I was sitting on a bench in front of my town house when I called my mom. As she picked up, I began to open up to her about the horrendous state of my mind.
“I can’t take it anymore,” I said. “I just want to run away from my thoughts. They are driving me insane.”
As I continued to explain to my mom the hurt I was experiencing, she lent an empathetic ear. You see, I had gotten to the point where my anxiety and depression were controlling my life. I was a Junior in college, playing on the school’s baseball team.
At the time, my anxiety was centered around baseball. Anyone who has dealt with extreme anxiety knows, it seems to rear its evil head the most around areas that matter to us. It had gotten so bad, that I dreaded practices and games. I would even be in the middle of a game, secretly hoping the coach would sit me to save myself from the horror.
All going to practice or playing a game meant was an increase in my symptoms. On top of that, anxiety began to reveal itself in my schoolwork as well. I became fearful of speaking in class so much that I would skip if I perceived there was a chance of having to talk.
The anxiety I was experiencing led to continuous negative thoughts which resulted in a constant state of depression. Not only that, but I was dealing with continuous internal turmoil. Why was I dreading baseball games? I was supposed to love the sport.
Why do I skip class to avoid speaking? Aren’t I supposed to be tough? The behavior I was exhibiting felt cowardly but at the same time saved me, in the moment, from my anxiety.
On the outside I may have appeared fine, but on the inside, my world was falling apart.
I knew something had to change.
With the encouragement from my mom after that phone conversation, I sought the aid of a counselor. This wasn’t the first-time seeking help for my mental health. In high school I briefly went on anti-anxiety medication, stopped taking it, and then began again during my sophomore year in college.
During my sophomore year, I also utilized a mental performance coach to help manage my anxiety in relation to my baseball performance. That was actually the first time I ever felt reprieve from anxiety.
The work we did together really helped me narrow my focus during games and improve my performance. After the end of that season, I felt much better in terms of handling my anxiety and depression.
Both of the methods I had employed seemed to help, but there was one question still left on my mind…will this create lasting change?
After my sophomore season, I decided I no longer needed the medication and my work with the performance coach was not continued into the next year. Needless to say, I chose to end this work prematurely. Well, the work with the mental performance coach that is.
The one thing I’ll say about medication is that it does a wonderful job of providing immediate relief but can also mask an underlying condition. Once I got off the medication for good, I realized there was deep change I needed to make within myself.
But this realization didn’t happen quite yet. Before getting there, I had one more step down to make prior to my climb.
That is how I found myself at an all-time low. And anyone who has experienced that state of utter surrender to anxiety and depression knows there are two choices. Succumb to the anxiety and depression, cementing it as who you are, or fight like hell to climb your way out.
Luckily, I chose the latter of the two.
The Big Discovery
After that phone call with my mom, I reached out to a local counselor to begin seeing her for some sessions. On top of that, I once more got onto medication. I was very hesitant to take a pill to cope with my anxiety, but I knew I needed immediate relief.
One thing I had come to understand at this point was how masking of an effect medication can have. Yes, it works wonders in the short term, but it also hides the underlying issues which drive anxiety and depression.
So, I knew my desire was to work my way free of ever having to use medicine as a crutch again. My goal was to build my mental fortitude so that naturally I had the relief a pill would provide, without needing that prescription.
I started to see the counselor and was using medication to relieve the mental pain for the moment. My mindset was overall more positive especially in the beginning. However, it was not long until I made a concrete decision I have not faltered from since.
After spending a few sessions talking through the dealings of my past, I came to a unique realization. Why would I want to continually focus on past hurts? I knew that looking into my past was a means to understand my present, but it never felt like we were making progress forward.
I found myself stuck, reliving past experiences, coming out of my counseling sessions feeling worse than when I began. So, I started to wonder if there was a better way to go about freeing myself from anxiety and depression.
What I came to realize was how I was desiring actionable habits I could begin to implement into my daily routine with the aim of accomplishing that goal. Coming from a sports background, daily repetition has always been understood as necessary on the path towards success.
So, after going through years of frustration, I decided to venture out on my own, carving my own path towards a healthy mind.
I ditched the medication and the counseling sessions and spent the next few years devouring every piece of literature I could regarding psychology, self-help, and building a strong mind. Coupled with continued experience in baseball, a growing relationship with the mental performance coach I previously worked with, and a master’s degree in psychology, I landed on a set of habits.
