I feel lucky. I'm sitting in this beautiful, 100-year-old craftsman home I get to call my own, and it has me reflecting how far I've grown to get to this place in life, while mitigating my depression and anxiety in the process. I've been chronically battling it since I was a child and have had come-ups throughout the years — the last few being some of the most difficult to endure.
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I've been through a lot, including (but not limited to): sexual and emotional abuse, racial trauma, suicide attempts, and losing my mom to a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer. In the past, handling such trauma caused a destructive field day of self-sabotage and self-harm while going into a downward spiral. Fortunately, I'm no longer the same person from those darker days and seeking professional help, tackling my insecurities, changing my perspective, developing self-love and confidence, and forgiving myself turned my life around for the better.
Now, that's not to say depression and anxiety go away — they both love to come back at the most challenging times, especially around the end of the year, as I’m often hit with the winter blues. However, I've built a nice little toolbox over the years to help get through such less-than-stellar seasons. And while I don’t always nail it or get it right, these tips have served as a good baseline to help me get through the day. Ahead, a few ways that I've been able to manage my anxiety and depression when they come to visit.
How I Manage Depression & Anxiety: Talk To A Professional
Therapy helps to resolve a lot of issues including trauma in that it teaches you to develop coping mechanisms for different situations. I still have my days where I need a shoulder to cry on, and there have been a few points throughout my life where I've sought professional help: when I attempted suicide a few times, when I was sexually assaulted in college, and most recently after my mom’s death.
Starting and re-starting therapy has helped me reconnect with myself and rebuild some cognitive habits I may have forgotten along the way. I've re-learned to forgive myself and discovered mental health exercises that use my senses to bring me back to the present when I am stressed. It's also prodigiously consoling to have a therapist listen without judgment and teach me to do the same with my own negative thinking and re-establish my self-love.
I understand sometimes it feels like there is no one to relate to. Sometimes you feel alone, and while it's OK to not feel OK, someone is always there to listen. Here are a few other ways to reach out to someone who can help:
How I Manage Depression & Anxiety: Start The Day With Meditation & Breathing Exercises
Anxiety is often a daily struggle for me. I sometimes wake up with this irrational fear something bad is going to happen, which affects my mood right off the bat, making it difficult to have a smooth, productive day. I'm also no stranger to the occasional panic attack when I'm stressed with multiple work deadlines or feeling a little insecure. As an actor, big auditions occasionally shoot my nerves through the roof, sometimes to the point to where I feel like I can't get the feeling under control. So to quell that, I meditate in the mornings and have been doing so consistently for the past few years.
Consistent meditation and breathing exercises can make positive physiological changes to the autonomous nervous system. I admit, if you'd ask me a few years ago, I probably would have laughed at the thought of meditating. Even now, it takes me a while to find my Zen — my brain sprints 100 miles a minute and gets easily distracted, but when I find those few moments of peace and mindfulness, I feel my nerves relax. Focusing on my breath moving slowly from my diaphragm calms me, and my anxiety slowly subsides. Plus, it makes me much more attentive and at ease, allowing me to be present, regain confidence, and give stronger performances (during my auditions).
How I Manage Depression & Anxiety: Exercise & Eat Well
A 2012 study aptly titled "Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety...", revealed how poor nutrition contributes to a diminished mental state. My depression and anxiety manifested in interesting ways with my mom's cancer diagnosis in early 2017, and as her disease rapidly progressed, I became consumed with taking care of her and not myself. Stress eating became my new comfort blanket, and I ceased working out. After she died in November 2018, I lost motivation to stay healthy and active all together, contributing to my already declining energy and mental state.
My "aha" moment hit while at a work event, when I suddenly noticed I was running out of breath too easily while chatting with people. It startled me into the realization that I had been neglecting my own needs far too long, and I wanted regain control over my unhealthy habits. With encouragement from loved ones and a few therapy sessions, I started giving my body the TLC and nourishment it deserves by changing my mindset on food and paying attention to how it makes me feel. I now try to eat foods rich with magnesium such as black beans, spinach, yogurt, broccoli, whole grains, chicken breast, and nuts. My anxiety is that much more manageable because of it. Additionally, I cut back on junk snacking to reduce any jitters and now treat myself in moderation.
