My personality and the way that I care and invest in things makes me very prone to stress, anxiety, and depression. This was something I really, really struggled with during college as my health issues, low energy levels, un-settled-ness, stress of grades and performance, exhaustion from difficult and draining courses and late nights studying, difficulty making close friends, distance from family (etc…) really led me into a difficult mental and emotional state. (Thank goodness for Drew, I’m not sure I could have made it through without him!) Things have gotten much better over the last few years as I’ve developed a happy home of my own, no longer have the stress of grades/late nights of homework, are more able to explore my creative passions, and have my health issues more under control. But I’ve noticed that depression can easily sneak up. With all the stresses and many ways that life takes hold, it isn’t hard to get to the point of overwhelm and feel like you can’t handle it all. Family dramas, work burnout, stress of future unknowns, the physical/mental/emotional weight of various work and social commitments, there are a lot of things that can subtly get you down without realizing it until you are already there.
I feel like this is something I will always battle in whatever complexity (and maybe everyone does?), but as I get older, I’m really trying harder to safeguard my mental and emotional health.
For anyone else out there that might find themselves battling stress and overwhelm, here are a few calming and stress-relieving techniques that I’ve found help me. I want to preface this by saying that I’m no expert, these are just some of my observations and I’m not perfect at having them all together either. I just wanted to share, in case this could be of help to someone else. These are not meant to be a cure for anxiety or depression, just ways to help keep a more positive physical, mental, and emotional attitude. If you are really struggling, seek professional help!
- Take care of your body. I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and hypothyroidism, I’m gluten intolerant and have a couple other minor food sensitivities, and I get headaches really easily. Because of my low energy levels and digestive issues, it is super important for me to eat a healthy, whole foods diet (free from wheat, barley, and rye, and limited on milk, eggs, and sugar) and it is essential that I get a good amount of quality sleep (8-10 hours a night, doing my best to avoid waking up in the middle of the night). I also need to eat healthy snacks throughout the day (I get headaches when I’m hungry), take my vitamins, get more exercise (Pilates/yoga and walks around the neighborhood), let go of stress and keep up positive feelings. You might not have the same dietary restrictions as I do, but eating healthy, whole foods, getting good sleep, and exercising is important for everyone!
- Let go. This can be a really hard one, but a really important one. There are a lot of things that can be toxic in our lives – family drama, bad relationships, bad workplace environment, stress from where you live, etc. These are often hard to control. But it is really important to do everything you can to not let these things affect you for the worse. Let go of the toxic relationships in your life, change your workplace, move to a less stressful environment, whatever it takes. Living in a toxic situation just tears you down mentally, physically, and emotionally. Maybe for you this is as simple as disconnecting/unfollowing/unfriending — removing the people from your life that make you mad/jealous, you don’t really know any longer, don’t bring joy to your life, etc. It could also mean curating the information that comes in — from news sources, social media, etc. Stop letting information in that just tears you down. In the same respect, let go of things in other areas of your life that aren’t working any more. Let go of goals that don’t work any longer, bad feelings, past hurts, disappointments, and as said above, people that aren’t healthy in your life.
- Simplify. The things we surround ourselves with take up so much mental, physical, and emotional space in our lives. We often surround ourselves with so many things that they become a burden — a burden to clean, to put away, to find a home for, to take care of, to repair, to manage, etc. It is so freeing to get rid of the excess and to not feel so tied down to objects — keeping only the things in your life that bring you joy. Clear out the junk, de-clutter, clean out your closet, get rid of everything in your house that you don’t use or don’t love. Less stuff equals more time, more happiness, and more joy. In the same respect, evaluate new purchases so that you don’t end up buying new things you don’t need.
- Put some love into your home. I’ve found that one of the biggest contributors to keeping my sanity is having a nice, safe, comforting place to come home to in the evenings. It is a respite from a long work day and a place that I feel relaxed and safe. One of my biggest struggles during the beginning of my college years was that I didn’t have this place to come home to and feel settled in. If your home isn’t doing this for you, consider investing a little into it. Make it a place you enjoy coming home to at the end of the day (or all day if you work from home).
