Getting Back on Track After Depression or Anxiety
When the world seems to be falling apart around you, getting back into a more positive and meaningful mind space can seem like an almost impossible task.
Mental Health America (https://www.mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america), or MHA, is a leading community-based non-profit organization that tracks U.S. mental health trends.
In a 2020 screening study of over 1.5 million people between January and September, they found that 8 out of every 10 people reported moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It’s probably not that surprising given COVID-19 and the topsy-turvy economic and political world we’ve all been trying to navigate this past year.
But, it’s worth noting the number of people, who reached out for help with anxiety and depression, has skyrocketed, with a 93% increase in anxiety screenings and a 62% increase in depression screenings from 2019 levels. Even more concerning are the incredible increases in people who have considered suicide, the highest since MHA’s launch in 2014.
One can feel overwhelmed, isolated and hopeless in times like this. So, it’s especially important to be aware of available steps you can take to ‘right the ship’, if you will, and get back on course to a more positive place in mind and heart.
So, what can you do if you’ve been feeling anxious and depressed in the recent past and want to get back on track?
Many people have struggled with getting out of the starting gate because they often experience a lack of energy, a sense of hopelessness, and difficulty focusing.
So, the first step is to find ways to create more meaning in the world around you.
It’s about finding activities, people, or sources that bring enjoyment back into your life.
I’ve always found that when I’m struggling and feeling down or anxious, the fastest way to turn the tide, for me and many others, is to spend time with people you love who will nurture and support you through the tough times.
Not every friend is going to fit the bill though. When times are tough, you’ll find out who is really there for you and who isn’t. It’s important that they are the kind of friend that will really listen to you, that you trust, and can speak your truth to without judgment.
Time with friends is what I affectionately call my ‘little attitude adjustment’ and the biggest factor that inevitably blows the dark skies away is the healthy dose of humor we share.
As soon as I see my trusty tribe, no matter how bad my day has been, I feel instantly lighter and brighter in energy.
But, many of us often default to isolation when we’re in an emotional black hole. While self-reflection can certainly be a positive thing in any process of healing, it’s not always the best plan for overcoming significant depression or anxiety.
Isolation can exacerbate symptoms. Without positive input and supportive action from outside sources, like friends, family, counselor or spiritual guide, it can be tough to find your way off that island.
The second way to get back on track is to set some goals and priorities that get you looking to the future.
I know it can feel tough to get that brain going again, but research has consistently shown that taking action creates energy. Setting even the smallest goal can be beneficial in helping you get the mind and body moving again.
Depression loves inactivity. It loves to keep you in a helpless, hopeless place where you feel like the world is just going on as usual without you. Taking even the smallest action steps is, in and of itself, saying “I have a say in this. Don’t count me out yet!”.
Setting a larger goal can help as well, especially if the end result is something you REALLY want! It forces you to consider what steps you’d need to take to blaze that trail to victory by re-focusing your brain onto future tasks.
Keeping your eye on positive future results also distracts you from any current unpleasantness you’re experiencing in the here and now.
But, there are ways to overcome that as well.
How? Start a gratitude practice. Clients I work with consistently report that it’s one of their favorite go-to practices whenever they are overwhelmed by challenges or just dealing with a bad day. I’ve mentioned this tool in previous segments, but it’s worth saying it again because it works!
No matter how bad life seems in the moment, there is always something to be grateful for. Sometimes if life’s really hitting you hard you’ll have to dig a little deeper to find them, but making it a daily practice will help.
I know it allows me to step out of my busy, frenetic world and just acknowledge and appreciate things that most of us take for granted.
For some, stepping into a spiritual place is the answer.
Whether that’s based on a certain religion or just a simple practice of meditation, getting to a quiet space where you can feel grounded where you can see things from a bigger picture, can help put things into perspective.
It can also help to seek others out who experience similar challenges or interests. Look for support groups or activity clubs that focus on things you're challenged by (depression, health issue, loss of spouse) or things you love to do like gardening, hiking, travel or cooking.
Like to read or learn new things? Research educational opportunities on topics that make you curious and want to learn more. Learning is a lifelong process that can help you reengage in life and find that sense of purpose you crave.
Exercise, in general, is another great way to offset depression and anxiety by literally getting your body to crank out positive endorphins that will help lighten your spirit. Pick one that you like, though, so you can stay consistent with it.
The point is to act or interact. Get moving!
Put those negative emotions and thoughts on notice that you’re moving in a new direction. You owe yourself the gift of taking advantage of every resource available, so you can confidently, and actively, kick anxiety and depression to the curb.
Now, these suggestions are intended for those who are experiencing short-term symptoms of depression or anxiety due to highly stressful, but temporary situations.
But, if you have experienced long-term or severe symptoms on a debilitating level and haven’t already done so, I recommend getting immediate professional help via a licensed therapist or other mental health professional. There's plenty of help available no matter what level of budget you have.
You can start by talking with your physician to get a referral, then make that your goal action step!
So, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!