The title of this post is taken from a chapter in Dr. Mike Marino’s book, Freedom from Anxiety and Depression.
Sometimes we feel stuck. Paralyzed. Overwhelmed. We are in so deep that we just don’t know what to do to get out again. That’s when having a menu of options available can be very helpful. Below, I have listed and briefly described ten of the most commonly recommended coping strategies for stress reduction and dealing with anxiety and depression. I am not a doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist. But I what I am learning on my own journey with stress and anxiety I gladly share with you. Remember: this is a list of options, not a to-do list that you must complete. Read through the brief descriptions of each coping strategy and see what makes the most sense to you. Then start learning more about how to implement it into your own life. I hope you find this helpful.
What can you do when you don’t know what to do?
Pray. Connect with your Creator, the Great Physician. Prayer doesn’t have to follow a formula or sound impressive or theological. Prayer is just you reaching out to God. It can be as simple as, “help!” If you’re not sure that you believe God is there or that He cares, try something like, “God, if you’re listening…” He can handle our doubts even in the middle of our prayers. Prayer is the ultimate expression of hope. Psalm 55:22a says to “cast your cares upon the Lord and He will sustain you.”
Take the initiative to connect with someone, preferably someone safe. You were not meant to go through life’s struggles alone. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself. Reach out to someone who will not judge you for struggling, someone who understands and accepts you. Someone who will not reinforce your destructive behaviors, but at the same time will not judge you for where you are. If you don’t have anyone safe in your life, begin building that community (e.g., support group). Resist isolation. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 tells us that we were not meant to go through life’s trials alone.
Move. Get up. Do something. Anything. Walk. Run. Go to the gym. Throw a ball. Ride a bike. Being physically active, though it is the last thing you feel like doing when you are stuck, may be the best thing you can do. We were made to move, and our emotional health is directly tied into our physical activity. In the Book of Proverbs (see chapters 24 and 31) we are told that exercise is an act of wisdom. God designed these bodies of ours – should it surprise us that caring for it is good for us?
Do what’s in front of you. Baby steps. Don’t think about everything that needs to be done or changed, just what is immediately in front of you. To-do lists can bring peace of mind or they can bring panic. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry about what comes next. Just do what’s in front of you and deal with what’s next when you come to it. In Matthew 6:33-34, Jesus says that we shouldn’t worry too far ahead, but instead to focus on each day. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself.
Remember: Life won’t always be like this. Deep lows don’t last forever. The deep lows, the stuck times, can be overwhelming. Remind yourself that life isn’t always like this, and that relief will come. Don’t despair. Remind yourself that in Christ you are not crushed, hopeless, destroyed, or abandoned (2 Corinthians 4:8-9), even when it feels like it.
Remember: This is normal for someone struggling with anxiety or depression. You are not the first person on earth to feel this way. You’re not the toughest, most inexplicable case in human history. Give yourself some grace and don’t make yourself feel more guilty just because you are struggling. What you are experiencing is not pleasant, but it is not uncommon. You are in good company: Job, King David, Jesus.
Stay grounded in reality. Don’t lose yourself in the TV, computer, or phone. These escapes are OK in short doses, but hiding in them only procrastinates healing and progress and can actually make matters worse. If you are having a tough time getting out of your head, lost in repetitive thoughts that are unhelpful, try focusing on your five senses: what do I see, smell, feel, hear, or taste right now? Be present in the moment in every way possible. When the intrusive thoughts press back in, calmly return your attention to the present moment. Sometimes deep, slow breathing can help in this practice.
Avoid numbing behaviors: alcohol, drugs, sex, smoking, internet, TV, overspending, hoarding. Harmless distractions can be good every now and then – read a book, watch a movie, play with a yo-yo – but harmful habits never help and only complicate your situation. What do you do to numb, and not just the obvious numbing behaviors, but also the more subtle ones? Be sure you know yourself well. Know which behaviors are your go-to actions when you are stressed, anxious, or depressed, and know which ones are safe and which are harmful.
Don’t trust your own judgment during the darkest times. Remember, your thoughts often lie to you. Don’t trust everything you think, especially when you are down. If you’re not sure, share your thoughts with someone you trust to see if you are thinking clearly.
Don’t make big decisions or set huge goals for yourself. Buying a car, leaving your spouse, quitting your job – these are not decisions to make when you are in the deepest struggles. At the same time, don’t set yourself on making huge life improvements when you’re not thinking clearly – lose 50 pounds by Christmas, finish that college degree by next summer, finally learn to speak Spanish right now. Setting grand goals can possibly set you up for failure and deeper disappointment.
* If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, get help right away. Those are not clear, rational thoughts that can be trusted. Call the Up2SD crisis line at 888-724-7240 to talk to a live counselor 24/7, free of charge.