- Make time in the day to focus on your passions. It is really easy to get caught up in the get up, go to work all day, come home, clean up the house, make dinner, go to bed routine, leaving no time left to focus on things you really love or enjoy. I’ve found that if I neglect my creative passions and personal goals for too long, I start to really feel depressed (and that my day job (or school when I was in college) is taking over my life). For me this means carving out a little time in the evenings (even just a couple times a week) to read, work on personal design work, decorate, paint, crochet, practice calligraphy, learn new skills, etc. During college I really didn’t have time to focus on a lot of these, or they were tied into my school work, so my “outlet” became cooking a nice dinner every evening. It was the one time of the evening that I could forget about the work I needed to do and just focus on preparing the meal. Whatever it is for you – set that time aside for it.
- Fun counts. A friend of mine from work shared this bit of advice with me and I love it. So often we think “fun” things should take a backseat to more important life things. But if we don’t make time for fun, we end up feeling empty and depressed. For me, this means that even in the middle of a busy week, I need to make time to meet with my church group, have a movie night with Drew, get out of the house and explore the city I live in, read, watch TV, do something relaxing and refreshing, take a walk. Live a simpler and more intentional life, enjoying the here and now. This could also tie into your passions, and sometimes it does for me, but even your creative passions can be stressful and overwhelming sometimes and it is good to take a break from them to relax and watch a movie (or whatever).
- Create a calm mind. By this, I mean taking the time to rest your brain. Making time for work, personal upkeep, creative passions, etc. can lead to a pretty busy and hectic life if we let it. Make sure to allow yourself a little down time for your sanity. Spend time in prayer/devotion, meditation, yoga/exercise, a peaceful walk around the neighborhood, journaling, time to read, to practice gratitude and reflect on your blessings, whatever this means to you. Just take the time to quiet other stimuli and practice solitude. Trust me, it is hard to make time for this, but it is oh-so-good for your sanity. I’ve found that often the only time I end up setting aside for this is when I’m in the car on my commute to work and back. But even just those few minutes of calm/silence can make a big difference in my day(s).
- Create a calm morning routine. A nice cup of tea or even just warm water with honey and lemon is really nice to sip on while getting ready in the morning. Having a morning devotional, prayer time, journaling, meditation–whatever way it takes to start your day in a calm way (instead of rushing around like a crazy person to get to work or school on time!). Try not to check your phone/e-mails before work (otherwise I compose e-mail responses over and over again in my head until I get to work and can actually reply!). I struggle a lot with having a calm morning routine (I’m always so tired that I want to get every last second of sleep, meaning I often wake up too late and I’m in a rush) but I think this is one of the best ways to make sure you start your day off on the right foot.
- Create a consistent evening routine. This can be different for everyone, but for me, I like to try to get in the shower by 9 p.m. and get in bed by 10 (I’m naturally a night owl, so this takes a lot of effort for me). Ideally I would then have a little bit of time to read and decompress from the day before going to sleep by 10:30 or 11 p.m. For you, this could also mean a quick pick up of the house, running of the dishwasher, wiping down of the kitchen counters, picking out your clothes for the next day, packing lunch(es), etc. Whatever it takes to get to bed on time and make the next morning/day less stressful.
Those are great overall life goals to keep stress and depression at bay (for me at least), but what to do when you are really having a rough day? Here are a few simple things that help me when I’m in a really low spot or having a particularly stressful day:
- Take a few deep breaths and read “Desiderata.” During one particularly rough time in college, my dad called me and read this poem to me over the phone, hoping that it would help me. He often quotes it, especially in that “the universe is unfolding as it should.” I find that when I’m having a hard time, re-reading it not only reminds me of him and that memory and that everything will be okay, but it brings a little more peace into my life. Here it is:
Latin for “things to be desired”
Max Ehrmann, 1927
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
- Drink a cup of tea or hot chocolate. In the middle of the work day, I often can’t stop what I’m doing to do something more fun and creative if I’m having a bad day, so the best I can do is take small steps to improving my day/attitude. There is just something soul-warming about a nice warm drink to sip on. It can also make working on unenjoyable tasks a little more enjoyable.
- Prayer, meditation, gratitude. Day not going well? Take a few minutes to pray about it. Or take a few minutes to meditate and shift your focus. Or spend a few minutes thinking about all the blessings in your life instead of focusing on your troubles.
