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Tips to Combat Depression and Anxiety on a Daily Basis

Depression and anxiety. Both terms have become household words these days. It seems like everywhere we turn, someone is struggling with the daily grind. Who among us hasn’t experienced a down day or a sleepless night, ruminating over our worries? Whether it is a temporary hiccup or a clinical diagnosis, depression or anxiety can magnify ordinary stressors into seemingly insurmountable problems. What’s worse is that depression and anxiety can occur together.

On the surface, it makes no sense. Depression and anxiety seem like exact opposites. Depression saps our energy and motivation. Anxiety makes us restless and discontent. Depression makes us feel sad and worthless. Anxiety, on the other hand, argues we need to strive to be more perfect. Depression tells us we have nothing, anxiety predicts we never will. Both are rooted in our thinking, feelings and behaviors, no matter what message they send us. That knowledge is the key to coping! Try the following ideas to help combat depression and anxiety if you are struggling.

Notice and Challenge Negative Thought Patterns

Cognitive behavioral theory tells us that our thoughts generate our feelings, and that our feelings drive our behavior. Both depression and anxiety generate overwhelming, negative thoughts that keep us immobilized and helpless. After a particularly powerful surge of negative emotion, ask “What was going through my head just now?” If you can capture the thought, you can rewrite it into something more accurate. Shift extreme thoughts into something more moderate. Look for objective evidence outside of your emotions. Bring yourself out of the future, and into the present.

Keep Your Mind Active with Routine

When our emotions get the better of us, we tend to isolate and slow down. Some historians think that this had some evolutionary advantage back when the world was a more dangerous place. Now the isolation just feeds our negative emotions and increases our anxiety. Create a daily routine. Nothing complicated… just 4-5 things that you can commit to doing every day. Share them with a friend or family member who can help you stay accountable. Make sure you include pleasurable activities as well as self-care tasks.

Self-Care – Make it a Priority

Depression and anxiety hurt! We all need to be nurtured when we aren’t feeling well. Maslow, a famous psychologist, argued that we could not feel a sense of belonging or self-esteem if our basic physiological needs weren’t being met. Pay attention to the basics. Get enough (but not too much) rest, eat well, and jump into the shower whether you feel like it or not.

Exercise is Crucial for our Mental Health

I keep waiting for researchers to tell me that the cure to all my problems can be found on my living room sofa, but it just isn’t happening. Regular exercise is the number one tool we have for managing both depression and/or anxiety. Aerobic exercise is good, even if it’s just a walk, but strength-building will give you an even bigger bang for your buck. So pick up a few hand weights, or fill a few grocery bags and start lifting.

Spend Time With Others

We live in a society that values autonomy and a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” approach to living. But did you know that the original meaning of that expression meant to attempt something that was impossible? We are social creatures and we need others to cheer us on and challenge our crazier thoughts.

Cultivate Radical Acceptance - “It is what it is”

Radical acceptance, a term that comes from dialectical behavioral therapy, suggests that if we can’t solve a problem or change our thinking, and if we don’t want to remain miserable, then it is best to accept the temporary state of things and turn our attention elsewhere. If I am dreading the outcome of an exam, for example, I can worry about it all evening or I can accept that it “is what it is” and focus on something else. Perhaps I can help a friend, play with the dog, or just lose myself in a funny television show.

Both depression and anxiety turn our attention inward, away from the world around us. Actively combating them by using the suggestions above should help you re-engage in life. However, if you’ve tried the above tips and don’t experience a lasting improvement, seek professional help. There is no need to struggle alone!

Jennifer Baker, LIMHP, LICSW
Jennifer Baker, LIMHP, LICSW

Jennifer Baker, LIMHP, LICSW is a Mental Health provider with CHI Health.

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