I haven’t opened my daily planner in weeks and while a part of me finds that refreshing, the other part of me is internally freaking out because, well…I’m a planner. I write things down, I love to be organized, and I like knowing what’s coming up. That’s not to say a little spontaneity isn’t appreciated, but complete uncertainty is just a bit overwhelming. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression for most of her life, it’s times like these when it can feel like an uphill battle. When your brain won’t shut off or you’re stuck in a loop of negative thinking or worry.
My little family is very fortunate as our daily lives remain relatively uninterrupted. Being a stay-at-home mom (and introvert) and homeschooler has pretty much prepared us for what most everyone else is adjusting to. Josh works an “essential” job (mate at Trader Joe’s) so we thankfully have a consistent income. BUT having all of the extracurricular activities cancelled, routines upended, and physical separation from outside family members and friends is hard. It’s times like these that serve as a reminder: “Hey, remember how you thought you overcame anxiety and depression? Well, I’m here to tell you we were just laying dormant….surprise! We’re back!”
Most of my days are spent in the happy, calm zone, but I’ve learned that these struggles can resurface under certain triggers.
Over the years, I have found what works for me – ways to calm the noisy mind or recognize the presence of my dark passenger and how to say, “I see you, but not today.” With all that is going on in the world today, even if you don’t live with anxiety and/or depression, you might be feeling some shifts mentally and that’s to be expected. I wanted to share some things that help me during difficult times – rituals, habits, and activities – in hopes that maybe it could help someone else.
1. Turn off the news.
As silly as it sounds, it makes a big difference. Before we cancelled cable seven or so years ago, I was easily influenced by the news and watched it like a drug. I knew it was bad for me, but needed to know what was going on in the world. Definitely not a healthy thing for an anxious person – those upsetting, depressing, drama filled headlines would be on constant replay in my mind. Luckily, all we have now is Netflix and Amazon Prime…and if there’s something I need to know about, family or friends clue me in 😉
2. Pick up a book.
Over the last three years, I’ve really increased the amount of time I spend reading books and I can without a doubt say that it has improved my mental health. To me, books are magic – they can transport you to different worlds and eras, provide an escape, and ignite your imagination. I have different genres I gravitate towards depending on my mood. When I need to be uplifted or encouraged, I grab a Brené Brown book. If I need a complete escape or an easy, entertaining read, I might grab a fantasy novel (I highly recommend Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward) or Harry Potter. Then there are times I just want to feel all of the emotions and fall in love with the characters….that’s when I grab historical fiction, such as The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I know libraries are closed right now, but browse some e-books to borrow or even audio books.
If you’re a parent reading this post, then you’ve most likely got kids home from school – I highly recommend reading aloud with them! Reading together with Willow is my favorite thing of all.
A big source of my anxiety is when things pile up. Emails, to-do lists, laundry, dishes, etc. One quick way for me to lighten the frenzy is to open my email inbox and delete the junk or unsubscribe from some emails. On any given day, it was not unusual to see 65-70 emails waiting to be opened and most ended up being garbage. At one point, I was getting emails from 20-30 blogs, daily emails from companies or organizations I no longer shopped with/supported, and the important emails were getting lost in the shuffle. Not anymore! Weight lifted, anxiety lessened. Same goes in other areas – I look for physical things to let go of in times of mental health struggles. This could be cleaning out my purse, throwing away old receipts, or putting together a box of donations (clothes, books, household items) that no longer serve me.
I’ve always had an interest in yoga, but never sought out a daily practice…until last year. I’m not one to actually attend a physical class/studio as I prefer the comfort of my own home, but I am so grateful for the free content out there to help improve my practice. I’m in the middle of another 30-day yoga challenge with my go-to: Yoga with Adriene! I have been a huge fan of her for so many reasons and during this time of uncertainty and isolation, she’s been a wonderful source of peace. She has a beautiful presence and over time, it feels like your hitting the mat with an old friend. I love that her videos can work with all levels and she doesn’t come off as holier than thou – Adriene is very lighthearted and encouraging. Yoga has helped me to focus on moving my body and breathing.
I’m approaching 900 consecutive days of meditation and I don’t see myself breaking this streak anytime soon. Making this a daily/nightly practice has greatly improved my anxiety and helped me to be more mindful of my negative thoughts. Insight Timer is still by go-to and I love being able to choose whatever suits my mood. Long or short, guided or instrumental, whatever I pick, I’m always focusing on my breathing.
Depending on my mood, this could be anything from writing to baking or doodling and painting….or if I’m feeling extra crafty, I’ll tackle a DIY of some sort. I love watching Lone Fox’s YouTube channel for inspiration, plus he has a beautiful energy about him. But lately I’ve really been using baking as a source of therapy – only downfall is that I no longer have people outside my little family to share the creations with.
7. Make a short To-Do list.
Productivity or feeling like you’ve accomplished something is one way to ease my anxiety and depression. I’m not talking long to-do lists that can’t be realistically tackled, but starting with a list of 3-4 doable things. For my birthday last month, Josh bought me Two Minute Mornings and part of each entry you write down three things you’re going to focus on. I usually jot down something like: write for at least 20 minutes, yoga, and a specific chore/task. For me, there’s a great feeling that comes along with crossing off items on a to-do list.
8. Find what makes you LAUGH!
I am usually one to say no to screens before bed, but the last few nights, I have been re-watching episodes of The Office and goodness, it’s been a great way to escape our current reality. My other go-to shows for decompressing: Friends, Frasier, or The Good Place. Maybe podcasts are your jam…find one that makes you laugh!
