If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK . Lines are open 24/7, and all calls are free and confidential.
Mental Health Is A Critical Part Of Our Holistic Health
More than 40 million adults suffer from anxiety and/or depression in the United States. I am one of those people.
My journey with depression began as early as I can remember; anxiety showed up uninvited in my twenties. I don’t know why, but according to experts, life events, genetics, and even the change of seasons can trigger mental illness. What I do know is that sometimes it’s a struggle to get out of bed. I will lie there for what feels like hours, staring at the trees outside my window, envying the singing birds. Why can’t I just be happy? I think.
As the product of a ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ culture, wrestling with anxiety and/or depression makes me feel weak. Asking others for help feels like I am exposing my neediness. None of this is true, of course, but there is a harmful stigma surrounding mental health in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
Approximately 800,000 people are lost to suicide each year; 45,000 of those deaths happen in the United States. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in our country and, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, less than 40 percent of people seek professional help for contributing mental illnesses. While more women than men suffer from anxiety and depression, middle-aged white men, as well as Native American men, are most at risk for suicide. This is seriously concerning. While women are often named too emotional in our society, further perpetuating our misdiagnosis of depression as a prescribed gender-trait, men face a different and more silent kind of shame. Generally speaking, cultural constructs forbid men from expressing emotions or talking about feelings. Instead, they bottle it up.
There is much work to be done in the USA, as well as elsewhere in the world, to help the numerous people experiencing anxiety and/or depression. It’s a long road, one with many variables and actionable steps, but we can start by talking. Erasing the stigma of mental health in our country begins with sharing our stories and realizing many of us are suffering.
We can also start with self-care practices, and by asking our loved ones for help. Below are nine tips and resources that have saved me on dark days. These tips are solely for inspiring wellness based on my experiences; this is not medical advice. I hope they encourage and give you strength though, to find your own self-care resources for rest and light and healing.
And remember, you are not alone. Others are walking this path too, as dark and lonely as it sometimes seems.
Self-Care Practices For Finding Peace
1. Enlist a Safe Person
Remember: your community loves you, just as you love them. They want to be there for you.
If you are struggling with anxiety and/or depression, I encourage you to tell the people closest to you, as challenging as that may seem. Not only does telling someone aside from your doctor or therapist break the stigma and release you from silence and inferred shame, but it gifts you a safe haven. It also creates a safety net for your darkest days.
I have two safe people in my life: a dear friend who also experiences anxiety and depression, as well as my husband. They both know to check in with me and recognize the signs for when I’ve entered a dark head space. Both also know how to talk me through it, as well as listen. It’s comforting to know I can lean on both of them.
If telling someone feels too overwhelming, speak with your therapist or doctor. They can help guide you in talking with your loved ones so that you have daily support.
2. Eat Nourishing Foods
One of the most challenging things for me to do on my darkest days is to eat food, let alone a nutritious meal. I’d much rather stay in bed. If I do manage to eat, I want to numb my feelings with sugar and alcohol.
This is where loved ones can be helpful. I live with my husband, and we’ve talked about how difficult it is for me to cook for myself and eat nutritious foods on dark days. He knows the warning signs and takes care of me when I’m experiencing a hard day. If you have roommates or live with a partner, talk to them about what you’re going through and ask for their help. Sharing community-style meals at the table can also encourage eating nourishing and healthy foods.
I’ve also found it essential to keep whole foods and ready-made meals in my house, and this will be crucial for those of you who live alone. When you have little energy to cook, having pre-made meals (frozen stews and soups), pre-sliced vegetables and fruits, and snacks (I like crackers and hummus) makes all the difference.
3. Drink Water + Calming Beverages
Staying hydrated is also a challenge on hard days, so I’ve started a habit of keeping a large water bottle by my bed at night. I drink it first thing each morning when I’m still half-asleep and unable to assess my mental state. Having a physical task to complete, especially one that is healthy for my body and brain, can positively impact my morning mood and how I take care of myself for the rest of the day.
