A collection of tried-and-true resources to help you stay hopeful in the midst of a depression & anxiety relapse.
By Scott Cousino
My struggles with depression and anxiety started as early as my high school years and became more acute in my mid-twenties. I recall many mornings awakening with despair, willing myself with all the energy I could muster to start my day. I recall how desperately I would seek out any strategy that I thought might help me deal on my own with my ever-present feelings of hopelessness.
Eventually I was able to overcome my deeply seated stigma against psychotherapy and seek out a mental health practitioner—and was blessed to have a life-changing outcome. The opportunity to interact with a therapist put me on the path to a personal set of transformative strategies.
I am fortunate to have an excellent therapist, and to be able to reach out when necessary for a little extra help in managing life’s challenges. My therapist’s wisdom in guiding me to rationally reframe events and circumstances in my life has proven to be invaluable. I have learned to take my phone into our sessions and record our interactions so I can have a library of conversations to pull from at any time.
Inevitably, though, I still have periods when my depression and anxiety swell. That’s when I turn to a stash of resources I have collected over the years and arranged neatly in a folder that is affectionately labeled “Hope.” Some examples?
Exercise for irrational thoughts
For me, depressive and anxious feelings often are tied to thoughts that have no real logical basis.
My therapist introduced me to this simple process, which I do when I feel my mood start to slip or spin into apprehension.
Step 1: Write down any thoughts that might be triggering upset or anxious feelings. Step 2: Ask a number of follow-up questions to determine how rational these thoughts really are.
For example, if I have an unhappy customer, that may trigger a cascade of negative thoughts: “What if other customers have similar issues?” “What if we lose a lot of customers?” “What if my business fails?”
Learning to stop and reflect on the situation in question—to look at it very practically and rationally—has helped me short-circuit this type of thinking (known as “catastrophizing”) and stay calmer during life’s unavoidable hiccups.
With practice, it’s possible to come up with logic-based questions that challenge my spiraling fears. In this example, I might ask myself, “Is there something to learn from this customer being upset that we can use to improve our services?” “Are we hearing about this issue from anyone else, or is this an isolated issue?” “What feedback are we getting from most of our customers? Is it mostly positive?”
Three R’s to regulate anxiety
This is another simple exercise I learned in therapy. Step 1: Realize when anxious feelings start to surface. Step 2: Reset by doing a 60-second breathing or meditation exercise. Step 3: Refine my current thinking by focusing on specific actions to address whatever it is I am anxious about.
Mentally highlighting the many blessings in my life preemptively wards off negative thoughts. I try to do simple gratitude reminders after I get into bed. I reflect on the day, giving special attention to positive occurrences. This helps clear and calm my mind so that I drift off to sleep in a more peaceful state.
‘This too shall pass
This saying is an important reminder of something I have learned from experience. While feelings of depression and anxiety can be overwhelming, at some point I will get through to the other side and regain a sense of stability and calm. Knowing that I have been able to manage these periods in the past gives me strength to confront new episodes.
Many other quotes and Bible verses filed in my folder of hope provide in-the-moment inspiration and strength. “Mistakes do not make an end. They make room for a beginning,” reminds me there’s a different way to look at things I might beat myself up about. “Keep the present present. Do not lose to past regret or future worry,” guides me away from rumination and fretting.
“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) reinforces my faith that a higher power is ever present and helping guide my life’s journey.
Printed as “Life Lessons: Keeping Hope on File”, Winter 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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