The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition): Asking the Right Questions

Today I want to introduce you to a new principle: asking the right questions. When you don’t feel good, instead of asking “What’s wrong with me?”, ask “What do I need right now?” or “What is my body trying to tell me?” I find the former usually precedes a downward spiral while the latter two are more solution-oriented. Thing is, I already know what’s wrong with me– I’m anxious and depressed, that’s what’s wrong with me! The question is, how can I make it better?

The Self-Aware Self-Care Checklist

When you are mentally disordered, it is important for you to become self-aware. It’s one of the first steps to figuring out your treatment plan. Know thine enemy, know thyself. So, when you’re feeling really awful (or somewhat awful), go through a checklist. Here’s a checklist I came up with that I use:

  • What have I eaten in the past twenty-four hours?
  • How much have I eaten today?
  • How much have I eaten over the past week?
  • How much water have I drank today?
  • Have I ingested any caffeine?
  • How much sleep have I gotten in the past two weeks and what quality of sleep have I gotten in the past two weeks (the body carries sleep debts for about two weeks)?
  • What have I been dreaming about?
  • Have I gotten in any movement, exercise, or stretches recently?
  • Have I spent any time socializing with friends and family?
  • Have I spent enough time alone?
  • Have I rested?
  • What stressors have come up lately? This includes microstressors (like bad traffic and grocery shopping in a busy store with grumpy people and errands and daily hassles), as well as major stressors (like moving, exam time, deadline for a major project at school or work, starting a new job, chronic illness, death of a loved one, etc) and triggers (seeing something that reminds you of a trauma or loss).
  • Could I be coming down with a cold or flu?
  • Have I developed any new allergies (since allergies can come and go)?
  • Have I been taking my medication consistently?
  • Have I started any new medications or gone off any old medications?
  • Where am I at in my monthly cycle?
  • Am I taking any hormone therapies or birth control pills that might alter my mood?
  • What kinds of thoughts have I been thinking today?

Any and all of these things can affect you. How much varies from person to person. The point of this exercise is to recognize any factors that might contribute to how you’re feeling right now. Once you identify these factors, you can set out to remedy the problem.

I’d like to call a quick bit of attention to the last question on that list: “What kind of thoughts have I been thinking today?” I’m only going to cover this briefly here because I’m planning on writing a full post on thought patterns later, but people often underestimate the power their thought patterns have over their emotions. Tracking your thought train is really important! When I’m feeling down, I can often backtrack over my thoughts and find the exact thought that started my downward spiral. Then I learn to halt that thought in its tracks and think about something better.

“What Do I Miss?”

Another question to ask yourself is what you miss about this relationship. Do you miss the person themself or the way they treated you or made you feel? I think this is important to ask yourself especially if you’re going through your first break-up and I did ask myself this.

I concluded that it was a combination of all three. I loved the person he was, but also the way he treated me– the way he talked to me, looked at me, said my name, teased me, flirted with me, touched me– and made me feel. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love him for his own sake, because I did, but there were many reasons I loved him and his behaviour was one of them.

Loving someone for their behaviour doesn’t make you shallow. Behaviour is an expression of a person’s character and may be the only thing you can truly know about a person and it’s perfectly reasonable to like someone better if they’re treating you good. That doesn’t cheapen your feelings for them.

When I asked myself this question, I realized something: that maybe I could fall in love again. Part of why I fell for him was because of his obvious interest in me and the way he interacted with me and with other people. Perhaps I would fall for someone again if their behaviour was similar. Don’t get me wrong, I still really care about him and miss him and kinda want him back, but this helped me realize that I don’t need him in order to be happy, which is really empowering.

“What Can I Learn From This?”

Asking yourself what you can learn from this is not necessarily taking on the blame for the way the relationship ended. You can still place the blame squarely on your ex’s shoulders if that is where it belongs.

The point of this is to think of how you can apply your past to your future and turn your pain into gain and your regrets into potential. This is about learning new life skills that can be applied anywhere in your life, not just in romantic relationships. This is about becoming the best you you can be, for you.

Has this taught you anything about yourself or how you handle relationships? Are there any things you need to change or would like to change? Any problems you might have to anticipate and prepare for? Any areas where you would like to grow? What does the life you dream of look like? Who do you want to be?

I’ve also asked myself these questions.

I’ve learned that I need to get to know myself better, particularly my spiritual beliefs, and one day get them down on paper to make them more coherent.

I’ve learned that I’m too respectful of others and too inclined to be understanding and too afraid and that I need to be more assertive and confront people when there’s a problem instead of just hoping the problem will go away.

I’ve learned that I try too hard.

I’ve learned that though I can be very proficient and articulate at communication, there are areas where I do need to communicate more clearly and that sometimes the reason my communication is muddied up is because I don’t fully understand what I’m talking about and need to do more research on the subject.