- Re-evaluation. Depending on your situation, this might not work, but often times the easiest solution is the simplist. Ask yourself “Does this really matter?” “Is this situation going to matter in five years?” If not, try to let it go. I sometimes get stressed about things that in the scheme of things don’t really matter. But I get invested and when things don’t go my way I get hurt. Other ways to phrase this are, “the less you give a damn the happier you’ll be” and “fill your heart with what’s important and be done with all the rest.”
- Writing it out. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in certain situations that I keep re-living them over and over in my head, making me unable to move on with my life or focus on the tasks at hand. I’ve found that sometimes I just need to write it out to get it out of my head so that I can move on. Grab a notebook or open a Google or Word document and write it all out. Once you are done, close the notebook/document and move on to the next thing. You can also talk it out with someone, but I’ve found that is often too close to gossiping/complaining and can sometimes exaggerate the problem. We are trying to let it go (not give it new life with someone else). Write it down where only you will see it, delete the document at the end if you need to, and move on.
- Read a book. This isn’t always an option (especially if you are at work), but if this is possible in your situation, take advantage of it. Pick up a book and get lost in someone else’s story. It is good to forget about yourself for a bit.
- Make something with your hands. Paint, craft, crochet, garden, build something, whatever, but do something that you can feel good about making. This is such a positive mental booster.
- Evaluate commitments. Is your stress coming from having too many plans, things to do, and places to be? Consider reevaluating your priorities and letting go of some commitments. Make less evening plans and spend more weekends free. Sometimes that simple solution is so great for your mental space. Maybe it isn’t too many commitments but some other thing that triggers your stress. Try to find a way to remove that stress trigger from your life.
- Check some things off your to-do list. This one is pretty obvious, but again, sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. Are you stressed because you have too many things on your to-do list, but you can’t re-evaluate any of those plans? Go through the list and circle the ones that will take you the least amount of time to do, then go do them as fast as you can. This applies to work tasks or home tasks. It almost never fails that there will be things on your list that will only take you a few minutes, yet they are adding so much stress to your plate to see another line item to-do. After checking off a few things you will already feel so much more accomplished and ready to tackle the bigger things on your list.
- Spend quality time with someone you love. This one is also pretty obvious, but sometimes the best medicine is to forget about your problems and just hang out with someone you love. (Serotonin is an amazing healer, so spend some time in a long hug.) If you don’t have someone nearby who is free, call someone — a significant other, parent, sibling, friend, colleague, neighbor — whomever. Don’t let yourself get to feeling too lonely. (Loneliness is the root of all evil for someone prone to depression!)
- Turn up the music. I usually just turn on my favorite Pandora station or look up my favorite song on YouTube, but I would love to sit down and compile a playlist of songs that bring me joy to play when I’m feeling down.
- Remember that “this too shall pass.” Sometimes, we don’t have much control over the stressful situations in our lives. But, often times those things won’t last forever. As much as I wish I could say that I always lived in the moment and enjoyed each day, sometimes the best medicine is to think about the future when one day the stress that you are currently going through won’t exist. (This is mostly how I got through college. Telling myself it wouldn’t last forever and trudging through!) Make it through each day with your future goals in mind — be it a new job, a different career path, a new relationship, the excitement of starting a family, getting your debt paid off, going back to school, getting through a divorce, moving forward after a death in the family — whatever it may be, better days lie ahead!
Remember that having a bad day (or even a sequence of bad days) doesn’t mean you have a bad life!
What about you? Do you have any tips or tricks for how you de-stress and stay positive? I love this article on 10 ways to de-stress your day, hour by hour. I once read a book that said you should write a positive, affirmative letter to yourself to read when you are feeling down. Another idea was to take a dresser drawer and fill it with things that bring you joy — a scrapbook of your favorite photos, a list of inspiring quotes, your favorite chocolates, bath salts for a relaxing bath — and whenever you are feeling down, open the drawer and enjoy some of your favorite things. I haven’t tried either of those, but they sound like good ideas. Please share your thoughts, I’d love to know what helps you!
Again, these are not meant to be a cure for depression, just ways to help keep a more positive physical, mental, and emotional attitude. If you find yourself in a dark place, please see a doctor or mental health professional! Depression can be a very serious illness and you aren’t alone in your struggle.