“May I be filled with lovingkindness. May I be safe from inner and outer dangers. May I be well in body and mind. May I be at ease and happy.”
~ Buddhist lovingkindness prayer
Anxiety and depression can hit anyone at any time. It has no rules. No preference for gender, age, ethnicity, bank balance or geography. It can come on slowly and lazily or can hit you full force like a ten tonne manure truck.
It’s common to ask:
Why? Why me? Why now?
Sometimes it’s obvious; after suffering a trauma, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, ill health or after childbirth. Other times it just strikes for no clear reason, like a thief in the night, leaving you reeling and wondering – What the …??
When it happens to us we can get in a right pickle: What the blazes is going on? Where can I go? What do I do? And the answer is: quite a lot actually. (Phew.)
Step one is to ask for help. Tell someone. You will feel tremendous relief just for having said the words out loud. You’ll be able to breathe again. Talk to a friend, a loved one, a mental health professional, your pet Chihuahua; just get the words out so that they’re not locked inside. Let the feelings out. Get professional help – there are so many treatment options out there both in orthodox medicine and complementary health. Explore what’s available and choose what’s right for you. If something doesn’t work – ONTO THE NEXT! Move on to what does work. Don’t give up, there will be something that works for you.
Step two is to talk to your GP. It could well be that it’s a physical issue causing the depression or anxiety and it needs to be ruled out. Get everything checked. Heck, give them your family history back to the stone age and a sample of every bodily fluid you have if that’s what is needed. Leave no stone unturned. If it is physical then chances are it can be treated and you’ll be right as rain in no time. They can also point you in the right direction for talking therapy or medication, or refer you to a specialist or alternative health practitioner. They are there to help you so let them.
Step three is to listen to your body. What is it telling you? What does it need to feel better? Do you need to change your diet and eat more natural foods? Does it want to move more? Sit quietly and ask yourself: ‘What does my body need?’ If the answer is a custard doughnut, ask again. As great as a custard doughnut is at the time it’s likely to make you feel crappy crappola afterwards when your sugar levels sky rocket and you can’t do your jeans up. Ask what it reeeeaallllyyyy needs to feel healthy again. It will tell you. Maybe it’s gentle stretching, maybe it’s going out for a run, maybe it’s a fruit salad. There will be something, you just need to listen.
Step four is to calm the mind. When you’re suffering from anxiety and/or depression, chances are your mind is having a field day and thinking up the worst possible scenario for everything. It can quickly get out of control and leave you feeling helpless. Meditation is ideal for this. Read a book on it, attend a course, download an app. There are a gazillion techniques to choose from – visualisations, guided journeys, mantras, breathing exercises, mindfulness and one of them will be just right. Why meditate? Because it helps to calm the mind and put things back into perspective. Tell you what, as a start, try repeating the Buddhist lovingkindness prayer (quoted at the top) as a mantra. It can really help to centre you again and feel love instead of despair. But if it doesn’t work, you know the drill – move onto the next!
Step five is to be kind. Telling yourself to ‘pull up your boot straps’ won’t work. Try it, it’ll get you nowhere. And if someone else says it to you, politely ignore them and change the subject to the weather like a true Brit. Would you tell a cancer patient to pull their boot straps up? No. So why someone suffering from depression? It ain’t helpful, so step away. It’s kindness, gentleness and compassion that you need. Read about other people’s experiences; join forums, read blogs or books. Connect with others, it’ll really help to feel less alone and that there are thousands of others feeling just like you.
Step six is to tell the world to bugger off for a bit. Seriously, try it (it feels darn good). You don’t have to be everything to everyone all the time. The world and everyone else can take care of themselves for a while. Focus on you, especially as it could be that you are feeling this way after years of self-neglect. You will be a better parent/child/lover/sibling if you are in a good place anyway. You can’t give what you don’t have – you ever tried pouring tea from an empty teapot? Yeah, doesn’t get you very far does it? So giving of yourself when there’s nowt to give won’t get you far either. Take. Care. Of. You. And only then can you give to others.
Step seven is to make changes. If you do know what the trigger for the depression and anxiety is, brainstorm your way through it and make the necessary changes. If it’s bereavement, seek out bereavement counselling. If it’s stress from work, think about how you can change your work life or shove the job in altogether. If it’s post-natal depression, visit your GP/counsellor/complementary health therapist. Every. Problem. Has. A. Solution. It’s just a question of finding it, and there will be a solution that works for you.
Step eight is to know that there is an end to it. With the right help, the right self-care, the right solutions, you WILL feel better. Depression and anxiety don’t have to be a one-way street to misery. Most adults suffer anxiety and depression or both at some point in their lives, but get through it and get to the other side where the sun is shining. You can and will find a way through, and when you do you will be stronger, more resilient and more appreciative of life. You are never alone.
MIND www.mind.org.uk A mental health charity providing lots of information and support as well as the opportunity to connect with others.
HEADSPACE www.headspace.com A website and app providing all sorts of meditations that can help with any problem.
MINDPILOT www.mindpilot.com An app that with plenty of mindfulness exercises to destress and calm anxiety.
COMPLEMENTARY AND NATURAL HEALTHCARE COUNCIL www.cnhc.org.uk Provides a register so that you can find local complementary health practitioners in your area.
NHS MOODZONE www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/low-mood-stress-anxiety.aspx An NHS resource covering all manner of mental health and how to get help.
Books Matt Haig Reasons to stay alive
Trevor Powell The mental health handbook: a cognitive behavioural approach