Tag Archives: mental health

Managing Holiday Stress & Moodiness

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With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and the 34th St. holiday lights display up and running just a block down from my studio, it definitely feels like the holiday season is upon us (despite today’s unseasonably warm temperatures).

It’s always the case that my mood plummets a bit right after Thanksgiving. I feel tired and worn down from traveling, and getting back to my regular routine after being off for a while is more of a slog than a welcome return to normality. This year it seems like I am not the only one feeling a little dragged down by the weight of the holidays. Whether it’s the shorter days, the dreary weather that greeted us this week, or just general end-of-year malaise, it seems that everyone I encounter is feeling especially worn out and a bit down in the dumps this week. It’s as if we are all experiencing a little post-holiday letdown before the rest of the season really kicks into high gear.

Every year I am struck by how stressed out everyone feels at a time that is supposed to be all merry and bright. Whether it’s the melancholy and introspection that inevitably accompany the transition to a new year, or simply the weight of expectation that the holiday season brings, it’s a time of mixed emotions, high demands, and all too often is rimmed with a sense of disappointment and sadness.

If  you tend to struggle during the holidays and can’t muster up the appropriate level of good tidings and cheer, first off don’t beat yourself up for that. You’re not alone. The holiday season is rough for a lot of people, and no matter what time of year it is, you’re not required to feel or act any particular way. It’s okay to be a grinch. I think that poor guy was misunderstood and unfairly maligned. You don’t owe anyone joy or cheeriness just because holiday songs and obnoxious commercials tell you it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But you do owe it to yourself to try to make it out of this season without too much damage to your physical, mental and emotional health. Here are a few suggestions for how to reduce your holiday stress and celebrate in a healthy, manageable way.

Avoid holiday overload.

This weekend hosts the lighted boat parade and Fells Point Christmas festival, the Mayor’s Christmas Parade, a bunch of holiday craft markets, and I’m sure a ton of other stuff that doesn’t hit my radar. It’s only the first weekend in December. Between parties, shopping, and festive gatherings of all kinds, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the holiday spirit before the season even has a chance to get cranking. It’s important to remember that with the holidays, as with all things in life, you cannot see and do everything. It’s okay to skip out on some events, or RSVP no to a few party invitations. Pick a couple of key holiday happenings that you’d like to attend, and let the rest fade into the background of tinsel and lights. If you miss something that you really wish you could have gone to, just remember that you’ll have another chance in the years to come. Christmas comes back again each year, no matter how hard Starbucks tries to kill it off with its solid red Satan cups.

Create some solo traditions.

Maybe it’s just me, but one of the hardest things about the holiday season is the forced merriment with large groups of other people. I need my alone time and feel quickly overwhelmed by too much holiday socializing. That doesn’t mean I prefer bah-humbugging it up from my couch and pretending it’s June; I just need some of my holiday happenings to be solo time that let me get into the festive spirit without the necessity of small talk.

I like to make time each week leading up to Christmas Day watching movies that feature, but don’t necessarily focus on, the holiday season. My choices are always movies (or tv episodes) I’ve seen a dozen times, so that I can do other things while watching, like fold laundry, bake, or desperately try to catch up on my end of year filing and finances for my business. It’s a simple nod to the holiday season that allows me to celebrate quietly and peacefully on my own, leaving me recharged and ready for more daunting social celebrations.

Do not listen to Christmas music until at least one week before Christmas.

Why must the radio and every shop you step into have Christmas music blaring away weeks in advance of Christmas? If you find that you are feeling really agitated and ornery, it may be because you’ve just heard Sleigh Ride for the 9 thousandth time. One thing that seems to be sorely missing during the holiday season is blissful silence. Seek out quiet spaces and try to reduce your exposure to the overstimulation of lights and carols, and bells ringing incessantly.

Intentionally do something that has nothing to do with the holidays.

I saw Christmas decorations in stores back in early October. It made me want to scream. The holiday season really does seem to get longer and longer every year. Try setting a specific date for when you wish to acknowledge the holidays and begin celebrating, so that you limit the season to a more manageable, digestible timeline. Or take a break from all the chaos by intentionally ignoring it and focus instead on maintaining activities and routines that you do all year long. Be intentional and mindful in your practice of your regular life to keep the holiday spirit from encroaching upon every part of your daily existence. There’s no rule that says you have to celebrate all month long, or that you have to celebrate at all. Be strong and continually bring your attention back to those activities that help you feel grounded and centered.

