As I explained in my last post, I dealt with some health issues in the fall and left school prematurely. When I got home, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, something I never imagined could happen to me. While I’m doing better today, I know each day can bring new pressures. Below I made a list of things that helped me during the darkest and scariest time my of life I’ve experienced. I know there’s no right way for someone to manage their anxiety or depression. This is just what worked and is working for me. It’s hard to see a friend experiencing these, and one can often feel like a helpless onlooker. I also added ideas of support I did or wished I received during this challenging time.
1) Follow the doctor’s orders.
For yourself: Don’t be afraid to admit something is wrong. It will probably feel entirely out of your control because if it is anxiety or depression, it doesn’t define who you are. You might beat yourself up each time you think something could be wrong. Be willing to get help in whatever capacity you need. Go to the doctor, and follow his directions. You can get better.
As a friend: Support them and encourage them to see a doctor. Offer to take them or go with them. Support them in their decision making, but never force them to do something they aren’t ready to do. Check in with your friend after the appointment and see how they’re doing.
When I was in the deepest hold of depression and anxiety, I really couldn’t get myself to do this. At least not more than a sentence.
For yourself: God hears the small short prayers, so even if you can only spit out a few words, He cares. He’s there. He hears you. All you have to do is try to talk to Him. It’s hard but worth it.
As a friend: Ask to pray with your friend. Notice I said with not just for. To me, there’s always been something special about one of your best friends praying over you. Pray for them while you sit with them. Your friend might not be able to utter words that you can. Give your friend a voice. Also, still pray for them when you’re apart.
3) Read Scripture.
This is another area that was extremely difficult for me to do as well, but there are so many simple ways to do this.
For yourself: Start small. Use the Bible app, and simply read the verse of the day. Only a couple sentences can help change your outlook for the day. It’s okay if you miss a day. Don’t beat yourself up. Life is one long journey.
As a friend: Make sure you are in the Word yourself. Text/talk to your friend about what you’ve been learning and share verses. Even sending encouraging quotes is sometimes nice. Leaving handwritten notes is also so special. (thanks soccer team <3)
4) Attend Counseling.
This kind of goes along with listening to your doctor’s orders. It’s hard to open up and discuss what’s going on in between your ears, but it is so worth it. I can remember my first counseling appointment. I cried for more of it than I talked, but it was a safe place. Thankfully, I’ve made incredible progress.
For yourself: You won’t want to go, so ask someone to go with you or at least drive you there. Remember, all your problems won’t get solved in one sitting. Express what you can, when you can. A little bit is better than nothing at all. Be consistent (go at least once a week to start), and find someone you are comfortable with.
As a friend: Offer to go with them to the appointments. If they say no, respect that and don’t push. If they say yes, just be there with them. Don’t say anything. You may think you know your friend really well, but you can’t read their mind. Only chime in if they ask.
5) Eat wisely and drink lots of water.
Everyone can always benefit from this. It was hard for me when I was struggling to make sure I still ate vegetables and stopped eating dessert 3 times a day.
For yourself: Don’t be too strict, but put in a conscious effort to eat wisely. If you eat badly, you will feel worse. Also, staying hydrated and fueling your brain properly is very important for mental and physical health.
As a friend: You do the same thing. It can only help you. Maybe don’t order that pizza at 11 pm or chocolate milkshake at 2 am then visit your friend with your new food. Don’t criticize your friends eating habits, but support healthy decisions.
When I was depressed or anxiety-filled, one of the last things I wanted to do was move. Or really just get out of bed. Exercise, even small, helps everyone feel at least a tad bit better.
For yourself: Try to do something active at least 5 days a week. This doesn’t mean you have to run 5 miles every day, do an intense tabata workout, or max out on your squat. Try to walk around campus for 30 minutes or the treadmill or an elliptical or a stationary bike. Change up what you do and where you do it. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Again, something is better than nothing.
As a friend: If you’re going to the gym or doing a workout, invite your friend. Respect their yes or no answer for the time being, but don’t count them out the next day or the next. Keep the offer open and inviting. Always offer, never force. Your friend will go when they think they can, especially if you are persistent and encouraging.
7) Start a new hobby.
I’ve started a couple new hobbies. This helps to take my mind off of everyday stressors and puts my focus on a bigger project. Some hobbies I dove into are gardening (indoors), journaling, reading, listening to podcasts, starting a blog, and selling clothes online through Poshmark. (Sign up for Poshmark with the invite code H_BERNSTEIN, and receive $5 towards your first order.)
For yourself: Try something you’ve always been curious about but hesitant to try. This could be calligraphy, creating a YouTube channel, starting your own business, or whatever else has been on your mind. Give yourself space to think big and grace to get there. Start small and see where a new passion takes you. Make sure it’s a stress reliever, not an inducer. If you stink at the hobby you chose, stop and try a new one. What do you have to lose?
As a friend: Join them in their new hobby, and encourage them to try new things. Maybe you’ll be really bad at what your friend is really good at. Oh well! It would be a good laugh for both of you. Most of all, be their biggest cheerleader.
8) Invest in something bigger than yourself.
This is something I’m still trying to work on. Because of other health issues that were magnified, I haven’t been able to do activities I had hoped I could do.
For yourself: Invest in people. Find the age group you love. This could be elementary, middle, or high school students, elderly people, babies or toddlers, or college students. Once you find this, research local ways to participate and help these specific groups of people. Try it out and build new relationships you never thought were possible.
As a friend: Go with them to these volunteer opportunities or get involved somehow. Help your friend research places to go and things to do. It may not be your favorite age group, and you might not be entirely comfortable in the situation. Give yourself space to grow and learn alongside a friend.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with a few Psalms that are encouraging to me. Sometimes we just need a reminder of God’s love and faithfulness.
Psalm 9:10 “And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.”
Psalm 12:6 “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.”
Psalm 16:8-9 ” I have set the LORD before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope.