I am pretty good at being proactive in averting Anxiety and the onset of depressive thoughts. That said, I pretty much suck at curtailing them if they hit me for one reason or another. For instance, some times I forget to take some of my mental health medications. And some days are just tough, because life is complicated or a zinger hits me out of nowhere.
My therapist and my small library of mental health books provide me with several actions and mantras to help in both situations — starting the day off right as well as how to get yourself out of an anxious or depressive funk.
Over the past several months, I’ve been compiling the advice. But it’s hard to remember the practices, especially when that zinger hits you.
For a couple months I tried wearing a bracelet to remind me that I had practices that could help me. But I when the negative thoughts hit, I rarely looked at my wrist, saw the bracelet, and thought, “Michael, remember what you’ve been taught.” Similarly, the little notebook I compiled with the same good practices just sat in my backpack, never of use when I needed it most.
Out of sight, out of mind. I was blind to the bracelet on my wrist as well as the pocket in my backpack when hard times hit.
And then I had an epiphany. I love looking at beautiful (snazzy) photos I’ve taken — mainly (but not solely) of my garden.
Well, one day I was in a very anxious place. For some unrelated reason I had to open my photos folder. I just started clicking through my favorites. Before I realized it, a smile came to my face.
I decided to put my favorite photos on constant rotation (one every five seconds) on my laptop’s screen. As I am often working on my laptop, I didn’t need to think, “Remember to look at your favorite photos.” They were just there, quite often making me smile.
And then another, “A-ha!”
I was already looking at my screen. What if I listed my ever-growing list of tactics to stave off Anxiety along a thin band at the top of my screen. I didn’t place it so it would crowd out my photos. But I did make it so the practices and mantras were almost always in view.
This did two things. First, the practices were there whether or not I needed them. But there they were when I needed them. Also, I’ve started to memorize / internalize the practices.
While I am sure I will be adding practices as I learn more from my therapist and books, here’s where the list stands right now:
Remember to take my meds. — Breathe. — Be in the present. — Be silent. — Be humble. — Be flexible. — Exercise daily. — Each day express gratitude for 5 people. — Treat 3 existing relationships as new. — Silently wish people peace. — Assume people have positive intent. — Cheer others on. — Look at snazzy photos. — Laugh at prior mistakes. — Worry only about worthy worries. — Shed illogical worries. — Worry only about things you can take action on. — When Anxiety attacks, ask yourself “Why?” — Acknowledge Anxiety if it’s already pounced on you. Let It sit beside you, not occupy you. — Take a sick day if you’ve lost the battle. — Remember that every day is a new day.
I feel I should end this post with a disclaimer … a disclaimer targeted at those who don’t struggle with Anxiety or Depression:
To the ignorant ear, such techniques may make it sound like you can simply “snap out of” your mental illness. That would be a terrible impression for me to make. Just as you can’t will away cancer and you can’t laugh a broken leg into mending itself faster, neither can you “simply” think calm and happy thoughts to rid yourself of Anxiety.
However, just as people must find a way to live with and address the symptoms of other chronic diseases / illness (e.g. arthritis, asthma, diabetes), someone who suffers from chronic Anxiety can do things to face their symptoms successfully.
Sometimes you win the encounters; sometimes you lose.
Some days I outwit my bully; other days I have to call in sick to work. Such is life, no?