Your mental or physical illness won’t take a break around the holidays, so you might as well make a place for it at your table and on your schedule. There will be times when you can’t even bring yourself to work on the laundry list of items that need done before the 25th or whenever you observe your special time. That’s okay. Try not to be too hard on yourself. Sometimes doing the best you can means just waking up. Stressing yourself out will only make it worse. Take care.
This afternoon, I had an episode of anxiety laced with depression.
It wasn’t like it sometimes is, where it’s following in the wake of a runaway stress motorboat. It also didn’t descend over me like a blanket of smoke — the kind where you wake up into it and realize you can neither breathe nor see a few inches past your face.
It came on a beautiful, quiet day, when work wasn’t sucking and I wasn’t at odds with anyone. It came without any provocation, when I had been eating well and stretching and exercising and drinking lots of water. It came like a flaming toilet hurtling from outer space.
It happens. Like shit.
And it’s easy to get angry. I did, scrubbing tears off my cheeks and all but flinging them across the room. Because while one part of my brain was having a meltdown, the other part was standing over top of them going, “Dude, what is wrong with you?”
And there isn’t an answer when this happens. You can sort of take note, recognize it for what it is, but it is literally a whirlpool. And the more you fight, the more tired and aching you get.
A few reminders when you’re going through this (for you as much as me):
- You are not broken. You are not damaged goods. And accepting that means also accepting that there are no returns.
- There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Be calm and approach someone you trust and explain the situation. Let the love in, as much as you are concerned about being “annoying” or “clingy.”
- Breathe. Just give yourself some time and some space. You are okay.
- This too shall pass.
So you’re stuck at work or at a party or you’re in the middle of a crowded Chipotle, and suddenly it hits you like a summer thunderstorm: stress. Just like that, you go from ‘I think I *will* get guac, even though it’s going to cost extra’ to ‘I’m never going to be able to finish all the things I have going on right now.’ Some people may not be able to wrap their mind around that, but as someone who suffers from anxiety, it happens more often than I would like.
And while you can give people the pointers that work in the long run – exercise, meditation, the right amount of sleep, the corrective dosage of vitamin chill – sometimes that’s not going to be possible in the middle of rush hour.
So here are five methods of dealing with stress on the spot:
- Visualization and dialogue: I have found that a very helpful way of dealing with immediate attacks of stress is to imagine it as a person or object that you can talk to. Explain in no uncertain terms that you acknowledge its existence and that you will deal with it in time. Let stress stand next to you in line, but do not let it do the ordering.
- Count your breaths: You obviously can’t go into downward dog in the middle of Denny’s, but you can inhale and exhale (and you should be doing that already). My favorite count is a 7-second in and 11-second out.
- Focus on details: This is especially helpful if you can find something pleasant to focus on, like a flower or an animal. But put all your attention on an object and list as many details in your head as possible. What color is it? What size? What’s your favorite part of that object? Make up a story about it. Anything to divert your attention from the inside of your own head.
- Stockpile your favorite funny things: Jokes, vines, one-liners. You can even keep them programmed into your phone. Look at a few and have a laugh. I find humor is a quick way to distract myself. And if I don’t have anything, I force myself to smile. It works surprisingly well.
- Think of your favorite song: A happy song. Upbeat. If you can, sing it or hum it. Dance a little (like no one is watching – even if they are). If you have earbuds, listen to it on your phone. Let it take you to a better time. Enjoy it.
How do you deal with stress on the go? Tell me about it!
Remember how I was talking about the whole holiday letdown bit? Yeah, one of the side effects is depression. Not exactly fiery poops or death, but depression really sucks.
I have suffered from depression since puberty, and its hyperactive cousin anxiety has been around even longer than that. Even after that long, I’m still not used to knowing when it’s around. Suddenly, I’m just frustrated and I don’t want to do anything or go anywhere. My mind goes all out to ridiculous places. I suddenly question everything: my job, my home, my friends, my entire life. It’s like everything in me assumes that I made some huge mistake along the way, and now how I feel is a consequence of that.
It’s so not true, y’all.
It’s easy enough to make lists of things to help you out of a funk, but when you don’t realize that that’s where you are, you may as well not have them at all. However, here are some of the things I say to myself that help:
– You are more than this feeling in this moment.
– You do not deserve this anymore than you deserve a headache or the flu.
– You’re not going to remember this. What you will remember is the things you still go and do even when you feel like this.
– Just take one step at a time. Do this thing now. Then do this. It may not be fun, but when it’s over, it’ll be better.
Anybody else struggle with depression? Anything that helps you?
Phew, guys. That’s all I can say. Phew.
These past two months have been absolutely crazy-go-nuts. In November, I did NaNoWriMo (and won!). In the middle of that was Thanksgiving, which is a big cooking holiday for us, and then everything from Black Friday until, like, this past Saturday was…Christmas.
Christmas, with the making of gifts for friends and family.
Christmas, with the enjoyment of music and movies.
Christmas, with the traveling and visiting (we live in Pittsburgh and our families live in Maryland and Southern Virginia).
Christmas, with the scheduling of all of the above.
And now New Years is in spitting distance, and I’m holding my head like…what just happened and why is 2015 ending I can’t even.
I’m not sure why, but the combination fried rice of making, doing, seeing, being and working has made my brain feel like it’s pretty much just that: scrambled egg in soft grain. With peas and carrots. I can tell that I’ve reached my limit because all my anxiety which is normally just sort of simmering beneath the surface is erupting all Old-Faithful style. This comparison works because Old Faithful is more like Anything But, because it’s not easy to predict when it’s going to happen.
My anxiety manifests itself in obsessive thinking patterns, over-analyzing, and Way Too Big Picture questioning. I get in bed, and I ask my husband, “Do you think I’m where I’m supposed to be? I’m so old. What am I doing? I’m pretty sure the world is ending.” These are not things that one should be thinking about before they sleep. In fact, my anxiety created this bizarre dream in which a Jason Momoa lookalike berated me at length – about my appearance, my life choices, what I was doing with myself.
It is safe to say I woke up confused, perturbed and hurt.
The post-holiday letdown is something I know that other people deal with too. We get so, so wrapped up in the season that when it’s all over, you end up looking around like, “Okay! What’s next?” And the answer is a big slap in the face by baby new year.
So, y’all, if you’re anything like me…be good to yourself right now. Take everything a little bit at a time. Create a to do list and commit to taking care of just one thing every day. Get sleep. Eat well, even when the anxiety demons are all, “Dip the chocolate bar IN the Speculos spread!”
You’ll feel a hell of a lot better in a week. I know it.