These habits have allowed me to finally feel reprieve from the constant state of anxiety and depression that my mind was in. Of course, I still get anxious and negative thoughts do arise. But, when they do, the severity is much less, and I now have the skills to handle them in a healthy manner.
My Daily Habits
My daily habits have taken the form of a morning routine. I perform each of these in the order written to prepare myself for the day.
Through my research and personal experience, the philosophy I have developed centers around gaining greater control over my mind, while programming it to be instinctively positive rather than negative.
One of the main drivers of anxiety and depression is uncontrolled negative thinking. That is why building a positive state of mind has become so important to me.
I also realized that mental health is not a one-off event. Much like developing a healthy body, building mental strength requires continuous work. By implementing these habits into my daily life, my mental strength has grown along with my capability to handle any setbacks and adversity that come my way.
I begin every day by writing gratitude statements in my journal. Anxiety and depression cannot survive in the presence of gratitude. By cementing myself as thankful for what I have, my perception of myself and the world is altered.
Instead of beginning the day thinking about all that has gone wrong and all that I have to worry about, I now start from a position of positivity.
How you feel in the morning is a key indicator as to what your mood will be for the rest of the day. Whenever my day began with anxious thoughts, that’s the state my mind remained in for the rest of the day.
What I now do is take control of my emotional state by practicing giving thanks for all that I have. I write my gratitude statements while drinking my coffee, and it has become a wonderful way to wake up every morning.
When anxiety and depression were an everyday occurrence for me, my internal dialogue mirrored those feelings. Like clockwork, statements of self-deprecation and inferiority would flood my mind.
Internal dialogue, or self-talk, is simply the way we speak to ourselves. Since thoughts directly drive emotions, this dialogue plays an integral part in the way we feel. I knew that if I wanted my anxiety and depression to go away, a shift needed to take place in the way I spoke to myself.
To accomplish this, restructuring needed to unfold. So, I took on a daily practice of affirmations. I read out loud to myself a list of phrases I created, targeted towards the previous held negative beliefs I had about myself.
Nothing happened overnight but change came with repetitive practice. After a few months of repeating the statements to myself, I began to notice a shift in my thinking. An event or situation that would normally trigger negative self-talk was met with a positive outlook.
Now, after practicing this for over a year, my internal dialogue is naturally positive thanks to my continuous efforts.
Yoga & Meditation
I link these two together because they both serve the same end. Anxiety and depression are fed when the mind drifts into the past or future. Regret from the past and worries about what is to come made it impossible to live in the present.
Through yoga and meditation, I have gained mindfulness, which is the ability to stay present and focused on the current moment. This is where peace lives and freedom from negative thoughts thrive.
I perform a twenty-minute yoga routine first. My focus here is to get my mind relaxed and focused in the moment. Next, I go right into a fifteen-minute meditation practice.
The meditation technique I use is mindfulness, in which you focus solely on your breath and observe the thoughts that come into your mind. However, I add emotion in order to elevate my state for the day.
What I do is think of a positive memory right when my meditation begins. Then, I let the memory go but hold onto the positive emotions. For the remainder of the practice, I focus on breathing into the feelings of happiness and love.
This puts me in an elevated state of emotion as I begin my morning. All I have to do now is allow that feeling to guide me through the rest of my day.
The last habit I do on a daily basis to ward off anxiety and depression is visualization. Most of my anxiety and depression came from concerns about my future as I previously have mentioned. Well, with visualization, much of that concern can be eliminated.
What I do when I visualize is see myself successfully accomplish the goals I have in place. By doing so, I eliminate a lot of worries about whether they will be achieved or not.
Every single day I see myself succeed. Such a practice builds confidence and trust in myself, because I have seen and felt the successful accomplishment of my goals. Now, there is no longer the question in my mind of whether or not I will accomplish them.
This allows me to relax, trust, and enjoy the process. Removing such worry has greatly decreased the level of anxiety I experience on a daily basis.
By incorporating these habits into my daily routine, I prime myself each morning to be in an optimal state of mind. Elevating my emotional state ensures that the rest of my day will follow a path of confidence, gratitude, and joy, rather than be consumed with anxiety and depression.
Do you have any habits that you currently use to help with anxiety and depression?
I encourage you to look over my daily habits, think about your situation and what you need to focus on, and create a strategy for yourself if you are suffering from continuous anxiety and depression.