Everyone has something in their life that causes them worry or brings on feelings of sadness or disappointment. It may be issues with loved ones, health, finances, or just simply coping with the unpredictability of life. Sadness and worry are normal feelings that everyone experiences at certain points in life; however, feeling sad most of the time may indicate depression, and constantly worrying may indicate anxiety.
Depression and anxiety are real issues that affect a person’s emotions, behaviour, and relationships with other people.
What is the Difference Between Anxiety and Depression?
People with anxiety usually have a lot of doubt and uncertainty about future events. They may fear that things are always going to turn out badly, worry a lot, or become avoidant of situations that they have fear around.
With depression people usually don’t experience fear and uncertainty about the future, they believe that situations will turn out badly because things feel bad for them right now. The main feelings associated with depression are sadness and hopelessness. People with depression may lack interest and enjoyment in activities that used to bring them joy. They may avoid situations because of feelings of hopelessness, a lack of interest, trouble making decisions, or a lack of energy.
It’s common to confuse the two because many people sink into depression as a reaction to anxiety. Often when anxiety is interfering with one’s life, they can become depressed as a result.
If you are currently experiencing depression or anxiety, know that there ways to cope.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
To overcome depression or anxiety you must first acknowledge its presence in your life. Observe any dismal thoughts that may be plaguing you.
Ask yourself the following questions and make note of which ones you answer Yes to.
- Do I catch myself worrying most of the time?
- Do I think I’m worthless?
- Do I believe things are only going to get worse?
- Do I feel unloved by everyone around me?
- Do I think I’m a failure?
- Do I become obsessed about certain things?
- Do I feel nervous around strangers?
- Do I think the world will be a better place if I’m gone?
- Do I keep thinking about or reliving in my mind a traumatic experience from the past?
- Do I find it difficult to make decisions?
- Do I constantly regret?
- Do I hate making mistakes?
- Do I feel ashamed of who I am?
- Do I constantly feel anxious about my health?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to eight or more of these questions, please seek a professional to talk with in addition to following the suggestions in this article. Most importantly, remember that things will get better and you have the power to make that happen.
Assess Your Behaviour
Emotions and behaviour share a cyclical relationship: how you feel can reflect on how you act; likewise, what you do has an impact on how you feel. If you are feeling sad right now, try this quick experiment – make your lips smile.
Go ahead, try it.
The corners of your mouth might seem heavy, but try lifting them up anyway. Show your teeth as you smile.
Notice how that little change in behaviour makes you feel even just a little bit happier.
Now, reflect on how you have been behaving lately by answering the following Yes or No questions. Your answers may help indicate whether you do have depression and/or anxiety.
- Have I been crying constantly, even for no reason?
- Do I avoid public places?
- Do I find myself pacing around each time I feel anxious?
- Do I avoid risks because I hate failing?
- Do I find it difficult to get out of bed?
- Do I find it difficult to exercise?
- Do I find myself getting fidgety?
- Do I avoid meeting people that I have associated with a bad experience from the past?
- Do my hands shake when I am anxious?
- Do I do things very slowly?
- Do I constantly procrastinate?
- Have I stopped caring about how I look?
- Do I have the tendency to repeat a certain action, such as checking locks or washing my hands?
Hopefully, these questions have helped you become more aware of your behaviours. Don’t feel ashamed or nervous if you answered Yes to most of them; many people are going through the same experiences as you. The next step is to make changes to your behaviour to help you get back on track and feel better.
Reflect on your Relationships
Depression and anxiety affect relationships with family, friends, workmates, and potential friends. Let the following questions help you become more conscious of how depression or anxiety may be affecting your relationships.
- Do I feel anxious after saying the wrong thing?
- Do I avoid being with other people?
- Do I avoid talking to others?
- Do I feel irritable with others?
- Do I worry about people leaving me?
- Do I constantly worry about thoughts of my loved ones getting hurt?
- Do I feel unworthy of being friends or being loved by someone?
- Do I prefer to stay at home?
- Do I become really sensitive each time someone criticizes me?
- Do I feel uncomfortable whenever I receive compliments?
While introverted people naturally prefer to be by themselves most of the time, their choice is unrelated to feeling depressed or anxious. If you go out of your way to avoid social activities, it may be that you are more than just introverted.
