Crazy how fast cardiovascular fitness fades. It should feel better within a week. 7:51 average.
After seeing comments on my post yesterday (thank you all), I've realized I do have an opportunity to help other people that maybe struggle with depression and anxiety. So I will try to summarize some of the things I learned through my experience and coping strategies shared with us while in the hospital this past weekend. With all of these, they're not a cure-all. I know before I went to the hospital I believed that I must've been doing something wrong because no matter what I tried, I still struggled and felt terrible. These are just coping strategies and even though they don't always help and you might still struggle, it's okay. They're just things that can help. Treatments like medication or talk therapy might be needed.
Threats to emotional well-being trigger the fight-or-flight response in your body. It's one of the tools your body uses to protect you from danger and when triggered, several physiological changes prepare you to either confront or flee from the threat. Those changes could include: increased heart rate, dizziness or lightheadedness, shaking, racing thoughts, nausea, sweating, difficulty concentrating, rapid/shallow breathing, and tensed muscles. When the anxiety is constructive it is good, such as when a deadline is approaching and it gets you to act and meet the deadline. When the fight-or-flight response leads to excessive anger, anxiety, prolonged stress, makes you feel stuck and unable to do what you need to, or other problems, it might be time to intervene.
With an anxiety disorder, the body has this response but in inappropriate ways. The response a person has depends on the anxiety disorder he or she has. With some disorders, the anxiety is way out of proportion to the threat that triggered it. With others, anxiety may occur even when there isn't a clear threat or trigger. Anxiety is an illness and it can respond to treatment like talk therapy and medicines.
In addition to the flight-or-flight response, your body can also initiate an opposing relaxation response. Many symptoms of the relaxation response counteract fight-or-flight, such as slower and deeper breathing, relaxed muscles, and a slower heart rate. The relaxation response can be triggered by using relaxation skills. One of those is deep breathing. Place a hand on your stomach. When breathing, you should notice it rising and falling with each inhalation and exhalation. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, and exhale through your mouth for 6 seconds. Repeat- practice for at least 2 minutes, but preferably for 5-10 minutes. If it's not working, slow down. The most common mistake is breathing too fast. Counting out your breaths also serves a second purpose- it takes your mind off the source of your anxiety. When you catch your mind wandering, return your focus to counting.
A second one is mindfulness meditation. Aim to practice for 15-30 minutes a day. More frequent, consistent, and longer-term practice leads to the best results. However, some practice is better than no practice. Find a time and place where you are unlikely to be uninterrupted. Silence your phone and other devices, set a timer for your desired practice length. Sit in a chair or on the floor with a cushion for support. Straighten your back, but not to the point of stiffness. Let your chin drop slightly and gaze downward at a point in front of you. If in a chair, place the soles of your feet on the ground. If on the floor, cross your legs. Let your arms fall naturally to the sides with your palms resting on your thighs. If your pose becomes too uncomfortable, feel free to take a break or adjust. Because the sensations of breathing are always present, they are useful as a tool to help you focus on the present moment. Whenever you become distracted during meditation, turn your focus back to breathing. Notice the sensation of air as it passes through your nose or mouth, the rise and fall of your stomach, and the feeling of air being exhaled. Notice the sounds that accompany each inhalation and exhalation. It's normal that your thoughts will wander during mindfulness meditation. At times, it might feel like a constant battle to maintain focus on your breathing. Instead of struggling against your thoughts, simply notice them without judgement, again it's normal. Acknowledge that your mind has wandered and return your attention to breathing. Expect to repeat this process again and again.
Both of these techniques help to bring your focus back to the present moment. Oftentimes we stress about what's in the future or what happened in the past. Instead of stewing in these thoughts it's best to let them go, not worry about them, and focus on what you can do in the present moment. If you're wide awake at 2 in the morning stressing out about a job interview, that's not going to help you in any way. What can you do right now? Rather than staying stagnant and obssessing about how things could go wrong or how they went wrong, breathe, relax, meditate. Remember things will be okay and will work out in the end. You will make it through, one way or another. Then progress to do what you can do in the moment. In the job interview situation, that's falling asleep. Sleep will help you rest and be more alert and functional in the morning.
Keep in mind that you can't control everything about a situation. Change what you can and let it take its course. Exercise is a great way to relieve tension and help your body feel relaxed. Avoid caffeine and nicotine, which can make symptoms worse. Fight the temptation to turn to alcohol or unprescribed drugs for relief. They only make things worse in the long run. Consider online or in-person support groups. Try stress management techniques such as meditation.
