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An Open Letter For Anyone Coping With Excruciatingly Hard Times
When you’re struggling, the worst part is the doubt that things will ever get better. It’s that gripping pain in your chest that makes you question everything, whether conditions will improve, whether you have the strength to make it through, whether this dark night will ever reluctantly transform into blessed, safe dawn.
It’s the nagging idea that something about this isn’t right, that you’re not enough, that life is an elaborate exercise in going through the motions. It’s the grinding, relentless daily struggle to cope with nameless, faceless depression and anxiety. It’s loss of all kinds. Loss of love and hope.
Hard times like the “shoulds,” the “can’ts,” and the lost opportunities. The feeling of never being enough, never at the right time, perfectly wrong and imperfectly perfect.
The loss of your belief in love. The nagging feeling that love doesn’t exist. That clamoring noise in your own head, swearing that this is all… wrong. Especially if you’re gritting your teeth to deal with loss or wish you had another chance to do things differently.
If you’re going through something really tough, you are not alone.
I don’t even know how to mention that I spent a lot of time coping depression and anxiety.
I thought about writing, “I’m a depressive” and thought that was wrong— like I was permanently labeling myself. I wrote, “I suffer from depression” and that seemed so heavy. I didn’t want to own it like that. There’s a lot of shame hiding in there.
Maybe it’s best to just describe what happens in my experience.
Some mornings I wake up with a creeping dread that can spiral out of control— leading to full blown depression. If you’ve ever felt it, maybe you can relate to the thoughts. For me, it feels like, “everything is hopeless,” “don’t bother,” “this is too hard,” and “you’re not good enough.”
Since I’m well aware that coping with depression and anxiety is an issue for me, so I have… what I have affectionately deemed, “precautions.”
Precautions are self care. And like a child gripping a teddy bear to ward off the cool, dark night, they’re the only defense I have from the darkness that often falls.
Precautions include strategies specific workouts, routines, thought processes and strategies designed to patch myself up while the emotional storm passes.
Sometimes these ways to cope with hard times are magic, perfect balm for my soul. Other times they’re about as effective as using duct tape to patch a leaking cruise ship.
Nonetheless, these piecemeal ways to cope are what I have.
During happier times, “precautions” are researched, studied, switched around and examined for their effectiveness. The energy for this isn’t available once night falls, so it’s important to make the effort while everything is happy, shiny and good— during those times where it seems like the darkness could never return.
All of this effort is to ward off the likelihood of giving in to the sweet, painful voice that whispers, “you can end all of this right now.” (If you’re hearing that voice, urgently, right now please call lifeline and talk to someone.)
So far, I have a 100% success rate of white knuckling it through those hard times. And if you’re reading this— you do too. Congratulations. I’m serious about that. Sometimes hanging on is perfect and enough and all we can do.
If you’re trying to get over a bad breakup, coping with depression and anxiety or dealing with loss, here are ten things I find really helpful.
1. Talk to a professional.
First and foremost, if you’re feeling really rough, seek treatment. Even if it seems hopeless, someone can help you. There’s a huge stigma about getting help, but you owe it to yourself to examine this option. There is no shame in admitting you feel like crap. You’re not inconveniencing anyone or going crazy. You deserve to feel better.
Sometimes good professional help like therapy can feel overwhelming, so when you’re really in a hole, it can be difficult to muster the wherewithal to get help. I get it. None of these things are a substitute for professional help, but they can make it easier to even consider your options.
Regular exercise has been shown in research to be as effective as prescription antidepressants.
Working out forces you to get into motion. Even if you just force yourself to do something. I force myself to do something with the promise I can stop if I want to after five minutes. Lots of the time I do actually stop after five minutes. I practice letting that be 100% okay even though my internal compass, eternally set to “wonky,” lies that I shouldn’t have bothered. If you go at all, it’s enough for right now.
3. Do your best to eat properly.
Depression and anxiety can make you want to either gorge or eat very little. Both states make it hard to think properly and negatively affect your emotional state.
Eating super healthfully can become a complicated obsession for me so I focus on the basics. I try to get three nutritional meals a day and stay away from sugar and processed carbohydrates.
When you feel a little better, you can get more involved in a certain way of eating should you so choose. Right now, the basics are powerful and more than enough.
4. Stop all SHOULD-ing.
You know that icky voice in the back of your head that beats you up no matter what? The one that tells you that anything you did wasn’t enough?
Okay, mental management when I’m struggling is hard as hell. But one thing I’m able to work with is to stop telling myself that whatever I’m doing, feeling or thinking, I should be doing something else. I’ve made the decision that all states are all right. Unrest is alright. Undone is alright. Imperfect and messy are alright.
Try banning all shoulds from your psyche and see how you feel.