I’ve learned that I need to say when I’m still working things out in my head and when I haven’t fully made up my mind on things because I haven’t gathered enough information yet and when I will need more time to process things.

I’ve learned that the gender roles I was taught growing up and the lack of sex education and the lack of people talking real talk about their romantic relationships and how they deal with conflict with their partner has really messed me up.

I’ve learned that me being tired is a fact of life and I need to get up and make myself do things anyway and that once I do I’ll likely feel more energetic or at the very least feel like a productive human being.

I’ve learned that I do need my antidepressants and probably should’ve started taking them sooner.

And I’ve decided that I will never let things get as bad as they did again and that I will learn all that I can to make that statement true.

So this has been a lot of learning and growth for me. Am I going to thank my ex for this? No. Absolutely not. I’m sick of people justifying suffering just because I might learn something from it, especially when I can learn the lesson in a far gentler way.

This has been like learning to swim while drowning in a riptide. It’s much better to learn how to swim in a pool with an instructor and a lifeguard over the course of the summer. So far, my psych education has taught me that gradual learning in a safe environment is the most effective. But regardless of whether people provide the opportunity and environment for safe and gradual learning, I am going to learn because I am determined to learn because learning is life.

And that’s really what this whole post and asking all these questions is all about: learning— learning about yourself and how to become the person you want to be and taking steps to create the life that you want for yourself.

And, coming from a psych major here, learning is a mechanism that can change you right down to your very DNA (this is epigenetics– life experiences can alter gene expression). Your brain is wired to learn and adapt, from before you were born up until the day you die. I consider learning to be among the powerful forces in the universe. Use it and one day you’ll create a beautiful life.

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The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition): Single Pringle Ready to Mingle?

One thing that has been annoying me lately is people telling me that “there are other fish in the sea” and “there are still good men out there” and “keep an open mind!” I know they’re well-intentioned but I don’t like this push to “just get over it” and to get me dating when I’ve already made it clear that I’m not ready for that. My mind is plenty open, thank you very much, and just because there are good men doesn’t mean I feel like (or am ready to be) dating any of them right now.

There were times where I felt really lonely and where I desperately wanted to be in a relationship again. I miss it. I miss the hugging, the cuddling, the hand-holding, the kissing. I miss the flirting. I miss having someone to dress up for, to be cute for, to be sexy for. I miss the texts in the middle of the night saying “Hey, you awake?” and having that company and companionship every weekend. I miss looking into someone’s eyes and seeing this joy and adoration in them. I miss the compliments and the “I love you”s, both giving them and receiving them. I miss being taken care of and having someone to take care of and someone to go on adventures with. I miss the smiles and the laughs and the deep, serious, philosophical discussions about the past and the future and why the world is the way it is. I miss being missed. I miss it all.

So, yeah, there were times when I was tempted to jump back into a relationship. Why didn’t I? Because I thought it would be a Really Bad Idea.

Firstly, I’m still in that place where if my ex came to me and said “Can we talk?” and wanted to give our relationship another shot, I would hear him out and consider it. If he gave me good reason to think things would be different this time ’round, I would get back together with him. And I don’t think it’s very moral for me to start dating when I might very well dump the new guy and get back with my ex if given the opportunity. That’s not fair to anyone involved.

I also don’t think it’s moral for me to date when the main reason for my dating is that I’m terribly lonely. If I’m going to be dating, I want it to be because I’m attracted to the person and like them and want to get to know them better and maybe even spend the rest of my life with them. If I’m dating to cover up my own misery, then I’m being selfish and using them as a means to an end, which violates some of Kant’s ethical principles and risks me hurting them. It’s just not fair for me to do that to them.

Also, beyond my ethics, it goes against my own sense. I am not myself. I cannot expect a future relationship to turn out well if I’m not even my normal self when I enter that relationship. Part of not being myself is that I’ve not healed but another part is that I’ve changed and I need to get to know myself again because how can my boyfriend get to know me if I don’t even know me or how to express this new self? I feel like I’ve had a good portion of my being blown away and I don’t believe in relationships being two halves of a whole. If I am an incomplete person, I should not be dating. Relationships are between two healthy, whole individuals who’ve learned how to cope with life and their own problems and have decided that though they’re great on their own, they’re even better together.

The above paragraphs, combined with the fact that my lifestyle doesn’t allow me to meet new men to date (seeing as while I’m at school, I’m in classes with mostly other women and while I’m at work, I’m with children or people who are already married and bim bam shazam there’s my whole life right there), is why I’ve stayed single ever since we broke up over a year ago. I don’t regret it and really strongly recommend staying single after a break-up.

How long though? I can’t really answer that. Saying something like two weeks, or six months, or giving some kind of equation where you multiply or divide the length of your relationship with some number is just too arbitrary and doesn’t account for your own unique needs and your position in your healing process.

