This post is the final installment of a three-part series. In the first part, I wrote about my longtime struggles with anxiety and depression. The second part highlighted nine practices I’ve found that are helping me to better cope with these issues. This third installment includes tips from readers for what has been helpful to them, as well as some additional resources you can access for guidance and inspiration, such as websites, books, articles, and even an app.
I did my best to organize the tips into meaningful sections by topic. Although some of the tips were mentioned in comments on the previous two posts, others were sent to me directly. In order to maintain the anonymity of those who shared their thoughts with me privately, names are not mentioned below. Whenever possible, I have included readers’ comments in full, although some have been edited for the sake of either brevity or clarity.
While the information in this post is far from an exhaustive list, my hope is that it can point those who are struggling to resources that they may not have been aware of previously. I’m appreciative of all those who contributed their suggestions on how to cultivate happiness and peace in the midst of both internal and external chaos. As always, you’re welcome to offer additional feedback and discuss the contents of this post in the comments section.
Reader Tip #1 – Practice Acceptance
- “I’ve struggled with both depression and anxiety as well, both kind of low grade. Bad enough that it makes it hard to do things, but not bad enough to be a ‘good’ reason. I’ve found some peace in just letting it be, not trying to change it or fight it.”
- “For me, some of the crucial moments were the acceptance of living with depression and its limitations. This has required going through a lot of grief, as well as acceptance of discomfort. What I realized was that when I was depressed, I was constantly limiting my world in order to avoid discomfort or difficult and exhaustive situations, but this also kept me in the depressive mode. It was only when I realized that I cannot avoid some level of discomfort in my life and started to expose myself slowly to this discomfort and accept it as part of life – while at the same time doing what I thought is valuable, my depression lifted. What I learned was that when we’re depressed, we see difficulties as much bigger and rewards as much smaller than they actually are. It is therefore more difficult to act if we think that means effort without reward. But the more exposure one gets to things that are out of our comfort zones, the more the balance can shift and our lives will expand.”
Reader Tip #2 – Identify and Live by Your Values
One reader was directed to complete two values questionnaires as part of her counseling process. These questionnaires, which were originally posted on Russ Harris’s Act Mindfully website, may be used to help you identify what’s most important to you and the degree to which these key values are being honored in your life. Click the links below for downloadable PDF versions of the values worksheets:
- Values Worksheet (adapted from Kelly Wilson’s Valued Living Questionnaire)
- A Quick Look at Your Values (Russ Harris)
This video explains why living in accordance with our innermost values can lead to a richer, fuller, and more meaningful life than the common practice of striving to accomplish a series of external goals. Additional videos, worksheets, and free book chapters are available on the resources page of the Act Mindfully website.
Reader Tip #3 – Set Very Simple Productivity Goals
- “My mantra is: ‘I am enough!’ and my approach is to consider what one thing I can work on next. My to-do lists can get pretty unwieldy, so I try to just think about one thing I can do for half an hour and when that’s done, I go on to something else.”
- “One thing I use to motivate myself is to tell myself that I can feel bad and get nothing done, or I can feel bad and get something done anyway. So I need to just pick one thing and do it, regardless of how I feel. This is how I got through my working days when I had no choice, and it still works pretty well now that I’m retired.”
- “I try to just pick one thing to do and start. Even if I only accomplish something small, it feels better than having a whole day pass in a fog. Often the one thing will turn into more and I will feel better.”
- “I’ve struggled with low level depression and anxiety for years, but because I managed to get up and go to work, I attributed my feelings of overwhelm and my inability to achieve what I felt I should be doing to laziness. I now make lists of things I hope or need to do over the week, and ticking items off makes me feel like I’ve achieved something.”
Reader Tip #4 – Clear Away External Clutter
- “For me, it was necessary to clear out all of my external clutter, including my large wardrobe of clothes (see below), before I was able to peel back the layers and find the source of my anxiety. Then I was able to find my own pathways to calm. What I discovered is that what I ‘really wanted’ did not match with what I thought was expected of me, and this produced much anxiety and at times depression. Not reaching what I perceived as my own expectations caused me to feel like I was failing. But when I realized that I didn’t really want what I thought I did, a sense of peace began to take hold.”
