Anxiety and Depression

I talk a lot about depression, and while that’s important, my anxiety can be just as debilitating, if not more. And if you’re (un)lucky like me, they go hand-in-hand.

When I think back, I can remember having anxiety as young as 12 years old. I can remember having intrusive thoughts about my family dying and I would be obsessively praying they wouldn’t. I also watched The Weather Channel around the clock because I had developed a phobia of storms. I’d watch even if it was good weather. When it would storm, I would get a stomachache and pray over and over.

My anxiety went largely untreated until after I had kids. After my first child, my anxiety manifested itself in weird ways, and if you would’ve asked my then if I had anxiety, I would’ve told you it was just fine. But I wasn’t. When Isla was born I freaked out about the temperature of every room in the house. I had read an article about the “ideal temperature” for babies and couldn’t help but worry about it. I bought little thermometers for each room the baby would be in at any point in the day and adjusted the air/heat accordingly.

I also obsessed over breastfeeding. I kept a detailed log on when I fed Isla and which breast I used and for how long. I kept it for the entire eight months I breastfed. I logged her diapers, too whether it was wet or poopy and how many times throughout the day. I did that for an entire year. That embarrasses me now but anxiety will do what anxiety does — makes you obsessed, worrying about things that aren’t always worth worrying about. But the thing is you can’t stop.

I obsessed over the baby monitor, watching it until I couldn’t stay away any longer. I worried about how loud or quiet the sound machine was and if David and I were too loud downstairs. You’d think as my kids got older I would relax a little but you’d be wrong.

Loud noises would freak me out and it’s still a trigger to this day. I don’t really obsess about those little things anymore but my anxiety is still here and at an all-time high because of the coronavirus. I have panic attacks, some that work me into a complete frenzy. I still feel panic and dread on Sunday nights, like when I was a kid. Sometimes I create problems in my head that aren’t real problems — like someone is mad at me and I worry about thinks I did or said to make them feel that way. My imagination runs away from me and I usually let it.

My anxiety gets really bad around the time of an ECT treatment. It stresses me out to think about going under general anesthesia and I have to talk myself down beforehand. My anxiety hasn’t gotten any better, even after having about 20 treatments.

I take meds for my anxiety and I try to employ coping skills that I’ve picked up in therapy but sometimes it still gets to me. Little things like taking a shower stress me out but I have no idea why. I think that’s what bothers me most — there’s no rhyme or reason to it and it’s hard to control.

A couple of weeks ago I had an anxiety attack at the dentist (which has never happened before). I was supposed to get some fillings replaced but before they could get started I panicked as they put the nitrous gas mask over my nose. It was embarrassing how much I cried but I couldn’t do anything about it.

A lot of people experience anxiety. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder. There are different types, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Phobias. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. Half of people with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety.

I’m lucky to have a great therapist and psychiatrist who help me deal but only one-third of those suffering with anxiety are treated. Medication and talk therapy can help manage anxiety. I depend a lot on my medication but they only do so much. I have a list of coping skills I use, read more about that here. It’s also important for me to keep a schedule/routine. Interruptions can be a huge trigger, which is why it’s so hard right now with coronavirus. It’s also crucial that I question my thinking when I get caught in a cycle of negative thinking. I ask myself if my thoughts are true and if I’m being realistic or catastrophizing.

Aside from that my other triggers include interrupted/not enough sleep, socializing, traveling and loud noises. When I’m triggered by these things, an attack can feel like someone sitting on my chest. I sweat, shake and can even work myself up to being hysterical if it’s really bad. At times, I feel like throwing up and that I have a million butterflies in my stomach.

Sometimes anxiety attacks can feel like something else, so here’s a list of symptoms you could possibly experience:

  • a feeling of impending doom
  • a feeling you are in danger
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations
  • trembling/shaking
  • chest pressure

Anxiety is so difficult to manage. I’ve been dealing with it since I was a kid, so I get that it’s not easy. Nothing is easy when it comes to mental illness. But I think the best thing to do is talk about it. I mean, 40 million Americans have it but it’s not widely understood and doctors don’t always screen for it and some don’t even accurately diagnose it. We need to keep the conversation going until it’s normalized — and that goes for all mental illness.

Coping with Anxiety and Depression

Yesterday, I went to the dentist to replace some old fillings. No big deal — except that it was. I got in the chair and the dental assistant put the nitrous mask over my nose. I started to feel intense anxiety. I think it reminded me of my ECT treatments, which give me a ton of anxiety. I grabbed the mask off my nose and tried to calm down but I had lost control. My heart was pounding and I started to shake. I lay back down and the dentist started to numb my mouth but as soon as he put instruments in my mouth, I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was in danger, as silly as that sounds. By then, it was decided I would come back another day and I left with my numb mouth and all.

