Saturday, August 18, 2012

Handling the Day to Day

One of the toughest things about dealing with recurrent mood cycles, anxiety, depression, or panic is that it isn't like a flu that comes on strong for a week and knocks you out but then goes away. Instead, it sneakily creeps into your day to day life, sometimes without much warning. There isn't often of a rhyme or reason for it. Unlike a contagious virus, there's no "anxiety season" (though you may personally notice that you're worse at certain times of the year). It just happens.

The trouble therein lies with handling the day to day issues that arise from living with these conditions. Everyone's different, and of course I can only offer suggestions that have worked for me. I've dealt with all of the above, as well as insomnia and several other issues, so while I'm not professionally trained, I can speak from experience. Here are a few things that I've learned over the years to help me deal with the day to day, and also help me from being so hard on myself when I am struggling a bit.

1. Think past the immediate episode. While your anxiety/panic/depression might seem like you can't conquer it as a whole, think honestly about how long your anxiety or panic or depressed mood generally lasts without a break of feeling more like yourself. Do you usually panic for an hour or two, does your anxiety usually last for more than a day without at least a few minutes of feeling better? When I think past this immediate episode, I can usually talk myself through it. I can say "in a few more hours/by tomorrow I'll feel better. I know I can hang in." It might seem impossible, but you know you can do it, because you've done it before. Note: if you have prolonged depression/mania that can occur with full blow bipolar I, this actually might be best to avoid.

2. I think often, having anxiety causes more anxiety than what actually ignited it in the first place.  My therapist once pointed out to me that there are 24 hours in a day. If you have a bad hour or two, there are stil 22 or 23 hours left to make it a good day. This seemingly simple statement gives me hope  - I could still have a tough hour or two and still have a good day overall. Anxiety or panic doesn't have to feed more anxiety or panic. As a black and white person who tends to think of things as "all good" or "all bad", this has helped me tremendously.

3. Despite the above statement, some days just are going to be tough days. When I've stopped trying to fight this idea, and said "you know what, 'ok' is as good as today's going to get", I felt better. Everyone, condition or not, has rough days. These days, I try to do things that relax and comfort me as much as possible, meditate, and try to get some decent sleep that night. The morning might look completely different.

4. Reach out. Talk to someone. Tell them that you just need to vent, that you're having a difficult day. Those who support you will understand. If you've had several bad days, maybe talk to different people. Not only will they give you a different perspective, but you won't feel like you're bombarding one particular friend. Sometimes, getting it out can stop your brain from racing.

5. Focus literally on the present moment. Think about what you're doing:  right now I'm going to brush my teeth; now I'm taking the dog out; now I'm answering only this email (and not thinking ahead to the others in your inbox). Not only does it give your brain something to think about that's constructive, it pushes back worry that comes from snowballing - i.e. I have this task, and this appointment, and that conference call, and then I have to run this errand, and now I'm so overwhelmed thinking about all of this that I'm frozen and don't know what to do.

6. Have a therapy session with yourself (this works better if you have a therapist or have been to one someone routinely in the past, but even if not, it might help). Here's where you might all think I'm a little, um, unique, but bear with me and give it a go. I will, when in the safety of my house alone but for my dog, talk out loud like I'm talking to my therapist. First off, it helps get what I'm thinking out of my brain, and can help to start organize it if my brain feels a bit like a jumbled mess. Then, it allows me to think of what my therapist would say to me. For some reason, saying it out loud helps me better gain this perspective. When I take myself out of the situation a bit, and look at it like my therapist would, it's easier to remember her advice for whatever it is that I'm experiencing. If I've not talked to my therapist about it, I make a note to tell her next time.

These are simply some suggestions that have helped me. They don't work every time, and I honestly don't remember to apply them every time the going gets rough. Still they help me take it one step at a time, eventually one hour at a time, and then one day at a time. And to be honest, I don't really want to handle things more than one day at a time - I've got enough going on already, and in trying to rush through the bad stuff, I might miss a lot of the good stuff. 

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