Reader Tip #5 – Maintain a Small(er) Wardrobe
- “Another key discovery I’ve recently made is that a large wardrobe of wonderful clothes makes me ‘feel’ like I should have and build a life much fuller than I really want. Often times, I’ve caught myself thinking that I needed a life for my clothes. But now that my wardrobe is much smaller and matches the slower-paced, lower key life I’m really living and want to live, I no longer place those crazy-making expectations on myself.”
Reader Tip #6 – Maintain Financial Security
- “From my journaling and therapy, I’ve learned that my biggest trigger for anxiety is not work or relationships, but financial insecurity (that could actually be caused by work or relationship problems!). So my essential for maintaining some semblance of peace is to have financial security. I think back to the times when I experienced happiness completely unencumbered by anxiety, and I was financially secure and not dependent on anyone else at those times.”
- “My anxiety and depression are always worse when I’m not in a good place financially. For me, though, compulsive spending creates most of this financial insecurity, and then it becomes a vicious circle of spiraling debt as I spend more to try and make myself feel better. It all goes back to bad habits I learned as a girl from my mom. She never spent herself into debt, but the answer to bad feelings was always to treat ourselves at the store. I just took it further than she did because credit cards were easily available to me.”
Reader Tip #7 – Take Advantage of Various Therapeutic Modalities
Several different therapeutic modalities were mentioned by readers, which I am consolidating under this one tip, as well as the feedback they gave about how these methods are helping them.
- Homeopathy: “I have gotten considerable relief from my anxiety and depression from homeopathy.”
- Internal Family Systems (IFS): “Internal Family Systems work (which would fit under your category of ‘Introspection’) has helped to bring a measure of harmony and balance to my inner world that I’ve never experienced before. I have adapted a variation of these techniques to suit my own issues, and I know I will continue to practice and expand upon the techniques…. I had a lot of loss that I hadn’t fully dealt with and in doing this work, the list of losses just kept pouring out and my grief along with them. I was able to process the grief and release it from my body, thanking it, asking forgiveness, etc… If someone is sensitive and in touch with their inner world, they can do some of this work without a therapist, especially if they read Richard Schwartz’s book and learn how to do it safely (it’s very powerful work)… Also, there is a ‘contrariness’ to my nature that I have come to understand more through my IFS work. After getting to know my sub-personalities, I sometimes poll them about where they stand on certain topics or issues, and often they are split completely down the middle, which explains why I often feel torn and at odds with myself. Letting each of their voices be heard uniquely and then approaching this internal data as a whole seems to help in working things through.”
- Positive Affirmations: “I have done a lot of work in the last three months with positive affirmations and some healing sessions via the Carol Tuttle Healing Center.”
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): “The Carol Tuttle Healing Center exercises include EFT techniques like tapping. Some of this stuff seems a little ‘out there,” but the more I did the exercises, I noticed a distinct change… One of the things I struggled with regarding tapping is that in the beginning of the exercise, you make negative statements. But as I studied EFT a little more, I found that this way of verbalizing some of these negative thoughts while doing the tapping helps to put the brain into a calmer state.”
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): One reader linked to a website that offered eight CBT exercises, along with four free worksheets to help users implement healthier behaviors. Unfortunately, that website is no longer active, but I found an alternate site that outlines 25 CBT techniques and also offers some free worksheets to download.
Reader Tip #8 – Stay Active and Get Outside
Physical activity and keeping busy were mentioned by a number of readers, who have found staying active helpful in managing their moods and anxiety levels.
- “The way I am dealing with it is to go to yoga class five days a week, regardless of whether I feel like it or not. I always feel better afterwards and can at least say I did one positive thing with my day… I also take daily walks outside with my dog.”
- “Taking a walk always makes me happier. I am fortunate to have a challenging, hilly forest trail at the end of my street. So I have no excuse not to get out in nature, where the tree canopy protects me from the rain and provides a buffer on windy days. However, my favorite vacation is the beach. There is something transformative about the sound of the ocean, the cry of seagulls and the salty air.”
