Never in the history of managing depression and anxiety has anyone benefitted from being told to ‘just snap out of it.” Or “just relax!”
Depression and anxiety can spiral to the point where they feel unbearable. But to expect a person to be able to “snap out of it” is not realistic. Or helpful. If the person could, she would. Depression and anxiety thoughts and feelings are just too intense.
The good news is there ARE effective ways of managing depression or anxiety if you experience a flare up.
Before we discuss tips for managing depression and anxiety, first let’s define depression and anxiety.
What is depression?
Depression is common. Being depressed is like walking around wearing whatever color is the opposite of rose colored glasses. Life is gloomy.
Depression negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you behave. It causes sadness and/or a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy. You may feel bummed, blue, or irritable. Feeling tired and unmotivated are common too.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotion that everyone feels, to varying degrees. For some people anxiety can be intense, persistent, and very hard to cope with. Physical symptoms (e.g. sweaty palms, increased heart rate) are often part of anxiety.
There are effective ways to manage anxiety.
The goal is not necessarily to get rid of all anxiety forever. Rather, the goal is to strengthen the ability to cope with anxiety.
Tips for managing depression and anxiety if you have a flare up:
Flare ups happen. They don’t mean you’re back at square one. In fact, a flare up can be an opportunity to practice and strengthen techniques from your coping repertoire.
DO EXPERIMENTS to manage depression and anxiety.
Rather than committing to a definitive resolution or plan, use a different approach. I call it the ‘let me see what happens if’ technique.
Think of what you’re going to do to manage the flare up as if you are conducting an experiment For example, let’s say it’s night time, and you’re planning for the next day. You say to yourself, “let me see what happens if I get up in the morning, shower, and then eat breakfast.” As opposed to saying something like, ” I SHOULD or HAVE TO get up early tomorrow, shower and then eat breakfast. Even though I’ll probably be groggy, in a bad mood, and keep pressing snooze.”
In the first case, there is a sense of hope and opportunity. The latter case sounds like a mixture of a guilt induced mandate and pessimism.
With the ‘let me see what happens if‘ approach, you agree to try the thing. Just once. Just for today, as they say.
What often happens is it goes well, and the experiment continues the next day. And for the next many days.
In psychology talk, the behavior involved (conducting “experiments”) in managing depression and anxiety is reinforced (you feel accomplished) and therefore strengthened (it continues).
CREATE STRUCTURE as a way to manage depression and anxiety.
Depression and anxiety affect mood, energy, and motivation. Focusing can be super difficult. You may be tempted to stay home all day and avoid people. If you don’t know how your day will go, you may feel anxious.
A great suggestion is to find a regular routine. Do not let depression or anxiety be the boss of what you do and when you do it.
If you don’t have much structure, impose some. See what happens if you add structure to your days. (Hello, Tip #1!)
Plan out your day. Try to make your day full-ish, but not overwhelming.
Sticking to a schedule will help you to function in your daily life.
For an added boost: incorporate social connection, fun, and nature/the outdoors. All at once, or not.
ELEVATE SELF-TALK to manage depression and anxiety.
Self-defeating thoughts fuel depression and anxiety. Especially because we tend to believe what we think. Most of us often take our thoughts as fact. Even when the thoughts are not true.
Negative self-talk are thoughts like “I’ suck” or “Nothing will help me”. Or, “I’m going to freak out if ‘x’ happens.”
Your inner critic may also glom onto thoughts associated with depression or anxiety. What then happens is an onslaught of more and more and more depression or anxiety.
Negative, inner critic thoughts make it hard to see that you in fact have choices in your life. The negative self talk may mean you feel stuck.
I call automatic negative thoughts ‘ants’ for short. ‘Ants’ can appear quickly. Noticing them will help you to decrease their impact. Catching them and having a counter thought or affirmation will help you emphasize your strengths.
GENERATE SELF-COMPASSION to manage depression and anxiety.
Self-compassion gets a bad rap by those unfamiliar with the concept. With thousands of studies demonstrating its effectiveness, self compassion is a supremely useful tool. And way of relating to yourself and others. It honors your (and others’) human-ness.
With self-compassion, you’re mindful and accept that the moment is painful. You are kind and caring in response, remembering that part of the shared human experience is to be flawed. Imperfect. This reminder allows you to hold yourself in love and connection, and to give yourself the same kind of support you would provide a loved one. Self compassion creates optimal conditions for growth.
Self-compassion practices are not meant to suppress or fight against depression or anxiety.
Try any of these self-compassion practices, with the purpose of experimenting with the various practices (thank you tip #1). Another idea is incorporating self compassion practices into your day (thank you tip#2) and reassuring yourself (thank you tip #3) that an open mind is all you need.
Having a flare up of depression or anxiety may be inevitable. Flare ups are simply an opportunity to revisit techniques you know are helpful, and to experiment with new ideas.
Dr Elayne Daniels, a private practice psychologist in MA, specializing in the treatment of people with depression, anxiety, and/or eating disorders. Another specialty is working with Highly Sensitive People and people with body image challenges.