However, I think it’s fairly safe to say that if you’re feeling desperately lonely or depressed or any kind of obsessed, you probably shouldn’t be getting into any kind of romantic or sexual relationship. Examine and know yourself. Make sure that the time is right for you to be dating and that you are dating for the right reasons. Learn how to manage your own life and your own problems first.

So if you’re not dating or looking for a date, what are you doing with yourself? After all, if you’ve been in a relationship for a while and you’ve gotten into a routine with that person and scheduled parts of your life around that person, you probably aren’t sure of what to do with yourself now that they’re not around anymore.

You learn how to be happy on your own and enjoy being single. Seriously. If you’re depressed like I am, one of the most important things for you to do is learn how to make yourself happy. Use this time to rediscover yourself. Make a list of things you want to get done in your life, with short-, mid-, and long-term goals. Make things all about you. Make things all about other people (just not your ex!). Dream a little… or a lot!

For me, I imagine having a life so full and satisfying that if my ex and I ever went out for coffee, friendly or otherwise, I would have so many fun new changes to talk about. To give you some ideas, here’s a bit of my list:

  • Get my full driver’s license
  • Replace the screwed-up driver’s seat in my car
  • Fix the chips in the windshield
  • Fix the air conditioner
  • Get the engine serviced
  • Completely pay off my credit card
  • Start putting money into savings
  • Take some First Aid courses
  • Get a promotion at work (Done!)
  • Reconcile with all my remaining grandparents (Done!)
  • Reconcile with my one brother and my father (Depends on their attitudes, tbh, so that one’s optional)
  • Save up to buy a headboard
  • Hang some pictures up in my room
  • Cut my hair for cancer
  • Dye my hair
  • Whip my skin care routine into shape
  • Get new glasses
  • Record some music
  • Get that sheet music made up
  • Take more piano lessons
  • Do a piano exam
  • Take voice lessons
  • Take more semesters of university and slowly inch towards getting my BA (slowly progressing…)
  • Become a black belt (slowly progressing…)
  • Take my cat to the vet and get her blood work done
  • Scrapbook?
  • Finish writing the Break-Up Survival Guide
  • Work on this blog
  • Start my fashion blog
  • Chip away at my To-Be-Read pile and maybe write some reviews
  • Plan some get-togethers with my friends
  • Go see Black Panther!!!
  • Movie marathons!
  • Books!
  • Music!
  • Jam sessions!
  • Education!
  • Family!
  • Friends!
  • Philosophy!
  • Theology!
  • Revelations! (As in “information that is newly disclosed, especially surprising, or valuable” and “a surprisingly good or valuable experience”; reading the Biblical book of Revelation is more than my mind can handle right now)

However, topping my list— and it should be topping your list too if you’re dealing with anxiety and depression– is getting my mental disorders under control. I’ve been on anti-depressants (in my case, enormously helpful) and though I haven’t been to counselling, I have been practicing controlling my thoughts and creating good habits which are kinds of cognitive therapies.

Though I imagine dating again can be a kind of healing of its own, you need to reach a certain point of healing on your own before you can find a new relationship healing. Dating before you’ve reached that threshold of healing is pretty much like learning to walk again by running a marathon: a risky decision that can get you hurt even worse. Now is a time for fun and learning and self-discovery and having fantastic new experiences. I hope some of my zest for life is rubbing off on you here. Go out and enjoy yourself!

The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition): Talking to a Doctor and Building Your Support Network

Grief is a normal and natural part of life. It’s normal to be sad or angry for a bit. But if the pain is too intense, or lasts longer than it should, it could be that maybe you have a physical or mental health problem. How much pain you can handle and for how long is ultimately up to you, but a good doctor can be one of your greatest allies.

For me, I eventually decided that I no longer had the strength to help myself and saw my family doctor and got antidepressants. And the medication did– does– help.

Antidepressants aren’t always the right decision for everyone, but I have really needed them and am grateful that I can access them. I now have the strength to actually take care of myself. I can eat again. I can exercise. I started helping out around the house. I’ve been visiting friends and family. I went to church. I went to my best friend’s wedding and even talked politics without offending anyone. I can focus my mind on other things now. (For anyone who’s considering antidepressants, I’m planning on writing more on my experience with that in the future.)

If you are considering antidepressants, you will need to talk to a physician or psychiatrist. A psychologist, counsellor, or therapist can administer cognitive and behavioural therapies, which are in many cases quite effective, but they cannot prescribe medication.

There are other health problems that have some depression-like symptoms too, such as having a vitamin B deficiency or low iron or an underactive thyroid. Get checked for these health problems and figure out what you need to be giving your body to make you feel better. You’ll probably need to get these things checked first before you can be diagnosed with a mental disorder.

