I’m no stranger to anxiety or depression. Two years ago I was having intense albeit brief panic attacks every few weeks. In college, I would shift in and out of mild depression. And between these small burdens, normalcy. Lots of ordinary, happy days with strokes or dips of anxieties and depression scattered here and there. And so, I’ve built my own toolbox of sorts over the years to fix and bounce back.
Last year was a wonderful year for me for a number of reasons but the main one being the workout program I was on (still am--yay!) with my sisters. 1 sole tiny panic attack the entire year and other than the downer that was the fall back time change, I would say depression was very, very far from my mind.
Winter is a tough one for some of us. Depression & anxiety can catch us off guard when we least expect it. And so it makes sense to share these things with you now.
Sharing with you about these personal tricks I use feels like slippery vulnerability—one of those posts I’m praying finds itself in front of the right person (please) because I wouldn’t be writing this out unless I thought it had a fighting chance at helping.
And of course I have to put that very necessary disclaimer here that I am no one’s doctor. I can’t speak to clinical anxiety and depression or how to treat it except to say that my words won’t suffice. However, if like me, you know what you need is just a little tweak or boost — I genuinely hope there is something new or old here for you!
- Baby steps in the moment.
As soon as I recognize that I’m anxious (overreacting to things) or depressed (numb to things), I tell myself that. It may sound silly, but it’s super important. If I notice I’m indecisive or foggy, yep. Noted. If I start getting restless, I almost tap myself on the shoulder to say so. Additionally, if I know why I’m feeling that way I make it clear to myself, “I feel anxious because I’ve never been here before” or “I feel depressed because it’s the 4th dreary day in a row and I need some sunshine.”
Next, I figure out the action step for the moment. Not for tomorrow. Not for next week. For the next five minutes. These widely vary, so more on them in a bit. But here’s what the point of this is. Both anxiety and depression sever us from fully engaging in the moment. So, essentially, I tie myself back into the reality things. Draw a line from point A (here—literally A for Ashley) to point B. Clean 1 room. Just breathe. Sit in quiet for a minute. Listen to the person in front of me. Fill out the forms at the doctor’s office.
2. Step back & recognize patterns.
I can’t drink anything with aspartame in it because aspartame makes me cray. If people stay at my house for more than a day, I have to get up and get moving, maybe go for a long walk or a little exclusion or do a small project while they are with me or I’ll get very anxious. I know that I don’t do well having visitors over (except for just a very, very small number of people really close to me) while Paul is gone for a travel week—the stress is simply just not worth it. More than a few days without exercise and I’m a hot mess internally.
“Why did I do that?” is a great question to think about 1 day or 1 week after something happens where I know I was not bringing my best self forward. It’s not easy in the moment to see what set us off or sent us under. For example, I mentioned how I was having panic attacks 2 years ago. I didn’t realize why at the time, but it makes 1000% sense to me now. That was when the twins were toddlers and kept hurting themselves while their hemophilia diagnosis was still fresh. The procedures for care and payment and everything was still getting sorted out amidst visit after visit to the ER and doctor. The boys are very physical and every time they would fall or run my blood pressure would soar like my heart would burst out of my chest. Whew. I don’t know how I managed all that. Of course my body went haywire. I don’t know how it wouldn’t have. (Things are much, much calmer now. By leaps and bounds. Ha! Unintended pun.)
The problem is that we can’t always recognize prolonged stress on our bodies. But we can take note once things go haywire, that our body is sending up white flags and it is time to listen. And that’s fine too.
3. Nuts & bolts.
Here are the specific action steps I turn to when I’m feeling out of sorts. And remember, anxiety and depression are on a very wide spectrum. Even small anxieties rob us, so it’s ok to ward off those too.
- drop everything and play (or laugh or smile)
- clean 1 room
- decide on the 1 action step I can take even if the thing making me anxious is otherwise largely out of my control
- get my heart rate up
- “ground” myself—go weed, rake leaves, work in the yard, etc. (it’s a real thing. yes, it works)
- do an act of kindness for someone else
- write a prayer list for all the people I know of in just the last week or two that or hurting, healing, hoping
- write a gratitude list
- offer it up specifically by moving your feet when you don’t feel like it and offering it up in someone’s name while you do
- spread the love on social media by giving very specific and/or genuine comments
- or, if you can, do it in real life
- drink water, eat a salad, and otherwise go find some seriously needed fuel
These are just some examples. Getting my heart rate up and having quiet time are my rock solid go to options, but everyone will have their own individual things.
And one more thing, I believe we were all made to be creative. I say let those funky feelings of being tightly wound, about to scream, or sucked undertow create some beautiful art. It’s energy or the need for it in the end that sends us forth to paint, write, mince peppers, and press seeds into dirt. So, if all else falls, go play artist and let your fog, fears, or otherwise play in the driver’s seat with an outlet that’s totally safe… and maybe even life-giving.
4. Shake off the shame.
One of my favorite truisms is that the devil delights in our hiding. When we hide in our sin or our pain. Stepping out in faith may mean just saying to your spouse “I don’t know that I feel quite right. Can you help me think through this?”. Or it can be as simple as matter-of-factly saying “I’m feeling a little anxious right now but I’m listening”. The reason we feel shame is that depression & anxiety can bring out the worst in us, but working through that with the people close to us, who love us deeply, can be the most liberating, humbling, beautiful experience ever.
If you right now feel a little lump in your throat because little pieces of what I’m sharing resonates I just want to say this to you:
The people close to you want one thing more than anything else, or above all else, for you—for you to walk in freedom. For you to be completely whole. For you to feel peace.
If you feel broken up, busted, swept under, or out of control—know that it is okay. You are good. You will feel better soon. Reach out and take just 1 step today. Keep your head up. Fake it until you make it. Put on joy. And be totally okay with a little bit of a hot mess while you work out some kinks in your otherwise glorious, wonderful you.
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I wouldn't be writing to you today about this unless I myself was on solid ground. I hope this feels like an arm pulling you up. Or if you are also on solid ground but have also tripped up in the messiness of anxieties or depression, you now know you and I have a little more in common.
Life is good, but it can definitely slam us down in the ring from time to time too. Here's to dusting ourselves off and getting back in there.
Love you all,