiety:

  • Practice meditation and deep breathing
  • Participate in low impact exercise
  • Help out your neighbors
  • Talk to a friend, or reconnect with one you haven’t talked to in a long time
  • Invite an elderly neighbor to dinner (if you and they are comfortable with that)
  • Adopt a nursing home and send cards or other needed items to them
  • Walk your pets
  • Write your memoirs for your family
  • Adopt a rescue animal
  • Take a long, warm, bubble bath
  • Practice Yoga
  • Make Christmas presents
  • Learn crafts
  • Follow some new bloggers (Hahaha!)

So, these are some of my “off-the-top-of-the-head” tips to help combat depression and anxiety in the age of COVID and toxic politics. I’d love to hear some of your ideas becauses I can always use more for myself. Please leave them in the comments so we can help each other through a challenging mental health season.

It’s not all just ‘in my head’. It’s in my uterus. But thank you for dismissing me.

I once had a couple of people (who most likely were well-meaning) tell me the anxiety I had, the worry, the exhaustion, the muscle aches, the overall body weakness – everything I had – was in my head and due to my doing the Christian thing all wrong. I didn’t pray enough. I didn’t pray right. I didn’t rebuke right. I didn’t “take authority” over the demons attacking me right.

So, listen, I know that part of the anxiety I deal with is ‘in my head’ but guess what – the anxiety I deal with is also in my uterus. It’s hormone related. How do I know this? Because one week out of the month I barely have anxiety, I’m not exhausted, my muscles don’t hurt and I don’t feel weak all over. The rest of the month I’m a total mess. It’s definitely a pattern and definitely follows a “cycle”, like a menstrual cycle – get it?

For two weeks out of the month, which, yes, means almost the entire month, I am weak, I have brain fog, my muscles hurt, I’m severely dizzy, I have heart palpitations, my legs feel heavy, my skin feels weird and my brain tells me I’m going to die at any moment or my family is going to be taken away in the blink of an eye. I also feel like I can’t eat. I feel like I have morning sickness when I don’t. It’s a nightmare and I become agoraphobic. Leaving the house is a battle.

Every day is a constant mental battle. During those weeks I am a shell of who I used to be. I am afraid to take photography jobs because I don’t want to pass out or have a low blood sugar moment. I’m afraid to take my children anywhere. I’m afraid to live my life and many days I just don’t.  I don’t do what I want to do because I know one of the weird physical symptoms I have is going to limit me. I’m afraid even when I know I shouldn’t be afraid.

But this week? This is a good week.

This week I got up without anxiety gnawing at my gut. This week I went to an anniversary dinner with my husband and I didn’t think I was going to pass out at the restaurant. This week I took my dog to the vet with my kids and didn’t think I couldn’t breathe or I’d pass out or my legs wouldn’t be able to hold me up.

I don’t understand why I have these symptoms one week and not another. I am almost certain it’s a hormone thing because of some other signs, which I will not share here (I know you’re thankful for that!). I am also almost certain it’s a hormone thing because I’ve met women online who are having the same symptoms

“Go to a doctor!” a family member likes to tell me, (which is perfectly fine advice, don’t get me wrong.)

I did. The doctor looked at me and said: “You’re too young for that..see you in six months.” So right now I am on my own to figure it all out and I am finding things that are helping, some days anyhow, so for that, I’m grateful, but on the days I can’t seem to control it all, I wish I had people in my life, beyond my mom, who had taken the time to understand instead of simply dismissing me as “not enough.”

While I don’t know what exactly causes the hormonal rises and falls and haven’t yet pinpointed a definitive way to manage the swings, what I do know is the worst thing that has happened to me is being told it’s all in my head.

If I had cancer, maybe I would have been treated differently, and not like I was less than for battling these physical symptoms along with the mental. If I had a heart issue, maybe I would have been treated differently and not looked down on. I don’t know and I don’t want to find out.

But because I am a Christian and I have anxiety that is not all from Satan and not all from me being “weak and faithless” I am not worth the time of many other so-called Christians.

If you are a Christian and you have anxiety – don’t let anyone tell you that it’s because you’re not a good enough Christian. Don’t let them tell you that you don’t pray enough, you’re not faithful enough, you don’t rebuke enough. Some of those things may be true, at times, but they aren’t always true. Sometimes there is something physical going on in your body creating these symptoms.

Trust in God to walk you through the physical and the mental trials facing you and tune out the Christians, (some of them well-meaning, with no ill intent) who are telling you that you are experiencing these trials because you are doing something wrong. Maybe you do need to pray more, read your Bible more or tell the spirits of infirmity and anxiety and depression to get away from you, but your physical ailments should never be referred to as a punishment from God.

Maybe you are doing something right by holding on to God as he leads you down a difficult, challenging, heartbreaking path that will eventually prosper you, not harm you.

