Around my freshman year in high school, I received a diagnosis I frequently refer to as “the trifecta” — depression, anxiety and OCD. Depression was without a doubt the main diagnosis, but I found out over time that these three individual illnesses play off each other. Sometimes it was hard to tell where the symptoms of one illness ended and another one began.
I have been very lucky. With a lot of outside help (doctors, therapists, family, etc.) and some self-determination, I have been able to get my depression under control. It’s an ongoing process without a doubt, but something that I finally do feel in control of. However, even with my depression better controlled, I found that my anxiety symptoms lingered. Besides seeking professional help, I’ve found some ways that help me self-address my anxiety symptoms before they snowball out of control.
Even though anxiety is still an ongoing issue in my life, it’s something that, like my depression, I have been able to get a better grasp on. This is in great part due to medication, but rather than rely only on medication to treat acute anxiety situations, I have found some ways that help me to lessen my level of anxiety in general. Most of these things might seem like common sense, and quite frankly, they probably are. However, certain lifestyles that may not be a big deal to a person without anxiety can have a greater impact on those who do. Mental illness is different for every person, but these are some ways that I have found to be effective in helping to manage my anxiety:
1. No more caffeine: I learned the hard way that caffeine can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, so I cut it out of my life altogether. Not something I enjoyed doing (what college student doesn’t rely on energy drinks and coffee?), but I noticed that cutting out caffeine cut down on a lot of my jitters. Drinking coffee, not even espresso, would give me racing thoughts and send my anxiety through the roof. So even though it was a change I didn’t enjoy, I’m glad I made it.
2. Regular sleep schedule: I’ve always been a nocturnal person, in part due to the insomnia I struggled with due to depression. But keeping irregular hours and running on three or four hours of sleep played games with my body and impaired my judgment. I’ve found that getting to sleep at a decent hour and not letting myself sleep in too late, even on the weekends, helped make anxiety issues during the day more manageable. Even though it can sometimes be tempting to pull all-nighters, I’ve learned that the effects they have on my body just aren’t worth it.
3. Limited social media: Almost everyone these days has some sort of social media account, and most people have more than one. I found that the more I checked these sites, the more I felt left out from the fun other people were having, and became almost paranoid that I was always missing out on something. I became anxious that if I wasn’t on social media, I was missing out on something that everyone else knew about. So in addition to deleting/discontinuing use of various accounts, I began to limit my daily intake of social media.
4. Bedtime is not worry time: I know I’m not the only person who gets kept up at night sometimes with anxious thoughts. I would spend hours in my head, trying to solve every problem that came to mind. A friend gave me a notepad to keep on my nightstand, and now, when an issue is keeping me up at night, I can write it down. That way, I’m not ignoring an issue my brain wants me to address, but just postponing it to a time when I can think more rationally. It’s amazing how sometimes things that seem like a really big deal late at night can seem much less important in the morning.
Mental illness is still a part of my life. Chemical imbalances don’t just magically disappear. But it’s something that I’ve learned over time there are a lot of ways of treating. A chemical imbalance is a chemical imbalance, and I’m not a doctor, so I can’t tell someone if medication is right for them or what medication they should be taking. But I do know a thing or two about living with anxiety, and I hope that some of these ways can help other people who deal with anxiety to cope better with symptoms on a daily basis.
by Chelsea Stephens