Make sure that you tell your doctor about any possible symptoms. Some “physical” health problems have mental health symptoms like feeling depressed and some “mental” health problems have physical health symptoms like muscle soreness or indigestion. There’s a lot of crossover between the physical and the mental and in order to provide you with the best treatment, your doctor needs the full picture and only you can describe that to them.

I’ve also recruited the help of other health professionals. My chiropractor and my massage therapist keep my body functioning and feeling good. I have a psychologist who specializes in anxiety and depression, as well as several good counsellors, to help with the more mental aspects. And I’m also in touch with the Disability Services at my university. They, along with my family and friends, are my support team.

Also, if you are in university, it might be good for you to first speak with the university counsellors and also to let your professors know that you have a mental health problem. Where I come from, mental health is taken pretty seriously and being open about this has given me access to resources and accommodations. I personally haven’t run into any problems doing this, but in places that aren’t as informed or accepting, this could cause you problems. Also, I don’t recommend mentioning your break-up to your professors. Keep the focus on your mental health and ability to cope, which is all that’s relevant to your prof anyways, rather than your relationship problems.

Whoever is in your support network, it is important that they are knowledgeable and also make you comfortable. They should not make you uncomfortable. Of course, discomfort is part of living with anxiety, but sometimes discomfort is a sign that this is not a person you should trust or have in your life.

You want someone who can listen to you and reassure you about your worries and doubts while still taking you seriously. They can tell you an objective reality outside of your experience while still respecting the subjective reality of your experience and learn to tie those objective and subjective realities into a coherent whole. So they have to strike a pretty delicate balance. But these people do exist. Just know that they’re somewhere out there; you just have to find them.

While you’re here, I might as well talk a bit about painkillers. Sometimes being depressed or anxious can cause a lot of physical aches and pains, perhaps from the amount of muscle tension one carries. If you are in a lot of pain, it might be good for you to take some pain killers. Having your mind hurt is overwhelming enough and taking physical pain out of the equation can make life much more bearable.

I know there have been some studies showing that Tylenol can work on hurt feelings, since the brain doesn’t necessarily distinguish between physical and emotional pain (though keep in mind that these are not the equivalent of an anti-depressant; they act on different neurotransmitters and receptors and perform different functions in different intensities).

Also, there have been studies suggesting a link between depression and inflammation, which means that maybe reducing inflammation might help with depression.

If you are going to take pain medication like say, Tylenol or Advil, it is better to take it sooner rather than later. The sooner you take it, the more effective it is. For example, how anxious I’ve been over the past few weeks seems to be related to how painful my period cramps are. Now instead of waiting for the cramps to be unbearably painful, I take my Naproxen as soon as I feel mild discomfort. That is, I use the pain meds as a preventative measure rather than a treatment. I’ve read that they also do this in some surgeries, giving the pain medication before the pain is anticipated.

Keep in mind, though, that I’m just a psych student, not a doctor (yet). When I have the time, I’d like to track down those studies I just mentioned, read through them, and link them here for you and maybe discuss them a bit more in depth, but let’s be honest, who knows if I’ll ever have that kind of time. So please talk with your doctor about this kind of stuff and check that any painkillers you’re taking are compatible with the medications you’re on.

Lastly, let’s talk money.

I live in BC, Canada and my doctor’s visits were covered under the provincial health plan. Visits to a psychologist, but not a counsellor or psychotherapist, are covered under my parents’ medical plans until I quit being a full-time student or until I turn 25, whichever comes first. Massage therapy and chiropractor appointments and my medication are also covered under my parents’ plans up to a certain amount every year. And just so you know, you don’t actually have to be a Costco member in order to use their pharmacy, which is often cheaper than other places.

For those of you that live in BC, I hope that’s helpful. For those who don’t, I hope you can find a way to afford the care you need.

Fighting the Fight: A Clarification and an Explanation

The Clarification:

So, last few weeks I’ve been talking about taking care of really basic physical needs and basic self-care. But in one of my classes, I wound up having a discussion with a classmate about mental health. One thing she said was that she got really annoyed when people would tell her “Just drink water and do some yoga and you’ll feel better!” Many times, it’s an oversimplication of the problem.

After that conversation, I remembered what I wrote these past couple weeks in the Break-Up Survival Guide so I want to clarify (since I actually did say “Drink water, you’ll feel better”): I’m not saying that doing these things will “cure” you of your depression, or of any other mental health problems. Sure would be nice if it were that easy, though, wouldn’t it?

Here’s what I am saying:

#1. You cannot view your mental health and physical health as entirely independent of each other. They are in partnership with each other and are constantly interacting and impacting one another. Depression and anxiety are mental disorders. Mental disorders are considered disorders of the brain. Your brain resides inside your body and is dependent on your body to meet its needs. So if your body’s needs aren’t being met, your brain’s needs aren’t being met either so your mental health further disintegrates.

