As I have mentioned before, just to make life a little more interesting than it needs to be, I suffer from anxiety and depression. This was diagnosed by my GP last November after a particularly difficult six months or so I was having at work and personally. I was down, moody, angry, unmotivated, couldn’t concentrate, unsociable to name but a few symptoms, It eventually manifested itself physically in massive headaches, trouble sleeping, breathlessness, being twitchy and unable to settle, and IBS. All of which were not so much fun. Anyway, long story short (ish), I has prescribed some medication, took some time off work and most importantly had some counselling and learned some coping techniques. Some of the techniques work, some work sometimes depending on my mood, some are small things, others take more time. Here’s a few I employ fairly regularly which help keep me on a more even keel these days (NB. This is obviously a very simplified version of hypothetical events but I hope it gets the message across.):
1. The Trial: When I become anxious which in turn makes me depressed, I tend to start dwelling on things too much whether they are big or small. I can turn a relatively simple problem or circumstance into a massive anxiety attack if left unchecked. I tend to ‘catastrophize’, make assumptions about what people are thinking, read between the lines for things that aren’t there and assume the worst. One of the techniques I have been taught and use regularly to try and combat this it to hold a trail for my thoughts/anxieties. It does sound a bit ‘out there’ but bear with me, it will make sense… I hope.
When an event/situation/circumstance starts to cause me undue worry and I become anxious, I visualise a court room where this anxiety will be put on trial. First the charges must be brought, so for example; a friend has cancelled plans with me on three occasions now.
First begin the case for the prosecution (anxiety): ‘My friend has cancelled on me repeatedly now, they are always doing this. Clearly they don’t want to be friends with me anymore, clearly this is my doing, I have offended them or ruined this friendship through my actions. In fact they have probably never been friends with me and have been making excuses all this time. Furthermore it remains to be seen how anyone can be friends with me as I’m such a moody, self-ish bastard. I might as well not bother in future, I don’t need a social life or to be accepted by my peers anyway, I’ll just give in.
Followed by the case for the defence (reason): ‘Although my friend has cancelled on me on three occasions, they have given reasonable excuse each time and I have to accept they have a busy life and it may be difficult to make free time. They have always made time for me in the past and there is nothing really to suggest that they will not in the future. I have a good circle of friends who have stood by me through some rough times and always been there for me, this friend included. My social life is important to me and necessary but sometimes difficult to fit in as my friends and I all have families now and other commitments. Bearing this in mind, on balance I have a pretty healthy social life and some good friends.
Now here’s the part than can be tricky sometimes, I have to reason with myself to deliver a rounded and reasoned verdict, as would a judge:
On hearing the evidence of both prosecution and defence, I can conclude that although my friend has cancelled what I consider frequently in recent times, historically this has not proved to be the case. Three times does not a pattern make when balanced against years of good friendship and support. It is clear from the testimony of the defence that I am capable of making and sustaining good friendships and I believe this will continue in the future, providing I can make allowances for my friend who also has a busy family and professional life. In conclusion, I should appreciate the time my friend can spare for me when they are available and should reciprocate with my own time. I find the defendant not guilty.
Does this make sense? It does seem long winded and almost corny when I write it down in this simplified manner. Sometimes when the situation is more complicated and there are many circumstances or factors, it takes longer and there isn’t always a clear right or wrong answer. In those cases I have to break down each part of the problem/situation into manageable chunks and put each part on trial in turn. Honestly, it works for me and a lot of the time I can do it very quickly almost as second nature. It helps me manage my anxieties and avoid jumping to conclusions that drag me down into a depression. Occasionally of course, sometimes the prosecution wins. This is okay though (as long as its occasionally) as I have to remind myself that it is okay to feel depressed and down about some things. ‘Normal’ thinking people still get fed-up, down and depressed from time to time when the occasion is appropriate such as loss of a loved one, trouble with your partner, financial difficulties etc. The trick is to keep these feelings in check and understand that a certain amount of worry is normal as long as it is managed and not unduly prolonged.
