I’ve always been a bit of a night owl. When I was a teenager, I had a TV in my bedroom, and I’d stay up ‘til the wee hours watching everything, and nothing. I’d be up past 1 am, even though I had school in the morning.
But my ‘owlish’ tendencies worsened when I had children. Once they were in bed, I would find myself staying up until all hours of the night, simply because I wanted the peace and quiet to last for as long as I could make it. Which made me ‘mommy with an edge’ the following day.
Those late nights followed by early mornings triggered exhaustion. Exhaustion quickly ushered in anxiety. I subsequently found myself at a point where I was, on occasion, feeling a type of ‘fear’ (that’s the best way that I can describe it), times when I felt like I couldn’t breathe, accompanied by the the feeling of wanting to climb the walls and out of my skin at the same time.
As a single mom, wine was a ‘must have’ at least 3 times a week, sometimes more. I ate like shit (a certain fast food chain’s fries were my fave), had terrible sleeping habits, and couldn’t start my day without a cup of coffee (but only one).
I didn’t want to tell anyone how I was feeling, which made me feel completely alone. And if I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling, how was I ever going to get this thing figured out?
I would have bouts of mentally peeling my skin off, interspersed with periods of not wanting to get out of bed. Once I’d take the kids to school, I’d go home, drop my clothes and crawl back into bed until pickup time.
As best as I can describe it, the time that I spent vertical felt like I was walking around with a black cloud around my head. I remember thinking “there’s gotta be more than this”. I had a feeling of hopelessness that I couldn’t see through.
I was a mess. And I knew it, but I had no idea how to fix it. Part of my problem was that I thought this was a normal part of ‘single motherhood’, and that it would pass.
I had no idea that there was actually a name for what I was feeling. It never dawned on me that these were symptoms of an actual ‘thing’, and something that could be managed. I figured that it would manage itself…or not, and I’d just have to live with it.
But the uneasiness didn’t go away, and because I still couldn’t tell anyone, I figured that I’d do some research. If my ‘research’ turned up anything valid, I’d go see my doctor.
I did my preliminary research with “Dr. Google” first. When I keyed in my symptoms, most of what came back related to anxiety and depression. I was surprised. I always thought of anxiety and depression as being much more “dramatic” (if that makes any sense). Like something that you had to check into a hospital for.
Anyway, “Dr. Google” pointed me in the direction of anxiety and depression, so I made an appointment with my doctor.
I don’t like pills. Never have. Even when my doctor told me that I needed to take those pre-natal vitamins when I was expecting each of my kids, I couldn’t take the damn things. They were HUGE!
I wanted to go the ‘natural’ route, so my doctor gave me a list of things that I should try weaning myself off of, that would probably help to manage both the depression and the anxiety.
The things that I found made the biggest difference to both the anxiety and the depression were;
This one’s a bit of a no-brainer, because it’s common knowledge that sugar is evil. But I couldn’t help myself. I was a sugar-holic. I was so addicted that my family would ask if I wanted “coffee with my sugar” instead of the other way around. I loved sugar. I added it to everything. I’m not a fan of carbonated beverages, but juices? Yup! The sweeter the better!
I needed to see if cutting back on my sugar intake would lessen the severity of both (anxiety and depression). So first I started drinking coffee sans sugar. It was disgusting at first. But you quickly get used to it.
That doesn’t mean that I avoid sugar altogether. I just don’t add it to food or drinks anymore. It seems to be helping. In addition, I lost 5 lbs in the first 10 days that I quit sugar. WOO HOO!!
I’m sorry. I would love to be able to say that I actually quit coffee. But I can’t. In my defense, I only have one cup a day, so it’s not like I’m inhaling it by the carafe-full. I tried swapping it out for herbal tea, but ugh. Not even close to being the same.
However, I saw a NASA study on how different drugs affect spiders (bear with me here), and the images of the results shook me.