Exercise also relieves tension, stress and improves cognition, according to studies, so I changed my focus from working out to lose weight to working out to improve my wellbeing while building strength. I choose a variety of workout routines that get me excited, including: HIIT training, Pilates and yoga, dance, and indoor cycling (at-home), three to five times a week. Sure, I sometimes fight myself to do it and would rather just stay in bed, but I always feel eons better when I push through.
How I Manage Depression & Anxiety: Channel It Into Creativity & Self-Expression
Creative expression, art, and movement yield amazing health advantages. Activities like dance have been shown to have powerful psychological benefits, while a 2011 Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology study found that expressive writing helps to process traumatic events and give meaning to the experiences.
I wasn't always strong at articulating my pain and emotions into something creatively productive. All of the tools were there, as I was a trained dancer and actor for years, but I instead let my negative thoughts and emotions internally fester. It took art therapy sessions to make the connection that my lifelong skillsets could be an asset to my mental health. It felt like connecting with my inner child again and letting go of any sort of inhibitions stemming from my insecurities to fully express myself.
I now make it a point to let out emotions through artistic mediums and creativity: I put on a song that reflects my mood in the moment, and I let my body take over. I'll take a dance class for fun. I cathartically journal my thoughts with no rhyme or reason or let it inspire me to write a story. It's a remarkably freeing feeling and one of the most therapeutic ways for me to heal and convey myself fearlessly.
How I Manage Depression & Anxiety: Release Your Emotions & Then Treat Yourself
After my sexual assault in college, I sat in a depression spell for days and couldn't get out of bed, digging myself into a deep hole I couldn't escape. Every bad thing that happened to me felt somehow deserved — I did not love and value myself the way I do now. I'd chastise myself and alienated myself from everyone I loved. In a way, I was letting myself deteriorate. It took a failed suicide attempt and getting cognitive behavioral therapy to help me realize how that behavior affected my wellbeing and how it was hurting others. Luckily, I finally got to the point where I knew I couldn't do this to myself anymore.
A little self-love goes a long way. For me, this might mean taking the day off and allowing myself to feel things for a bit, and then spend the rest of the day indulging in some self-care. I love getting pampered, so typically, I start with a massage. I then treat myself to a nice lunch, the occasional retail therapy, and/or a (virtual) visit to a museum. At home, I enjoy listening to some of my favorite tunes on the record player (hello Massive Attack) and running myself a nice Epsom salt bath with some calming essential oils or CBD. I also love to veg out and find ways to make myself laugh, which is shown to reduce stress hormones. I adore comedies, so I’ll put on a film I know will bring me a some joy and drum up a cocktail to relax. Setting one day aside for myself really helps to bring me out of my funk.
While issues like depression and anxiety can never fully dissipate, each day I'm one step closer to becoming a better version of myself as long as I continue to put in the work. Life is really all about perspective, and I insist on seeing my glass as half-full.
Satori, S. B., Whittle, N., Hetzenauer, A., Singlewald, N. (2012, January). Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment 1(Vol. 62, pp. 304-312). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390811003054
Taylor, B. C., Sallis J. F., Needle, R. (1985, March-April). The Relation of Physical Activity and Exercise to Mental Health 2(Vol. 100, pp. 195-202). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1424736/pdf/pubhealthrep00100-0085.pdf
Koch, S., Kunz, T., Lykou, S., Cruz, R. (2014, February). Effects of dance movement therapy and dance on health-related psychological outcomes: A meta-analysis 1(Vol. 14, pp. 46-64). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0197455613001676
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Yim, J.E (2016, July). Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review (pp. 239, 243-249). Tohoku University Medical Press (2016). Retrieved from https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/tjem/239/3/239_243/_pdf