Remind yourself that this is only temporary.

The holidays can be really genuinely hard for many people. We are often reminded of people we have lost, find ourselves feeling isolated and lonely, or are forced into difficult family situations that try our patience and zap our emotional energy. Oftentimes, these hardships cannot be ignored and just need to be endured. Give yourself permission to feel sad, frustrated, annoyed. Give yourself permission to experience the season in whatever way is needed for you at this time, and know that you don’t have to make excuses for the benefit of others. “The holidays are hard for me,” is a perfectly valid statement that should require no additional explanation. You don’t have to be cheery for fear of dampening other people’s spirits. Your lack of celebration isn’t keeping anyone else from embracing the season in whatever way works best for them. Remind yourself repeatedly that before long it will be January and the holidays will be behind us. Time actually moves quite quickly, even when we’re feeling trapped and stuck in place. Hang in there, and take care yourself.

On Pushing Away Fear

I am not in the habit of rereading books. When I finish a book,  I tend to move on to a new one and rarely find myself returning to stories no matter how much I loved them the first time around. There are, as is always the case in life, a few exceptions to this rule. Ordinary People was the first “adult” book I ever read way back in fourth grade. The school library copy I was reading landed in a swimming pool when I was on vacation and I was forced to buy it because of the damage. It’s the same copy I still have and I’ve read it countless times since my elementary school days, gently turning the stiff, nearly ruined pages. When I was young, I also read Say Goodnight, Gracie over and over again. It’s an incredibly sad story and I cried every single time I read it. I’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird more than once because it was assigned reading in a couple of different classes. Same with The Canterbury Tales. And I’ve read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, several times now, even though it was only published four years ago.

Wild is the book I think about most often. It has stuck with me in a way that no other writing has. The wilderness, the solitude, the search for a self that is better and more whole than the person that heartache and self-hatred has forced you to become. I will return to certain passages in this book at moments in my life when I need particular inspiration. The section I go back to most often is one where Strayed writes about fear. As she first sets out for her long journey across the Pacific Crest Trail, Strayed describes her mental processing as the full weight of her decision (and of her immensely heavy, overpacked camping backpack) settles on her:

Within forty minutes, the voice inside my head was screaming, What have I gotten myself into? I tried to ignore it, to hum as I hiked, though humming proved too difficult to do while also panting and moaning in agony and trying to remain hunched in that remotely upright position while also propelling myself forward when I felt like a building with legs. So then I tried to simply concentrate on what I heard–my feet thudding against the dry and rocky trail, the brittle leaves and branches of the low-lying bushes I passed clattering in the hot wind–but it could not be done. The clamor of What have I gotten myself into? was a mighty shout. It could not be drowned out. The only possible distraction was my vigilant search for rattlesnakes. I expected one around every bend, ready to strike. The landscape was made for them, it seemed. And also for mountain lions and wilderness-savvy serial killers.

But I wasn’t thinking of them.

It was a deal I’d made with myself months before and the only thing that allowed me to hike alone. I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.

I am in the middle of a major transition in my life. My most significant transition yet. I find myself repeatedly returning to this passage. “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story…” Whenever I am feeling unmoored and anxious about an uncertain future and all of the hiccups, both large and small, that could greet me on my path, I make the conscious decision to tell myself a different story. I remind myself that I am strong, I am brave, I am safe. I tell myself that everything will be okay, because I have the power to deal with whatever comes my way. It is working. In the past few weeks, I haven’t felt even a little anxious about what the future holds for me. I feel confident and capable. I decided not to be afraid, and I no longer am. I am telling myself a different story and allowing that story to guide me.

It has been about a year since I read Wild in its entirety, but I return to this section probably once a month, pulling the book off of the shelf and opening directly to page 51, where the spine is a bit worn and loose from so much use.

Our lives are made up of thousands of little stories we tell ourselves, and that others tell about us. If you are feeling lost, afraid, stuck or unsettled, try evaluating the stories of your life and make the choice to tell a different one. Tell yourself you’re not afraid and perhaps, before you know it, you won’t be anymore.