 

 

Maybe you should pay attention when a friend starts posting depressed social media updates after all

This weekend a person in our small county killed three of his family members and then himself. He’d been posting depressing cries for help for more than a month on his Facebook account and people who knew him said he was suffering from PTSD, possibly from his time in the service.

A veteran suffering from PTSD in our area is not new and it’s also not unusual to be reading yet another story about one of them killing themselves or someone else. Almost as common as the obits of young people dying of heroin overdose in our area are the obits of military veterans, of all ages, dying at their own hands.

Comments about this latest case ranged from “what a freaking psycho, I don’t care if he had PTSD or not” to “why didn’t someone help him?” and “how can I help someone who has PTSD to keep this from happening?”

There was a lot of hurt, a lot of anger and even more ignorance about mental health showcased on social media following the murders and suicide. I think one of the most common misconceptions about mental illnesses like depression is that the depressed person is always going to show they are depressed and they are always going to reach out for help, before they do something drastic. Depressed people don’t seek help most of the time, period. What they might do is try to send messages to those around them to let them know how down they are getting. They throw out a lifeline, but many times those lines are never picked up

Hurt people hurt people. Period. The first time I heard that phrase I was angry. I didn’t want to hear that. I didn’t want to think about how or why the person who hurt me was hurting inside. My exact words were “screw that. I don’t care how hurt they are, it never excuses what they did.” And it’s true. Being hurt doesn’t excuse you from hurting others. What that phrase does is explain that people aren’t always simple jerks when they do something that devastates another person. It’s more complex and deep than the person simply being a horrible person.

I also notice in this world that when someone is labeled as “depressed” or “needing meds” it seems to coincide with the feeling they aren’t worth dealing with, worth associating with, worth reaching out to. I guess we feel that if we can’t “fix” a person then we shouldn’t even bother dealing with them at all.

I can’t tell you how many times I posted on Facebook while depressed, hoping someone would pay attention and call me. Was it sad? Yes? Did I feel like a loser trying to get attention? Yes. Did anyone ever call and check on me? No. I sometimes got a comment of “so sorry you’re feeling that way…” but I can not remember even once a friend picking up the phone and saying “What is going on? How can I help?”

The bigger question – was I ever suicidal? No! Thank God, I never have been. Never. I can assure you of this. I’m a Christian but I still fear death, especially if I did it myself. I’d doubt God would smile on that. But if I had been suicidal, there wasn’t one person who would have stopped me. Why? I don’t know. Because they didn’t think I really would? Because they didn’t want to deal with me? Because – they really don’t care if I am here or not? I don’t know. What I do know is that it seems people don’t care until the person is gone and then they feel guilty, when they might have been able to say something before they read the obit or the news story.

Certainly this guy who killed his family was sending messages on social media in the months leading up to the murders and his suicide. And it was clear by comments made after he died that most of the people in his life wrote him off as a freak and never tried to actually help him.

Comments made on the man’s social media page after the crime are why the depressed and anxious continue to live their lives in the dark no matter how many celebrities suggest they “reach out” and “seek help.”

Help?

Or judgment?

Help?

Or mocking?

Help?

Or being told you’re not a good Christian because you’re depressed?

Most of the time depressed people, especially Christians, will not seek help because we know we won’t get it. We will be handed Bible verses to show us we are sinning. Pressure will be placed on our shoulders with statements like “I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with your life through this.” Well, that is just great. Not only do we have to survive a traumatic life event but we also have to somehow use it in the future to help others.

Maybe waiting until the crisis is a little more under control before declaring that the person in pain will eventually share their pain so one day the rest of the Christian community can dissect it and judge it like you’re doing.

Christians who deal with depression are tired of the stigma, tired of being looked down on and really tired of being ignored and walked away from. We know the authority we have over the dark. We get it and we try our best to wield that authority but some days we are tired and other Christians reminding us that our weakness is a sin because the Bible commands us to always rejoice and never be anxious is simply not helping.

Maybe if someone had paid attention to that young man’s pleas for help – no matter how subtle they seemed (though I don’t think letting people know in a Facebook post that a murderer doesn’t go around telling everyone of their plans, they just do it, is subtle.) he and the rest of his family would be alive today. But then again, maybe they wouldn’t because as much as I hate to be judged, I can’t imagine judging the family that remains. Most people who are depressed don’t hurt others or even themselves.

I’m sure that man’s family could have never imagined he’d do what he did and they may have even tried many times to get him help. In fact, I have a feeling they begged him to seek help many times. A person has to want to seek help.

It’s sad to think, though, that maybe one reason he didn’t seek that help was the fear of being treated just like he was in death – like a “loser” who “couldn’t get it together,” and “didn’t deserve to live.”

