Helpful hints and discussion about mental health and mental health issues as it relates to
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Saturday 5 July 2014

Tips and Strategies for Dealing with Anxiety and Depression BEFORE you need to see a counsellor.

Now, don’t take these tips as a be-all and end-all. They are just meant to be strategies that can tide you over until you are able to get into see a counsellor.

That having been said, when you make a decision to see a therapist, you may not be able to see one right away. In some cases, therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists and even mental health teams may have a waiting list. Sometimes these waiting lists can stretch for up to three months! By which time the client (you or someone else) may already have ridden out the crisis or the situation and may no longer think that you need to see a counsellor. Think that one over carefully. Indeed, the situation you may have experienced may have been temporary or “situational”, like losing a job or a girlfriend or boyfriend and you may have gotten over it within 3 months because – hey! Now you have a new job/boyfriend/girlfriend/ whatever (fill in the blank here).

However, in some situations where as I mentioned before in another post, you have been experiencing chronic, ongoing stressors, you may need to still see a therapist. So, for example, maybe you did lose your job/girlfriend/boyfriend/whatever (fill in the blank here) but perhaps you did so and had your “meltdown” due to something else. Maybe you lost your boyfriend because of some relationship difficulties that chronically spring up in your relationships whenever you get involved with a fellow. Or maybe you lost your girlfriend because you get into a pattern of behaviour that sabotages the relationship. The difficulties we find in our intimate, interpersonal relationships, like our love lives, can also be apparent in our interactions, but in a more muted way obviously. You are not going to have an intimate relationship with your boss. Or maybe you try to and maybe that is why you lost your job. Who knows?

However, as I said our patterns of behaviour in our intimate relationships often show up in our ordinary, day-to-day relationships with neighbours, co-workers and bosses. You should also know that some of these patterns also come from our relationships with our first “intimates” namely our parents, our siblings and childhood friends.  But I am digressing.

In any event, you have a problem: anxiety or depression and you need to get in to see someone but the waiting list is miles long and you are in the lineup but it stretches down the corridor, around the hallway, down the stairs and out the front door and into the parking lot ......  across the street! What do you do in order to keep yourself together until you can get into see someone?

Here are some tips. These are tips, mind you, NOT a substitute for therapy. Think of these as an analogy with a snack or a meal. One wards off your hunger, the other will satisfy you longterm.

For Anxiety:

Anxiety can often be “misplaced intellectual or psychic energy” and no, I am not talking about the person you phone up on a 1-800 number to get the winning lottery ticket numbers. I am talking about the endless energy of thoughts running through your head: “What should I do about this?”, “What should I do about that?” “Did I do the right thing here?”, “Did I say the right thing there?” This is psychic energy.

  1. Calm yourself down with a grounding exercise. For five minutes, do the following: Sit comfortably. Tell yourself aloud (or if you are in public, silently) 5 things you: see; 5 things you hear; 5 things you feel and can touch. Then get yourself to find 4 more things you can see, 4 things you can hear; 4 things you can feel or touch. And so on. Do this until you are down to the number one. By the end of the exercise you should be more in touch with what is currently going on around you in the moment rather than what is running around inside your head.
  2. A second exercise: close your eyes or, if you are in public stare at a single spot. Slow your thoughts, if you can and if you can’t simply listen and concentrate on your breathing. Often when you have anxiety or an anxious moment, your breathing will become shallow and fast. Forcibly concentrate on trying to extend your breathing time – both in and out. Count the seconds in – make it as long as you can – and then count the seconds out – again as long as you can. And finally, if you can close your eyes, listen to your breathing. Listen to the quality of the breathing.  Listen to it going in and out of your lungs. Feel the rhythm of your breathing and your ribcage expanding and contracting and your shoulders relaxing. Get “in touch” with your body and your bodily sensations while you do this exercise.
  3. Finally, the third exercise is not really an exercise, but a good suggestion. This suggestion is also useful for depression. You see, depression and anxiety can often be two sides of the same coin. It’s too long to talk about here, but people can flip from having no or low energy – depression, depressed mood to hyper-anxious and endless running thoughts. In this instance the best suggestion is: Get Out of The House! EVERYDAY!   Often, a simple change of scenery can change your thought patterns if you’re into a groove – be it anxiety or depression. For anxious people, getting outside of their heads (and into their surrounding environment, observing the trees, the flowers, hearing the birds, etc.) can be useful to take their minds off of their problems. For depressed persons also, getting out and about is useful, because depressed people will often isolate themselves. One good way to alleviate depressive symptoms is to get out (and ideally socialize). Again being able to interact with the world, even in just a small way, will often help lift a person’s mood.