#2. If you are severely depressed and/or comorbid (that is, you have multiple physical and/or mental health problems), you will likely have to fight this battle on every front. For some people, things like monitoring what they eat and drink and exercising and keeping a solid sleep schedule is enough to bring them to healthy state of mind. If you’re one of them, I’m happy for you. But for a lot of us, that isn’t enough. It wasn’t enough for me.

And I do fight this every day, on every front: physically, mentally, cognitively, spiritually, behaviourally. I fight with antidepressants. I fight with habits. I fight with strict thought policing. I fight with social support. I fight with prayer. I fight with food and drink and exercise and bubble baths and hot water bottles and bras and shoes and sleep schedules. I fight with knowledge from my education and from health care professionals, with the wisdom and experience of my family and friends. I fight by taking pleasure in the little things, the minute details. I take every tool at my disposal to fight this because I will not risk it getting that bad again. If I slack off in any of these areas, I start sinking down into the mire again. And I will not have that.

#3. These are my coping mechanisms. These are the things I find helpful. Hopefully you find them helpful too, but if they don’t work, they don’t work. There are many different kinds of depression and so there are also many different kinds of treatments and you have to figure out what will work for you. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. Just keep an open mind and never give up.

The Explanation:

Also, I’m sure you are wondering when I’ll get to the actual break-up related stuff because so far I’ve been talking about depression and anxiety. I will put together a post on more break-up specific strategies, but that will probably come near the end of this series, since that’s the most difficult part for me to write, not to mention the most difficult part to put into practice.

See, I do have a structure to this thing and I’m trying to group like things together and I have no idea how many thousands of words I have to go through and categorize and I’m trying to give this thing a natural progression, starting small and simple then working up to bigger and more difficult things. So coming up next should be a post on some medical stuff and the rest should be cognitive/social/behavioural strategies.

Also, a lot of what I’m writing is written from my own memory. Generally, I have a pretty decent memory, but once I have time, I would like to come back to what I’ve written here and add in more info and studies and references for you. If I ever get around to researching all that, I’ll probably add it in as an edit at the bottom of the original post so you’ll know what changes I’ve made. I’d like to add in some diagrams too, but at the moment I am really horrible at visually presenting my ideas, so I will have to add that in later.

That brings me to why I’m so focused on depression and anxiety here.

The reason my depression survival strategies are lumped in this break-up stuff is because though I’d been depressed before, the break-up made it exponentially worse than anything I’d ever experienced before. After this break-up, I came to the realization that I had to do more about my depression than what I’d been doing. I had to up my game because if I didn’t, I was going to die. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that: I lost thirty pounds over the course of about a month because the depression and anxiety made me so nauseous I could not eat and I watched as my physical strength deteriorated. And my family watched too, terrified.

For me, this really is about purely surviving.

So here I am, fighting the battle on every front, against an enemy I can’t see or touch.

Here’s the thing: I can’t tell you how to get over your ex because I don’t know how. It’s been over a year since my ex broke up with me and I am still not over it and not over him. There are still times where I am overwhelmed by the depth of my love for him and how profound the loss of him is. But this isn’t a guide to getting over someone; this is a guide to surviving loss, surviving clinical depression. That’s it. Survival. Because survival is the first step, because you’re not getting over anyone if you don’t survive. And surviving, that’s something I do know how to do.

The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition): “You’re Not Seriously Talking About Posture?!”

Today I’m jumping off of last week’s post, “Move”. Yes, I’m talking about posture. Believe it or not, I’m not going to focus on the psychological aspects of it, though changing your posture can be a form of “faking it ’til you make it” and your outward behaviour can alter your internal mood states. I’m focusing more on the pure physical aspects of posture in the interests of physical pain reduction, because feeling achy all over is depressing and there are times when the only thing I have in my life to enjoy is the absence of pain.

Most of us have lousy posture, myself included. But improving your posture can make you feel less tense and sore. Again, you don’t need to do this all day every day. Just start by maintaining good posture for a few minutes and over time you will be able to hold that posture for longer. One day, it will become habit.

Basically, sit up straight with your shoulders pulled back. And if you tend to slouch, it will feel like they really are being PULLED back. Your ear, shoulders, and hip should all be in line with each other. After looking in the mirror, I’ve noticed that I (and many others) tend to jut my head forward a little bit instead of keeping it in line with the rest of my body. I think we tend to do this because we’re told it reduces double chin, but it’s poor posture.

Also, ladies: those contorted postures that models use (you know, where they stick the booty waaay out to make the butt look bigger and the waist smaller) are horrible posture and, speaking from personal experience here, can make you sore. It’s true that the spine isn’t completely straight and that it does have a little bit of curve to it, but that curve should not be exaggerated into an S-shape like what you see in comic books. Your spine has to support weight like, for example, your head, and in order to perform optimally, the spinal column must be in line.

