You’re exhausted. You feel hopeless. You’ve tried everything and nothing seems to be helping. You’re in immense physical and emotional pain. You can’t imagine things ever getting better.
I’ve had two distinct times in my life where I could not imagine things getting better. One was as a teenager, when I struggled with generalized anxiety, and the other was in my early twenties, as I battled panic disorder and the depression that accompanies having several panic attacks a day.
There were days I would just cry. I would sob and heave and pray frantically. It felt like I might explode out of my skin with fear and sorrow and pain.
But when you feel like this—hopeless, frustrated, exhausted—it isn’t the time to sit idly by.
It’s the time to pull out all the stops.
It’s a time to take care of yourself and be gentle with yourself.
It’s a time to lean on others like you never have before.
It’s a time to draw on your strength—the absolute depth of your ability to keep moving forward.
I think back to all those times—now that I’m out of the woods—those times where I thought things would never, ever get better.
Guess what? They did get better. I experienced the joys of college. I made new friends. I laughed until my stomach hurt. I traveled the world. I learned new things every day.
And now I teach at a yoga studio I adore. I get to work with people every day who went through similar things as me. I’m in a beautiful relationship.
When we’re in the midst of struggle, it seems like things will never get better. But they ALWAYS, ALWAYS do. If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that everything always passes.
You WILL be happy again. You WILL have amazing moments again. You WILL feel connected again. It might not happen overnight, but it will happen.
Here’s what to do when your anxiety and depression get too overwhelming.
1. Lean on the support of loved ones.
During this time, I leaned on support like never before. When we’re stuck in anxious, depressed thinking, it makes it almost impossible for us to see things clearly. It’s important for us to have someone we can share our pain with and to have them tell us that yes, things will get better. We can’t see it for ourselves right now, but our loved ones can.
I remember one particular day, I was sobbing uncontrollably after many unrelenting panic attacks. My mom scooped me up and held me in her lap. As a 24-year-old woman, I never thought I would need my mother to rock me back and forth in her recliner. She soothed me as my sobs lessened.
If you don’t have loved ones who understand what you’re going through, seek out help from a professional with whom you can form a meaningful connection and feel comfortable with, or find a support group with others who can relate to what you’re feeling.
2. Start and commit to a daily gratitude journal.
My gratitude journal played a momentous part in drawing me out of my low points. Every single night without fail, I would write down ten things I was grateful for that day.
Some days it was extremely hard to find things to write, but I did it anyway, no matter how small they were. Some days, I was just grateful for having water to drink, or getting out bed, or a blue sky.
I have several notebooks filled with page after page of these gratitude journals. There will be some nights when you feel too depressed to fill out your journal.
Do it anyway.
Do it every single night. Over time, it will begin to help you shift your thinking to notice the little positives that come even in the midst of despair. There is always good to be found.
3. Find ways to help others.
My counselor at the time shared that one of the quickest ways to get out of a depression is to do something for others. In this way, we can shift our attention away from our own pain and instead help and serve someone else.
So I started volunteering every week at the local animal shelter. Every Friday, I’d go socialize with the kittens and cats, petting and feeding them. I love animals and they often bring out the best in me, so it felt wonderful to be able to help these sweet friends who truly needed my love.
If you don’t feel ready to venture out to volunteer by yourself, have a friend or other safe person go with you.
Even if it’s as small as complimenting someone else or doing a favor for a loved one, point your focus on others as often as you can remember.
4. Practice self-care.
I can’t say this enough. Do at least one thing a day that makes you feel GOOD. Whether it be exercise or writing or watching your favorite show or taking a bath. Find something that you look forward to and do it every day.
When I was at my worst, I remember my boyfriend and I would cuddle up in bed in the evenings and watch Friends. I looked forward to it every day, even when I had spent the rest of the day in utter despair.
I also loved practicing restorative yoga each afternoon at home. I looked forward to those moments of stillness during a time when nothing else felt safe or calming.
Find what makes your soul happy to be alive. And then do that.
Hang in there. Love yourself. Know that you are worthy of a wonderful, beautiful life.