The love of my life suffers with anxiety and depression.
If you have ever experienced them, you know suffer is the right word. And often, you don’t know why you’re suffering.
Dawn occasionally experiences physical pain or crawling skin. Sometimes she can’t focus. She cries a lot. Sometimes life overwhelms her. She may struggle to make decisions. Sometimes she can’t quiet the voices of guilt or irrational fears.
And yet, she’s the bravest person I know. She never quits. She always hopes, trusts, loves, perseveres, and serves. She is a joy to live with.
How does she do it? How does she manage her depression year after year, day-in and day-out, usually without medication?
The answer is that she’s developed her own “medicine cabinet” of natural and spiritual ways to manage her anxiety and depression.
If you’re beginning to sink into depression for the first time, whether situational or chemical, if you’re anxious and scared and can’t understand why you feel this way, if you just don’t know what to do and you want to avoid meds…
Here’s a glimpse inside the medicine cabinet of one who suffers like you. Dawn and I both hope you find light at the end of the tunnel, but until then, here’s twelve proven ways to help you survive the darkness.
[Please note that appropriate medication is sometimes the best and necessary strategy. Dawn was on medication from 2002-2003 and we often talk about the possibility of needing it again.]
1. Get Outside
Look around at all God has made, city, suburb or country. Open your senses to the physical world and let a bit of wonder flicker in your mind. Natural settings are most wonder-inspiring, so if you live in a city try to find a park.
2. Drink Water
You need it to survive in the best of times. How much more in the worst? Drink lots of water, and let it be the main thing you drink—much more than dairy, coffee, soft drinks, or alcohol. How much water should you drink? A good rule of thumb is: you could probably use a glass of water right now. Your mind and heart will thank you.
3. Exercise Daily
Seriously. Exercise is your secret weapon for boosting your mood. Do light exercise like a brisk walk (not a mosey) for 20-30 minutes every day. Three days a week substitute a more challenging work out for at least 30 minutes.
4. Keep Routine
Use whatever tools you like to create a simple routine for your days and nights. This will give you a sense of control and predictability to combat the chaos in your head. Try calendar appointments, or a to-do list, or learn to say “no” graciously.
5. Eat Protein
Protein is a natural mood stabilizer and is available naturally in quinoa, beans, legumes, tofu, eggs, dairy, nuts, and meat. Protein is most effective for your mind and body when you eat a little at every meal. If you are fighting depression it’s extra important to get protein with breakfast.
6. Avoid Stimulants
Be careful about sugars and caffeine; they really mess with your brain chemistry. Pay attention to how they affect you, when, to what extent. You may need to find a substitute for that late night pan of brownies and morning cup o’ joe.
7. Sleep Enough
Not too much. Not too little. Either extreme can leave you foggy and affect your mood. Be as consistent as possible with bedtime and rising time (aka, create a routine).
8. Get Support
You need someone who “gets you.” You need someone you can trust with how you feel: a counselor; a spouse, a friend; a support group; anyone who will be supportive and non-judgmental. Don’t let embarrassment rob you of the wonderful help it can be just to tell someone how you feel.
9. Pursue a Hobby
Do stuff. Stay active. There is such satisfaction in performing simple tasks like knitting or gardening. What about playing an instrument? Getting involved in a sports league? Joining a book club? Any brain-engaging hobby will do, and group hobbies like joining a community band or a basketball league have the added benefit of combining #8 and #9.
10. Limit TV
You want your brain engaged. TV puts your brain in a passive mode and isolates you at the same time. This isn’t helpful for your depression, no matter how good the escape feels at the moment. It’s especially important to not let late-night TV disrupt your routine (#4) and sleep (#7). Here’s how we tame our TV viewing.
11. Meditate on Scripture
Christian meditation is simply focused thinking about what God has said to us in the Bible. If the Bible is unfamiliar to you, here’s tips on how to get started reading the Bible. Three specific kinds of promises God gives to those who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, can be very helpful when you are suffering with depression:
❯ Promises related to God’s presence and comfort in the midst of suffering. (for example: Isaiah 43:1-3)
❯ Promises related to finding meaning and purpose in the midst of suffering. (for example: Romans 8:26-30)
❯ Promises related to the hope of eternal deliverance from suffering. (for example: Romans 8:18)
12. Study Theology
Dawn says this has been huge for her, and I can say the same. Nothing anchors your mind like a deeper apprehension of the greatness of God. Even Bible authors meditated on the greatness of God during their difficult times (for example: Psalm 77:11-13).
Get good books on the nature and work of God and the person and work of Christ. Try studying the Westminster or Heidelberg confessions of faith and catechisms. For a modern and accessible resource, try the New City Catechism online or for iPad (Read my review). When you understand the chief end of man (Westminster Q1), or your only hope in life and in death (Heidelberg/New City Q1), you will see the reason for an everlasting hope.
That’s 12 of the best natural and spiritual ways we know to manage anxiety and depression. I know you want a cure, a fix. But, I’m afraid sometimes managing is the best that can be achieved in our average lives. (Dawn knows all about that.)
But remember, God is great! Oh, how that makes a difference if you belong to Him.
If you don’t yet see how that makes a difference, let me encourage you to think more about what it must mean to belong to a loving, sovereign, wise, completely involved and invested heavenly Father. It means you have a reason to live, because He has a reason for you to live, forever.
❯ Your Anxiety Is Not a Sin (on AnneMarieMiller.com)
❯ Ten Natural Depression Treatments (on WebMD)
❯ Dealing with Depression: Self-Help and Coping Tips to Overcome Depression (on HelpGuide.org)
❯ Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re Losing It (on Amazon.com)
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[image courtesy of flickr]