Secret Week Extra: Tips for Surviving Your Hardest Times

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Secret Week posts are a part of a very personal blog event (hosted by After Nine to Five) where participants write about their mental health. The reason I do this is to lessen my identity crisis, help others with similar problems and inform society about potential misunderstandings in regards to labeling mental health issues. Please don't read if you are not honestly interested in this topic.

If you followed my Secret Week posts, you know that I had been through some difficult life trials that threw me to the near bottom of depression. I wanted to give up so many times. I was certain that my position was too desperate to come out of it. But I pushed myself anyway and I started functioning again. TBH I'm still struggling. I still often wake up in the morning with the feeling: I don't want to get up. I want to stay in bed forever. I hate my life. However, I learned some techniques through the years that helped me to get back on track. I'm still not as productive as I would like to be, but I'm starting to enjoy my life again. My tips won't work for everyone, but maybe you can get something helpful out of it. 

Seek help.

Don't be ashamed of asking others for help - you can't always make it on your own. Search the internet or ask friends for advice. If you're thinking about seeking a psychiatrist or other therapist, do research first. I actually changed two psychiatrists and one psychologist before finding the one that actually helped me. Just don't give up!

Make a habit of keeping a journal.

I used to think very negatively about myself. That kind of thinking made me feel very depressed and anxious. What helped me the most was keeping a journal of my automatic thoughts for 6 months! I know it's a long time, but you necessarily have to do it if you want to change your thinking patterns. There's no shortcut for it. If you want to change your life, you must change the way you think about it.
Here is how it works: whenever you feel intense emotions, write it down. Is it anger, depression, or maybe fear? Now try to figure out what kind of thinking caused the way you feel. This is quite tricky because we are not aware of our automatic thoughts (that's why you have to practice it for such a long time). 

An example of anxious thoughts on the night before a big in-class presentation at university : I'm afraid of my presentation. I'm going to fail as I always do. Everyone is going to think I'm stupid.
Then try to look at it from a different perspective. This is easier if you write your thoughts down because they seem more dramatic in your head. Ask yourself: do you really always fail? How much can realistically go wrong? You only have to present what you have carefully prepared. Even if you make a few mistakes, it won't be the end of the world. People won't make fun of you - they make mistakes too. And even if something does happen that makes others laugh - they are going to forget about it the next moment. And if someone will actually think that you're weird or incompetent because you're not good at presentations - it's his problem.
If you are afraid because you want to make a perfect presentation, you have to lower your standards. Will you die if you won't have the best presentation in your class? Will this mean that you're not a good person? And so on. Maybe try to imagine that you talk about it with a frank friend. It's not such a life-or-death drama as we sometimes imagine it.

Have a regular schedule.

This is especially important if you have problems with depression and don't have a regular working schedule. Try waking up and going to bed at the same time every day (if possible). Write a loose schedule for next days and also schedule some time for relaxation, both passive and active (we sometimes forget about it, but it's actually more important than work).

I'm still having problems with scheduling my time, but I have to do it, otherwise I feel unproductive, which sparks my negative thinking. It's much easier if you have regular working hours, because they don't leave you much choice about spending your time. Getting up (relatively) early in the morning also makes me feel more motivated. I try to do the most unpleasant or intimidating to-do's first thing after my morning ritual, so I can take it easily in the afternoon/evening. 

Learn relaxation techniques.

I'm sure you can find something that will work for you. The simplest technique I regularly use is deep breathing. When I start feeling anxious before a certain social interaction, I focus my mind on deep, slow breathing. I try to breathe with my abdomen instead with my chest - the latter can cause hyperventilation, vertigo and consequently even more tension in your body (panic attacks, anyone?).

My favorite relaxation technique is physical exercise. Anything works, from yoga to running. However, my body and mind relax more after a tough exercise - the more I sweat and grunt in strain, the happier I feel afterwards. :) Sport works on so many levels that I can't recommend it enough - it makes you feel better, look better and it's a great ego-boost! If your body is healthy, your mind will be too.

Take time for enjoying the nature, doing nothing.

Ozora 2011 was a life-changing experience for me. I used to obsess over spending my time productively. Well, you have to do it if you want to survive in today's society where time is money, but it kills you on the long run. When I spent a week in Ozora, I learned to appreciate the nature around me and to take time to absorb it. It totally recharged me and I also returned as a more patient person. 
I'm never nervous if I for example have to wait in a long line, even if I'm in an ugly post office instead of a beautiful garden. I'm aware that my nervousness won't change the situation, so it's better to employ my mind with other thoughts. However, post offices don't really make me happy, so I make sure to spend a lot of time in the nature too. Weather events (like thunderstorms) calm me down and the sun is my natural anti-depressant.

Do you have any tips for dealing with depression and anxiety?

I hope you will find my experiences helpful. If you have any unanswered questions regarding this topic, don't hesitate to ask me. I can't promise anything, but I like to help if I can. Thanks everyone who's been with me on this journey and supported me. It means me a lot and I wish you all the best. Take care! :)
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