3 Ways to Curb Irrational Worries

There is an old pine tree in my front yard that sits just beyond my bedroom window. In the morning, I can watch the birds flying back and forth through its branches while I am still in the bed. When a storm rolls in and the wind picks up, I can see its limbs sway back and forth as I drift off to sleep.

This past winter, we were hit with a blizzard that brought high winds and nearly three feet of snow. My mother called me early on when the snow first started to fall to tell me that she thought we should consider sleeping in a room at the back of the house, far away from the pine tree. She was worried that the wind and heavy snow would bring the tree down, and being in such close proximity to the house, that its branches would come crashing through the house, smashing right through to the bedroom and endangering us in our sleep. “We’ll definitely consider that,” I told her, and then never gave it another thought. This tree must be 100 years old if it’s a day. It has survived other blizzards and hurricanes and countless storms. It is thick and sturdy, and I have no doubt that its roots run deep and long through almost the entirety of our yard. I felt pretty confident that the pine tree wasn’t going anywhere. And it didn’t. It didn’t even lose a single branch.

In case you might think I am sharing this story as a way to poke fun at my poor mother who just wanted to be sure that I was safe, let me share a more recent incident with you. One that has nothing to do with my mom at all.

Our porch light is an old glass light fixture that slowly through the summer fills up with dead and decaying bodies of a bazillion small moths and other bugs. We noticed recently how dim the porch seemed at night and saw that the fixture is about two thirds of the way full of bugs. It is a real pain to clean out because the bottom of the fixture cannot be detached. All you can do is remove the top and attempt to scoop the bug carcasses out with your hand. This is a job I refuse to do because I am too short and it greatly surpasses my gross tolerance. So until my husband decides that he’s ready tackle this disgusting task, the bugs will keep finding their way in and eventually the light may be blocked out entirely. The only harm really is that our porch light won’t be as visible as it usually is. But for some reason I decided the other day that while a bazillion bug bodies pressed up against the light bulb was fine, a bazillion and one would be too many, and the whole thing would almost certainly catch on fire and burn our house down. So I insisted that we shut off the light completely until a time when we can clear out the fixture. I didn’t make this decision the moment I initially saw how full the fixture was, though. I made it later that night, while we were already cozy in bed and I simply couldn’t stop thinking about how the porch light was going to catch fire at any moment.

I am a worrier. My mother is a worrier. Her mother was a worrier. Some families pass down antique jewelry from generation to generation. Ours passes along an irrational fear of incredibly unlikely worst case scenarios. It is no more likely that my porch light will catch fire (as it didn’t last summer in the same situation) than that the giant pine tree in my front yard will come crashing through my bedroom and impale me in my sleep. And yet, while I can write off my mother’s concern as an over-the-top needless worry, it is much more difficult for me to rationally evaluate my own bizarre fears and let them go without another thought.

Over the years, after many pointless concerns have eaten away at my sanity and sleep cycle, I have developed a few methods for addressing these irrational fears and putting the breaks on my worrying before it has a chance to get too far beyond my control.

Designate someone as your rationality meter.

My husband is a very practical person. When something goes wrong, my instinct is to say, “okay, let’s make a list of all the ways this problem can spiral out of control and ruin our entire lives, and then we’ll sit together on the floor and cry about it for an hour.” Whereas he is more likely to suggest that we take a minute to think about how we might resolve the issue, and then simply go about fixing it. I guess his method makes more sense.

Whenever I feel a deep or nagging concern about something I will ask him, “is this something I should be worried about?” and if he’s immediately like, “absolutely not,” I know that I need to just let it go. I like to set my baseline at a state of constant low-grade worry so that if a real concern should arise, I’ll be ready. He only worries when there is actual cause to worry. So if he shows absolutely no concern about something that I assume deserves my full attention and diligent alertness, then I know it’s time to drop it and move along to the next worry. Don’t share your worries with a fellow perpetual worrier. You don’t need to fuel each other’s fires.

Imagine that somebody else has shared this concern with you.

