You may be surprised to find that I, and many other therapists I know, take the first couple of sessions not just to get to know you, but to "get back to basics". Many people who struggle with anxiety, depression or any other mental health difficulties have let go of the things that we KNOW we should be doing, but lack the energy or motivation to do. Part of my job is to help get that back on track before diving into deeper emotional concerns, like trauma or emotions.
The top four:
Sleep: Anxiety and depression can really impact your sleep. You may find that you can't sleep, or are waking up at 2-3 am and toss and turn until the sun comes up. You may find that all you want to DO is sleep, and struggle to get out of bed, or nap several times a day. Or you may find that staying up late is the answer to getting things done around the house, catching up on Breaking Bad episodes, or playing Words With Friends on the iPad.
Why this matters: Sleep deficiency can cause many issues- poor driving, poor decision making, difficulty losing weight, mental deficiencies... and just feeling tired and crabby. This makes you not only uncomfortable in your own skin, but usually not very fun to be around. It also means that you likely don't have energy for exercise, relationships, or hobbies (the other important self-care items).
What to do: Create a sleep schedule, committing to be in bed by a certain time, and that time should be relatively consistent. Cut out the use of screens before bed, and stop using caffeine after 2 pm in the afternoon. Consider meditation or deep breathing/relaxation to help ease you into sleep. If your pets or kids sleep with you, and this is interfering with sleep, consider a new plan.
|Can't... stay... awake....|
Exercise: Before you think I am sadistic, I refer you to a previous blog post where I talk about how much I HATE exercise. There. Now we are on the same team.
The reality is that many of us are not getting enough activity, whether that is because we are overtired, we work full time, the kids take too much of our time, etc. etc. etc. Or we just hate to exercise, and nothing sounds fun. Again, small amounts can make a big difference. Start with a ten minute walk around the block. Park your car farther away when you work or shop. Take the stairs. Play in the yard with your kids. You don't need to be able to afford exercise equipment or a gym membership in order to get exercise.
Depression, especially, takes away any motivation or interest in exercising. So you will have to make yourself do it. There is no simple answer, unfortunately... I'm sorry. However, you will likely feel better after you do something, and that I know is true.
|Exercising with a friend is always more fun|
Diet: Please don't hate me. When I use the word "diet", I do not necessarily mean "going on a diet". Although sometimes that is the case, the healthier approach is making small changes in the daily ways that you eat, or don't eat. Drinking more water. Not skipping breakfast. Eating less carbs.
Depression and anxiety can make people crave carbs and junky foods. Then they have an energy crash which does not help anything. Or it can completely rob you of your appetite, leading you to skip meals and either lose weight or binge/make poor choices later in the day.
So again, start small. If you are skipping breakfast, have a hard boiled egg, a piece of fruit or a smoothie for breakfast. If you go several hours without eating, have healthy snacks available that you can reach for rather than something processed from the vending machine. Or keep a full water bottle nearby so that you remember to drink more water. Cut out one serving of caffeine, particularly if it is the afternoon. Focus more on how you feel rather than the number on the scale.
|Nom nom nom....|
Socializing/Hobbies: Finally, a big one. When you work full time, or are a new parent, or have young kids... friends and hobbies seem to be the first thing to go. Then, add a mental illness that can either sap you of any motivation to socialize, or cause you a lot of anxiety or panic attack to think of engaging in. Often, this are seems to take more time for me to get clients to buy into. They say, "Nobody wants to be around me right now" or "Everyone will think I'm stupid/fat/weird". "I don't have time/money/space to engage in my hobbies".
There are many approaches we can take in counseling to address these thoughts or low motivation, and also find some ways around any concerns to help you get reinvolved in your life. I promise, you will feel better when you do.
Again, start small. Think of something that used to bring you pleasure, and do it for 10 minutes. Go to the library and get a book. Go to an art museum. Grab your camera and go outside and take pictures. Call up a friend and commit to talking for a short period of time, or send an email to someone you haven't connected with recently but would really like to. Ask a co-worker to join you for lunch. As daunting as some of these things feel, you are in control of what you do and for how long.
|This looks fun, right?|
I share this information in the hopes that it will encourage you to reach out for help if you are struggling. Don't try to figure things out alone. Have a professional who is non-judgmental and is there to offer support and encouragement as you get back on your feet. Ultimately, when you are struggling with anxiety or depression (or any other of it's close friends), you feel very out of control. Self care is something that you do have control over, and small changes can add up. Pick one small thing to try, and start doing it.