Managing my Anxiety

This post is something I have been wanting to write for a while now but I haven’t had a chance. I suffer from anxiety and depression and over the years I’ve been slowly learning how to manage it better so I can live a better quality life. So I wanted to share some of the ways in which I have learnt to manage my anxiety as it may help someone else too.
This is obviously not going to magically make everything fine but it still helps. I have good days and bad days and days when nothing seems to work but I have found that I am doing better than I was a couple years ago. I don’t have as many panic attacks and my low days don’t seem to last as long.
Of course these things may not work for everyone, I had to go through trial and error to see what worked well for me.

1) Counselling – Not seeking help from professionals was probably what delayed me in being able to manage my anxiety sooner. I was completely lost and didn’t know how to help myself but I attended regular counselling sessions on the recommendation of my doctor and it was the first time I felt I had help in learning to cope. There’s several different types of counselling and I attended group therapy where the focus was teaching us to manage our anxiety and teaching us what anxiety is and how it affects us. We were given practical techniques every week and lots of information. And it really helped me.

2) Someone to talk to – this is someone who is close to you and someone you trust. For me it’s my husband, who I can go to and say I’m struggling and feeling like this. He doesn’t judge me or tell me to “get over it” he listens to me and will try to help me, whether it’s that I’ve said I feel low or that I have zero motivation to do anything.

3) Nature always helps me to feel a little better. Whether it’s flowers at home or going to the park. The smell and look of flowers and greenery helps me to feel relaxed. I don’t know what it is about flowers but having them on my table in a vase makes me smile.

4) Unplug from social media. It can be so amazing to just unplug for a while. I’m bombarded with notifications all day and just putting your phone and laptop away and doing something you enjoy is so helpful.

5) So following on from my last point, do something you enjoy. Something that is therapeutic for you. For me it’s a variety of things. I like to colour or paint and it helps me to re-focus and stop worrying and stressing about the hundred things that are running through my head. It just helps me take a step back from everything. But my favourite thing to do is to read. I love reading in the evening to help me to relax. I normally clear the area I’m sitting at so there’s no distractions. Light a candle and dive into my book.

6) The things I’ve mentioned so far have been all things I do at home, but sometimes I end up being stuck in the house for too long when my anxiety acts up and I find it hard to get out of my bed let alone leave the house. So I found that having a place that you find relaxing to go to or doing something that you truly enjoy can motivate me to get myself up and leave the house. For me those things are of course book related. I love attending book events or just going to the library or book store. I’ve even discovered a cute cafe that has a bookshop in it. There’s armchairs and sofas for you to just come and sit and you can read or study and hang out. Also going to hang out with friends is something that usually gets me out of the house too. Or planning a “date night” with my husband. These range from going to the sea life centre to parks to discovering new places in our area.

7) Praying and reading Quran. So for me this goes without saying that my faith has kept me from completely despairing of ever get through my difficult times. Especially when I was at my lowest the only thing that kept my thought of self harm at bay was my faith in God. It’s so hard at that point to think of anything positive and the only thing that kept me going was knowing that this time too will pass and He will help me through it all.

8) The last thing I want to mention is something that completely surprised me. I would never have thought that having a cat would help me with my anxiety and depression. I have never been an animal person so when I finally caved and let my husband adopt the stray that had started living in our garden I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I fell in love with him. He’s such a cutie and love having him around. It’s just so relaxing to have him chilling with you and cuddles are the best! Plus he’s so entertaining and never fails to lift my mood!

So these are the things I do to help me manage my anxiety. I hope that by sharing my experience it helps others and I would love to hear from you about what you do to help manage in your everyday life.

I also want to mention that reading, learning and understanding anxiety and depression has helped me a lot too. I would definitely recommend picking up a book and learning a bit more about it.

