Anxiety and Depression during the Holidays

Hello! Happy winter solstice!!

I thought today would be a good day to slow down, put work aside and reflect. I find myself living this mantra ‘on to the next’ and typically don’t take the time to look back.

Living in Maine has encouraged me to slow down, connect with myself and tap back into the rhythm of nature and the seasons.

Last year we moved four times, started businesses, bought a house and dealt with loss. It seemed that my world was spinning and that my nervous system was like thousands of buzzing bees. I could not slow down or sit still because I was in constant fight or flight. I was in survival mode. My anxiety disorder had come back fully… Feelings I hadn’t felt in ten years. Feeling grateful was hard to genuinely feel because….anxiety.

When I am in survival mode my mind is non-stop, muscles tense, perspective out of whack and in a state of mind that everyone is out to get me. I didn’t feel like myself and felt like I had to use every ounce of energy to get through the day.  If I didn’t have a xanax in my purse readily accessible it would send me straight into an anxiety attack.

I finally hit rock bottom after all the moving, shifting, relocating and surviving– and entered mode: Depression.

I couldn’t eat without crying, I would look at my dogs and think about how sad it is that they are going to die someday. Getting out of bed seemed damn near impossible.

It was SO hard to take care of myself.

I feel safe sharing this now because I am in the healing stage. I am able to function like my old self again (for the most part) but it is taking a lot of work. The only way I am able to regain my normalcy again is to amp up my self care game.

If you are someone who is dealing with anxiety/depression or know someone who is, my intention is to share what has helped in my healing journey over the past year.

Perspective: When you have anxiety you feel like it is going to last FOREVER and ever and ever and ever and everrrrrrrr. I am learning how to be with anxiety, feel it fully and trust that it won’t last forever. Having this shift in perspective that ‘it will pass’ and that no one has ever died from a panic attack has helped me when I get that HUGE tidal wave of anxiety. Inhaling deeply into the belly, pausing at the top of the inhale and then slowly exhaling all the air from my lungs helps calm my nervous system when I am feeling overwhelmed.

Meditation: I started getting up earlier to schedule 20 minutes of meditation each morning. I use a free meditation app called Insight Timer.  Before I check my phone, go to the bathroom or brush my teeth, I listen to a guided meditation. When I am done, I put my feet on the floor and think of one thing I am grateful for. This trains my brain to think positively and sets the tone for the day. When I am brushing my teeth, I try to only brush my teeth. If I find my mind wandering I say to myself, ‘I am brushing my teeth’ and notice the sensations of the toothbrush in my mouth.

Vitamin D – Maine has short days and lacks sunlight in the winter. I made sure to integrate vitamin D into my daily routine, along with probiotics. Several studies have suggested that the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder may be due to changing levels of vitamin D3, which may affect serotonin levels in the brain.

Sun Lamp- Seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. A friend recommended this lamp . When I use it I feel a sense of happiness and increased energy. I don’t use it everyday but when I do I see an improvement in mind, body and spirit.

Massage- Physical touch is so important. When I have anxiety all the tension goes straight to my muscles especially my neck, shoulders and jaw. I try to see a massage therapist once or twice a month, it really helps. I also use self massage to get rid of some excess stress in the body especially when I am on a budget.

Connecting with Nature- Getting outside and being in the moment. Even when the weather isn’t sunny and warm, I force myself to go for small walks and take in some deep breaths of fresh air. I look at the shape of the trees and get curious about how much they change from summer to winter. This helps me be present and ultimately calms my nervous system.

Baths- I am learning how to stay in the tub for longer than 20 mins. I have a tendency to rush to get things done. Shampoo, conditioner, shave, soap, rinse anddddd I’m out! Rather than thinking of it as ‘a time to get stuff done,’ I let myself sit there with no agenda. I add some epsom salts and if I am feeling really luxurious I will put on a podcast and stay put for at least 40 minutes. 🙂

Letting myself be bored– Anxiety is one of those things that makes you feel like it is never going to end. Boredom has always been SO scary to me. “What will I do? What if my brain doesn’t stop? I’m feeling uncomfortable. I gotta do something!” I’m trying to notice being bored and then I try to be ok with it. It may be uncomfortable, but that’s ok. I notice what will happen when I put distractions aside and spend time with my dogs, laying on the rug and looking out the window.  It’s taken a lot of uncomfortable moments, but being present/bored is starting to feel free.

Self-Compassion- I started reading this out loud and began to cry. It felt like it came out of nowhere because when I was in the flow of writing, I felt fine. I had a moment of heartache because last year was so tough. I felt bad for myself. Not in a ‘everyone, look at me and feel bad for me and all this hardship’ but a genuine love and tenderness for myself. Having anxiety leads to negative self-talk and self-compassion does not come natural. Learning how to send myself love when times are tough has been a real game changer. I am reading Self-Compassion, the power of being kind to yourself by Kristin Neff. She gives lots of tools on how to start a kinder dialogue with yourself.

Being Patient- I am trying to remember that change and healing doesn’t happen overnight. I am taking baby steps and trying to send myself love and compassion when I overcome something challenging, or do something that pushes me outside my comfort zone. Being patient with the healing process is very hard because of course I want to feel 100% resilient again.

I hope one of the tools resonates if you are overwhelmed, stressed or anxious. The holidays can be a wonderful time of year filled with joy and happiness and they can also induce lots of anxiety.

Lots of people suffer in silence.

Love to all during the holidays when stress and anxiety seems to be at its peak!