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Coping Better with Anxiety and Depression is Possible

Coping better with anxiety and depression is possible!

I know both of these conditions as I have helped many clients break free from paralyzing anxiety or debilitating depression. I too have found freedom from the anxiety I first intensely experienced as an undergraduate college student with zero coping tools. And as for depression, I experienced it a few times during my pregnancy and the first month after my son’s birth.

Today I view anxiety as a gift! Because of anxiety, I have to have a committed self-care practice or I’ll experience painful physical and emotional symptoms. Having experienced a brief period of depression and mood swings after my son’s birth increased my understanding and empathy for others who live with this condition. Fortunately, both have high rates of treatment success!

Below is just a short list of the coping tools I have discovered through my years of working with clients and my own life experience. The first and possibly most important tool is facing and admitting your struggle with anxiety and/or depression and letting “IT” know it soon will no longer have the power to take away your peace and happiness.

“When you keep a secret in the dark, it grows and grows (picture your hand closed in a fist)… until you eventually act on it. If you expose it to the light (open your hand), it dies.”

– Quote from the opening scene from the documentary “Anonymous People”

10 Ways to Cope Better with Anxiety & Depression

1.) Do a partner meditation or family meditation if your children and pets want to get into the action.

“Emotion regulation” is even more effective with another person. You will experience a synergistic effect when you calm your nervous system and it calms other family member’s nervous systems too. This also creates a supportive, uplifting feeling that your partner has your back!, increases emotional and physical connection, and reduces conflict.
– Tension can melt away when you close your mouth, make skin to skin contact, breathe together, and focus on positive thoughts about your family members. 

2.) Get unstuck by stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new behaviors and thoughts or radically accepting your situation. 

According to DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) creator Marsha Linehan, when we’re faced with pain, we have four options. The first three will lessen or liberate you from pain! Only the fourth option keeps you miserable. The challenge for most of us is that no one ever taught us options 1-3.

1. Change your situation 

2. Change your perspective

3. Accept your situation

4. Don’t change or accept anything and stay miserable

For example, let’s say you lost your job and that feels devastating and terrifying because your job was your identity and it paid your bills!

1. Change your situation– This step requires the most COURAGE because change, stepping outside our comfort zone and taking new actions for most people is stressful and can require a LOT of motivation that you might be lacking if you’re feeling depressed or paralyzed with fear.

  • Don’t go it alone! Get a career coach, use your county’s workforce center or former university’s career counseling center, or ask a friend, colleague or family member to help support you.

2. Change your perspective– This step requires the most FLEXIBILITY and creativity.

  • Be OPEN to change and viewing your situation with new eyes- even if just temporarily. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses are hiring. Even if you have a PhD, you might need to be flexible in the short run to be able to pay your bills, which will lower your stress level. You might also choose to feel gratitude for finding work.
  • Changing your perspective is similar to my favorite line in a Rolling Stones song:

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”

3. Accept your situation– This step requires the most STRENGTH, surrender, and is the most radical!

  • I view this skill to be similar to becoming a “Spiritual Warrior“! According to Pema Chodron, “Instead of denying, freezing, numbing, fleeing, fighting/blaming, or indulging in addictions, spiritual warriors face their fears (and pain) head on”. They learn to ride the waves of difficult emotions, thoughts and experiences and know that they will get stronger by being fully present and making it through. Buddhists also view BOTH failure and success as part of our path. 
  • Perhaps you explored every job opening and decided that they all involved too much risk of exposure to COVID-19 or didn’t justify being away from your family? Thus, you decided to significantly decrease your expenses and temporarily use your savings. You might also shift your focus from your career to childcare, taking care of your home, and/or finally completing those important “someday” projects. If you radically accept your situation, you can make this shift with some sadness, but no longer rage or devastation. 
  • Now for the surrender piece. You might have to temporarily (or forever in some cases in life) give up your dream career. You might also need to ask for HELP from family, friends, coworkers, or your community to help you find a new job or help you pay your bills.
  • This requires RADICAL acceptance that we’re ALL going to get knocked down at times in our lives. Seeking support and encouragement from others and your own tenacity will help you get through this time and someday you’ll have the empathy to help others too.

4. Don’t change or accept anything and remain MISERABLE. This requires complaining, staying STUCK and feeling like a victim or in denial and has a huge cost. Even if you pretend that everything’s fine, your emotional and physical health will pay a cost because you can’t fool yourself in the long run.

  • An example of staying stuck would be if you lost your job, refused to get another job that didn’t meet 100% of your criteria, and then you felt miserable at home without work. Or, you took another job, but felt resentment about it. MISERY is a choice. You and your loved ones deserve better.

3.) HUMOR

We all LOVE to laugh and fortunately there are many emotional and physical health benefits! According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter can lessen anxiety and depression, increase happiness, relieve pain, improve your immune system and more.

4.) Self-help books/blogs

Here are just a few books in my collection:

For treatment of depression-

  • Living with a Black Dog by Matthew Johnstone
  • I Don’t Want to Talk about it; Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression by Terrence Real
  • When Nothing Matters Anymore; A Survival Guide for Depressed Teens by Bev Cobain, R.N. (cousin of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain)
  • Beyond the Blues; Prenatal & Pospartum Depression by S. Bennett, PhD and P. Indiman, Ed.D
  • Coping with the Blues- Healthy Ways to Feel Uplifted” blog

For treatment of anxiety-

  • The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne (a classic)
  • Stress Relief; Ultimate Teen Guide by Mark Powell and Kelly Adams
  • Stress Can Really Get on Your Nerves by Trevor Romain and Elizabeth Verdick (middle school reading level and I still recommend it for my adult clients because it has a lot of practical ideas).
  • The 10 Best Ever Anxiety Management Techniques” summary of this book (blog)

For both-

  • You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay (teaches readers how to love and accept ourselves)

5.) Discover your unique blend of coping tools. Coping is one of the three key ingredients in building resiliency!