Just because you battle depression, doesn’t mean you are a bad mom

The mother in an online support group for moms with anxiety and depression asked all us faceless mothers on the other side of the screen: “Why can’t I get it together?”

She asked because she felt alone

Many of us let her know she was not alone, we were right there with her.

We all had felt less than. We all had felt not enough.

We all had wondered why we couldn’t seem to “get it together.”

We moms look for anything that proves we are a bad mother. We do it without even realizing we are. We may not say it, but we think it, dwell on it, speak it over ourselves.

At night, in the dark, we whisper lies to our soul.

“I’m a horrible mother.”

“What was God thinking making me their mother?”

All moms overthink motherhood at some point in their journey.

We overthink about what others think we should be doing.

We overthink about an article that listed what shouldn’t be doing and mentally check off those things we have done.

We overthink mistakes we think will ruin our children.

We overthink and overthink until our thoughts spin so far out we can’t remember where they started.

“Did I hug him enough today?”

“Did I play with her enough today?”

“Was I too easy on him when he made that mistake?”

“Should I have told her she couldn’t play that long on the phone today?”

“Is that stomachache something worse?”

And when you throw in depression? The overthinking happens even more. Thoughts spin even more, spiral us down into dispair and the inability to move forward.

Depression clouds thoughts. It stifles truth.

It tells us we are bad mothers because we deal with depression.

The reality is, all moms are flying by the seat of their pants. We trust our motherly instincts and doubt them at the same time. We are a mess of contradictions.

_DSC1083_DSC4270

_DSC5801.jpgAll moms struggle. All moms wonder why we don’t have “it” together, why we can’t just GET it together.

So often I wonder, ‘what does it mean to “get it together” anyhow?’ What are we getting together? Whose standards do we think we need to meet before we have it “all together?” Does anyone really have it, whatever it is, together?

I don’t know any human being who is perfect. They may look perfect, but we know they’re not because we’re not.

Maybe one mom doesn’t have anxiety or depression, but she has a physical limitation.

Maybe one mom looks beautiful on the outside but inside she holds on to ugly secrets.

Maybe one mom feels like slowing down and letting go of looking perfect will show she is unworthy of what she thinks she has to earn.

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Anxiety strangles me most days.

Depression whispers in my ear that I’m never going to be worth anything and I’m never going to be a good mother, writer, photographer, friend, wife, child of God.

Those are the moments I have to fight, even when I’m too tired to fight. I have to learn to expect that all things will work together for His good and His glory – even anxiety and depression.

Sometimes anxiety slows me down. Sometimes slowing down is a gift.

Sometimes slowing down makes me focus on what I have.

Sometimes slowing down reminds me what others may, or may not, be thinking about me doesn’t even matter.

Depression doesn’t make you weak.

Depression doesn’t make you wrong.

Depression doesn’t make you unworthy, unloveable.

Depression doesn’t make you a bad person.

Battling depression and anxiety doesn’t make you a bad mother.

The battle will make you stronger even when you feel weaker.

 

 

 

 

Faithfully Thinking: I refuse to call it my anxiety anymore

No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the Lord.”

Isaiah 54:17 (NKJV)

I say it at least three times a week.

“My anxiety is high today.”

“My anxiety has me stressed.”

“My anxiety is holding me back.”

“I hate my anxiety.”

Well today I have decided that I no longer want to claim anxiety as “mine.”

 

Claiming it means I own it and it owns me. Claiming it puts me in a self made prison.

Calling it mine means I expect it to be there. I expect to feel anxious. I expect to feel depressed. I expect to feel confused.

Overwhelmed.

Lost.

God did not give me anxiety.

Anxiety is not of God.

He did not hand it to me and ask me to be responsible for it. Then why should I call it “my anxiety.”

Yes I will struggle with anxiety.

Yes, it will be there when I don’t want it to be.

But it will no longer be mine.

It can be “the anxiety I face.”

Or “the anxiety I fight.”

But it will no longer be “my anxiety.”

It will no longer rule me, control me, put me in chains.

You, anxiety, and the author of anxiety no longer will have a hold on me.

You, anxiety, have no authority over me or my life.

You fall under the authority of someone much greater, someone who died on a cross to take away my infirmities.

You fall under my authority given to me by King Jesus when He died on the cross and bore all sin, all sickness, all anxiety.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12King James Version (KJV)

Through Christ I have authority over the rulers of the darkness of this world .

Anxiety, you are not mine.

Anxiety, you are not in control.

Anxiety, you will not consume me.

Anxiety, you belong with the one who resides in Hell and who will always reside in Hell.

You are not “my anxiety “.

You are his weapon of destruction but no weapon formed against me will prosper (Isaiah 54:17) and that includes the anxiety I no longer own.