Updated: Aug 17
If you are living with the challenges of Anxiety and depression, my heart goes out to you. For approximately two decades I too was tormented daily...I remember actually being taken to the doctors at about age eleven for depression and at age sixteen I had a break down, through my teens and twenties I was diagnosed with everything from panic attacks, dsthymia, post traumatic stress disorder, and at times clinical depression as well as obsessive compulsive disorder. My life felt like an uphill battle daily, I had taken every antidepressant and anti-anxiety pill ever created as well as tried psychotherapy and CBT. I felt alone in my struggles, over the years people tried to go through it with me but I pushed everyone away over time, or I fell in to toxic situations that brought me down even more, self love was a dwindling thing in my world, It seemed like I had been born of this disposition and a fair deal of trauma on top hadn't helped. By my mid twenties I had no confidence, I was overweight and miserable, my conditions took a toll on my relationships, my health, everything. I was an introvert anyway but with depression on top I was afraid to even leave my house some days. It's so weird looking back on those days from where I am standing now, it was like another reality. Not to claim that life is ever perfect, it isn't (laughs) but I can honestly say I have been free of anxiety and depression for years now.
(Left photo: Spring 2010 when I still suffered with depression and anxiety, it was clear to see that something wasn't right, I was insecure and anxious daily. Right photo: Summer 2017 Healthy, happy and free of anxiety/depression for five years.)
Jim Carey recently said that "Depression is your avatar telling you it's tired of being the character you're trying to play" There is profound truth in this, depression and anxiety are an indication that we have lost a deeper connection to self, or we are living a life that is not true to us, either by allowing our circumstances to trap us, or by living with the terrible burden of unhealed trauma and pain. Sadly the society we live in today isn't always set up to honour our basic needs, many of us are overwhelmed with a sort of "captivity sickness" lacking our more basic connection to self and to nature while enduring immense pressure. I believe this is why anxiety and depression have become such a sweeping pandemic.
Thankfully today I know I have the inner strength to handle life's knocks, fear doesn't run my life now, I have had to develop the self love to honour my basic needs, even if that meant saying no some times. I am not a Doctor just a Life coach and Counsellor, but I want to share what helped me, in the hopes that it will help someone else step free from a debilitating way of life. On my path there were triumphs and lots of tears, days when I wanted to give up and give in but I believe in the power of the human spirit, it is incredible what you can do when you truly want to. Diet
It would be irresponsible to start this guide with anything else, without a doubt the most important thing that helped me above all on my path, food is literally one of the most important things in our lives, but many of us overlook that, we eat mindlessly, we eat fast, or we eat for comfort, many of us have become junk food zombies eating more for entertainment than for nourishment. It is impossible to feel good in the body and mind unless we are putting good fuel inside. I was in a state from years of crash dieting followed by binge eating, I had burnt out adrenals and was having repeated intestinal issues. I had to get serious about my health, I would highly recommend an allergy test to anyone, I discovered that I had Celiac disease (wheat allergy) and intolerance to onion, two ingredients heavy in my diet, what was astounding was that I noticed that when I accidentally ate these foods I became deeply anxious, tearful and would even have fleeting suicidal thoughts, I wondered how long such a simple thing had been contributing to my problems.
Low Iron levels or Vitamin D/B deficiency can also be big culprits when it comes to low mood and exhaustion, or even anxiety, so it is also worth getting a vitamin test. For me eating to nourish myself was a consistent benefit along my path to healing. I removed animal products from my diet for many reasons, Firstly because it no longer felt right for me, I felt too strongly against animal exploitation to keep consuming meat, eggs or dairy, I didn't like the idea of the fear imprint of the animals in the food, or the copius hormones and genetic engineering used within the industry, I became aware that what I put in to my body was what I became. This was a time when I really began to experience how wonderful good health feels. After years of an unhealthy relationship with food, I came to enjoy it deeply again. These days I find that a whole food vegan diet suits me best, I eat plenty of nutrient rich calories and never starve myself, but of course I do splurge sometimes! Take the time to find what genuinely works for you, ditch bad habits and start fresh. Putting the right foods in to your body is the fastest way to completely transform the way you feel. Check out the one week vegan challenge here
Healing triggers and anchors
Being unaware of our triggers can mean we are always susceptible to sudden attacks of anxiety. "Triggers" are events where something is said, or you have a particular thought and you are filled suddenly with intense emotion or become reactive. We can locate our triggers by gently observing our thoughts and feelings. If one minute you are okay and then something triggers you to feel irrationally angry, insecure, upset or anxious try to slow down and contemplate this, or make a note. Frequently these thought processes run automatically and we have to slow down and start paying attention to our reoccurring thoughts. Simply identifying our triggers is usually a huge step towards healing, Triggers are tied to "emotional anchors", which are the concept that when we experience something intensely joyful or intensely difficult, we leave an "anchor" or a soul fragment with that experience, try to figure out if particular memories spring to mind more than others, especially ones that cause sudden pain. When we over look our anchors we react to things on auto pilot, maybe not even understanding ourselves why our emotions are suddenly roused or we feel inexplicably hurt and emotional. I spent a lot of time contemplating my triggers, and the things that pushed me in to sorrow, anguish or fear, Identifying them shows us where work needs to be done. Personally I discovered memories I had been punishing myself with for years were still playing as a huge part of my narrative, I had to acknowledge this and lovingly release. Releasing the past
In a lot of cases anxiety is a response to unhealed pain and I know first hand how difficult it can be to face up to the buried trauma we may have been carrying so remember there is no time limit on this, but you shouldn't keep putting it off either, find someone who won't judge you to talk to, I would suggest a professional Counsellor for this over a friend or family member, just because a family member may attach their own emotions and influence your experience. This has to be a safe space, bottling up our feelings over time is such a strain, but releasing it to the wrong person can also be damaging. If you can't see a professional try to write down your thoughts and feelings, allow yourself to cry or get angry if need be, be gentle on yourself during this time even between sessions, After some time you will find these painful past experiences have a lessened hold on you, they stop being so harmful and hopefully you will gain new understanding.
