Mindful practices I use when I'm dealing with anxiety or depression

Ahhh that fun old topic of mental health. As we arrive at the end of mental health awareness month, I wanted to share my own experience with the topic. Throughout my life I have experienced periods of depression and anxiety. Sometimes it is mild and remains under the surface as a dull constant, sometimes it is more intense and requires that I unplug completely to reset myself. Other times, I forget it’s even an issue for me. I have worked with doctors to treat both depression and anxiety in the past and over time I’ve learned a few things that really work for me as an individual.

When I talk below about certain methods of addressing my depression and anxiety, these are things I do in addition to working with my doctor and checking in on my status. Medication, therapy and mindfulness techniques can often be a wonderful trifecta. These solutions are not meant to replace one another but rather to address depression and anxiety in a comprehensive plan.

Please speak with your personal physician if you are feeling depressed or anxious for an extended period of time. You are not alone and there are so many resources out there to help us get a handle on our mental health! If you would like to find resources on mental health in your area, please visit the NAMI website to start the search and find support. Sometimes the hardest part can be asking for help, but once you do… so much weight gets lifted.

Disclaimer: I want to point out that what works for me may not work for everyone. This is in NO way medical advice. Rather it is an honest discussion about what took me years to figure out for my own mental health situation. If you are having an emergency in which you or someone you know is suicidal, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room.


Physical activity

This is one my most effective strategies to keep my depression and anxiety in check

The most common piece of advice people hand out when you tell them you might be struggling with mental health is to “work out”. I’ll be the first to admit that it can be annoying to hear that over and over again, especially when you don’t have energy to get off the couch (been there!). But there is science to this, the peer reviewed kind! As Elle Woods says “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. “ Adding fitness and movement to your day can help the production of endorphins, increase oxygen flow in the blood and help steer us in the direction of better nutrition.

So how do I do this? I start small. I try to start my day with 20 minutes of movement. Most of the time it’s right in my living room. I will either do a quick daily move’s workout from Tone it Up, or I will do a yoga flow. When I start my day with movement, it can often get in front of the issue and leave me feeling accomplished an hour into my day. I also want to mention that if I miss a day of movement in the morning, I am totally OK with that! Being forgiving to myself when I’m not perfect is a big part of what keeps this manageable .

Milford Track Hiking

I get into nature

There is nothing like a long hike or walk in the woods to leave me feeling clear headed

Getting into nature is so vital for me to stay clear. It’s something I noticed about 8 years ago when living in Philadelphia. I was coming to the end of a relationship and completely overwhelmed with a sadness that hovered for a few months. I felt trapped and paralyzed in my apartment and often didn’t leave unless I had to work. Then one day a friend invited me out on a hike, I didn’t want to go but knew I needed to get out of the house (self awareness FTW).

It was a trail I hadn’t been to since I was a kid and was a good 2 hour drive from the city. We spent the day silently hiking until we rested at the top of the ridge. I was able to open up and talk about the sadness and for the first time in a long time, feel a touch more clear on what my next steps should be. Since that moment, when I feel like I’m getting into a bad routine I find a trail, even if it’s a close one, and just go for a hike. It’s not a cure all, but it does help me to get more clear so I can make a plan.

Some of my favorite places to go when I feel this way are Iron Mountain, Joshua Tree and Utah. Utah has an especially high healing quality for me. In fact I feel so at peace there that I was married in a Utah Park. BRB gonna go hug a tree real quick ;)

Yoga at the flower fields

Surround myself with supportive friends

Supportive friends have made so much of a difference for me. No judgement, just love

Supportive friends are the bees knees. I have been fortunate at every stage in my life to have friends that are supportive and loving around me. What do I mean by supportive? I mean that they support my happiness, even when I am not feeling great. They will let me vent but they will also call me out when I need it. I had a friend in my 20s that was a great example of this. Whenever one of us was feeling overwhelmed, we would come over in our PJs and help each other clean the house. Like… hello. THAT is support and love. As I grew into adulthood and I look back, it was usually a friend that stopped by or made space for me to vent to them that really helped to keep me grounded.

Anxiety is so good at convincing me that my ideas and plans for life are unattainable or impossible. Especially as I started this business. I swear anxiety and impostor syndrome must be BFF’s. I have so many strong supportive friends that have stepped in when this happens and reminded me of my own power. They helped me have the courage to take the steps needed, even in the face of anxiety that felt insurmountable. So for me when I am feeling depressed or anxious, I call one of my girlfriends for a hang session. It pulls me out of my house, and it puts me near a person that is only going to reflect love back to me. Sometimes that’s enough for me to feel confident and ready to open up even more on what’s really going on.

bonnie the chorgi

I hang out with my dog

I mean just look at her! She’s an incredibly mindful little being

I always say that when I don’t feel good, Bonnie just knows. The best thing that Bonnie does for me is get me out of the house. We have a routine of a morning walk and an afternoon walk. Very often she will get me out of the house to see the sunset, which I would have missed had I been sitting on the couch. She’s also a really great reminder to me to always live in the moment. Spending too much time thinking about the past or the future can be a slippery slope for my mental health. Bonnie shows me every day how happy it can make me to just live in the now. She doesn’t worry about anything except what is happening to her in the moment, and it’s such a blessing to have a little friend near me to remind me of that.

I also really do think that dogs can sense our emotions. When I’m having a tough time with anxiety or depression, she gets a little more cuddly. She will cuddle up next to me and not leave my side. Unknowingly, she becomes my emotional jumper cables. When I walk in the door she is excited, when I take her on walks she looks at me like I’m the coolest person ever and when I’m getting sad, she smothers me with stinky dog kisses. Dogs are the best people.