Reader Tip #9 – Cultivate Self-Compassion
I mentioned the self-compassion work of Kristin Neff in my last post (under Practice #9, Grace). One of my readers perused Neff’s website and shared a few links in the comments section, so I thought I’d include them here so that more readers would be able to access this valuable information:
- What Self-Compassion Is
- What Self-Compassion is NOT
- Why We Should Stop Chasing Self-Esteem and Start Developing Self-Compassion
- Test How Self-Compassionate You Are
- Self-Compassion Guided Meditations and Exercises
Reader Tip #10 – Seek Out “Sanitized Public Spaces”
This tip was sent to me by a reader via email. Since it’s a somewhat complex thought process, I won’t attempt to summarize it and will instead post it in its entirety with only minor edits for clarity. This is some great food for thought and I welcome your feedback and insights on this subject.
“In my journey, I have been able to pinpoint a source that triggers depression. It is the loss of public spaces where one can be without witnessing human suffering on a regular basis. Basically, the widening income inequality is painful to watch, to the point that I do not leave home as often as I would like to. The explosion of homelessness and the mentally ill is scary to confront, especially when people are not behaving in a logical manner. I think back to the 1980’s and cannot believe how bad things have gotten. For example, I remember public libraries being cozy places to hang out in, but I have not felt that way for a number of years now.
“Right now, I only know of a temporary ‘band-aid fix,’ which is seeking out “sanitized private spaces” with lots of other people milling about. These places usually have a cost of admission, yet whenever I visit them, I receive a huge mental boost…and I feel happy. Disneyland during the off-season is the perfect example of such a place, even though I don’t have children of my own. There is no urge to purchase anything beyond food, and it just feels good to be there.
“One could say that shopping malls are ‘sanitized private spaces’ without an admission price. Yet we both know the emptiness and consumer toll those places can take, so I do not count them. I much prefer museums to malls.
“I’m still trying to figure out what a long-term solution could be (other than the economy fixing itself and everyone having a place to live with dignity). Seeing a thriving public around me again would be such joy. While life was never perfect in any previous time period, being out in public used to feel good. Even as an introvert, it used to feel good to be out in public by myself. My theory is that we need a healthy society in order to flourish. We lost our thriving public spaces over time and I think it is contributing to depression on a national level.”
Readers’ Comments on Routine (my Practice #6 from Part Two)
Several readers weighed in on the concept of maintaining a daily routine, which was one of the key practices I mentioned in my last post.
- “Practice #6 really hit me. Too much freedom can feel like not much freedom at all. This is so me. The things that I do have a routine for aren’t things I think about much. The things I don’t incorporate into a routine tend to weigh on my mind. This has inspired me to make a few changes.”
- “I too struggle with an unstructured day, but am thinking about how I can set up a routine that doesn’t feel restrictive yet lets me feel like I am getting things accomplished.”
- “I have always had a problem with routine. I’m a wavering Rebel/Questioner (as per Gretchen Rubin’s four tendencies), so I try not to structure my time. But I often end up with days and weeks spent in fun escapist activities that don’t help my depression in the long run. Then when I try to apply some minimal structure –to ensure that work gets done and I don’t fall into bad habit, I immediately rebel against it! I also have trouble socializing in real life. As an INFJ, it is painful to deal with groups of people, but at the same time I do recognize the benefit of human contact. I have a couple of very understanding friends who have lunch with me occasionally, but this is still an area where I have to push myself to do more.”
Other Tips and Resources
There were a few additional tips and resources mentioned that didn’t readily fit into one of the categories above. I’m including them here, as I believe they may be helpful to some readers.
- The Chill Panda app: Free smart phone app for Apple and Android – created for children but good for adults, too!
- The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) website, self-test, and book: “I identify as a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), as first described by Elaine Aron. Her blog discusses that while many (perhaps most) HSPs are also introverts, they are not the same thing. Elaine describes a smaller sub-group of HSP extroverts, which gave me a much clearer picture of my flavor of HSP-ness. I think my desire for novelty is related to this. In case there is any interest, here is the blog post discussing High Sensitivity, Introversion, & Extroversion: https://hsperson.com/introversion-extroversion-and-the-highly-sensitive-person/.”
- Writing (similar to my Practice #1 in my last post): “My process is similar to yours, even without depression. Life throws us all curves and we ride the emotional roller coaster. What you have shared will benefit everyone. When time permits, you can catch up with my inner and outer journey on my online journal. For an extrovert, I can be mighty reserved at times. I’ve climbed out from under my rock and am posting monthly.”
