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.
- 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.