Look at how caffeine affects spiders! That jacked-up web makes no sense! As someone who creates for a living, it totally made me re-think caffeine!
Yeah. This one was a doozy. How was I supposed to raise 3 kids without the occasional glass of wine?
Truth be told, I had noticed that when I was feeling anxious, having a glass of wine actually made it worse, not better. So cutting out the wine wasn’t all that difficult.
You should know however, I didn’t go ‘cold turkey’ with the wine. I simply drank less often, until eventually I didn’t feel like I even wanted it.
You wanna know something? Getting rid of social media gave me more peace of mind than anything else!
First Facebook (which wasn’t hard to give up AT ALL), then Twitter (I still have an account, but I never log in). I never was one to look at the accounts of others and envy the fake lives of other people on social media, and compare them to mine. So I didn’t feel that kind of anxiety.
My problem was seeing all the different ways that others said they were making a living online, and I wondered “should I be doing that?”
I had what I call “digital FOMO” (digital fear of missing out) and it cost me my focus, which made me anxious about the results of what I was already doing.
I also found that once I logged into Instagram, I was scrolling for what felt like hours. Could very well have been. And it used to mess with my sleep.
I’m a meme junkie, so I haven’t completely got rid of Instagram, but now I only look at it once a day. I can’t tell you how much better it feels not to feel obligated to open that app fifteen times a day!
I also started reading more books in paperback form. I have the Kindle app on my phone, but I’ve made a concerted effort to order books the “old school” way. This way there are no distractions from messages popping up on my phone while I’m trying to read. I can actually read a complete paragraph without being interrupted.
Comparing your life to others
They say that “comparison is the thief of joy”, and that’s not difficult to understand. Like I said before, I never did compare my everyday life to that of others, but many people do. Keep in mind that people only post the good parts of their lives on social media. And even much of that is fabricated. Same goes for those touting business success online.
So if you can’t log into a social media platform without wondering why your life isn’t ‘as good’ as Whatshernose’s life, then either delete your account, or reduce the number of times you log in a day and the amount of time you spend on it. I promise, it’ll cut your anxiety and depression measurably.
Not only was junk food making me gain weight (DUH), but the lack of any kind of measurable nutrients was causing some of the ‘edgy’ attitude that others were noticing. Don’t get me wrong, some of that was pure ‘me’, but the high fat food only made that ‘edge’ worse. There was a noticeable difference once I cut back.
Those Late Nights
Go to bed when you’re tired.
I used to doze off in the couch, but try to stay awake watching TV until the ‘am’ hours. When I tried to course correct, instead of going to bed at 2 am (like I was used to doing), I went the complete opposite way and turned in at 10 pm, which had me waking up in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep until the sun came up.
And “cranky mommy” returned.
Instead of going from late nights to early nights, I again ‘course corrected’ and went to bed half an hour earlier every night, until I was consistently going to bed at 11 pm. I no longer woke up in the middle of the night, which meant I was getting better quality sleep, which helped my mental state, and took care of “cranky mommy”.
That Damned Smartphone
Ugh. Damn these stupid phones!
The temptation to open up your phone and browse until you’re ready to fall asleep is huge. But according to Psychology Today, taking your phone to bed and browsing before sleep decreases your REM sleep (a stage of sleep that is critical for restoration of your mind and body), makes you more alert, when you want to wind down, and leaves you feeling groggy and having difficulty concentrating the next day.
Now, when I go to bed, I put my phone in my night table drawer. Having to actually open the drawer and take the phone out, deters me from doing just that.
If you were to ask me which of these things I noticed a specific difference in my level of anxiety, I’d have to say that it would be the alcohol, and the phone/social media and comparing my (professional) life to others.
I noticed an immediate difference once I got rid of those things. But getting rid of the others was also extremely helpful.
I hope these suggestions will help you manage your anxiety and depression. But I’m not a doctor, and this is not a substitute for medical attention. Please seek medical attention whether or not you feel like you can ‘manage’ your anxiety and depression on your own.