- Philosophy Reading: “I want to do some serious reading of philosophy to see if that will help me find a way to feel mentally at peace with my existence. Religion didn’t do it for me, so maybe philosophy will.”
- Novelty: “One thing that jumps out to me that I would add as a helpful practice/concept is novelty, which I view as seeing, trying, doing and thinking new things. This may fit under your category of ‘creative expression.”
Suggested Books About Happiness, Peace, and Living a Good Life
- 365 Days of Happiness (Jacqueline Pirtle) – This book was sent to me by the author last year. It includes daily inspirational readings and exercises to help readers “mindfully work toward living a more vivid experience of daily happiness… Through light, bubbly, cheerful passages, each day teaches you to find happiness, use those sour lemons, and shift yourself into a ‘high for life’ frequency where you can reach happiness anywhere at any time.” The readings are all one page long or shorter, so they can easily be incorporated into one’s morning or evening routine. The few minutes per day that it takes to read these passages can gradually help you to shift your mindset and increase your happiness over time.
- When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Harold S. Kushner) – One reader recommended this book, as she said it has given her strength several times in the past.
- The Tapping Solution (Nick Ortner) – This book was recommended by the reader who mentioned EFT as a modality that she has found helpful. She said, “I like being able to switch to positive and affirming statements as I complete the exercises.” A number of practitioners and healers have incorporated EFT techniques into their work with clients, and reading this book can teach you to use these practices on yourself.
- You Can Heal Your Life (Louise Hay) – This book has been on my bookshelf for many years and I got my start in blogging by writing about the teachings of Louise Hay. Those early essays, previously posted on my first blog, The Healing Project, are now part of this blog and may be accessed towards the bottom of the Archives page.
- Happiness is a Serious Problem (Dennis Prager) – I have also read this book multiple times. It was written by a longtime radio talk show host who also has a weekly “happiness hour” that I also love. The book’s subtitle is “a human nature repair manual” – and that’s exactly what it is! I have written a few blog posts on some of Prager’s key happiness philosophies, including this one and this one.
- The Subtle Are of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (Mark Manson) – Don’t read this book if you’re sensitive to cursing, but it includes a lot of great lessons and I enjoyed reading it last year.
- Perfectly Yourself: 9 Lessons for Enduring Happiness (Matthew Kelly)
- The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die (John Izzo)
- The Happiness Trap (Russ Harris)
- The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (Don Miguel Ruiz)
- Gretchen Rubin’s books (all on happiness and human nature):
- The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You (Elaine Aron)
- 15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy (Luminita D. Saviuc)
* Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Full Life Reflections will receive a small commission if you purchase any of these items. I only recommend items that I have either used myself or are recommended by trusted sources. Thank you for your support!
A Final Thought – It’s Never Just One Thing!
One reader underlined the importance of using a multi-faceted approach to deal with depression and anxiety and cultivate happiness and peace in one’s life.
“One thing that strikes me from your list that also rings true in my life is that there is no one single answer to finding happiness and peace, especially for those who struggle with depression and anxiety. It is always a combination of practices, and the combination varies depending on where you are in life or even on any given day. The hardest part of it is that no one else can prescribe the right combination of practices #1 – #9 – or medication, therapy, or some other action. We each have it figure it out for ourselves, and that can be VERY difficult.
“… I can’t remember exactly what my response was to your first part of this series, but I expect that it was something along the lines of this being a potentially lifelong condition, so being vigilant against the symptoms and flexible about our response to them is important as we go through different life stages. My approach today at age 59 is completely different from how I dealt with it at age 29.”
This is so true, and I totally agree that our approaches will likely need to shift over time. That’s why I feel that sharing thoughts and resources as we’ve done in this series can be so valuable. My hope is that this series can provide a sort of “menu of options” for people to refer to when they’re struggling, either as adjuncts to professional help or in cases where such assistance is not warranted or is unavailable or unaffordable. “Crowd-sourcing” can often be highly beneficial, as the whole is almost always greater than the sum of its parts. This small community of friends around the world offers a wealth of information and I’m grateful to all who have contributed to this discussion.