Dr. Albert Ellis, founder of REBT therapy and author of How to Make Yourself Happy, calls should-ing yourself “MUSTurbation.” Thinking about all of the things that you could have done or should do that you AREN’T currently doing just leads to a spiral that makes you feel worse. Which leads me to my next point:
5. Deal with the present moment only.
A surefire way to spiral downward and upset myself further is to start thinking, worrying and obsessing about the future.
As author and speaker Byron Katie says, “if you want fear and terror on purpose, get a future.” If you haven’t heard of her, I consider her book, Loving What Is to be a life-changing masterpiece that has gotten me through several extremely tough times. She went through an extreme depression for years. One day she saw things completely differently and explains how you can gain this freedom with her thought process called, The Work, which is totally free and self directed.
6. Get the right amount of sleep.
Everything feels like crap if you sleep too little or too much. Research into the effects of sleep deprivation has indicated that your attention and memory suffer, you age faster and you experience more cognitive impairment.
Oversleeping is associated with cognitive impairment, depression, increased pain and inflammation, impaired fertility and higher risk of obesity, diabetes, stroke and all causes of mortality.
Usually 7-9 hours is about the average amount that people regularly need. Experiment with what works for you, but do what you can to optimize your bedtime hours. I’ve found that if I don’t manage my sleep, things fall apart for me in a hurry. Anything that feels bad now will feel 100 times worse without enough sleep.
7. Try EFT.
EFT (or tapping) stands for emotional freedom technique. The basic premise is that you use your fingertips to tap on certain energy meridians in your body. The process has similar effects to acupressure or acupuncture and you can do it yourself any time, anywhere.
EFT has been extremely helpful for me to remove emotional energy around problems. After tapping I feel a relaxing emotional release that can last for hours and sometimes days.
My favorite EFT practitioner is Brad Yates who has a very active YouTube channel about tapping. He’s amazing and has generously shared years of videos about tapping around any topic that might be bothering you. I’ve made this part of my morning ritual in both good times and bad.
8. If you feel like you can’t go on, resolve to wait and talk.
If you’re feeling like you might want to give up, for now just wait. That sounds dangerous to me to even type that but let me explain what I mean.
One day I was really hurting and it felt impulsive and dangerous. The thought appeared, “wow, it really feels like giving up is the thing to do right now. But one day you’re going to die— for sure— it’s a 100% certainty. If you’re getting there anyway, there is no harm in waiting. You can always plan your death another day. Today doesn’t have to be that day. Just wait.”
Sometimes perspective shows up, as it did for me. Today, after going through that and several times like it, I’m genuinely happy again.
Even though your pain might be sharp and awful right now, that doesn’t mean it’s permanent. Feelings are not urgent facts that you have to attend to. They ebb and flow. Use this to your advantage. Try to remember that this too shall pass. If you’re in a really dark spot, try calling someone who can help you instead. Depression is an awful liar. It says this is all permanent and that you can’t do anything about it. Nothing is permanent, and especially any feeling you happen to be having in the moment.
9. The love rock.
In my past career, I was a gemologist. I learned that some really prominent people within the jewelry industry sometimes get emotionally attached to certain precious stones from their collections. People you wouldn’t expect to be sentimental sometimes have these incredible gemstones in their pockets that they carry around with them.
I was so fascinated that I adapted that idea for myself. I have a small piece of smooth rose quartz that says LOVE on it. When times get tough, I carry it around with me. It’s a reminder that no matter what happens, I have love. I AM love. There can be no lack of love since it’s right here in rock format. If I’m upset over a relationship, getting the rock out or just casually holding it is a good reminder of my values and purpose.
You don’t have to be as literal as I am with this, but sometimes the smallest things make a difference.
10. Replace everything in your environment that triggers emotions with something neutral, positive or funny.
Put yourself on a diet of funny, happy media ONLY for a good long while. Change the lock screen on your phone to something humorous. Put up happy reminders.
Stop listening to sad songs. Don’t read emotionally upsetting books or watch upsetting movies. If something like Adele comes on the radio, CHANGE THE CHANNEL. Stop watching the news. Replace all of this with uplifting content or comedy. It might help to go on a social media diet as well. Facebook in particular has been shown in research to be depressing— so if I’m feeling bad, I drop this too.
In his book, Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins describes how he completely cured his case of a rare illness using laughter. He watched funny movies. He found that laughter brought him pain relief and a host of other benefits. That’s a pretty powerful payoff for watching funny movies.
One day, you’ll be ready to go back to emotionally distressing media should you so choose. Today is not that day. Now is the time to change your patterns. Comedy is a reliable way to lift you up while you avoid negative emotional triggers.
So there you have it, my toolbox for coping with depression, loss, breakups and hard times. Keep in mind that I try to use all of these together whenever possible. If you do a little bit of each, the sum is larger than the individual parts.
You’ve got this. You’re worth it, you’re enough, and you’ll get through this and come out stronger on the other side. You are not alone.
If this helped you in coping with depression and anxiety, please like, share and tweet.
If you’re thinking of doing something drastic, try this instead.