Freedom on the Fourth

The Fourth of July is technically Independence Day in the US. Freedom from Great Britain. Freedom for (select, privilleged) Americans.

And today, many of us continue to be able to enjoy this freedom that was signed into effect over 200 years ago. And while more citizens can enjoy the benefits of this elusive liberty, many Americans suffer from a lack-of-freedom in a different realm: mentally.

Mind over matter! You might say. But sometimes it’s not that easy. According to the Center for Disease Control, reportedly 1 in 10 Americans are depressed. Not to mention the 18% of American Adults that experience some kind of anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

And if you’ve ever had an anxiety attack (even a minor one), or you’ve ever experienced heartbreak, this emotional dysregulation grabs complete control of your life. Often times, causing a sense of temporary disability.

Not so free anymore, huh?

Some rely solely on medication to give them a false sense of freedom from their mental health concerns. Others live with these daily challenges thinking there is no other way to make it through life.

Luckily, that’s where mental health professionals come in. While good therapy can be your mirror, it can also help you release the hidden handcuffs you may have around your brain.

Want some ideas on how to get rid of some of that anxious energy? Or maybe some simple mood-boosters to lift you out of that slump? Below you’ll find some ideas. Remember, you should always consult with your mental health professional and/or doctor before incorporating ideas into your lifestyle.

  • Meditation: This can look different for everyone. Some may consider it praying. Essentially, you need to empty your head for a bit and concentrate on your breathing. If trying to pause your thoughts is too difficult for now, start by working on your breaths: inhale for about 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds, and repeat at least 10 times. Meditating can take as little as a deep breath to help restrain the clutches of an anxiety attack grabbing on to you, to a whole hour if you’re so inclined. Personally, I downloaded a free app for my phone by Andrew Johnson called “Relax Light” and listened to this every morning on my commute in NYC. (I in no way am paid to endorse this product nor am I affiliated with Andrew Johnson).
  • Soothe your Central Nervous System (CNS): This is aimed primarily at those sudden panic attacks some might get. The general gist is to start “combing” your arms with your fingertips, back and forth. This simple sensation sends vibes to your CNS telling it to calm down. Sound silly? Try it. You’ll be surprised!
  • Hug it out: When possible, hugging for at least 30 seconds also soothes your CNS by sending messages to your brain to calm down. Who would have thought a few simple touches could be so helpful?
  • Pet a Pet: Similar to the above two points, petting a (willing) animal helps send those important messages to your brain. The repetitive back and forth motion can also be relaxing for some.
  • Keep a Journal: Don’t have time you say? That’s fine. At the very least, keep a running list somewhere (I keep it on my phone) of triggers. What’s a trigger? A trigger is something that initiates something else, basically. For example, that guy that cut you off and almost made you crash? Yeah, he just triggered your already shortened temper into a full-blown road rage episode. The trigger: bad drivers/ inconsiderate people/ etc.
  • Rage it Out: This means, don’t hold back and let’er rip. Sometimes we are so tightly wound up by our emotions we don’t even realize what we have in us. Or we try to self-medicate with booze and other superficial substances in an effort to forget. This can mean cry until your eyes are puffy and red, yell into the air until you lose your voice, or get blisters on your hands from punching something (like a bag, pillow, mattress- definitely not a person). Emotions are a primal instinct and once they are freely released, a sense of catharsis tends to envelope the individual. Remember, don’t try to self-medicate! This should be done au-natural.
  • Get Up: I can say try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, but that might not seem possible to everyone. Plus, I’m sure you already know you’re “supposed” to do so. But at the very least, get up and move around for 1-3 minutes. Especially if much of your day is spent sedentary in an office or in classes. Doing so helps get your blood moving and pumps oxygen to all the right places. You might look a bit crazy doing jumping jacks around your cubicle, but you’ll feel significantly better.
  • Feed Your Belly: Too depressed to think about eating? Or too anxious to swallow past the lump in your throat? Sometimes, adjusting your diet can be a big help. A few years ago I experimented with mine and found the less I consumed processed foods, the better I emotionally felt. (And helped me manage a healthy weight without trying!) The trick to this is to make sure to read your food AND drink labels. I believe Michael Pollan mentioned it, but if you can’t read an ingredient or don’t know what it is, don’t put it in your body! Not to mention, the fewer the ingredients, the better.
  • Cook Your Heart Out: Or do something that requires you to follow directions and focus. Picking a hobby such as cooking helps you a) distract yourself from negative, obsessive thoughts that might be racing through your head, b) helps you feed your belly in a positive way and c) once you feel brave enough, invite friends over for a dinner party and socialize. (Note: this is not a free pass to repress your “stuff”, rather a way to give your brain a needed break.)
  • Put Your Party Pants On: Now this doesn’t mean spend all night at the club. But it does mean interact with your friends in-person (facebook and text messages do not count). Humans are social animals. We need contact. We need each other. By surrounding yourself with friends you are likely to a) realize what you are anxious and/or sad about is most likely not a big deal, b) have people to vent to and c) have their better-mood rub off on you!

Of course, there are thousands of other tips and tricks out there you can experiment with. And who knows, some of the ideas mentioned above might not work out for you. BUT it’s worth a try. And in some cases, seeking help from a medical professional in concerns to psychopharmacology is necessary. (Note: utilizing prescription anti-depressants/anti-anxiety meds correctly does not make you a weaker, less able person!)

After all, what good is living in a free country if you can’t even be free from your own thoughts?

(image source- unknown)

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