Hm… I’m trying to figure out how to explain this… I think of gravity as a vertical force: it presses down. I think of us as horizontal objects, divided into uncountable horizontal planes (‘plane’ as in “flat surface”). Top of my head, a horizontal object. The more “horizontal” surface area you have, the more gravity presses down on you. Kind of like how chopping food up before you cook it makes it heat faster by increasing the surface area. So to reduce the pressure gravity puts on you, you reduce the amount of “horizontal surface area” you have by making sure all the horizontal planes of your body line up. That is, you want your vertebra neatly stacked on top of each other because it reduces the amount of surface area gravity can act on. This is why doing the human flag is so much harder than doing a pull-up: surface area.

Think of your spine like Jenga. Move one piece out of place and the rest of the structure becomes unstable.

Here’s a little thought exercise my old music teacher had us do (since sitting up improves lung capacity and helps you support your breath): Imagine that you are a kind of puppet and that a string is attached to the top of your head. Now pull the imaginary string upwards. This got most of us kids sitting better than just being told to sit up straight.

Another thought exercise: Imagine that your shoulders are angel’s wings. Try to fold your wings against your back. This helps you pull your shoulders back.

Also, vary your postures while doing sedentary activities. I spend a lot of time reading on my bed, so sometimes I’m sitting cross-legged, sometimes I have my back against the wall and my legs stretched out in front of me, sometimes I lay on my tummy or my side. Switching postures keeps me from getting stiff. Again, this is related to that integrating movement thing I talked about last time.

And ladies, take a look at your bras and your shoes. These two items have more impact on the way I carry myself than any others. If you wear heels, make sure you are stretching your legs. If you are wearing a shoe with a heel, that means your heel is forced to be elevated off the ground, which can shorten the muscles and tendons along the back of your legs over time. I stretch this out by either standing with my feet flat on the floor and by touching my toes (you can just reach for your toes if you’re less flexible) or by sitting on my butt and fully extending my leg while pulling my toes towards me. Stretch gently. According to this article (http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1986-03-25/features/8601180366_1_calf-muscles-high-heels-leg), you should “stop as soon as you feel pain or strain, hold still for several seconds and then stretch again only if the pain stops and you can feel the muscle fibers starting to loosen.”

Your body also needs breaks from wearing high heels. I wear high heels to work several times a week, but my shifts are short and I’m either barefoot or wearing my orthotics in some runners the rest of the week. Make sure you are spending some time wearing flat shoes.

On the subject of flat shoes, my podiatrist really disapproves of flats. Why is that? It’s not just because there isn’t any arch support. It’s also because there is no cushioning on your feet, which is okay if you’re walking around on something with some give like soil or sand, but if you’re on concrete, your feet are not made to handle that kind of hard pressure all day. Second, flats also allow the tendons in your forefoot to spread out. Once a tendon is stretched out, it can’t be stretched back, so this damage is irreversible. So, when I say wear flat shoes, I’m not referring to flimsy ballet flats or flip-flops, but something with cushioning and support that can be laced snug around your foot to keep the tendons from getting stretched out.

And if your bras are not fitting properly, that puts a lot of tension on your back, neck, and shoulders. Even if you have big boobs, you should not be getting back, neck, and shoulder pain from having big boobs. That pain results from an improperly fitted bra, not from having large breasts. I’m saying this as a busty woman myself (and I will be saying a whole lot more on bra-fitting in the future, so if your bra is uncomfortable, stay tuned).

Another thing I’ve been doing is carrying heavy loads like textbooks in a backpack. Around the start of the school year, I was getting some back pain and I couldn’t figure out why since my exercise habits hadn’t changed. Then I remembered that during the summer I was not carrying textbooks around in a cross-body bag. And even though I did alternate the bag from shoulder to shoulder, that still wasn’t good enough.

So I decided to do what my chiropractor has been telling me for years and actually contemplated using a backpack. Thankfully, my mom had a cute one lying around and she’s letting me use it. In order for this to do anything for you, you have to wear it across both shoulders. One shoulder only isn’t going to cut it. The straps are adjusted so it sits lower on my back and I find that physically, I do feel better.

Another thing I’ve started doing is after I go to bed, I put my pillow aside for a few minutes and lay flat on my back to stretch my shoulders out. It feels especially good after I’ve spent the day hunched over my computer. Doing this has a similar effect on my shoulders as sitting up straight but without any effort from me since gravity is doing my work for me here.

I also do things like wearing my orthotics around the house every day, brushing and flossing every day, wearing my retainer from time to time, regularly showering and washing my face, wearing clean clothes that fit me well (most particularly a well-fitting bra), washing my bedclothes regularly. These are all small things but they make me feel like I’m taking care of myself, which I need.

