Mind, Love, Advice, Wellness

Here’s how to treat your depression and anxiety without going to a therapist

Therapy is great, but what do you do when it just isn't for you?

Having depression or anxiety are topics often clouded with shame.

True, the stigma around depression has eased in many ways. In the past, if you went to therapy, it was a private matter – you didn’t talk about it.  Today people are pretty vocal about its many wonders. It’s something that everyone can benefit from. Of course, there are still those who prefer to keep their mental health private. I understand why some wouldn’t necessarily be willing to bare their soul, only to be treated like they’re volatile. People treat you differently once they find out you have depression. Luckily, we are breaking through these barriers with a more open positive movement around the discussion of mental health.

I grew up understanding that depression was common.

There didn’t always have to be a reason for depression – sometimes, you just had it and it could make life incredibly difficult. My understanding of what this truly meant deepened in college when I lived with three friends who all suffered from depression. But whereas two of them were introverted and had social-anxiety, the third was what I like to call “an introverted extrovert” who liked to keep to herself but was the life of the party in social situations.

I realized that depressed people aren’t all the same. It’s complex and manifests itself in different ways. It’s an illness that affects your life but doesn’t define who you are.

People across the entire spectrum of depression attend therapy.

Everyone can benefit from having a neutral place to work through your feelings. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18, yet only 36.9% receive treatment. It’s more common than most people realize. Being open about your anxiety disorder may help you realize you’re not alone. 

Learning people went to therapy was such a foreign concept. When I thought about it, I imagined someone repeatedly asking their patient, “And how does that make you feel?” like in Freaky Friday, when Lindsay Lohan has to pretend she knows what she’s doing as she spends the day in her therapist mother’s body. I imagined it as getting in touch with your inner child and crying a lot.

Not really my thing. 

I’ve always been an optimistic person, with a hint of snark. I never considered myself to be depressed. However, since graduating from college, more often, I found myself going through dark periods. I’ll wake up and everything feels extremely tedious and difficult, like trying to trudge through thick mud. Motivating myself to work is exhausting as I navigate a foggy brain. Between paying student loans, trying to negotiate a career as a freelancer, and reading consistently negative news headlines, some days, it feels like I’m not the same person I once was. I never felt like I could talk about my feelings because I was given so many opportunities academically and personally that I felt selfish for feeling this way. Anxiety and depression have become my co-workers. They’re not reliable and they always leave crumbs on my desk. In the past, I would never consider therapy. Even now, I’m somewhat resistant to it. The idea of just talking about my feelings and what it means makes me feel weary. Obviously, you have to talk about feelings in therapy, but I don’t like the idea of opening myself up to a stranger and I wonder where it will really be helpful.

My understanding of therapy further expanded when I found learned a family member attended therapy after suffering from panic attacks which prevented her from driving. She sought out a cognitive behavioral therapist and it helped her tremendously. She said she found it more useful than typical therapy because she was given coping mechanisms to work through and prevent attacks.

There are many different types of therapy, as I’ve come to realize. 

Though I’ve done my research and know there’s more to therapy than just discussing your feelings, I’m still warming to it. But I know something needs to change.

On days when I’m feeling low, I watch a lot of television – a very unhealthy habit. It messes with my productivity and allows me to check out. I’m trying to hold myself accountable. Instead, I go for a walk, read, or step away from my computer and finish up household tasks.

On days when I can’t seem to do anything, I try not to think badly about myself.

If you’re like me and you aren’t ready to try therapy, there are other ways you can give yourself the self-care you need. You can try meditation, exercise, yoga, creative or free form writing, or journaling. You can try a new hobby, like cooking or bike riding. You can also reach out to a friend. Just make sure they have the emotional capacity to listen to you before you start talking to them. It’s not always about distracting yourself from your problems but working through them.

In the future, I may try therapy, but for now, I’m laying the groundwork to therapize myself.