Let’s return to my mother’s worry about the tree. At the time, I couldn’t believe she actually called me to suggest that I sleep in a different room for my own safety. It seemed like a completely unnecessary fear and one that I had no intention of indulging in my own mind for even a second. But again, it’s really no more absurd than my concerns about the stupid bug-filled porch light. And yet, because it was coming from her and not from my own head, I could brush it off as irrational and move along in a way that I can’t with worries I create in my own mind.

It can help to take your own worry and imagine it as a concern that someone else has shared with you. If my mom called me up and said that she was worried that if my porch light got any more bugs in it the whole house would burn down, would my reaction be to think, “well that seems like a completely unnecessary concern”? Yeah, it definitely would be. It can be hard to see a fear as irrational when it is your own fear. Imagine it as someone else’s fear and evaluate its rationality that way. If it would be ridiculous coming from someone else, it’s just as ridiculous coming from you.

Arm yourself with knowledge about what to do in emergency situations.

Trying to anticipate and predict every possible bad outcome no matter how far-fetched doesn’t actually do that much to stop emergencies from arising. Bad things happen. Freak accidents occur. You can’t stop things from going wrong by trying to dream up every worst case scenario ahead of time. Having a plan for what you would do in the case of various emergency situations (how would you get out of your house in a fire? who would you call in the event of an accident? where would you find your insurance info in the event that a pine tree came crashing through your roof?) gives you a greater sense of confidence that you can handle problems as they arise. I used to be concerned that if I was ever in accident or had to be rushed to the hospital or something, my husband might be in a meeting and I wouldn’t be able to get through to him to let him know what happened and get his help if I needed it. So we agreed that if either of us should have an emergency, we would call the other person twice in a row and then send a text that read 911 and that meant, no matter where you are and what you’re doing, drop everything. The only time I ever got into a car accident, go figure my husband was in an important meeting at the time. But when I called twice and sent the 911 text, I knew he would immediately call me back and felt instantly assured that everything would be okay because I knew I would be able to get through to him and he would be on his way to help.

If you do nothing else to try to address your worries, simply having a plan and trusting in that plan for emergencies can go a long way to reducing your fears.

These tips are meant to serve as ways to address concerns that may linger in your mind and make you feel unsettled, but that do not otherwise upset or infringe upon your general quality of life. If you find that you suffer from persistent worry and anxiety that you cannot move past or properly address on your own, or if any of your fears cause you to change your daily habits, or negatively affect your health and lifestyle, you should seek out the help and advice of a mental health professional. While it is true that the world can often feel scary, and that bad things can happen suddenly and unexpectedly, living with persistent, untreated anxiety is not ideal and will not guarantee your safety and wellbeing in the long run. While you may not be able to live a completely worry-free life, you deserve the opportunity to live in a way that is not guided or tempered by fear. Most trees stay standing even in the worst storms. Most lightbulbs burn out long before they can burn anything down. The world is mostly good and safe, and it’s a much better place to live when you can learn to enjoy it rather than fear it.

 

 

 

 

Peaceful Places

I like to eat breakfast while sitting at my kitchen island, with one foot propped up on the unused stool beside me. It’s so peaceful in there in the mornings: quiet and warm with soft light coming through the side door. My husband usually leaves for work before I even wake up, so I have my mornings all to myself and I enjoy soaking in the stillness of my surroundings before my day really starts. It is the most still in the kitchen, in the very spot where I sit and quietly eat, or sip a cup of coffee. I don’t think about anything in particular. I don’t check my email, or catch up on the morning news, or scroll through my Instagram feed. I just take in the quiet and slowly ease my way into the day. It’s perfect. It’s my favorite peaceful place.

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Here are a few other peaceful spots that stand out in my mind, and make me feel calm and content just thinking about them.

My garden, where our flowers are blooming wildly and I can disappear from sight when I sit down in the dirt to pull weeds. I love the sound of big, lazy bumble bees buzzing around me. And I like looking out from between the plants and seeing my dog relaxing happily in the shade of our big pine tree.

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A beach, at sunrise. I am not an early riser by nature, but sometimes the struggle to wake up is worth it to enjoy a view like this. The sand is cool and soft in the early morning, and walking along the beach as the sun creeps into the sky is such a serene and relaxing experience. This photo is from Lanikai Beach in Kailua on Oahu.