For Depression:

Depression can run the gamut from just low mood or the blues to full-scale depression, where you isolate yourself, can see no other option or solution to your current problem and see no end in sight. Your energy is at an all time low and you have little hope and don’t feel like anything you do will be of any use. You may feel “beaten up” or “beaten down” and feel despondent, guilty, despairing and like there is no way out of your situation. It is most hard for people who are depressed to feel “revved up” or hopeful. Hope, you see, generates positive thinking and positive thinking generates energy and initiative to do things.

  1. Again, just like anxious people: Get Out of The House! EVERYDAY! Just the mere physical act of getting out of your (literal) current environment can help to change your mind and brain. External stimuli – birds, flowers, sights, sounds, saying hi to the neighbour or going to the store or downtown to go shopping, helps to lift your mood.
  2. Physical activity --  of any sort, helps to get things going. Natural endorphins are released into the body. Especially if this is hard, physical activity. Your heart is pumping; your blood is flowing. You are literally “on the move”.
  3. Set a task and accomplish it that day. Do not make the task too big or you will defeat the point of this exercise. You see, with depressed persons, often they have a lot of inertia – inability to get up and get on with things, simply because they are, well, depressed! So as a result of feeling inertia and an inability to hope they tend to isolate, become bogged down in their depression, hopelessness and inertia and tend to vegetate or do nothing. This is precisely why you should get out of doors every day. Just to do something physical and active. However, if you also combine it with a moderate, ACCOMPLISHABLE (is accomplishable a real word?) task or goal you also increase your sense of well-being and hope and thus lift your mood.
  4. Finally, a last exercise or suggestion for warding off the effects of depression.... until you can see a counsellor or therapist, is to do something for someone else or volunteer. This tackles a number of the above exercises. It gets you out of the house (changes your mind/brain chemistry and your environment). By the way, anybody remember the video by Sheryl Crow from a few years ago entitled: A Change (would do you good). The link is here: Check it out. It’s all about the craziness of people’s lives and how – taken from a broader perspective – like an angel or a benevolent witch up on a cloud somewhere – it would make you laugh, seeing the ridiculousness of it all. This helps a lot with depression.
  1. And if you want a really good laugh, and want to see this illustrated on a bigger broader perspective, check out Pedro Almodovar’s film from the 80’s, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Same principle as the Sheryl Crow idea, but just reframing the idea of chronic frustration.

  Moreover, volunteering or doing something for someone else helps you to get a task accomplished (see exercise 3). And volunteering, or doing community work, like, ahem, the kind that Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton has had to do in the past (‘cause we all know orange IS the new black), helps you to gain a sense of usefulness to the world, a sense of purpose, which depressed people often lack but also helps to increase your sense of gratitude. Despite your personal situation, there will ALWAYS be people who will be worse off than you. Guaranteed. And this does not mean to say that you need to suffer your situation, regardless of what it is, but rather that there will always be people whose personal situation is far worse than your own.

So that is it in a very brief nutshell.  But bear in mind that these are exercises and suggestions for keeping yourself together UNTIL you can see a therapist and if you’re in an emergency, reach out for immediate help by dialing 9-1-1. They are not meant to be permanent solutions. They are like putting a temporary patch in a roof while it is leaking, until you can afford to, or until the weather dries up to put a new roof on your house.

 So until then, keep your house and your soul together,

Take Care,

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