Sometimes it’s the little things that can help to lift a dark mood. Here a woman who battles with anxiety and depression shares her tips for banishing the black dog
As a ‘closet depressive’, someone who has waged a long, hard, and hidden battle with anxiety and depression, I blush every time I hear the mental health message ‘it’s OK not to be OK’. The truth is that mental health still has a great big stigma around its neck. You couldn’t come to work yesterday because of a chest-thumping panic attack... but you tell the boss you had a stomach bug rather than the truth.
Hats off to the Bressies and Brent Popes who have gone public with their battles, but if, like me, you are struggling to maintain your ‘game face’, and want to do so in private, here are some strategies I find help.
1 Learn to laugh at yourself
This is not to take from what you are feeling... trust me, I’ve been there many times, and I know how debilitating anxiety can be, but GP and mental health expert Dr Harry Barry advises that when the thoughts circulate like a cyclone, write them down.
I silently reproach myself countless times a day that I’m useless, but now I’ve started to put pen to paper I can turn these negative thoughts on their head. ‘I’m not good enough’. Really?
‘I’m a useless mother’. No I’m not. I don’t feed methadone to my kids. ‘I am stupid’. No, I’m not.
2 Abstain from alcohol
I won’t lie to you, this is bloody hard. I love booze, not just the taste, but how it dampens down the panic, but then bang, it’s the morning after and the self-hate is back... and with a hangover to boot. I tried cutting down but I’m a see-it-through-to-the-end kind of girl when it comes to the vino, so I gave it up completely.
Six weeks in, it may be too early for clap-on-the-back time, but my Sunday mornings are a lot sunnier… So are my midweek mornings too, if I’m honest.
3 Probiotics, not pills
I’ve done the Valium, and the Xanax, and want to avoid the pills if possible, they are a sticking plaster solution.
Experts have now established a link between our gut bacteria and stress, and Zenflore is precision biotic that reduces the gut-wrenching feeling ‘normal’ people have when it comes to big stressors like driving tests, but us anxious folk wake to almost every day.
Take one capsule daily, and while the mind continues to race, it helps calm the stomach. Available in pharmacies, €29.99 for a month’s supply.
4 Cognitive behaviour therapy
I started CBT 18 months ago on the advice of my GP. In that time I have discovered my anxiety stems from my desire to control everything which in turn comes from a huge amount of self-loathing.
Where the self-loathing comes from we are still working on. My efforts to control everything was impacting badly on my relationship with my kids so every day I remind myself to back off (that’s not the same as tolerating bad behaviour by the way).
My therapist has taught me some mindfulness and deep breathing, which I find difficult, but I repeat the mantra, ‘just let it go’, while picturing a tide ebbing away. It works, sometimes at least. I also remind myself ‘I am a good parent’, and nobody is perfect.
Expect to pay from €50 a session. And get a GP-recommended therapist.
5 Domestic goddess
Not in the Nigella, pouty lips, and fancy tarts sense, just back to basic baking. Start with some simple but satisfying scones or biscuits.
There is something very relaxing about engaging the fingers and the brain simultaneously.
Take it slowly and build up your expertise, because if your flan flops then your confidence will nosedive — failure doesn’t sit well with us depressive-types.
I’m not talking about a walk in the park here. That’s what the experts recommend, but I find it fails to quiet an overactive mind.
I’m talking the full Fifty Shades of Grey of exercise. Spinning, kick-boxing, anything high-intensity that takes all of your energy not to fall over or pass out. Try indulge in a bit of depressive thought when you are struggling not to throw up — just not possible.
Call a friend. Yes, you know, an actual conversation. Or better still, meet them for a coffee or dinner. Someone you’ve known a long time, that you are comfortable with in your own skin.
Reminisce about old times, bitch about getting older, have a laugh. It’s one way of banishing the black dog, even temporarily.
8 Give something
A pint of blood, an hour collecting for a charity, someone a hand, time to a voluntary or community group, and then remind yourself, yes you are a kind, generous, good person.
Clap yourself physically on the back, you might look silly, but anything that gives low self-esteem a boost is a good thing.
9 Stay off social media
Yes, I know, you’ve heard it before, but the short of it is social media will just add to your misery. If you are suffering from depression, you are convinced you don’t measure up, everyone else is smarter, prettier, has achieved more, then why expose yourself to something that will reinforce that message over and over and over again?
Instagram, in particular, is just like one of those distorting mirrors you see in a funfair. Your life will seem like crap in comparison, so don’t look at it.
10 Sex and sleep
Having more of one will certainly help you get more of the other (I think you can work out the order I’m referring to). It can be difficult when the mind is racing, and your self-esteem is low, and you are obsessing about world affairs/the state of your windows/or the fact that you are obsessing about something stupid, to feel like having sex.
The trick that works for me: I say to myself this could be my last night on earth, do I really want to die without an orgasm?