Reflect on Your Answers
Take some time to write down some reflections on the questions that you answered Yes to. Try your best to describe your thoughts and actions.
Some people like to write in the first person point-of-view, for example:
I have been avoiding my friends lately because they remind me of my ex and that makes me feel depressed.
Others prefer to pretend that they are someone else to feel objective while making the profile, for example:
Susan has been feeling lethargic and has not gone out of bed ever since she found out that she failed the exam. She feels useless and does not like to talk to anyone, especially her classmates who passed.
After you have created your profile, you can then move forward by creating a plan to help you overcome depression or anxiety.
Create a Positivity Plan
A personalized Positivity Plan is like a mental roadmap that will guide you through the process of overcoming depression or anxiety. You will use your plan to help improve your outlook towards yourself and towards life. It is meant to help you become better at solving your problems and dealing with situations that are out of your control.
The following steps will guide you through designing the best positivity plan for you.
Step 1: Let go of Expectations
In a scene in the movie 500 Days of Summer, the screen splits into two, with the left side being the expectations or the assumptions of the protagonist of what would happen, and the right being the reality, or what actually happened. In that scene, he thought that he would get back together with his ex-girlfriend, but his assumptions did not actually unfold in reality. The result was him feeling even more depressed than ever before.
The problem, as you can see, is in making assumptions or setting expectations: you assume that things will go your way, but in truth, you can never really tell. Keep in mind that being optimistic is not the same as having expectations because with optimism you are only hoping for and adopting a positive attitude towards the situation, regardless of the outcome.
Letting go of the habit of making assumptions and having expectations takes practice. To do this, come up with a mantra or a word to trigger you to stop the assuming thought from continuing in your mind. It can even be something as simple as STOP. Each time your mind starts to assume that something is going to happen, mentally shout out “STOP!” and then imagine an eraser wiping out the assumption from your head. Then, follow up with another mantra to remind you why you should not make assumptions, such as only HOPE for the best, with emphasis on hope.
A great exercise to help you become less attached to outcomes is this Visualization for Equanimity.
Step 2: Practice Thought Evaluation
Your mind can turn into a jumble of words and images that are difficult to control. When you lose control of your thoughts your mind can get chaotic, and you will also lose control of your emotions.
To be the master of your mind, you can borrow a concept from Sigmund Freud, who said that the mind is divided into three parts: the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. To keep it short, the Id is like the little kid in you that wants everything to go his or her way; the Superego is your conscience that critically distinguishes what is right and wrong, and the Ego is the part that enables you to become aware of the presence of both Id and Superego.
You can say that your Id is in charge of your mind if you find it difficult to let go of worries that you know will not benefit you in any way, such as reliving embarrassing and hurtful moments or recalling times with an ex that bring nothing to you but pain. Your Superego tells you that what this will not do you any good anyway, but because your Id is so strong, you give in to the negative thoughts. In cases like these, you need your Ego to step up and evaluate your thought processes.
One way of evaluating your thoughts is by letting the Id have its way for a while until it exhausts itself, this is like being a parent who lets their kid who is having a tantrum wear himself out. The important thing is you are fully aware that you are letting your Id go wild in the mind. The trouble only happens when you are not conscious of it and you let your Id go on, and once it wears itself out you don’t do anything about it until it goes on another tantrum.
Once the Id is worn out, you can let Ego step in to evaluate your thoughts. First, bring yourself to the present moment by sitting comfortably and becoming aware of your surroundings. Next, look for something negative in your surroundings and jot down all the criticisms that your mind can come up with. After that, observe how you feel about the notes that you wrote down.
After you have evaluated your thoughts, look at your environment once more, but this time do not think. Instead, use your senses to absorb everything in an objective way. Write down the experience on your paper.
After that, reflect on what you wrote. Notice any differences between your own assumptions and criticisms and how things actually are. Practice doing this even without writing down thoughts in the future, each time your mind starts to come up with negative thoughts. The more you evaluate your thoughts objectively, the easier it will be for you to overcome anxiety and depression.
For more tips on keeping an objective mind read How to Take Control Over Your Emotions.