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Meditation and subliminals Psychotherapy and counselling had helped me get things off my chest which is important but in time I came to feel that repeatedly discussing my past was a hindrance, it had helped me to release a lot of stuff however it hadn't done a whole lot to help with my negative coping mechanisms or general abilities to handle life, I was still having moments of severe panic and a general low level of depression lingered. What really changed the game for me was meditation, I had always liked the idea of meditation but I had zero attention span, I would sit there frustrated as my thoughts and anxieties bombarded me harder than ever. I had to start at the basic level, I realised that when I focused solely on my breathing my thoughts calmed down, breathing work became a tremendous help for anxiety. I started to get interested in sound healing such as binaural beats or good quality subliminal meditations, I was able to go in to such deep relaxation and the effects after were so obvious and lasting. Before I knew it I could easily meditate for 3-4 hours a day (When I could make the time!) You can even use subliminals while you sleep as they speak to the subconscious mind as you rest, aiding in emotional healing and inner peace. (If you are able to seek out a good Neuro-linguistic practitioner they can also help with deep healing, breaking through emotional blocks quickly with no discomfort.) Meditation has without a doubt transformed my life, and used consistently I have had wondrous results, it has changed my outlook, helped me easily manage anxiety and stress, even opened me up to deep spiritual awakening. Many people don't think to give themselves this sort of time out for self care, but it enables you so much more energy and clarity to handle things as well as inner calm.
Detachment from labels One thing that helped me a lot was to realise that the labels I had been given (ie OCD) didn't define me, although we should honour a diagnosis and work with our doctor, when we overly identify with these labels they become rooted in our psyche, and slowly to become more a part of our identity and reality. Then when we become anxious we stop cultivating our self awareness, simply labelling things as part of our condition instead of becoming aware of how we can begin to improve our symptoms. We allow the depression, anxiety to move in with us to stay and then we go through life feeling broken or incomplete. I used to highly identify myself to these descriptions, but these days don't label my self as OCD or anything else and happily I am 99% symptom-less. You also shouldn't berate yourself in any way for your anxiety or depression. Back to basics
During times when anxiety and depression are severe especially, It is important to immediately return to focus on basics, getting enough quality sleep, ensuring you are eating well and regularly, drinking the best water, eating the nicest fruit, avoid situations that you know will be seriously confrontational or draining where possible. Taking time out for self care in whatever form it takes for you. I know that this can feel like an immense task during those times. Sadly we don't always get to walk the path to health, there are times when we have to crawl for a little. Learning to immediately bring your attention to self care during difficult times is essential for healing.
I found grounding exercises to be very relaxing and lovely, take any opportunity to walk on grass or sand bare foot, or spend time meditating on the ground outside, you can imagine vast roots growing from your energetic body in to the ground, rooting you deeply in to the earth. You can also use gardening as a fabulous grounding exercise, planting herbs or surrounding yourself with house plants, any activity where you are able to be mindful and connect to mother earth is comforting and helps us keep our centre. I literally even hug trees or go out late with my dog to lay on the grass and watch a meteor shower. Yoga or Tai Chi is also useful, when you take time for grounding, try to gently disconnect your thoughts and become very in your body, allow yourself to be fully aware of the sensations you experience. Try to do this regularly. You will be surprised how much it can help.