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Depression

Having met many people who suffer from depression I wanted to learn more about it and try to understand it better. It’s one of those complicated illness that not many people understand yet so many suffer from it. The world health organisation estimates that 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression and that women are twice as likely to develop depression than men. Depression is also the leading cause of disability worldwide. So this is my notes from the course I attended.

Many people think that depression is solely a illness that’s “just in your head” yet when you look at what the professionals say, that’s not quite true.

Depression is a psychological, social and biological illness. So the cure also has to be psychological, social and biological. It has to be a combination.

So how can we help ourselves or someone we know that has depression? We firstly we have to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms of depression. We have to be able to know the difference between someone being sad or upset and someone being depressed. Sadness is not depression, that’s a normal human emotion. It’s what happens when we go through a stressful situation or a hardship. But it does not necessarily mean that you are depressed. Although sadness is often what people associate with depression it’s not what depression is. So what is depression like?
Depression is like drowning, except you can see everyone around you breathing.

Some of the signs and symptoms of depression are:
You can’t sleep
You can’t concentrate
You can’t control your anger
You are no longer interested in your hobbies
You are no longer interested in eating food you normally like
You are always tired no matter how much sleep you get
It feels like everyone else is moving forward in life but you’re stuck in the same place
You feel hopeless and are unable to stop negative thoughts no matter how much you try
You have unexplained aches and pains

When we recognise these symptoms we should seek help. We can seek help from many places; from your local imam, your family and friends or your doctor or a therapist. It can be difficult to accept help from anyone but it is easier to overcome depression with help. They can support you and help encourage you.
There are 2 main ways of seeking help from healthcare professionals:
1) psychotherapy/counselling – there are many different types of counselling available and studies have shown that it can be as good as medication.
2) medication – there are many misconceptions about taking anti-depressants but studies have shown that taking medication increases your chances of helping overcome depression by 50-60% but it does take time for the medication to start working so you will have to be patient when you start taking them.

Along with seeking help from others you also have to help yourself. You have to change something in your life and break the cycle.

Depression leads to low energy/fatigue which leads to decreased activity and neglecting responsibilities which leads to increased guilt and hopelessness this then in turn make the depression worse. This becomes a vicious cycle.
To break this cycle you have to make a change, it doesn’t have to be a big change even something small can help to break it, but it has to be something you know will help you. it could be anything from taking a walk daily or exercising or reading or writing or even doing some art work.

One of the best things we can do to overcome depression is to follow the sunnah. The Prophet (saw) taught us so many things which teach good mental health. So doing things like spreading salaam, smiling at others, keeping family ties, being good to your spouse, avoiding the haram eg. alcohol, eating in moderation, being modest and giving gifts can help us to feel better within ourselves and so in turn help us to overcome depression. This is just a short list of things he (saw) taught us, we can find many more examples throughout his seerah.

We look at others “perfect” lives on social media and then we see all the horrors that happen around the world on the news. It’s like whiplash. We see two extremes and caught up in this. We spend time on social media looking at the “amazing lives” people are living but we feel we can’t attain this so we feel low. But this is only a snapshot of their best times. We don’t really know what their lives are like outside of social media.

Don’t dwell on the past, move forward towards your goals. Look to the example of the prophet (saw), he didn’t dwell on his persecution in Makkah. He moved to Medina but still smiled and carried on living his life. Look to those who are worse off than you, it will make you grateful for what you have and encourage you to help.

Don’t dwell, do.

Know it WILL get better. Depression can be cured.

Remember that we have an afterlife waiting for us.

Reading Surah kahf every Friday will give us a light from one Friday to the next. Learning the stories can help us. Look at the story of Khidr, we learn that something happens to you that you perceive as bad but we don’t know that everything ahead is good. Only Allah knows what’s ahead.

Verily with hardship there is ease. Verily with hardship there is ease. Quran (94:5-6)

This is the only place in the Quran that something is repeated. It’s addressed to someone who is going through hardship. These people may not hear the reassurance the first time so He says it again so that we can allow it to penetrate and hear it.