Step 3: Embrace Acceptance
Optimistic people have two ways of looking at a difficult situation: one is to change it if they have the power to do so, and the other is to accept it and change their attitude towards it. Sadness and worry dominate a mind that finds it difficult to accept, and without acceptance of a negative situation, it is easy to go into depression.
An objective mind often views negative situations and feelings in a logical way. Yes, even the most logical people in the world would feel sad when their loved one dies, and they would also cry and mourn the loss. But the thing is, after crying it all out, they wipe their tears and begin to look at the situations objectively. They will say, I accept my feelings of sadness, and I do not judge myself for feeling this way. And when they are ready, they will say, What can be done about this? Or What can I do instead?
To practice developing this mindset, you can do the following exercise:
Write down how your body feels because of the negative thoughts. Be as detailed as you like. For example, my heart is pounding, my eyes are welling up with tears, and my throat is tight.
Next, observe and write down the flow of these symptoms. Do they grow strong and then weaken? How strong and how weak? For example, they feel strong for a few minutes, and then they weaken every time I find a way to distract myself. They become stronger again once the thoughts come back to me.
Consider how long you might experience these physical manifestations of your negative thoughts. Do you think you will feel this way for a few hours or will it last for months? For example, I think it will last for many months because the feelings are still intense now.
Observe the negative thoughts that keep causing you to feel the physical symptoms. Accept their presence in your mind and then imagine blowing bubbles at them. Visualize them getting trapped in the bubbles, then blow the bubbles away and at the same time, say goodbye to those thoughts. Write down the experience. For example, I thought about how wonderful my ex was to me when we were still together. I accepted that we were that way, but now I know we aren’t. So I’m capturing it in a bubble and letting that bubble float far away until it disappears. Goodbye!
Last, consider how long it might take for your mind to keep churning out such thoughts. Do you think you will keep reliving the memories for a month or for years? Write it down. For example, I won’t recall that memory anymore now that I have said goodbye to it. If my mind starts to recall more memories in the coming months, I know what to do.
Practice this simple exercise of acceptance each time you start to think negatively. By accepting them and then letting go of them, you will be able to face the problem with a clear mind and a can-do disposition.
Start Happy Habits
Overcoming depression or anxiety may not happen overnight. Oftentimes, you will need to make some changes in your behaviour so that you can instil positivity in your everyday life.
Now, your behaviour is a pattern of the things that you do every day, and these are called habits. Bad habits often lead to….you guessed it – bad behaviour, and of course, negative actions are dictated by negative thoughts. However, if you combine consciously changing your thoughts with making an effort to change your habits, the result would be a faster recovery towards living a happier life.
Below are some things you can do to maintain an air of positivity which may help you to appreciate the good things in life, better solve your problems, interact with people more confidently, and reduce the chances of falling into depression.
Start the day right
Waking up to a great morning is essential because it motivates you to make the rest of your day look and feel just as wonderful. You may want to welcome your morning with a delicious and healthy breakfast, a few minutes of meditation and self-reflection, or by communing with nature by exercising outdoors.
You can also make it a habit to make your morning special by doing something that inspires you. Instead of waking up and immediately checking your email, which may evoke anxiety, you can do something simple yet meditative, such as by smoothing your sheets, plumping your pillows, and then slowly sipping a nice hot cup of green tea.
Don’t dwell on the negative
Don’t let one bad thing ruin the rest of your day. There are far too many great opportunities to be happy to let one negative experience or thought ruin everything. Don’t allow yourself to get caught in the mindset that if something goes wrong in a day, everything else will go wrong. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy that will only make you notice the bad things and not appreciate the good ones. You can also train yourself to take negative situations and turn them into positive ones.
Thoughts can go crazy sometimes; we all know this. But once you turn your thoughts into words that come out of your mouth, it becomes an even stronger energy that is difficult to control. For instance, let’s say your co-worker arrived and the first thing that pops into your head is how unflattering her dress looks on her. You cannot help thinking that. But the moment you say it out loud you influence your relationships and your life. Practice saying positive things instead, and let the positivity ripple outwards because it will eventually come back to you.
Love your uniqueness
If you constantly compare yourself with other people, you will only feel depressed because they will always be different than you. Even those who think they are better than others will develop the bad habit of having a mental measuring tape to always size up everyone, including themselves. Instead, learn to accept and love who you are and simply focus on what you can do to become even better than what you were before. Imagine all of the time you are going to waste on comparing yourself to others when you can dedicate those minutes to honing your skills.
