Every day on my drive to work, I drive past this sign:
The more I think about it the bigger it gets
Like all good artwork, this sign can mean different things to different passersby.
As someone who has always been anxious, I thought this sign symbolized anxiety fairly well: the more anxious you are about something the more you think about it which makes you even more anxious about it. They call this secondary anxiety and it can be a destructive cycle.
I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
can happen to you.
You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.
You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.
And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
is not easily done.
~ Dr Seuss: ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’
I’ve spent about five of the last six or so years of my life in a slump, dealing with generalised anxiety disorder and depression.
Unlike many physical ailments, mental ailments can take years to mostly resolve, and I think that’s one reason why there’s still stigma associated with discussing such things.
Anxiety and depression is often not highly visible from a distance. Some close friends I’ve discussed it with were surprised to hear that I had this. After all, I still managed to successfully hold down jobs, speak at conferences, father three children and write a successful blog whilst having these issues. But anxiety and depression makes doing every one of these things so much more difficult and less rewarding.
By recognising my condition, seeking professional help and taking actions for my mental health, I was able to un-slump myself as much as possible over the last 18 months, and I wanted to share my story to inspire anyone else in a slump, because this isn’t something that’s easy to talk about with others.
I found there were three stages to un-slumping myself (with some overlap between the stages):
- Addressing the symptoms: taking medication allows you to function day to day
- Addressing the underlying causes: cognitive behaviour therapy allows you to address some of the underlying causes through reshaping negative thought patterns
- Adjusting lifestyle choices for a healthier mind: lifestyle changes mean your body’s ecosystem works better
Addressing the Symptoms
Taking anti-depressants (SSRIs) allowed me to function day to day, but I personally found some downsides to them. I found they’re not a long-term fix for underlying mental health issues, and I wouldn’t recommend just taking these and doing nothing else. I took these for about five years, and I am told that they are safe for long term use, but it is not recommended to just stop taking these as you really need to have made mental and lifestyle changes. I personally found these to be good to avoid the low-lows but they sometimes also cut out the highs.
Addressing the Underlying Causes
I found cognitive behaviour therapy with a psychologist to be useful in addressing some of the underlying causes of anxiety and depression. This therapy involves identifying triggers and learning to manage negative thought patterns and behaviours before these escalate to an attack. I also have practiced on occasion ‘philosophical meditation’ which is great for ‘organizing’ anxious thoughts and situations
Adjusting lifestyle choices for a healthier mind
Activities/lifestyle choices we make greatly effect our physical and mental health.
“Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent yet underutilized antidepressant.”
~ Bill Phillips (link)
I have found both physical and mental health to be interlinked, so improving physical health improves my mental health. Some changes I made to improve my physical and mental health:
Diet: I reduced/eliminated junk foods (salty and sugary), reduced/eliminated caffeine intake. Drank lots of water and green tea. I found using a food diary to find the foods that work best for me (make me feel good and full).
Exercise: lunch time walks, hiking in nature on weekends (time out), fitness group for strenuous exercise.
Social Network Sites: I’ve found limiting/avoiding social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to be very useful. I personally found Twitter to be full of people who like to bully/harass others which sent me into fight/flight responses and panic attacks which are obviously bad for your mental health. A lot of these social media sites are built to let you constantly compare your insides with other people’s outsides which often is a losing game.
I can’t overstate how great strenuous exercise is for mental health as a mental release, and how great walking in nature is good for mental clarity/anti-brooding.
“…city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.”
~ How Walking in Nature Changes The Brain (NY Times)
Today is My Day
I write this on my 34th birthday. I eagerly anticipate my 35th year, and I am about the healthiest and happiest I can remember being. I have been medication free for about a year, and with my lifestyle changes I have managed to lose over 25kg (55 lbs) over the last 18 months. I know that I won’t ever be 100% cured of anxiety (it’s in my personality), but with support of my family, the lifestyle changes I have made, and having the knowledge and awareness on how to manage it; I am more confident than ever.
Now all I can do is think about how bright the future is, actually, the more I think about it the bigger it gets.
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!
~ Dr Seuss: ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’
For help or information on mental health
- Lifeline: 131 114
- MensLine: 1300 789 978
- Beyondblue 1300 224 636