Unless you've been living under a rock (in which case, I envy you), you're probably aware of the recent prominent suicides that have taken place. One in particular affected me deeply. Anthony Bourdain was someone I looked up to and admired since his mid 2000's show No Reservations. His eloquence and approach to culture and food was unmatched. His authenticity and earnest way of speaking, gave me hope that there is a way to unite people and break down the man made borders we've created. How could someone who seemingly had everything take his own life?
I'm a food and wellness blogger. I try my best to motivate people to take responsibility for their actions and encourage them to take charge of their health, particularly their gut health. When it comes to motivating others, I always feel energized and thrilled to help. I love answering questions, sharing what's worked for me and the like. I could do it all day, every day and never tire.
But I'm also someone who despite her cheerful attitude struggles with anxiety and depression. For many years I've denied this even to myself as I couldn't quite accept it. After all people with mental health issues are usually viewed as feeble and inadequate. It's assumed that because you have depression, you can't smile, you can't dance your ass off or be utterly smitten by a beautiful piece or art.
But despite all that, deep down inside I felt flawed, broken and wondered how it could be that I could be depressed when I have everything. I'm married, have two beautiful children, I have a house, a car, a decent paying job and a blog that I love. I was raised in a one bedroom apartment with my parents having very little money and here I am feeling like this. I should be grateful for all that I have. So, yes on top of the already shit feeling, I added another layer of guilt to the whole thing and have been carrying this nice little package with me for a long time.
I've noticed that unless in a very controlled setting, people shy away from discussing mental health issues. Almost afraid that they may "catch something" if they do. The human mind is extremely complex and unfortunately we don't come with an instruction manual. But we've created these neat rules for ourselves that we should be "happy" all the time. You know what I have to say to about that? Fuck your "happy"! Yes, you read correctly. I think that's only my first or second on the blog.
We live in a society where we see beautiful images on social media, smile at one another when passing by, ask how we're doing, always replying with: "I'm good, how are you" and everything appears to be just peachy all the time. Well the truth is it's not for most of us and many just can't express what's truly going on. We're expected to follow societal norms, which again are man made and would simply go against the rules. I mean, can you imagine walking into work and just yelling out loud, "I'm feeling lonely and scared and I wish I could find a way to not". That would be pretty freaking amazing cause I bet there would be at least several others who feel the exact same way and together you may even be able to talk about it and you'd immediately feel better just by saying it.
We are held captive in our own heads because the rules we've created are crippling us as a society. No one talks about it, therefore it isn't happening, right?
But then you're probably wondering, well duh, why didn't you do something about it? I did. I started taking medication and thought that I could just medicate away my feelings. Turns out, it numbed them a bit, brought on some nasty side effects and I was off of them again. This was the 3rd time I tried this. Medication just wasn't going to be my answer. Please read closely: "my answer". I don't want to discourage anyone from taking the medication they need. This is my experience. But I think there's a much bigger picture here that we are not discussing. Our whole approach to mental health is flawed.
Naturally drug companies have us believing that if you just take a bunch of pills and change absolutely nothing else in your life, you will feel better. And yes, you will marginally but as research has showed time and again, people's symptoms often return after a period of taking anti-depressants alone.
And also let's consider this. What if you work in a place that brings you zero satisfaction or even causes you emotional or physical pain? Are you expected to be happy about spending 40+ hours a week there? And what if you live a good distance away from your friends and family? What if you don't have anyone in your life you can confide into or feel close to? Even the healthiest of persons, would eventually be worn down by life dissatisfaction. So we have to ask ourselves, is it really a chemical imbalance or is it a lifestyle imbalance?
Let's look first at the symptoms of depression. If you want a complete list of anxiety symptoms, check out this post which specifically addresses anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety and depression
- mood swings
- loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- restless sleep
- sleeplessness or oversleeping
- changes in appetite (increase or decrease)
- weight loss or weight gain
- social isolation
- lack of concentration
- thoughts of suicide (if you are anyone you know has had thoughts of suicide please call the national suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255)
So if you can relate to some or all of these symptoms, I propose some alternative therapies and concepts that can easily be applied to every day life. These can be used on their own or in conjunction with your current treatment.
9 ways to manage anxiety and depression
- Make anxiety and depression your friend? I know, you're thinking I've completely lost my mind and I should just stop blogging now. But hear me out. Name your anxiety and depression. Anything you want - Gertrude? we'll go with that. Anytime you start to feel symptoms arise, whether it's anxiety or depression, talk to Gertrude. Acknowledge her. Welcome her and ask her if she'd like to join you for tea. Earl Grey or English Breakfast? Suddenly you may gain a different perspective and the whole thing may seem a little silly and ridiculous and may help you perceive anxiety as something that lives along with you as opposed to being you. Try it. Email me if you need name suggestions.
