I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety once and depression twice in my life. I know what they feel like, and I understand how debilitating they can be. When you get them for the first time, you have no idea how to deal with the extreme low low lows and the paranoia that keeps your heart and mind racing. Because you’ve never experienced it before, you have not yet developed the skills you need to deal with these dark emotions. That’s why I’m here: to equip you with the coping skills I learned and developed through my personal treatment. Just a quick given: avoid any kind of media that is dramatic, angry, or depressed. Get rid of those soap operas or MTV reality shows; stop listening to screamo; turn off that rap. If possible, distance yourself from people who only bringing negativity into your life. You don’t have to “unfriend” them; just don’t spend all of your time with them if they only make you feel bad or drained afterwards.
- Surround yourself with positivity. Place inspirational quotes all over the place to reinforce truth & hope in your mind. I put A TON on my bedroom walls, on my mirror, on my locker, on my bedroom door, as the lock screen on my phone. Whether you realize it or not, your brain subconsciously picks up these subliminal messages every time your eyes scan them, and this ingrains the words in your mind.
- Listen to happy, upbeat music that you can jam to. Whether it’s Christian, country, Motown, disco, or One Direction, play those tunes whenever you can and dance & sing along. Dancing and singing release endorphins, those feel-good chemicals in your brain.
- Watch TV shows that make you laugh or put you in a good mood. For me, that would be Duck Dynasty and Fixer Upper – whenever I’m having a bad day or need something to take my mind off of things, these shows bring a little lighthearted comedy & cuteness.
- Take a shower or bath. Soaking in the heat relaxes your muscles, relieving tension. I have a steam shower in my house (basically a sauna) and whenever I need to de-stress, it’s an instant fix.
- Use essential oils. Now, I’ll be quite honest: I’m super skeptical about their ability to cure every illness known to man. But I do know that lavender & eucalyptus oils help me relax. My mom used to rub them on my back right before I went to bed. Besides that, you can put them in a diffuser or humidifier, on your pillowcase, or along your collarbone.
- Play a musical instrument. Guitar, piano, ukulele, kazoo – concentrating your brain on making music takes your mind off of things that cause anxiety, and it also elevates mood.
- Play with/cuddle with your pet. My dog is my go-to cuddle buddy. There’s a reason why pet therapy is a real thing – playing with your dog increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine in your brain.
- Get physically active on the daily. Whether it’s martial arts, running, yoga, or Just Dance on your xbox, get your body moving and your heart pumping for at least 20 minutes per day. A counselor once told me that studies show 20 minutes of aerobic activity per day has the same effect as one dose of the antidepressant drug Prozac. So get active! Take a hike. Join a sports team. Get outside. Start moving!
- Eat healthy. Seriously, eating junk food has such a negative effect on your mood, even though it seems like ice cream and chocolate can cure anything. Be intentional about eating more fruits & vegetables, more fish, and more tree nuts. Plus eating well makes you feel good about yourself anyway!
- Drink lots of water. Dehydration actually makes you grouchy! So give your cells some love by replenishing their H2O levels frequently.
- Get a Happylight. A lot of times, people who live in the North (like me) get the winter blues due to long months of cloudiness, cold, and little sun. When your body is deprived of Vitamin D, which we get through sun exposure, your mood will plummet. By sitting near/working near the Happylight, you’re being exposed to the same spectrum provided by the Sun. Talk about an instant mood booster.
- Or, take Vitamin D supplements. These pills can aid in the absorption of calcium. Talk to your doctor about taking them to boost your mood during those cold, dark winter months.
- Drink tea. Okay, you may not be a tea person, but there’s a reason why ancient civilizations were convinced teas had medicinal powers. For centuries in Europe, St. John’s Wort tea was known for its antidepressant effects. I’ve yet to try it, but I do use Yogi Tea’s Sweet Tangerine Positive Energy for a little jolt of happiness. A chamomile tea is my go-to for stress relief.
- Adult coloring books. These have been known for their therapeutic effects, concentrating both the hand and the mind to work out complex patterns. Now, there is a good chunk of the Christian community that is wary of mandalas – so I found some Christian adult coloring books! Check out a whole bunch of them at Christianbook.com.
- Painting. One of my closest friends uses watercolor as a way to meditate during prayer or relax. I’d never thought to do such a thing past third grade, but there was genius in her actions: watercoloring (or painting in general) is therapeutic! So grab some paper, some paint, and turn on that Bob Ross. There’s no way you can be unhappy while watching Bob Ross.
- Writing. Creative writing and journaling are both ways I’ve found that help me deal with life’s tragedies. By writing about hardships, I can process how to deal with them. By putting them into fiction, I can reframe them. Poetry is a great way to get out what’s hurting you in an abstract manner.
- Reading. Books are my #1 escape from the everyday trials or underlying sadness. Books that I read when I was depressed were The Help, the Divergent series, The Lightning Thief, and Go Set a Watchman. They distracted me from my sadness, were actually enjoyable to read, and in many ways helped me process the sadness I was feeling and put it in perspective. *Note: books that make you cry can be a good emotional release, but be aware of the negative effects sad books could have on you if you’re depressed.
- Daily prayer. Starting the day with 20-30 minutes of quiet time with Jesus will set the course of your entire day. Believe me – if you want to start the day on a positive note, especially if you’re not looking forward to what’s ahead, your best chance is to give your sadness and worries to Jesus before anything else can come your way. #Gamechanger
- Spending quality time with loved ones. There’s nothing quite like an afternoon with your best friend, or dinner & a movie with your squad, or family game night with your parents & siblings. When you’re depressed, your tendency is usually to withdraw and isolate. Do not do this. Even if you have to force yourself, get out of the house and spend time with the people who you love and who love you.
- Working at a job. When you are completely preoccupied with mindless work or forced to engage with customers, it distracts you and keeps you busy. Working at a busy store or restaurant is great for breaking away from depression, even if only for the length of your shift.
- Volunteering. It brings meaning to your life when you help others. So help out with Sunday School, or spend every other Saturday at the soup kitchen, or even go on a mission trip. Caring for others forces you to focus more on them, and less on yourself. Plus it often reminds you of the things you have to be thankful for.
- Go outdoors. Theodore Roosevelt healed from the back-to-back deaths of his mother and wife by spending several months out in the North Dakota wilderness. There’s just something about being outside that seems to mend the spirit. So go camping, backpacking, kayaking, or even just a walk to clear your head.
- Talk to someone about what you’re going through. Although it’s not good to constantly rehash the same problems over and over, it’s good to tell someone what you’re struggling with. Often verbalizing things can help you process and find solutions. Find a friend or family member you trust, or perhaps seek counseling. Bottling things up only makes negative emotions build on one another, with no place to release.
- Crafts or puzzles. Anything to get your hands and brain active and creative. Creativity is the ability to come up with unique, never-before-tried solutions to problems. By doing puzzles and making crafts, you are training your brain to think of new solutions, which can help you cognitively figure out how to overcome your depression or anxiety. Knitting, crosswords, sodoku, jigsaws, etc. are all great ways to engage the mind and practice problem-solving skills.
- (For Catholics): Go to Eucharistic Adoration. When a friend of mine was in a really dark place, he found healing in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Sign up for a Holy Hour at your church and make a commitment to start visiting Him at least once a week. Just being in his presence works miracles on your heart.
Disclaimer: If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, the coping skills I’ve offered are great, but they’re not meant as a replacement to counseling and medication. Seek the professional help you need, and allow these to be healthy additions to your recovery.
If you’re struggling because of sin in your life, click here.
For encouraging Bible verses for depression and anxiety, click here.