2. Positive Visualisation: This one I met with much scepticism when it was suggested to me, but sometimes if really does work. It may work even better for people with a more open mind and better imagination than me. When things seem really bad and I can feel the anxiety and depression creeping in, I try and find a quiet place where I can be alone for a few minutes and try and visualise a positive and happy place (like I said, you need an open mind for this one). I have tried favourite holiday memories which work sometimes, but generally my best bet is to think of my children. The holiday one works a little like this. I close my eyes and try and remember/visualise each sense I experienced. I am on a beach in Antigua. I can hear the warm breeze rustling the palm tree leaves that I am laying under and the waves lapping up on the shore. There is a steady rhythm to both and it is soothing. I can feel the warmth of the sand on my back, and the breeze blowing tiny specs of it across my chest and legs. I feel warm and bathed in the late afternoon sun. I can smell sun cream on my body and the sea air. The sea air is refreshing and fills my lungs. I can almost taste it, along with the lingering taste of a rum punch I had earlier.
If you can concentrate on each sense and really mentally transport yourself to that happy place, it really does help you calm down. Blood pressure lowers, the panic hormones coursing through your system subside, breathing relaxes and hopefully your mood lifts (even if its only temporary or sufficient enough to finish the task/situation at hand).
Sometimes I don’t have a quiet place to go to for a few minutes, or I just can’t reach my happy place. If this is the case I try something a little more tangible. In my phone I keep an album of pictures and videos of my children and some screen-grabs of my favourite text messages or Facebook updates/tweets. I have a quick look through these to remind myself of the best and most uplifting things in my life, almost as a quick fix to get me through a bad mood. Sometimes and more often than not, it can be enough to snap me out of the early stages of a bad mood and sends me to a more ‘real’ happy place.
3. Having things to look forward to: This one seems obvious really, but I find that isn’t always the case. When I am in a bad depression or particularly anxious or both, I find it helps to have something(s) to look forward to. This can range from big things, like looking forward to a holiday, a birthday, Christmas, night out with my friends, going to a gig etc. to smaller more short term things like going to the gym after work, having a nice beer on Friday, watching a programme I like on TV in the evening, setting up my son’s train set to play with him, or just having a snooze etc. At the moment a few things in my work and personal life are niggling me and I’m trying to look beyond them by thinking: Only 6 more hours and my shift finishes and I can go for a run in the sunshine, only two days to the weekend then I have three days off with my wife and boys, we are seeing friends and going to a party which will be nice. Only two weeks and a few days until I run the Tough Mudder race, which I have been training for all year, I can’t wait for that. Only three weeks until we go on a family holiday to Butlins. Only one month until my son’s third birthday which will be lots of fun. Only two months until we get our youngest son Christened and have a bit of a party which will also be nice. Only three months until I go to see some bands I really like play Manchester, only five months until Chirstmas… It does seem like wishing your life away a little, but having things to look forward to does help disperse the clouds of doom and gloom I am otherwise susceptible to.
4. Exercise: Not everyone’s cup of tea I know but honestly, exercise makes you feel great and lets you get rid of all your pent up anger, moodiness, aggression, and negativity. Sometimes after a bad day at work, nothing solves the problem like and hour at the gym lifting weights until I can lift no more. Earlier in the year when I was feeling very low, believe it or not a good 5-6K trail run in the freezing cold snow, mud and ice made me feel infinitely better. I believe there is some science behind it, adrenaline and endorphins or something but I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is. All I know is I feel bed, I work out hard, I feel good. Long term, I exercise lots and I get fitter and I feel good. Longer-term, I lose weight, tone up and look better and I feel good. So even if you hate exercise, I still recommend it. Exercise will get you out of the house, encourage some social interaction and benefit you physically. It will help you sleep too and believe it or not, give you more energy. Eventually you may become addicted like me though, but lets face it, there’s worse things to be addicted to right?
These are just some of the things I do to cope with my depression and anxiety and for the most part I can say they work. I haven’t had a particularly bad spell since late April/early May and long may that continue. Different things work for different people and I know I am quite lucky in that my depression is quite mild compared to some. In any case I hope you have found this interesting and/or helpful. I’m happy to discuss any or all of it with you, drop me a line on here or tweet me @numberofthegaz if you’d like to get in touch.