My name is Karyn and I've struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember.
From my experience, the two are very much linked together. Anxiety is the voice at the back of my mind at all times, telling me that if I don't deliver a perfect performance and hit every item on my to-do list with absolute excellence, then I'm a failure and bad things will happen. Given that it's impossible for anyone to be perfect all the time (if ever, honestly), this voice sets me up for the inevitable depression that follows when I don't hit the mark or something gets in my way of delivering perfection.
Why do I feel the need to be perfect when I logically know that no one actually can be? It's especially ironic since I advise team members every day that failure is a good thing because we learn and grow from it. I don't know…I was probably wired that way to some degree from birth…combined with the fact that I faced some difficult experiences when I was young that gave way to deep feelings of shame for things that were entirely out of my control, fueling an unnatural need to counteract that shame with more personal perfection.
And without getting into detail on everything I experienced, the point that I think is relevant to others is that everyone has their own story that has shaped who they are and how they intuitively respond to situations. My life's journey has involved a lot of reflection and effort to:
- First, recognize how I'm wired and why I'm wired that way.
- And second, build an arsenal of tools to help me manage that pesky perfection-driving voice (preventative measures) and others that help me get back to center when the voice pushes me over the edge (curative measures).
Some of these you've probably heard many times before, but that's because they work:
- Get exercise in some form on a regular basis. Doesn't matter how you do it or what you do, as long as your heart is pumping and you have a chance to push negative thoughts and toxins out of your body.
- Eat healthy, whole foods as much as possible. What you eat = how you feel.
- Nurture connections with friends and family. Regular exposure to people who you love and who love you keeps you centered. Luckily, I’m blessed with a loving husband and two amazing teenage sons.
- Spend time outside. There is simply no substitute for fresh air and sunshine. Both are essential ingredients for a happy life.
- Help others. Whether you volunteer your time in the community or simply take time to listen and offer advice to someone struggling, the act of helping another human being gives life purpose and keeps you centered. Plus…I pretty much always give advice to others that I also need to hear.
- Express creativity in some form. I'm a creative soul by nature and have an innate need to create. Now that I no longer design and write for a living, I've learned I need to express creativity wherever I can, which for me includes cooking for my family (this one involved me changing my perspective on a daily activity I used to view as a chore), making gifts for others, planning events/parties, transforming old things into new things with a little spray-paint and polish (slight spray-paint addiction.)…and honestly even formatting PowerPoint decks at times (probably shouldn't publicly admit to that last one.)
- Reflecting on things I'm most grateful for, most proud of and reminders of what is most important to me -- and going to the effort to actually write it all down. Getting this information outside of my head in written form forces my brain to acknowledge it all in a totally different way. I also find I have more things to be happy about when I'm forced to write a list vs. when I just self-talk inside my head.
- Forcefully give myself permission to not be perfect. And actually say it out loud as my inner self doesn't naturally want to believe it. I remind myself that I have survived 100% of all the difficult things I've faced so far in life…and no matter what I'm struggling with at the moment, I am capable of figuring it out and surviving through it.
- Focus on what I can control and what I can do to get better in any particular situation. This has been the single most powerful tool within the entire curative toolbox for me as it shifts my focus from helpless and powerless to empowered and in control while I work away at learning and getting better. A total win/win, really.
- Take some time to myself…and don't feel guilty about it. It took me a long time in life to realize that I'm an introvert and that I physically require a certain amount of time to rest and recharge alone. My advice to all you introverts out there is that I hope you learn that truth sooner than I did and let yourself off the hook for not having the same high energy that extroverts do when they're exposed to lots of other people all day. The only way for us introverts to get our energy back is to find enough solitude somewhere in our schedules to recharge.
- Scroll through motivational quotes on Pinterest that say a lot of the things I'm trying to say here, but in more poetic ways. Reading all those positive, optimistic thoughts helps me get back on track.
- Repeat all of the preventative measures in the list above until I feel better since all those things also work as cures.
- And when all else fails….Car Sing!! I'm a firm believer that the best and most enjoyable therapy out there is singing along to a favorite tune on the radio at the top of your lungs. And since I'd rather avoid deafening others, I find singing whilst driving to be the perfect solution. Not only is it fun, but there's actually some science to it because singing actually forces you to slow down your breathing and inhale more deeply in order to keep belting out the words…and so anxiety physically starts to melt away more and more with each breath. I highly recommend it…and you should feel free to laugh when you see me driving by.
In any case, my hope is that someone out there reading this finds a tool in this list that resonates with them, gives it a try and gets some value out of it…especially since I’ve already admitted that helping others also helps me.