I am prone to panic attacks, so I have a lot of coping mechanisms I use – not just for acute incidences like at the dentist but also for times I can’t go to therapy every week and now for a pandemic!

It’s hard to distract yourself when you’re in the throes of an attack or in a depressive episode, and I’m not perfect. For almost every healthy coping skill I have on file, I also have an unhealthy one. When I don’t use the healthy mechanisms, I definitely pay the price emotionally, and even physically.

Here’s what works for me, whether I’m stressed or having an attack:

  • Practice deep breathing – When you do deep breathing exercises you increase the supply of oxygen to your brain and it stimulates the parasympathetic system, which promotes a state of calmness, according to Stress.org
  • Watch Friends bloopers on YouTube – This is one of my fave ways to relax because as soon as I start watching, I’m cracking up and my brain has managed to think about something else. I highly recommend laughing your stress and anxiety away
  • Sing my favorite songs – I sing a lot. The kids are constantly telling me to stop but it makes me feel good. It’s something that I do regularly to improve my mood but probably not something that can stop a panic attack in its tracks
  • Take VERY hot baths – I like to turn the heat up as much as possible to where the only thing I can feel is the hot water. It’s also therapeutic for me to have a good cry while the water is running
  • Write – Again, blogging really helps maintain my mood but it isn’t something I would be inclined to do when I’m panicking
  • Get a massage – This is my favorite thing to do to keep me de-stressed but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get one because of the coronavirus
  • Get under a weighted blanket – Healthline.com says the weighted blankets help ground your body by pushing it downwards and has a deeply calming effect. The blankets also stimulate deep pressure touch, a type of therapy that uses hands-on pressure to reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety
  • Sew – I really have to concentrate to sew, so I tend to leave my troubles behind while working on a project
  • Read – Reading is awesome and you can get lost in a completely different world
  • Pray – It helps me to pray, especially when I’m feeling completely out of control
  • Go to therapy – This probably should go at the top of this list. Talking to my therapist helps me sort my thoughts and she provides practical solutions to some of my often-illogical behavior
  • Get my nails done or do them myself – My friend Meredith and I have a saying — “Everything is always better with painted nails.” Solid philosophy

Those aren’t all the coping skills I’ve employed but my favorite ones that have proven beneficial. Now, for the unhealthy mechanisms. I DO NOT recommend you try to deal with panic, stress, anxiety or depression with these but I know they are very common. While I aspire to nix those from my list some day, I understand that it’s hard to break these habits and behaviors.

  • Overeat or binge on healthy foods – Depending on the situation, I purposely overeat until I’m uncomfortable or in pain. More rarely, I binge on unhealthy foods like candy and LOTS of carbs. I do love my carbs but I had gastric sleeve surgery last year, so it’s REALLY not in my best interest to eat them. (If you have unhealthy eating habits, check out my cousin’s Facebook page. She’s a licensed nutritionist and has great ideas about intuitive eating)
  • Compulsively shop – Sometimes, I just feel the need to shop. It’s fine if I need something and need to buy it for the house or kids, but I’ve had times where I’ll spend hundreds of dollars on stuff we don’t necessarily need. And it makes me feel terribly guilty. That’s the thing with unhealthy coping skills, they only feel good for a little while
  • Blow off appointments – When I’m dealing with a lot I feel like I need to retreat into my home and be alone, which is fine some of the time but at other times, I really need to go to therapy or my doctor. There have even been times I blow off the not-so-important appointments like getting my hair done or a massage appointment but I’m still being inconsiderate but not going and wasting others’ time. I feel guilty about this, as well
  • Abuse my medications – I don’t do this anymore but there was a time that I would take too many of my anxiety pills because I just didn’t want to feel, well…anything. I would also take too many pain pills, pushing the limits of what was safe. This is a serious problem, and for some people, it’s a deadly problem. If you abuse your medication and need help stopping, please contact your doctor

Having depression and anxiety is hard. They both can take over almost every aspect of your life and make it even harder. While I implore you to find coping mechanisms that work for you, I think I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention that things such as talk therapy, medication and a good doctor can drastically improve your life. Sometimes we need to arm ourselves with more than coping skills, and that’s OK. Whatever your plight, I hope you find peace with it and thrive.

If you are suicidal, please call the Suicidal Lifeline Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org to use the chat function. Stay in the light.