Depression and anxiety are quite often a package deal. Those unlucky enough to have one are arguably more prone to experience the other. As I go through the days, I find that I slip into a routine, one which is the bare bones of many aspects of my daily life. For example, I’ll get out of bed at the latest possible time to ensure I make it to work on time. Sure, I’m where I need to be when I need to be there, but not the best scenario to repeat over and over. Recently I’ve started beating myself up for this, not only because I fear how others will view this, but how I view myself. Individuals who have depression are often viewed by those who don’t understand the illness as being lazy. As one of those individuals with depression, I can assure you that 99 times out of 100 this isn’t the case. Depression can eat away at your mind, causing you to attribute negativity to nearly everything life throws at you. Staying in bed for half of the day is not a sign of laziness, it’s a coping mechanism.
With that in mind, I started thinking about why I fell into this “bare-bones” routine so often, and I’ve found that it’s a vicious cycle. I’ll get up at the last possible minute, and be rushing to make it to work on time, causing my anxiety to peak. If something small isn’t how it’s supposed to be, such as my car not starting or a road detour, my routine doesn’t leave much (or really any) wiggle room. So, I’ll get to work, mind already roiling from the anxiety just leading up to it. Work is generally fine; I enjoy what I do, but it is still a job, which comes with anxieties of its own. I’ll get home later that night (I generally work into the evenings) and that is where my anxiety tends to lessen. I don’t have any more responsibilities for that day – this is my chance to take a load off and relax.
So, I’ll occupy myself for an hour. And another hour. As time passes, my mind will turn to tomorrow, and with it, all the stresses and responsibilities it brings. In response, I’ll ask myself what I can do to combat these anxious thoughts. Predictably, my answer is to occupy my mind enough that I block these thoughts out, so, in short, anything but going to bed. If I were to try lying down, my mind would be so frantic I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep anyway. So, I occupy myself even more, and by the time I do make it to bed, it’s ridiculously late. I’ve figured out that, however illogical it may seem, my answer to the anxieties of tomorrow is to make it so that tomorrow doesn’t come until the last minute. Obviously, I don’t have the power to slow down time, but the longer I stay awake in this situation where I have no responsibilities, the less time I’ll have to worry about the time where I do have responsibilities. Going to bed so late causes me to sleep in later than I probably should, and the cycle begins anew. As days pass with this same routine, I fall prey to my depression, with it telling me that this is happening because I am lazy. I am incompetent. I can look at this from a logical perspective and tell myself this isn’t true, but whenever depression takes control, negativity reigns supreme.
In short, what I’m trying to get across is that depression and anxiety work in tandem with one another. Thoughts of one nature often carve a path for the other. As these habits often fall into a cycle, combatting them seems especially hard. As I’ve just related, I’m currently struggling with these things myself, so I can’t give any surefire methods for dealing with this. I can only give my best suggestion, one that I’m going to start trying, and that’s practicing mindfulness.
For those unaware of the concept, mindfulness is looking at thoughts as just that, thoughts. There are no happy thoughts, sad thoughts, anxious thoughts, etc. There are only thoughts that we should view through an unbiased lens. This is not to say we ignore these thoughts, that would create more problems than it solves. We merely observe them without any emotion attached to them. Mindfulness certainly doesn’t say that emotion is not there (or important, for that matter), but as many with depression know, viewing everything that crosses your mind through an emotional lens only leads to attributing negativity to it all. Observing our thoughts and the actions of others through an unbiased lens allows us to apply logic more readily than if we were worried, or guilty, or whatever emotion we attribute to the thought. By looking at events with more logic than emotion, we take away our tendency to worry about events, past, present, and future.
Mindfulness, much like deep breathing techniques and yoga, is something that improves only with practice. Emotion is such an integral part of our thought processes, so when we have a technique that initially takes that away, it certainly takes some getting used to. Again, this method doesn’t ask you to throw emotion away, it simply requests you put it to the side, only pulling it back if it’s immediately needed to deal with the situation (which many times it isn’t). There are many resources for practicing mindfulness, and it is a growing study among many psychological health professionals.
It’s something that I’ve heard has worked for many people, and for a few months it was something I practiced as well. As happens all too often with me, however, I fell out of practice. With luck, it will help me deal with my bare-bones routine. Looking at the next day logically instead of emotionally in the evenings should allow me to go to sleep earlier, thus allowing me to get up earlier and face the day. Mindfulness was created with the concept of living in the moment, as opposed to worrying about past or future events which we cannot change. We can change our right now, however, and mindfulness tries to help ensure we have the mental and emotional capability to do that.