The Battle of the Brain
Updated: Oct 10, 2022
Chances are, if you're a human being on this earth, you either know someone who has anxiety or depression, or you have either of the two yourself. Luckily for my generation, this is a topic that is being discussed more and more, thus helping to educate on not only treatment plans, but also how to help those in our lives who struggle with their mental health.
Among other things, October is depression awareness month. While I do not personally suffer from either of these myself, I have witnessed the effects that anxiety and depression can have on an individual, and therefore want to contribute to the spread of knowledge in how we can help those suffering. To do this, I've asked people inside and outside of my circle what they feel helps them most when they experience the hardships that come with each.
What friends and family can do:
1. Check in frequently
While this may seem obvious, how often do we do a true check-in with our loved ones? We all lead busy lives and it's easy to go days, weeks, or even sometimes months without sending a text, picking up the phone, or getting together in person with those we love. Make it a point to reach out and set aside some time to give them your full attention. Ask how things are going and if you can help in any areas they may be struggling in. Those who suffer, unfortunately often suffer in silence. Be the person to open up a dialogue and let the people in your life know that you care and that it's okay to not be okay. Many times, it helps just knowing they are supported.
2. Ask what an attack looks like for them and what you can/should do when one occurs
Anxiety attacks and depressive episodes look different for everyone. While anxiety attacks usually last no more than 30 minutes, depressive episodes are periods of depression that persist for two weeks or more. Learning the signs of what leads up to either of these can help you help your loved ones when they occur.
The important thing is to maintain open communication. Ask how they're feeling, what triggers these types of emotions if they can pinpoint it, and what sensations they feel in their bodies during these attacks/episodes. Ask what they need from you—this could range from a tight, long hug until the attack passes, to conducting breathing exercises with them, to counting out loud.
As far as depressive episodes which last much longer, support can look different. Find out what support means to them. Encourage them to seek professional care, while reminding them that you are and will be there for them throughout this difficult time. Understand that in some cases, it may be difficult for them to do basic things like getting out of bed, showering, or brushing their teeth. Meet them wherever they're at and seek out help yourself if needed.
3. Create a safe space
Many people said that talking things out with people they trust helps them feel supported, cared for, and better understood. As family members or friends of those who are struggling, sometimes our first instinct is to revert to problem-solving mode. While a plan of action may be needed, it is first most important that your loved ones feel heard and validated. Many times, people aren't looking to us to solve their problems, but simply want to share their experiences with us. Be sure to listen.
4. Educate yourself
For those who don't struggle with anxiety or depression, it can be difficult to know how to help. Luckily for us, there are so many free online resources available that help us understand symptoms, triggers, and how we may play a role in helping our loved ones. Feel free to also call hotlines like the Suicide and Crisis lifeline (988) for assistance.
What you can do/seek out for yourself:
1. Seek out distractions
While this may be seen by some as "avoiding the problem", distractions are actually quite beneficial to those struggling. Whether this is taking a walk in nature, creating something artistic, watching something funny, or going out with friends, intercepting the negative thoughts and isolation is a great way to get yourself in a better headspace, even if just temporarily.
2. Temperature exposure
Temperature exposure has been found to have an effect on anxiety, as hotter temperatures may trigger it, while colder temperatures may diffuse it. If you feel yourself growing anxious, taking a cold shower, or placing an ice pack on your wrists or neck may alleviate your symptoms.
3. CBT therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT therapy) has proved to be beneficial for some individuals, as it focuses on challenging and changing the negative thoughts that contribute to anxiety and depression. It attempts to alter your thinking patterns as well as behavioral patterns through exercises like recognizing distorted thinking in its tracks and re-framing such thoughts, as well as putting yourself in situations you're fearful of instead of avoiding them. It places an emphasis on helping the individual become their own therapist, thus setting them up with the tools and healthy coping mechanisms they can take with them throughout the rest of their lives.
Whether it's journaling, dancing, or going for a run, releasing pent-up negative energy is sure to alleviate symptoms as well. Try some different exercises or practices to see what works best for you.
5. Explore the mind
Get curious about your thoughts. Ask yourself, what am I feeling? What thoughts are running through my head when I feel this way? One way to explore your thoughts is a technique called “decatastrophizing” which walks one through the feared “what if” possibilities and seeks to find evidence for such fears, thus helping diminish anxiety.
Something to remember when dealing with anxiety or depression is that healing doesn’t happen overnight. There will be both good and bad days, and progress can be made even on those bad days. Whether you’re someone struggling with your mental health, or a loved one of someone struggling, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is help for you, even if you have to try a few different techniques before one sticks.
The most important thing to remember is that you are loved and you're not alone. If you take one thing away from this blog, reach out to a friend or family member today just to check in. You never know who may need it.
Anxiety and depression resources:
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
Dial 988 - Suicide and Crisis Lifeline