First, I’d like to emphasise that the insights I’m sharing aren’t just academically relevant to anxiety and depression; they’re also drawn from my own journey, having proved invaluable in helping me through some of my life’s toughest mental challenges. But since we all experience mental health issues uniquely, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing our well-being. It’s important to recognise that anxiety and depression can manifest in myriad ways.
So, with that in mind, here are some strategies designed to shift our focus away from darker thoughts and set us on the path to recovery:
Try to remind yourself that it’s just your anxiety talking
When life throws legitimate curveballs our way, it’s natural to feel down when they occur. But there have been instances where my anxiety has exaggerated minor issues, making me feel more anxious than necessary. In retrospect, after resolving these issues, I often wish I hadn’t subjected myself to so much mental strain – but sometimes, we can’t help it.
It’s a given that there will be times when life’s nuisances get the better of us. Since adopting the practice of recognising that my anxiety might be making a mountain out of a molehill, I’ve found myself handling life’s challenges more proactively and with less stress.
Through introspection and external reading, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of my triggers and have learned that anxiety originates from an overactive part of our brain that controls the fight-or-flight response: the amygdala. This overstimulation leads to an exaggerated stress response in various situations. Armed with this knowledge, I’ve started to accept that my feelings of anxiety can be irrational and that these periods will eventually pass. Over time, I’ve found it easier to navigate stressful periods, and I hope this insight helps you do the same.
Engage in our favourite music and films
Our inner self-talk is a feature of our brain that can serve us well in life. But there are times when our inner monologue can take a dark and dangerous turn, particularly when we are at our worst mentally and physically. My own experiences of negative inner self-talk have often coincided with bouts of intense anxiety.
Periods of negative and dark inner self-talk are prevalent in individuals with underlying anxiety or depressive conditions. Affirmations of not being good enough, self-ridicule, and even suicidal thoughts can be common. I have experienced all of these at certain points in my life as well.
Fortunately, I’ve never come into harm’s way due to dark inner self-talk, and I attribute that to engaging in activities that I enjoy when times are tough. This has ranged from going to the gym to taking mindful walks when the weather is pleasant. When I’ve felt unable to leave the house, I’ve turned to my favourite music and films as uplifting distractions from my own harmful self-talk. These strategies have served me well and have thankfully kept me safe over the years. In my opinion, it’s crucial to engage in light-hearted and uplifting media, rather than feeding our emotions with content that is sad or tragic in tone.
By immersing ourselves in things that bring us joy, we provide the mind with the necessary distractions that serve as building blocks for recovery. This helps lift us out of the darkness. I firmly believe that distractions are essential for this, and enjoyable distractions can include anything that lifts our spirits.
Walk – aimlessly
During challenging times, taking a walk in our local community can be highly effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. A stroll can provide immediate benefits by clarifying our minds, enabling us to see situations more clearly. Research suggests that deviating from a straight path to explore less familiar routes can offer even greater mental health benefits. This practice, known as aimless walking, allows us to discover hidden gems in unexpected places, particularly in areas rich with greenery, as I’ve personally found in my own local walks.
Since my teenage years, walking and exploration have been essential tools for maintaining my mental equilibrium and well-being, especially during life’s more difficult phases. During the height of the Covid pandemic, I counteracted the mental and physical toll of lockdown with a series of long, rejuvenating treks throughout my city. Without these walks, I would have found myself in a considerably darker mental state
Talk to someone
As cliché as it may sound, speaking to someone, whether a friend, family member, or even a stranger, can be incredibly refreshing. This interaction can also offer us new perspectives.
Despite the known prevalence of mental health issues among men globally, there’s often a hesitancy to open up. I admit to having bottled up my worries and sorrows in the past. It’s just not worth it: it worsens our emotional state, impacts our relationships negatively, and denies us the support we think is unavailable.
Acknowledging that we can’t solve problems single-handedly opens the door to recovery and greater understanding. In my own life, I’ve met like-minded individuals with their own anxiety experiences. Through these connections, I’ve improved my coping strategies and understanding of mental well-being.
Since the Covid pandemic, countries have increased mental health funding and resources. A consultation with our GP can guide us towards professional support tailored to our individual needs, such as counselling, mindfulness training, or cognitive behavioural therapy. GPs can also recommend specialized groups for mental health recovery, where we can connect with others sharing similar challenges.
While reaching out might make us feel even more vulnerable, my advice is to remember that help is out there. We deserve the support we need; we’re not alone.
There are numerous lifestyle adjustments that can help maintain mental health and clarity. We all experience mental well-being differently, and some of us may need one or several tweaks to stay healthy and safe, now and in the future.
Dean Cranney is a psychology student and aspiring mental health writer and advocate with personal experiences of anxiety and depressive episodes.