These mundane tasks have become accomplishments for me. At the end of the day, I can tell myself that I may not have gotten all that I wanted to done, but I did do things to invest in my health and well-being and that is enough. Because when you’re depressed, doing these small things are a colossal effort. It is enough to just survive.

The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition): Move!

So, today I’m continuing where I left off from the last BUSG post: basic self-care for your physical body. Seeing as your brain is responsible for your mental health and your brain is housed in your physical body, it is probably in the best interest of your mental health to make sure your body is getting what it needs.

(Just to clarify, since I know I’ve mentioned recently that I’ve moved to another city, when I’m talking about moving today, for the most part I’m talking about getting your body moving, not packing up and moving to another place of residence.)

I’m starting to consider that maybe I should’ve titled this “Depression and Anxiety Survival Guide (Break-Up Edition)” instead of the other way around, since so much of this is strategies for handling anxiety and depression, but it feels wrong to change it now. Oh well.

Your body is made to move. Exercising regularly decreases your risks for a myriad of diseases and delays a lot of age-related health problems, so it’s an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. If I’m remembering correctly, we start seeing these preventative effects when a person exercises for three hours or more per week, which is why I am aiming to get three hours of exercise a week. I’m halfway there right now, but seeing as my life is very unsettled at present, I figure it’s better for me to get more things in order before I get the other hour and a half or else I’ll overwhelm myself and give up for several months.

Also, endorphins. One of my counsellors told me that forty minutes of brisk walking three times a week can be equivalent to an antidepressant. (For the record, if you’re on antidepressants, I’m not telling you to go off them and just go for a walk instead. Do both, and keep in touch with your doctor.)

Movement also gives you something to do. It’s not like I stop thinking when I move or that my thoughts are now only focused on the act of moving, but thinking about depressing things while moving around and reorganizing my room isn’t nearly as depressing as thinking depressing thoughts while just laying there staring at the ceiling. Moving doesn’t stop the depressing thoughts but I do find it can sometimes dial down the intensity because there’s a little bit of distraction there.

And I totally get it if you feel tired and sore and don’t want to get up. I understand and respect the need for rest. But spending too much time laying around can make things worse. You ever heard of disuse atrophy? It’s what happens when you don’t use your muscles enough– your muscles start wasting away, becoming smaller and weaker.

I also find that if I don’t move enough, my body gets sore from that, too, and frankly I find it a less pleasant type of sore than the kind I get from exercising. “Good workout” sore makes me a bit sore and stiff, but stretching feels great and I know I’m getting stronger and I’m admiring myself more in the mirror even though I probably don’t look any different. But “selectively bedridden” sore is different. I feel weak and tired and purposeless. There this sinking, sluggish feeling about it and it’s awful.

But going from barely able to get out of bed to exercising three hours every week is a bit extreme and overwhelming so that’s not what I’m telling you to do right now. That’s why this portion is entitled “Move” not “Exercise”. Take breaks from reading or watching movies or interneting to get up and walk around your room for a few minutes. Shrug your shoulders. Reach for the ceiling. Try to touch your toes. Stretch a little, just enough to feel it (don’t tear anything!). Basically, just use your muscles to do everyday tasks. Integrate movement into your regular activities.

Me, I’m lucky that I don’t have to go out of my way to do that. To give you an idea of what implementing everyday movement looks like, I’ll use myself as an example.

In my job, it is an office job (part-time, since I’m in school), but I still stand whenever people come to speak to me, I sit when I’m inputting at the computer, I walk around to follow up with people and to grab things out of the back room, I crouch to pick things up of the floor or to talk to children, so I get everyday movements implemented into my work. It’s not physically demanding but it’s movement.

Same goes for simple things like keeping my room clean, reorganizing things, picking things up, putting things down, doing my laundry, emptying and reloading the dishwasher, cleaning the cat box, vacuuming, sweeping the floor. Not demanding, but movement nonetheless.

Of course, this satisfies not just the need for movement, but it also increases my standard of living and it makes me feel like I’ve done something useful that day. It also means less work for my mom to do, which in turn means less strain on our relationship. We both start to feel like I’m pulling my weight, so… win-win.

I also try to implement movement into meeting with friends. Usually we grab lunch or a hot chocolate then walk around for a bit. That way I’m both socially and physically active.

Before I moved, I lived in an apartment and would take the stairs instead of the elevator. Now, I have to park down the street from where I live since there’s no more room in the driveway, so I get some movement walking to and from my car.

Movement can also be used in tasks like grocery shopping, walking from the parking lot into the store, etc.

And I actually do get exercise too, since working at a dojang means I get free martial arts classes as an employee. Again, I’m not telling you to dive headfirst into exercise. You’ve got to slowly and gradually work your way into it, allow your body to adapt to these new habits, so that you’re less likely to be overwhelmed and exhausted and more likely to be consistent and succeed.