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A mountain lake. It’s the freshest, most cleansing air I’ve ever breathed. This photo is from Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is high up in the mountains, so the air temperature was cool and pleasant, but the sun was warm and it felt so nice to sit on the heated rocks and watch as the clouds began to drift down over the lake. Again, we had to get up early and set out in the dark in order to be sure we made it back down the mountain before storms rolled in, but it was worth the early start to experience this view.

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What are your favorite peaceful places?

 

Pokémon Go and the Power of Getting Out

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When I first read about the new Pokémon Go interactive game Nintendo released, I thought it sounded pretty silly. I am not a Pokémon person. I didn’t even realize until recently that it was a game. I remember there being a tv series that I never saw, and I always figured it was like an anime version of beanie babies with stuffed figures that you could collect and trade with friends. That there was the ability to battle and compete within the Pokémon world was completely unknown to me. So it is very safe to say that I am not Pokémon Go’s target audience, and that I have no intention of taking part in its newest iteration, but it’s been interesting watching the reactions to this game.

Though I remain skeptical that a cultural phenomenon that further glues people to their smartphone screens and encourages them to connect to the world only through technology is actually a positive thing–and there have certainly been some negative consequences of the game with people hurting themselves and disrupting spaces where game playing and levity don’t really belong (please people, do not catch Pokémon at the Holocaust Museum)–I am pleasantly surprised by the tremendous anecdotal evidence that the game is helping people with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions be more active and social. It’s a positive benefit that I had considered when I first heard about the game, and I’m glad to see so many reports of people who normally struggle with motivation and social interaction finding that they are inspired to get outside.

You can check out a long list of tweets and posts from people about how the game has helped them here, and here.

A Bright Story For Your Darker Days

It has been a rough couple of weeks, both in my personal life, and in the world at large. It always seems like bad news travels in groups, piling up, one sad story on top of another until they completely block your view of anything light and bright that exists beyond the massive stack of sorrow that the world has created. I have a tendency to want to carry it all in my arms, to hold up everything sad and broken, to challenge myself to fix it, and then admonish myself for the inevitable failure to do so. It’s been a tough few weeks for a lot of people. A time of loss, of uncertainty. A time of confusion, and frustration. It is so easy to sink into the darkness that the world creates around us, to give in to a feeling hopelessness, and helplessness.

I came across this short essay from Elizabeth Gilbert the other day, in one of those serendipitous instances when the Internet introduces you to the very thing you need to see in that moment. It was a nice reminder that, though the world may all too often feel dark and unmanageable, we always have opportunities to create light. There are always chances to brighten up someone’s day, to spread joy and warmth, to give comfort. I am sharing this essay here in the hopes that it may speak to someone else in the way that it spoke it to me, and to remind all of us that while life can be chaotic and beyond our control, we still have the power to act with kindness, to turn ourselves into a million little bright spots shining against the backdrop of a dark world.

Some years ago, I was stuck on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. Traffic was barely moving. The bus was filled with cold, tired people who were deeply irritated—with one another; with the rainy, sleety weather; with the world itself. Two men barked at each other about a shove that might or might not have been intentional. A pregnant woman got on, and nobody offered her a seat. Rage was in the air; no mercy would be found here.

But as the bus approached Seventh Avenue, the driver got on the intercom. “Folks,” he said, “I know you’ve had a rough day and you’re frustrated. I can’t do anything about the weather or traffic, but here’s what I can do. As each one of you gets off the bus, I will reach out my hand to you. As you walk by, drop your troubles into the palm of my hand, okay? Don’t take your problems home to your families tonight—just leave ’em with me. My route goes right by the Hudson River, and when I drive by there later, I’ll open the window and throw your troubles in the water. Sound good?”

It was as if a spell had lifted. Everyone burst out laughing. Faces gleamed with surprised delight. People who’d been pretending for the past hour not to notice each other’s existence were suddenly grinning at each other like, is this guy serious?

Oh, he was serious.

At the next stop—just as promised—the driver reached out his hand, palm up, and waited. One by one, all the exiting commuters placed their hand just above his and mimed the gesture of dropping something into his palm. Some people laughed as they did this, some teared up—but everyone did it. The driver repeated the same lovely ritual at the next stop, too. And the next. All the way to the river.

We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it’s extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness horrible events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it.

But what if you are the light? What if you’re the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for?