Another way that doesn’t involve technology…giving your cats a pile of catnip to roll around in. Talk about funny and entertaining 😆
OR make someone else laugh! Whether that’s sending a funny photo or video to a friend, making silly faces for your kid, or telling a joke – I can guarantee that your mood will improve!
9. Keep in touch with family & friends.
And not just through texting! Without the in-person contact, we’ve come to really rely on FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom. Being able to see an actual face and hear those familiar voices is just what the soul needs. I miss my weekly face-to-face chats with friends and family, but video chats are the next best thing. The other day, Willow FaceTimed with a friend – they took turns telling jokes and listening to their laughter was so soul soothing. If anyone reading this needs someone to talk to…I’m here to listen!
10. Treat yourself.
This could be indulging in a sweet treat from the grocery store (or online via Vitacost), trying a new product you’ve had your eye on for a while, or buying a new book.
11. Get outside.
Do not underestimate the power of sunshine and fresh air. While we may not be able to get out for an adventurous hike or go camping, we do have our backyard sanctuary. I encourage you to get out on your balcony, take a walk through your quiet neighborhood, sit on your front porch, or start getting your garden prepped. I’ve been outside pulling weeds, cleaning up all of the dried pine needles and leaves, and just enjoying the warm sunshine on my face. Willow and I like to read outside or get crafty – last week we spent a few hours painting rocks in the backyard. For me, that time outside is like hitting the reset button. I come back in feeling recharged and at peace.
This will be different for everyone. Some people like listening to sad songs when they’re sad or loud, angry songs when they’re feeling upset or frustrated. I know I have various playlists on Spotify…each one for a different mood. Everything from Vance Joy to P!ink to Imagine Dragons to Vivaldi. There’s a song ready at my fingertips, whether I need to relax or be uplifted.
13. Do a cleaning challenge!
Man, this has been SO GOOD for my anxiety! Clutter, piles scattered, and overall messiness ramps up my anxiety, so finding a good cleaning challenge has been a source of free therapy. There are endless challenges you can find through Google or Pinterest, but I found a 28-day spring cleaning challenge that has helped me to focus on something new each day. This has also shown me areas I need to clean more often…hello, refrigerator shelves and walls throughout the house. For me, walking into a clean house induces peace of mind.
14. Animal companion.
If you don’t have a dog or a cat, now more than ever is a wonderful time to foster or adopt one! With shelters short on staff/volunteers or closing completely, there are animals in need of a home. We’ve got two cats to love on and snuggle with – I couldn’t imagine our home without them. Since October, we’ve also been fostering dogs and that has done wonders for my mental health. Not only do they get a safe place to stay, but getting the chance to show them pure love is amazing. Plus, studies have shown that having an animal companion can improve mental health – lower anxiety and depression.
15. Do something for YOU…pamper yourself.
Another one that will look different for everyone, but sometimes it helps to take a few moments and do something for yourself that maybe you usually don’t take the time for. Maybe that’s taking a long bubble bath or an uninterrupted hot shower (if you’re a mom, you know how tricky this can sometimes be). Or maybe it’s having a mini spa day at home: applying a mask, soaking your feet, or painting your nails. Show a little extra self-love somehow.
16. Give back or pay it forward.
There are endless ways to do this and I know during this time of social distancing it makes it a bit challenging, but maybe check in on an elderly neighbor (or do some grocery shopping for them) and as mentioned above….foster a dog! If you’re able to, donate to an organization in need – even if it’s $5. A little goes a long way and it’s a win win situation for those receiving and giving.
17. Learn a new skill or hone in on an old one.
Maybe you have a list of things you want to learn how to do…or there’s something you want to improve on. For me, putting my energy into something that takes my mind off of current events helps keep anxiety and depression at bay. At the moment, Willow and I have a few things we’re learning together: Spanish, improving our chess game, and trying to figure out the ukulele. While Willow practices her cursive, I’ve been enjoying fine tuning my hand lettering.
18. Nourish your body.
When feelings of anxiety or depression creep in, the first thing I do is take a closer look at what I’ve been eating. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an emotional eater. I turn to comfort foods and become lazier with food prep….which means I’m more prone to grab a pre-packaged item or things heavier in salt or sweet. This might sound silly, but when I notice I’m feeling a little anxious or depressed, I’ll up the greens in my diet or make a protein filled smoothie. I definitely recognize when I’ve had too much sugar or when I’m lacking something so I’m quick to adjust. Another thing I check is hydration – when I’ve had enough water, my energy is up and I feel more balanced. Too much water (over hydration) is a real thing…take it from me and my 1.5 week long gallon a day challenge.
19. Talk with someone.
Finding someone to be 100% open and honest with is key. Being able to be upfront with your feelings (good or bad) is the best release. And finding that someone who will listen and not try to “fix” you is absolutely necessary. Your feelings are real and often times just being able to admit you’re feeling anxious or depressed is half the battle.
If you’re in total isolation, I am sending you a GIANT virtual hug! When Willow first wakes up she immediately gives me a hug and I swear it completely brightens my mood. I don’t take hugs from my little family for granted…especially during times like these.
I hope you were able to find something within this list that you can incorporate into your life! Whether you live with anxiety or depression or struggling during this world-wide state of uncertainty, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I would love to hear from you – what are some ways that help you cope? What are your outlets to decompress or destress? Let me know in a comment below!
Lots of love,