5 Steps to Give Yourself a Fighting Chance
If depression or anxiety were suddenly not a part of your experience anymore, what would your life look and feel like? Would you be changing jobs, start a new hobby, or go out more with friends? These are some of the questions I ask my clients at the beginning of our work together. It is easy to lose sight of the life we want to live when anxiety and depression rob us of our ability to feel joy in the present moment. We tend to think that the negative experience we have at this moment dictates what is to come in the next. I have done this work long enough now, to see people heal from anxiety and depression every day. People can learn tools to manage their anxiety, and heal their depression at a core level and create a new future. What all of my successful clients have in common is the drive to dig deep, and the recognition that healing our habitual ways of being in this world requires action steps.
Depression and anxiety are genuine and can be very devastating to our quality of life. However, if we don't surround ourselves with support, exercise, get sunlight, enough sleep, and eat nutritious food, we are not giving ourselves a fighting chance. Healing and changing our life trajectory does not happen by continuing old patterns that no longer serve us. And changing our future cannot occur while we keep thinking about the past.
This week I want to share with you the five action steps that are essential in gaining control over your life and moving forward into a brighter future:
1. Surround yourself with the right support:
Talking about your painful past or your fears and worries will never get you to a better feeling future. It defies logic. You cannot get to a better feeling state by talking about your pain. Talking about your pain again and again, only keeps you stuck in it. If you have a friend that you go to with your stories of pain and betrayal, ask them to lovingly re-direct you. Some time ago, after a painful breakup, and after talking about it once again with a friend, she tenderly said to me: "Nicole, I love you too much to listen to it again. I will not have you tell me that story again because I want you to start telling me the story of what you want to create in your life instead." By re-telling our stories over and over, we reproduce the same pain and the same chemicals, and we get stuck in that place. I was initially angry when my friend said that to me, but it was the most loving thing she could have done. I encourage you to seek out a friend that carries that same love for you and can hold that space for you. At the same time, be that friend for someone else in need.
2. Choose an exercise that feels good to you
Our bodies are meant to be moving. In our society, where everything has been made so convenient for us, our bodies are not required to work as hard as they are meant to be working. It often leaves us restless and anxious, or on the flip side, it leaves us too tired and exhausted all the time. One of the best things you can do for yourself whether you suffer from depression or anxiety is to exercise your body. That doesn't mean going to the gym and walking on a treadmill if that is not what excites you. But could you join a Zumba class or a Kickboxing class? Could you take your dogs for a daily walk? Or spent time gardening each day? Exploring fun exercise opportunities will keep you from finding reasons not to go. When you find that thing that you like to do, schedule it into your day. There is no such thing as being too busy. If you know that exercise is vital in feeling better and living a happier life, it should be as much a part of your day to day as brushing your teeth. Hold yourself accountable to it.
3. Get your daily dose of sunlight
There is a reason that so many people struggle with seasonal affective disorder. Studies have shown a link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression. Statistically, people with low vitamin D are at a much higher risk of depression. Our body absorbs vitamin D, primarily through sun exposure. There are certain foods and dietary supplements you can also take, but nothing compares to getting vitamin D through sunshine. Studies show that depending on your climate, you may need anywhere between 15 minutes to 2 hours of exposure per day. So go out there, sit in the sun and read a book, or go for a long walk. Soak up nature and the sunlight and watch your mood improve.
4. Get your required sleep
When you don't get the required 7-9 hours of quality sleep you need, it can have a significant impact on your mental health. The link between sleep and mood is well established by research. People with insomnia are ten times more likely to have clinical depression and seventeen times more likely to have clinical anxiety. The more insomnia, or sleep deprivation a person experiences, the higher the chance of developing depression or anxiety. Make getting the appropriate amount of sleep a priority. There are some behavioral changes you can make to improve your odds of getting a good night of sleep such as setting regular sleep hours, no caffeine or rich foods close to bedtime, and no TV or electronics an hour before bed. It can take a little time to re-learn healthy sleep habits but making sleep a priority will help your mood more than your sleep-deprived self can imagine.
5. Eat nutritious and balanced meals
Diet is such an essential aspect of mental health that it has inspired an entire field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry. It boils down to what we eat matters in every aspect of our health, but especially our mental health. It's hard to decide what comes first. Does our poor nutrition cause depression, or are we making poor nutritional choices because of our depression. Does it really matter? The bottom line is that our dietary choices impact our mood, and the only way to change it is by making different choices. Whenever I fall into unhealthy eating habits, and I have to get myself on track again, I remind myself that only the first two days are hard. After that, my body gets accustomed to the changes, and the cravings go away. Having suffered from depression, I know for a fact that I can suffer through sugar cravings for two days. I keep reminding myself during those times that this is not the hardest thing I have ever done. It is not the hardest thing you have ever done either. You are a survivor. You can do this!
Making behavioral and lifestyle changes are hard and take commitment. If making these changes is too hard for you on your own, reach out for support. Find a friend that can be supportive and lovingly challenge you to stay on track. If the level of support you require exceeds the capabilities of friends, reach out me. Your future self will thank you!