That’s what this bus driver taught me—that anyone can be the light, at any moment. This guy wasn’t some big power player. He wasn’t a spiritual leader. He wasn’t some media-savvy “influencer.” He was a bus driver—one of society’s most invisible workers. But he possessed real power, and he used it beautifully for our benefit.

When life feels especially grim, or when I feel particularly powerless in the face of the world’s troubles, I think of this man and ask myself, What can I do, right now, to be the light? Of course, I can’t personally end all wars, or solve global warming, or transform vexing people into entirely different creatures. I definitely can’t control traffic. But I do have some influence on everyone I brush up against, even if we never speak or learn each other’s name. How we behave matters because within human society everything is contagious—sadness and anger, yes, but also patience and generosity. Which means we all have more influence than we realize.

No matter who you are, or where you are, or how mundane or tough your situation may seem, I believe you can illuminate your world. In fact, I believe this is the only way the world will ever be illuminated—one bright act of grace at a time, all the way to the river.

-Elizabeth Gilbert

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“Hello, Depression? This is your friend Anxiety.”

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Depressed circle from the Zoloft commercial.

 

Do you remember the Zoloft antidepressant commercial with the sad little circle? It drags itself slowly across the screen beneath the shadow of a rain cloud, frowning and whimpering as it scoots along. Until it takes Zoloft, and then the cloud disperses, the sun starts shining and the little circle starts bouncing happily along with a smile on its face. There was a whole series of these Zoloft commercials, all done with this simple animation, and they were pretty iconic. They are certainly the first thing to come to my mind whenever I think about pharmaceutical advertising.

I think they were missing something, though. The depressed circle could have used a friend–a shaky, restless circle of anxiety walking by its side. Or perhaps instead of walking together, the commercial could have gone something like this: Depressed Circle wakes up in the morning in his little gray house of sadness and shuffles slowly over to the phone. Across town, Anxiety Circle, feeling wired and tense from a night of very little sleep, answers the call.

Anxiety: Hello?

Depression: Hello, Anxiety? This is your friend Depression. I woke up feeling so incredibly sad today and I don’t know why.

Anxiety: Unexplained sadness? That’s not good. Something could be terribly wrong. I’ll be right over and we can spend the entire day fixating on all of the ways your whole life could suddenly fall apart. Maybe it’s nothing, but you never know Depression, your sadness could be a premonition that the world is about to end. I’ll be right there.

In an alternative version of the commercial, Anxiety phones Depression in the middle of the night. Depression answers in the phone with a deep, sorrowful sigh:

Depression: Hello?

Anxiety: Hello, Depression? This is your friend Anxiety. I can’t sleep. My mind is spinning and I can’t stop thinking about all of the things that could go wrong in the days and years to come.

Depression: Oh no. Come on over. We’ll spend the rest of the night wallowing and feeling completely helpless. I promise we don’t have to do anything even remotely proactive to try to address these fears. See you soon.

It has been my experience that depression and anxiety are good buddies that like to spend a lot of time together. If you find yourself struggling against both of these forces at once, my advice is to do your best to figure out who called whom. Is depression reaching out to anxiety, or is anxiety the one dialing the phone? When you are struggling with depression and anxiety, figuring out which of these problems was your initial trigger can be incredibly helpful in allowing you to address your concerns, stabilize your mood, and move on. If your anxiety is triggered by a depressed mood, rationalizing with yourself to counter your anxiety might lift some of your worries, but it probably won’t do that much to improve your mood. But if you can address your depression, and practice whatever techniques you use to manage and improve your moods, you might find that your anxiety goes away as your mood gets better, and you don’t have to spend any of your precious energy focusing on your worries. Similarly, if your anxiety triggers feelings of depression, just trying to improve your mood may end being a lot of wasted effort. Instead, try countering the anxiety and see if your mood naturally gets better as your concerns lessen.

I’m definitely not suggesting that this a full-proof way to manage anxiety and depression–it’s not, and you don’t get a prize for managing your mental health on your own, so you should seek out help whenever you need it–but it’s a good starting point for those times when you feel overwhelmed by your emotions and fears, and you don’t where to begin in addressing those issues. Interrogate what you are feeling, and try to figure out which of these circles was the first to pick up the phone.