Once you feel stronger, I recommend some deep reflection and a large dose of honesty, taking a tough look at all areas of your life, friendships, work, activities, look at what is dominating your time and thoughts most, and above all consider any situations that cause you to feel deeply drained and anxious. For me it was most difficult to accept that particular family members had dragged me in to cycles of toxic abuse for years, but as I became more healthy I was able to see it clearly for what it was, no one had forced me in to these situations and mostly I knew on some level that these people were not good for me, some sense of misplaced loyalty kept me returning to scenarios that hurt me deeply. It was arduous and emotional cutting the ties permanently but I had to do so for my own well being, when I did my healing accelerated dramatically and I attracted a better quality of relationships generally, both with other family members and with new people I met. At the very least be willing to say no when someone puts more pressure on you than you can handle. For you it may not be a family member, but a romantic relationship that causes you more sadness than joy, or a job that drains the life out of you. We have to have the courage to protect our long term inner peace and severing connections to the things that fill you with dread is an unavoidable and necessary part of healing. Once you establish the aspects of your life that are bring you down you can start to integrate more of what uplifts you. Courage is also required here. I spent so long hiding away from life and it is still a regret today, start small doing things you enjoy more often and work your way up to bigger changes as your confidence grows. Visualise what you want your life to be then start to be selective about the experiences and people you put your energy in to. Above all, resist the temptation to isolate yourself even if you have to take small steps at first. Seeking beauty and joy
This is such a big beautiful world and you deserve to be enjoying it every day. Train yourself to notice the beauty surrounding you whether it is a gorgeous sun rise, the vivid colours of the trees as they change seasons, the uninhibited laughter of a loved one, or the happiness of your pet when you return home, learn to be completely engaged in the here and now, allow yourself to feel deeply grateful and connected in these moments, go and be by the ocean, or sit in your garden painting a masterpiece enjoying the fragrance of the flowers, blast your favourite music more often. Stop ignoring the things that your heart calls you to do because those pursuits will strengthen your confidence and allow you more genuine moments of joy. “The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” -Alan Watts
I'm not going to suggest that you need some gruelling gym routine by any means but getting the body moving is vital. For me it was just long vagrant walks with my Huskita Katara, any time I wanted 6am....3am we would just head off and go to the cliff tops, the beach or in to the woods, leaving my phone at home. Finding a form of exercise you enjoy is key. I also lost a lot of weight and felt good about myself.
A word on weight gain and eating disorders: Weight issues are almost always a reaction to disharmonic emotions (unless there is an underlying health issue) some people gain weight as a way of saying "don't look at me" it is like wrapping a quilt of safety around themselves. This is often the case with survivors of sexual abuse, or it can be because we feel insecure and unworthy of being seen, severe weight loss can be a cry for help, when connected to depression both are a low level form of self harm or self punishment. Those with weight problems do not deserve to be mocked, they deserve support while they journey inwards. Once I had healed depression excess weight melted off me, because I no longer needed the "armour" it had provided. Exercise is a superior alternative to medication, because it positively impacts our dopamine and serotonin levels naturally. I gave antidepressants and anxiety medication a good try and in a way I guess they..."worked", simply because they put me one level all the time, but it didn't feel natural it was like going through life sedated, I didn't experience much anxiety but I didn't feel any real joy either, then coming off medication is terrible, because we have been substituting a chemical balance through pills we can't get back to the right levels naturally. This is where exercise can really help us as it gives us a natural boost. We should never quit medication cold turkey as it is dangerous, but you can integrate exercise as part of the process of coming off medication safely when you feel ready. Please don't ever consider medication as a long term or stand alone solution. It does little to nothing to tackle the underlying problem and it does a poor job healing the symptoms, however short term they are often necessary for some people.
Creating a sense of achievement and self pride
Finally, increasing our self worth and self esteem is a powerful step in to recovery of anxiety and depression, again start small at first...set yourself some little goals, it might be to save some money by a target date, or to reconnect with an old friend you lost touch with who was always caring and fun to be around. Make your goals personal and true to the new path you have chosen, each time you accomplish something that you set out to do you will feel your self worth improving. Helping others is an incredible way to feel a sense of pride and achievement also, there are always tons of places looking for volunteers and you can do as little or as much as you feel comfortable with. It's not always easy to step out there but it is worth it.
There is so much more I could say about the journey to healing from anxiety and depression but I genuinely hope this guide will help you to make a difference in your life. Please don't believe anyone who tries to tell you you are weak for suffering with these conditions, far from it it takes a monumental amount of effort to cope with and recover from such exhausting diseases but I am a living example that it can be done, and if I can do it anyone can.
Remember that healing isn't a linear process, you may start to feel good for a while and then have a bad day, so go easy on yourself. With time and consistent steps forward they will eventually become a thing of the past. If you have any questions or would like to book a session you can contact me here. To healing, good health and happiness always -Jade
Photo: Autumn 2017. Tank top from Conscious Soul Boutique
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