Treat your body well
Do the things that your parents and teachers have always been telling you to: get enough sleep, eat healthy foods in the right portions, exercise, go out and soak up some early morning sun (Vitamin D is produced with sunlight, and a low level of Vitamin D is connected to depression). If your body is healthy, it will be easier for your mind to appreciate life and make the choice to be positive.
Related: 12 Strategies to Cope with Anxiety
Instant Happiness Hacks
Each day presents itself with a number of experiences. Some of these make you feel so happy you could touch the clouds; others make you feel so sad that you just want to sleep all day. During these moments of stress or sadness, you can choose from these simple yet wonderfully effective life hacks to lift your mood.
Soak in Suds
Instead of crawling to bed, why not fill up a tub with warm water and add some bubble bath with your favourite scent? Try lavender to ease tension and citrus for an uplifting effect. Negative feelings usually cause headaches, tightened muscles, and a feeling of coldness from within you. These can all be soothed away once you step into a warm tub.
If you are feeling bothered and you are quite emotional about it, take it as an opportunity to know yourself better. Find a comfortable place and sit down with a pen, some paper, and the following questions:
- What is bothering me right now?
- Will this issue still be important to me after a year?
- Are my emotions toward this issue rational? What are the facts to prove that it is/ it isn’t?
- If I were another person who is not affected by this issue, how would I perceive it?
Answer the questions on paper. Take time to reflect and breathe in between each question to help clear your thoughts. Your own answers might just give you the solution that you are looking for.
Practice Mindfulness Meditation
It goes without saying that simply paying attention to your breathing at this very moment helps bring you back into present time. Sadness, anger, and all the other negative emotions, however, are triggered by things that happened in the past or worrisome thoughts about the future. Anxiety kicks in each time you dwell on that negative thought, but it does not help you with anything at all.
To eliminate toxic emotions and thoughts, you need to bring yourself back to the present moment. You can do that by bringing your focus towards each breath you take. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly. Enjoy the pleasurable feeling of breathing, and if other thoughts start to creep back into your mind, imagine them being flushed out as you exhale. Continue to breathe and focus on it for as long as you like.
If you still find your thoughts going away from your breath you can try the technique of Capturing the Uncaught Mind to help bring you back.
Talk to a Good Friend
Remember that old adage, no man is an island? Nature has shaped human beings to be social by default, so find a good friend who listens and understands you. Have a chat with them over a hot drink. You can choose to talk to them about your problem or you can talk about other things. The important thing is you are connecting with another human being.
Run, Swim, Sweat!
Stress hormones are a real thing, and they are responsible for the negative feelings that you experience during an unwanted situation. One of the best ways to bring those hormonal levels down is through exercise. It does not have to be strenuous; even a quick 20-minute walk will do the trick. You can even sweat it out by cleaning your house or walking the dog.
Play with Pets
People with pets are generally happier than those without. Spending time with an animal may help boost your mood, reduce stress, and even lower your blood pressure. If you don’t have a pet, you might want to adopt one from a local shelter or visit a friend who has a loving cat or dog. If none of these are possible, you can go ahead and watch some cat videos online. You won’t regret it.
Listen to Mellow Music
Listening to the right sounds can significantly improve your mood. Music is more powerful than most people think. In fact, music can create physiological changes such as modulating your heart rate and respiration. If you are feeling sad, you can listen to some instrumental piano music. If that is not your thing, you can opt for any other genre that invokes the positive emotion that you want to feel.
Pick a Pleasurable Distraction
Sometimes, taking a few steps away from an upsetting situation is all you need to give you the strength to face it later on. In the meantime, you can help your mind and body recover from the stress by doing something that you love, be it playing a video game, reading a light novel, or watching your favourite television show. Allow yourself a few hours to feel happy again, then move on. Be careful, though, and don’t let your distraction consume your entire day.
There are plenty of other instant happiness hacks that you can do. If you have not found what works for you, you can try all of the positive and healthy suggestions. Write down in a journal how each experience made you feel so that you can figure out which ones will give you solace during times of distress.