One thing that my coach suggested I do a while back that helped with my anxiety was to allow myself to go out and have fun for a few hours rather than worry all the time about things. Then come back and do what needs doing. Again, relax and be in the moment rather than focusing so much on the issues of the past or the future. Do what you can about them, but try not to stress out to the point of not being able to get anything done.
Depression is much more than just feeling down all the time, as I’ve kind of explained in previous posts haha. Depression is also an illness, just like diabetes or heart disease. Would you tell someone with asthma to just breathe because there's plenty of air around them? No, probably not, their airways are closing and it's difficult for them to breathe (sometimes it's like trying to breathe through a straw). It's the same concept with depression. A person with depression can't just pick themselves up and be happy, even if they have everything in the world to be happy about. There are things they could do that can help improve their state, but it is necessary to remember that depression is an illness.
It is believed that a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors cause depression. Chemical changes in the brain may contribute to the symptoms. The brain controls all the workings of your body, including your emotions. It does this by using messages that travel from one nerve cell to another and from one brain region to another. Brain messages travel with help from chemicals called neurotransmitters. No one knows exactly what happens in the brain to cause depression but we do know neurotransmitters are involved. The two main neurotransmitters involved with depression are norepinephrine and seratonin. Antidepressants and talk therapy (the main treatments for depression) both change the levels of these neurotransmitters. In many cases, this relieves depression symptoms.
Now, there are things that can help someone manage and cope with depression. One is to look outside of themself and help someone else. This can get them outside of their thoughts and help them focus on other people rather than their own issues, which helps to provide a temporary relief and break from the spiral of depression (not to mention the person they helped feels better too!) Another is to keep a self-esteem journal (meant to help boost your self esteem. A person with depression tends to feel worse about themselves when their depression is more pronounced). Every day, write down three things that happened that brought about a good feeling. Some prompts could include: Something I did well today, Today I had fun when, I felt proud when, Today I accomplished, I had a positive experience with, Something I did for someone, I felt good about myself when, I was proud of someone else when, Today was interesting because, a positive thing I witnessed was, and so on. You could also keep a gratitude journal and write three things down each day that you are grateful for. This helps to train your brain to look for the positive.
Another thing they had us do was set life goals and analyze each category of life: family, friends, work/school, spirituality, body, and mental health. We wrote down what we were doing well in each category, where we needed improvement in each category, and then goals we had. This helps because with depression, we typically look only at the negative and forget the positive. When in the spiral, we can become so centered on fixing the things that are wrong and we forget about what we're doing right, what positive qualities we might have and so on. Doing this with anything will help to improve self-esteem and give direction on what you can do to improve. I think for me, a major part of it is my perfectionism. I feel a need to do everything perfectly, be perfect, and if I can't then I feel like I've failed. Then I start believing I'll never be good enough because no matter how hard I try, I still can't do everything right. Instead, acknowledging where I'm doing well and where I'm not, then making goals can help to relieve the stress and anxiety that might come with this probably-not-good-obsession with being perfect.
The main techniques to help with depression are thought-replacement techniques. One is called "Changing the channel in your brain." It uses thought-stopping and replacement thoughts to help you feel better. When a TV show comes on, do you have to keep watching it? No, you can switch to a show you like better. The thoughts in your brain are like that too. When you get stuck on a bad thought like "This hurts so much. It's never going to go away. I can't deal with this." You have the power to switch to a helpful thought. It takes practice, but you can do it. You can also create a positive statement to repeat to yourself when a bad thought comes to mind. You might say: "I can handle this. I can do hard things. I have coped with this before."
Sit or lie down in a quiet place and close your eyes. Notice when you have a bad thought that worries or upsets you or makes you feel worse. When you catch one, tell yourself, "That's a bad thought." After you've caught your bad thought, imagine yourself using a remote to change to a positive thought. Think about the thought you want to watch in your mind. Picture a good memory that makes you laugh or feel proud or happy. Build all the details so it feels like you're really there. Or think of something in the future you're looking forward to. Picture what it will look or feel like when you're doing that thing. Focus on all the details, like you're making a movie in your mind. Let your body relax as you focus on the new thought. Practice changing to a new thought in your brain whenever you catch your mind thinking unhelpful thoughts. Have a few different "shows" or memories you enjoy so you can always have something good to switch over to when you need it.
And the last thing I learned- not to wallow in your misery. Sometimes it can feel nice to just feel angry or sad or upset or hurt, but it's not good to stay there. Obsessing about it is only going to make you feel worse. Instead, allow yourself accept and feel it for a moment and then start doing something to either distract you or help you feel something more positive. If you still can’t stop feeling that low, tell someone about it. It increases norepinephrine and seratonin levels to talk through what’s on your mind.