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I’ll clear space to do the “un-doable task”

This one is often left off the list but it’s a big one for me.

The un-doable task. If you are reading this and have dealt with anxiety, you might know what I’m talking about. It’s different every time but there is usually something that I avoid doing or don’t have the energy to do when I’m stuck in a bad spell of anxiety. In the past it’s been something as simple as clearing out my inbox but it can also be something important like handling financial tasks. What ever it is, there always seems to be one task I just can’t overcome when I’m stuck in a cycle of bad anxiety.

A few years ago while planning my wedding I experienced one of the worst lengths of anxiety I have ever had in my life. (any one who has planned a wedding… you feel me? haha). At the time I was also completing my yoga teacher training. I almost dropped out of the program because I was so overwhelmed. I had to take an entire week off from everything, doctor’s note and all. In that time I learned two big lessons. 1. It’s ok to ask for a break, or rather, demand one when you need it. and 2. make baby steps to complete the big scary tasks that are weighing you down.

Because I had a forced break, I was able to slow down enough to handle the tasks weighing me down. With each task I completed, I felt lighter. The anxiety was still there but was not nearly as heavy. Some of the tasks that were insurmountable were in the following list: clearing my inbox, checking my voicemail, doing laundry, finalizing contracts that were left unread, and following up with friends and family that had been trying to reach out. It seems like a pretty normal to do list for any adult, but this is what anxiety can do. It can make these easy tasks feel un-doable. So now I start small. I’ll clear the spam from inbox. I’ll go through 5 papers on my desk. I’ll do one load of laundry. These things are not the cause or root of depression and anxiety, but they sure as hell do not help it get easier to deal with when they pile up. This is one of the first places I look to clear space in my life when I feel overwhelmed by anxiety so I can handle it with more space.

I clean my house

Vacuuming glitter is a regular thing in our house!

Ahh this gem. Before you roll your eyes at me… I Know! Cleaning does not cure depression! This task will sometimes end up on my “un-doable task” list as I mentioned above. So why is this on my list? Because sometimes it does work. It’s like I can really zen out in the moment. Cleaning is a form of mindful and meditative movement for me.

I’ve had a frequent underlying feeling of depression in most of my life. It’s not there every day and very often there will be weeks or months when I forget it’s an issue. But sometimes it pops up for no reason and I can’t figure out what’s going on. In my own patterns and life I can usually spot the signs in my surroundings. So cleaning my house is a way to get in front of the issue before it spirals into something long term. When I start to feel depressed, little things get left undone. I’ll let the dishes pile up, or the laundry won’t get done. Sometimes I’ll let the closet or laundry chair get out of control and overflow (you know the chair you put all your laundry on or the things that need to be hung up? we all have one haha). Sometimes when I look around I’ll notice that all of these things have started slipping and I treat it as my own personal red flag. I take a step back and evaluate what’s going on in my world.

Then I start with one room. I’ll start to clean just the kitchen or just hang some clothes up. If I’m in an overwhelming place I’ll start with what I like to call a 5 minute clean. I let myself off the hook for the project as a whole but commit to cleaning for 5 minutes. About 20% of the time I’ll clean for just the 5 minutes but most of the time I clean for a little bit longer than that. When you break it into small manageable pieces it can help.

Now with this approach, I am not trying to cure depression. I am trying to make space to handle it more effectively. I personally can be more mindful about my depression coping mechanisms when I’m sitting in a clean house. So in short, yes sometimes cleaning the house just leaves you depressed in a clean room, but sometimes it helps to shake out the weight of what’s bothering you.

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I get honest with my support system

When I feel depressed or anxious. I talk about it with my family and friends.

This one is probably the hardest one on the list. Sometimes even just saying the words “I’m having a bad day” or “I’m having trouble managing my anxiety” can be too much. But I know its a game changer when I do it. That picture up there is my husband Nate. If you are the loved one of someone who is currently struggling with anxiety or depression I’d love to offer up my husband as a great example of what to do to support them. When I tell Nate I’m having a bad depression day, his response is “that’s ok. Why don’t you relax and I’ll handle these tasks”. He never makes me feel guilty or bad about experiencing depression. He allows it to exist and takes the pressure off of me, so I can start to deploy my healthy coping skills. He will of course start to nudge me if the depression or anxiety persists by getting me out of the house and helping me to practice some of the things on the list above. That’s a true support system. They understand the healthy coping mechanisms that help you and encourage you to walk toward them.

That last sentence is important to understand when you are a friend or family member of someone struggling with anxiety and depression. Often times it is so incredibly hard, exhausting even, to ask for help. The campaign to ask for help is an important one, but the other side to that is when someone comes to you to talk about it, recognize that supporting does not always look like problem solving. The best thing my support system can do for me is put a hold on unsolicited advice, create a space to listen to me vent and just allow me to exist with them in that moment. Often I am able to feel stronger once I recognize someone is by my side lifting my up.


I have to be honest, while writing this I messaged a few friends and asked “should I get this honest”? “Are people going to think I’m a little nuts now after reading this?”, and someone in my support system of friends wrote back to remind me that everyone struggles. At certain times we have likely all experienced ranging levels of anxiety and depression or have been around someone who has.

It’s such a vulnerable feeling to put all this honesty out into the world but it’s important to break the stigma around mental health. I guarantee you I’m going to get a wave of anxiety after I publish this blog and that’s why I’m heading right out for a nice long dog walk as soon as I hit publish haha.

My main message here: You’re not alone. I feel you. I see you. You are not broken.

All my love and encouragement to you,

Jackie

Jackie Kowalik