And now that I’ve moved, I live in a nicer, safer neighbourhood. I feel comfortable walking around on my own where I live now, so I can go for a walk when I want to. This unfortunately isn’t a privilege everyone has. If you can’t go for walks like I can because you feel unsafe or live in a dangerous area, don’t feel bad about yourself, just stay safe and do what you can.

The Break-Up Survival Guide (Depression and Anxiety Edition): Eat, Drink and… Try to Be Merry, I Guess

There are days when I probably would’ve been fine mentally, but feeling discomfort or pain physically triggered off or intensified my depression and anxiety. And sometimes being depressed or anxious can make you very tired and sore and create a great deal of physical pain, so it can be a nasty cycle.

So let’s talk a bit about caring for your physical body.

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In the words of Remus Lupin, “Eat. You’ll feel better”.

 

I found myself really having trouble eating while depressed. Sometimes I was too nauseous to eat, other times I just didn’t feel like eating and nothing tasted good, other times I didn’t even feel hungry even though I should’ve, and other times I felt hungry but was too exhausted to eat.

A lot of people have the reverse of this problem and overeat when they’re depressed, but since I don’t really have any personal experience with that particular problem, or much book knowledge on it, for that matter, I won’t talk about it right now.

One thing I learned is that sometimes, I can’t trust my body’s feelings, not even the feeling of hunger (or lack thereof). So eat regularly, even if you’re not feeling hungry. I realized that my hunger started to manifest itself differently when I was depressed. Instead of hunger pangs in my stomach, I just felt weepy and tense and tired and sore all of the time plus my thoughts were more drawn to negative things like my ex with his new girlfriend. Just because you don’t feel hungry doesn’t mean hunger isn’t taking a toll on your body. Make sure you’re giving your body what it needs.

Learning to eat again is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do (which probably warrants its own post). Eating made me sick. Not eating made me sick. But once I got past that threshold and got regularly eating again, I felt so much better. I had more energy. I slept better. My dreams weren’t always pleasant, but they didn’t upset me as much as they used to. I feel more optimistic about my future. I have better control over my thoughts. I’m not in physical pain all the time.

If you are not eating enough, you will feel worse. Remember, feeling like crap is your body’s way of telling you to feed it. I think the fact that the word “hangry” exists shows that this is a pretty well-documented phenomenon even among people who aren’t mentally disordered and aren’t under a lot of stress. Imagine how much worse this gets when you are mentally disordered and stressed out.

So please eat. If you’re having trouble eating, just focus on eating period. Don’t worry about getting healthy food because that can be too intimidating. Just eat. Once you’ve got yourself eating regularly again, then you can focus more on healthy foods and getting nutrition into your system.

Also, pick up some multivitamins. Even people who do eat regular meals don’t get the vitamins and minerals they need from their meals because of how processed our foods usually are, and when you are not able to eat as much as these people do, you are getting even fewer nutrients than they are. And there are certain vitamins your body needs but does not produce on its own, so you need to get that from what you’re eating and drinking. I take gummy vitamins because I find the capsules too hard on my stomach at present.

My mom helped me pick up the vitamins. She also picked up these meal-replacement drinks that are used to help people put on weight. She spoke to the pharmacist at the store, told him I was depressed, on medication, having trouble eating, and needing to gain weight, and he suggested those drinks.

The drinks don’t fill the tummy the way that an actual meal does, so I’m not using these to actually “replace” meals, but rather to add in “extra” meals, since I need to gain weight.

I also realized that another thing that makes me feel like crap is being dehydrated. It seems being dehydrated doesn’t necessarily make me feel thirsty, but it can make me nauseous and really, really tired and weepy, also can give me headaches. Point being, pay attention to the less obvious symptoms of hunger and dehydration. A growling stomach and a dry throat aren’t the only signs.

Make especially sure to drink lots of water in hot weather, or in cold weather when you have the heat cranked up, when you’ve been exercising, and if you’re on medication, since dehydration can be a side effect of some medications.

Also, water is better for you than any other drink, so that should be what you’re drinking the most. Drinking eight cups of Coke or iced tea is not going to produce the benefits that drinking eight cups of water will. The cells in your body run off of water, not root beer.

I cut soft drinks out of my diet ages ago due to the caffeine and the amount of sugar in them. I rarely ever drink them. I’ll drink them occasionally, like, once in the span of several months, but whenever I drink them, I usually regret it because I feel like crap afterwards.

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If you have anxiety problems, seriously consider cutting caffeine entirely out of your diet. I know I felt so much better doing that. No more heart pounding for no apparent reason, less jumpiness and fidgeting, less sluggishness, no sugar crash…

Seriously, lots of water. It’s refreshing.