For me, sunrise hikes or dance classes, yoga and meditation, listening to lectures by spiritual teachers, jumping on the trampoline with my son, and dates with my husband are just some of the things in my life that keep anxiety and depression at bay.

Which activities bring you the most joy and the most peace?

6.) Meaning is one of the three key ingredients in building resiliency!

In the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Frankl explained one of the key attributes he observed in individuals who survived (versus died in the concentration camps). Frankl said the survivors, in spite of the horror they witnessed and experienced, kept their sense of meaning alive. They shared with Frankl their hopes, dreams, and purpose for living; the goals they wanted to accomplish after they could be liberated.

Whatever pain you’re experiencing, reflect on who or what is keeping you alive? What are the hopes, dreams, and purpose you have or had for yourself in the past? Who do you love that motivates you to make it through another day and ideally seek improved emotional health?

Other people find strength and a sense of renewal in constructing a new narrative or meaning related to the pain they’re going through or have experienced in the past. One example is the “Cracked Pot” story.

7.) Express your authentic EMOTIONS with a solid support system. Support is one of the three key ingredients in building resiliency!

You’ll know you’re with the right “peeps” when you can be real with ALL of your emotions and experiences. Healing and empowering relationships allow you to express both your struggles and your triumphs. You also have to be REAL with yourself to truly find peace and happiness!

Consider a balance of personal and professional support. This might include an individual therapist, a support group, and a few family and friends. It’s about the quality of the support, not the quantity.

According to the world-renowned spiritual teacher and author, Pema Chodron:

“When we feel alone, our pain increases.” On the other hand, “feeling connected to others brings relief and peace. Trust that whatever shortcoming you have, other people have it too.”

With COVID-19, there are so many more online support groups. One of my colleagues “attended” an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) group on Zoom “in” Ireland! To find a support group that fits you, Google it or ask friends, family, or professionals for ideas.

I will always remember the powerful impact of attending a group called “Survival for New Moms” when my son was just 3 weeks old. I introduced myself as “I’m Lana. I’m on an emotional roller coaster ride and don’t know if I’ll be stable again to return to my career as a therapist. Has anyone else ever experienced this?” EVERYONE (all 30-40 moms) said, “Me too & you will get through this.” Knowing I wasn’t alone and there was hope prevented me from going down the postpartum depression and anxiety black hole. Within one week, I “came back”. It was an indescribable feeling.

8.) “30 Days to Grace”a powerfully simple 30 minute yoga, meditation, breathing, and journaling program (perfect for busy people)

This program was created by Diane Sieg, a former emergency room nurse who wanted to help prevent health crises. It is comprised of:

  • 5 minutes of pranayama (breathing) and focusing on your monthly intention (ex. “I come from a place of strength and move through my day without fear.”)
  • 5 minutes of meditation (getting fully present)
  • 15 minutes of yoga poses
  • 5 minutes of journaling

This program is just $20 for the CD or download to guide you through the 30 minute practice, a handout with pictures of the simple yoga poses, and ideas for setting your monthly intention.

I like to switch the order and journal first to do a “brain dump” in order to clear my mind, relax my body and get more present on my intention. One of my clients shared (with permission) that she would entirely skip the yoga poses and lengthen the other parts and felt that this program helped her tremendously in reducing anxiety.

Or, get a free application on your phone like “Insight Timer” or “Calm”

  • if yoga is not “your thing”, but you’re open to guided meditation

9.) Look for beauty in whatever form moves you.

This might be music, literature, art, film, nature, children, animals, etc. When I pause and fully take in the beauty of life, I feel uplifted, grateful and am better able to put my problems/struggle in perspective.

10.) Consider medication (an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety pill)

Everyone’s treatment plan is unique and you get to decide what works for you. I encourage my clients to be OPEN to trying new things until they find a treatment plan that works for them.

Components of a treatment plan might include: individual therapy, couples and family therapy (if relationships are in distress), healthy coping skills, and medication since all of these elements have been supported by research to alleviate anxiety and depression.

If you decide you would like to try medication, that is a decision ultimately made by you with input from a medical doctor, ideally a psychiatrist, and a therapist.

I have known LOTS of extremely high functioning people outside of my therapy office who have told me how much they have benefited from taking medication. One individual I will always remember was one of my fitness instructors. She was vice president of her company, had a black belt in karate, was a fitness instructor, married, and later a mother of two- quite impressive! And… she expressed absolute gratitude for the anti-anxiety medication she took because she said it reduced panic attacks she suffered from in the past. I believe her openness to receiving help (therapy and medication) allowed her to reach her potential.

If you have consistently participated in therapy and regularly practice self-care, but still suffer from anxiety and/or depression, you might consider trying medication.

In closing,

I hope that you learned (and will practice) at least one new strategy or idea for better managing anxiety and depression. It was quite a journey for me in my late teens not knowing any coping tools for anxiety to becoming so passionate about learning every technique under the sun. Above is just a short list of some of my favorite tools for coping better with depression and anxiety.

Please share this blog with anyone else who can benefit. By all of us taking charge of our emotional well-being, we can live life more fully and impart resilience, hope and healthy coping skills to the next generation.

Lastly, remember to PRIORITIZE your emotional wellness time!

If finding relief from anxiety and/or depression is important to you, you have to put self-care time on your calendar and follow through. Fortunately, you can expect to experience tremendous benefits!

If you’re struggling with anxiety and/or depression and would like support~

Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III at 720.432.5262, [email protected], or schedule your free consultation or session online.