- Don't compare your life to others. In an age where we are exposed to everyone's seemingly perfect life, perfect body, perfect family, perfect fill in the blank, it's not hard to see why someone who isn't a size 2, sipping champagne on a yacht on the Mediterranean sea may feel slightly shitty about sitting at home on a shitty Friday night, watching some shitty TV. But guess what, you're not alone. Chances are when the Mediterranean champagne sipping person returns home, they will be doing the same thing you are, seeing someone's fabulous instagram feed thinking the same thing you are. Worry about you. Don't compare your life to someone else's. You have no idea what their journey has been like to get to where they are. Few people get a free pass in life.
- Be weird and love it. Depression is a bitch. I mean, a royal one. It will have you believe you're the only one anywhere in all the land that feels depressed and everyone else is going about their lives. It will make you feel isolated, withdrawn and weird. But I'm here to tell you everyone is weird as hell in their own way. Even the ones with thigh gaps and white teeth. Someone dear to my heart once said: "I don't know what weird is". Truest words spoken. Let yourself just be who you are. Worry not what others think. Celebrate your weirdness and thoughts and take advantage of the only life you were given and live it to the best of your ability. Wear drag or a suit. Be you.
- Think 80s movies. Did you stop reading? Okay whew. When triggers hit, particularly ones that bring on anxiety that spirals out of control, stop what you're doing and start naming all of your favorite 80s movies. Seriously...stop reading and start naming them. "Back to the Future, E.T., Breakfast Club, Teen Wolf, Pretty in Pink, Ghostbusters, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Top Gun, Karate Kid, Terminator, Dirty Dancing (oh my god am I a sucker for this movie), Goonies, Gremlins" - you get the idea. I bet some of these will trigger some really good memories and suddenly your mood will shift.
- Do something selfless. Acts of kindness go a long way and I mean long. Unfortunately one of the ugly sides of depression is its selfishness. It wants to isolate us as much as possible, making us feel like we're the only one, ever to have felt this way and there will never be a time when we can feel anything other than how we do right now. Yes, depression is an asshole like that. Big one. But try this. For 1 week do something nice for someone else. Invest time and energy into thinking about how you can help someone out. It can be family, friends or a total stranger. Buy someone's coffee behind you at the coffee shop, leave someone a thank you note, put a quarter in someone's parking meter. Tiny gestures that take you outside of yourself and help you be more connected to the world you live in can have a profound impact. One week. See what happens.
- The 90 second rule. Okay you may think this is some bullshit woo woo stuff but it actually works. Neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor describes that it takes just 90 seconds for an emotion to actually be processed by the body through chemical reactions before it ultimately subsides. But what keeps us stuck, are the thoughts we attach to it which keeps the emotion looping. So if we're able to just stay with the discomfort for 90 seconds and just simply pay attention, it will eventually fade and you're free to move on to something else.
- Spend time in nature. One of the cheapest and most effective treatments for depression is simply spending time in nature. It seems almost too easy but taking yourself away from the every day grind and going to a park, a beach, the mountains or walking through the woods has a therapeutic effect on the brain and does wonders for depression and anxiety.
- Talk about it. It's astounding what empathy can do. Just being able to have someone listen without judgement can improve the quality of your life. We all want to be validated and understood on a deeper level. Whether it's with a therapist, a friend or family member, just start the conversation. It can make a noticeable difference having someone simply listen.
- Nutrition. You didn't think I'd forget did you? If you're eating a diet that includes fast food, soda, processed foods, etc. chances are anxiety and depression symptoms will be difficult to manage. Numerous studies have demonstrated time and again that diet plays a crucial role in helping to mitigate depression symptoms. It's not difficult as long as we stick with some basic rules.
- Eat real food - Here is an entire post dedicated to helping you figure out just what to eat.
- Focus on healthy fats - we need fat in order for the brain to function properly. Avocados, almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, ghee are all excellent options.
- Omega 3 fatty acids - In line with the healthy fats, these are crucial for a functioning brain and can only be obtained through food. Including pastured eggs, chia seeds, salmon, walnuts in your diet can positively affect depression symptoms. Check out this post to learn all about Omega 3s.
- Probiotics for gut health - our gut is often referred to as the second brain. There's good reason for that. Our gut contains about 90% of the body's serotonin. Eating probiotic rich foods such as fermented vegetables, sauerkraut and drinking kombucha may have a positive effect on depression, as this comprehensive review demonstrates.
- Fruits and vegetables - Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables ensures that our body has enough nutrients such as folate. A folate deficiency can play a role in depressive symptoms.
In closing, I don't have the magic answer but I can tell you that this life is worth exploring and worth paying attention to the nuance of every day. Living in it. Like really in it, by taking off your shoes and walking on grass, staring at the stars at night and slowly enjoying a glass of wine at the end of the day. It's worth getting up every day and seeing what happens next. We don't have the a map to how this thing ends, so let's figure it out one day at a time. And, Gertrude, you're welcome to come along for the ride.
*These are suggestions to incorporate in your life but are not to replace any care prescribed by your doctor*