I’ve also set healthier alcohol boundaries, like not drinking alone or as a reaction to what I’m feeling. Calming teas can relieve anxiety and help me sleep better. I especially love making the ashwagandha sleep tonic by Ascension Kitchen.
4. Channel Your Emotions + Create Something
I used to suppress my anxiety and depression. I pretended neither existed and numbed my pain by burying myself in caffeine and work and Netflix and wine. I knew something was wrong and that experiencing frequent mood swings wasn’t normal, but I didn’t have a vocabulary for what I was feeling. No one I knew had anxiety or depression. It took years before I could attribute names to what was going on inside of me.
It was an abrupt transition, once I finally came to terms with what I was experiencing. I went from being a workaholic who masked her anxiety and depression to someone who spent most days in bed or on the couch. For a while, I felt the weight everything at once, and I found myself drowning in the pain I had suppressed for so many years. Eventually, I found balance and a space where I could acknowledge my anxiety and depression while also maintaining safeguards to avoid downward spirals and paralysis.
One of these safeguards is spending time on creative projects. This has become especially important on the days when things feel unstable and I could easily go over the edge. On these days, I do my best to write. I channel all the dark and terrifying thoughts in my mind and I put them on paper. If I can’t do anything else in the day, I take the minimal energy I do have to scribble down words.
If you’re also experiencing anxiety and depression, I encourage you also to create something or practice a form of outward expression. It doesn’t have to be writing or music or art. I’ve also found peace in gardening, as have many others who experience depression and/or anxiety. Like Emerson said, “all my hurts my garden spade can heal.” Placing your hands in the soil, bathing a pet, or engaging in a hands-on project can all be therapeutic.
5. Breathe Deep + Practice Yoga
This one is so simple, yet a practice I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. This is mostly for when I become anxious, and for the moments fear sits heavy on my chest. I breathe deeply.
I stop whatever I’m doing, close my eyes, relax my body, and take five to ten deep breaths. This practice is especially helpful when I am experiencing anxiety in a public space, like while riding the bus or standing in a crowded room. It helps me to feel more relaxed, aware, and at peace.
Having a morning routine, like practicing yoga, can also help me to feel grounded and empowered. While I love going to the studio or taking a class at the gym, sometimes it can be overwhelming to be in a public setting when experiencing anxiety. On these days, I prefer doing yoga or gentle stretching at home (I’ve listed my favorite online yoga resource for this below).
Resources For Dark Days
In addition to doing my best to take care of myself, going to therapy, and maintaining a supportive community, here are a few of my very favorite resources for the darkest days. I hope they can help you, too.
1. Gemma Correll on Instagram
Gemma Correll is fighting the mental health stigma with her creative and informative illustrations. She is on all social channels, but I especially love watching her Instagram stories and scrolling through her feed, as well as reading her vulnerable captions. The comments from others are also inspiring, and she has created a truly communal and supportive space for others to share their stories.
2. If You Feel Too Much by Jamie Tworkowski
A beautiful and empathetic read by Jamie Tworkowski, If You Feel Too Much is a healing balm for anyone experiencing anxiety and/or depression. With personal stories, thoughts on hope, advice for seeking help, and more, I highly recommend it.
3. The Headspace App
I love the Headspace App for a few reasons. First, it’s calming and I can feel my anxiety subside as soon as host Andy Puddicombe’s voice comes on. I also love the app because it’s practical and I can fit the ten-minute meditations into my morning. While not explicitly aimed at people experiencing anxiety and/or depression, mindfulness definitely helps.
4. Yoga with Adriene
My favorite source for at-home yoga, the free video classes led by Adriene are calming, encouraging, and perfect for the days when going to the gym or studio feel impossible.
As a disclaimer, this is not medical advice and is based only on personal experience. Anyone suffering from anxiety and/or depression should see a medical professional, as well as a long-term therapist.
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.