Whatever way you slice it, these feelings / mental states work together in weird–and often sinister–ways.
At least that is what I’ve found to be true in my life.
I mainly deal with anxiety, but there have been times in my life when both anxiety and depression have been inextricably linked.
One goes up–and the other one is not far behind.
The opposite is also true for me.
Get one under control, and the other one is likely to follow.
But what do you do when anxiety and depression just won’t go away?
Here’s what has worked for me.
I offer up these tips in case they work for you.
All I can do is continue to share my story and hope that it overlaps with yours in some small way.
Let’s get started.
1. I focus on the fundamentals.
If I don’t have my sleep, I cannot have good mental health.
This is just a fact.
There was a period in my life in which I went 5 months without sleeping. That period was also the highest my anxiety and depression have ever been.
And the thing with my anxiety is that once I get in my head, it creates a snowball effect.
Negative thoughts and over-thinking are physically and emotionally draining.
Specifically, I’ve discovered that mental agitation can have real physical impact.
And now that I’ve studied it for years, I know just how connected our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors truly are.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is predicated on that very fact.
So I focus on the fundamentals, like getting enough sleep, eating high-quality food, and exercising at least two times a week.
This has been a huge one for me–dare I say, it has been a game-changer.
Mindfulness can come from lots of places, but, for me, it comes from daily meditation.
It doesn’t have to be a lot of meditation–one to two minutes a day will suffice.
Interesting side note: I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies (which trigger anxiety!), and I used to think I had to do everything in a perfect way in order to get optimal results.
But this is just not true. When building any new habit (read on for more about habits), it’s important to start with the absolute minimum amount of the behavior that you’re working on.
Why is that?
It’s because change is hard.
Humans are stubborn creatures, and we like to stick with what we’re used to. But by doing very small amounts of something, it’s easier to commit to it–and then build upon it over time.
It works for starting a meditation practice, but it could work for starting a push-ups routine– or even remembering to floss your teeth every day.
But back to mindfulness.
Being more mindful and present has absolutely transformed my quality of life.
It sounds really stupid that focusing on my breathing for a few minutes every day could do this, but it’s true.
It’s the tantalizingly simple and stupid things that will change your life.
But how exactly has it changed my life?
Well, it’s allowed me to notice more things.
I can pick up more subtleties in life. I can see slight shifts in posture. I can see the onset of micro-aggressions. I can defuse situations more easily because I can see more possibilities for how to do so.
It’s simple science: the more information you can collect, the greater your chances for resolving a situation in your favor.
But beyond its practical benefits, mindfulness has helped me cope with anxiety and depression.
When I’m present in the moment, engaged and giving it my full attention, I’m not thinking about other things.
That means there are fewer times that I’m worrying or perseverating about something that is not worth my time and energy.
It’s because of this: I’ve found that anxiety and depression are out of sync with the time that I’m in.
They latch onto the past or the future to search for answers or struggle with a current problem, endlessly trying to mentally manipulate something that is causing great discomfort.
But when has this ever worked? For anyone?
Yet still, the anxious and depressed ones walk the Earth.
Being mindful is a superpower.
It is the skill to stay focused in the moment, the only time you ever have to change your life.
3. I live a life of good habits and routines.
This axiom took me a while to figure out. I had to wrestle with some questions and limiting beliefs before I could find a system that works for me.
I had to grapple with questions like:
Is it counterproductive to spend a lot of time planning out my day?
Am I letting my anxiety getting the best of me by obsessing over habits and routines?
To this second point, if you live with anxiety, becoming obsessed with the process of doing something is a very real possibility.
There were times in my life when I thought I had to be optimizing every single moment.
I would finish one book only to immediately move on to the next so that I could frantically learn as much as possible.
But the way I approached it was steeped in anxiety.
It was fear-based decision-making.
Instead, I’ve found that the key to a good system–or routine, in this case–is to find the right balance of pressure.
What I mean is that you want to have enough structure to keep yourself organized and focused–but not so much structure that you beat yourself up at the first minor slip-up.
The real world doesn’t function like an anxious mind. The real world is constantly in flux.
n the real world, literally anything can happen.
But in the world of the anxious mind, everything must take place in a precise order, at a precise time.
It’s just not realistic.
The key is to meld the analysis and preparation that come from an anxious mind with the exciting, ever-changing landscape of opportunities and possibilities in the real world.
This fourth and final component of my master plan to ward off anxiety and depression is something that I’ve taken to heart only over the last year or so.
Taking action is how I beat anxiety and depression.
There is no way that I can transcend a depressive or anxious state by remaining in the mental state that is holding me back.
Likewise, there is no way I can make progress with my goals by ruminating about what I should have said or could have–or what I might possibly do in the future if so-and-so does this or says that.
This has never, ever worked for me.
The only things that change my life are the lots of tiny actions that I take, on a daily basis, to change my life.
If it sounds overly simplistic, it’s because it is.
Think about it.
How did you accomplish any big goal in your life? How have you surmounted any great obstacle?
Did you all of a sudden just do it in one gigantic leap of courage?
Or did you build up to it–taking the many, minor actions to eventually achieve your dreams?
Anxiety and depression want to trick you.
They will do their best to convince you that what it takes to accomplish anything in life is to achieve the impossible, like jumping 20 feet over a pit of snakes.
But maybe you don’t need to do that.
Maybe if you just stopped for a second you could see another path.
Maybe you don’t need to jump at all?
And maybe, just maybe, you find out that this isn’t even the path you need to be on in the first place.
Maybe cutting to the left and climbing up that peculiar hill will give you a better view–and a greater perspective–of what you truly love doing.
You have no way of knowing. Until you act.
That is what life is all about.
You can live in your head all you want, but you and I both know that doesn’t work very well.
Start small. Make basic changes to change your life.
Once you do that, you’ll start to build up credibility with yourself. You’ll start to see yourself as a person who does what she says she’s going to do.
It’s not glamorous. But it works.
It worked for me, and it can work for you too.
Previously published on Goodmenproject.com