A week ago today, I was sat upon a step stool in the flickering fluorescent light of our recently torn-apart-for-renovations kitchen, while a storm raged outside. Water was leaking in from all sides of our basement foundation, and there was a small but steady stream dripping into our bedroom from a caved in portion of the roof in our attic, which I’d discovered only moments before.
Two feet of water stood locked against our house outside – the street drains too full to swallow it down – and holes, freshly dug for our new fence posts just the day before, were overflowing with water, turning our yard into one gigantic pool of mud.
In the hours leading up to this moment, we had received not one, not two, but three unexpected, devastating pieces of family related news.
In the days leading up to this moment, I’d begun to feel the heavy, painful ache of an enemy I haven’t encountered in some time – depression – in the pit of my stomach, creeping like a virus toward my chest and making its way to my head, to take its tight and powerful hold.
Up to this point, I had spent several hours rushing about – placing tarps and tubs where I could, rigging up solutions to get the water to flow toward the sump pump and the street – all the while trying to process the news I hadn’t had a chance to even begin to digest, while images of dollar signs and debt obstructed my view with every newly discovered disaster.
When I had done all I could manage and the adrenaline rush came to a screeching halt, I fell to the stool. And simply sat. A few minutes, maybe an hour, I don’t know. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t get angry. I couldn’t even really think about any of what was happening around me. I couldn’t muster the strength for any of that.
In the back of my mind, I knew that it would all come to pass, and that, in the morning, everything would look a little brighter. But in that moment, I was numb. I had given up. I felt like our house, and the world, was literally falling down around me.
When Jeremy got home and found me there, I began showing him the damage and discussing the rest of the day’s news and suddenly I was bouncing between, “it’s not so bad, we’ve got this!” to, “we might as well just give up and sell the house and run away from this town.”
Life felt like such a mess. And so did I.
I was struggling so horribly to maintain – to find my calm and to hang onto it.
I went to bed that night a bundle of nerves, jolting awake with every sound and uneasy thought. Nevertheless, as I had predicted, the morning brought with it a sense of relief and optimism that things really weren’t so bad after all. That we hadn’t hit rock bottom. That we could press on.
The days that followed, though, came with their own unique trials, and each small problem and hurdle that piled up further fueled the depression and anxiety I had begun to sense in the weeks prior to all of this taking place.
My waking hours were one big panic attack and I felt seconds away from bursting, from hitting a breaking point at an inopportune moment and snapping at some innocent bystander or loved one. Like maybe I’d lose it on a cashier simply for asking if I’d like my receipt with me or in the bag, or breaking down in sobs in response to a, “Good morning!” from a coworker.
I felt like I was still bouncing between, “I’ve got this, things will be fine!” to, “how will any of this ever be okay?” with every passing minute. That’s usually my style during days and weeks-long episodes such as these.
I’ve gone through periods like this before, as have so many others who deal with bouts of severe anxiety and depression, and it’s an incredibly exhausting, and at times, paralyzing, way to live – even if these waves only last a few days or weeks, whether they come out of the blue or are a result of real stress and misfortune. And while it’s easy to remind yourself in that moment that things are more okay than they seem, it can be so damn hard to remind yourself of this and truly believe it and keep it top of mind throughout the length of your tribulations.
It always seems impossible to find the calm during such a terrible storm.
It’s funny how “back to normal” life seems just one week later – I feel calmer, happier, and more optimistic. In the days since the storm and since slowly coming out of the darkness, I’ve taken some time to reflect on, and really consider, the tactics that have not only helped me to get through episodes such as these, but help to prevent the severity and number of them as well.
9 Steps to Find Your Calm in the Midst
of an Emotional Storm
Escape + Press Pause
When it seems like everything is moving at lightning speed and everything is happening all at once, and you feel like you have to make quick, major decisions in order to set things right or simply to deal, stop. Stop pacing, stop your racing thoughts or the conversations at hand, turn off any distractions – the TV, the music. Retreat to a quiet, private space. Sometimes it’s your bedroom, a stall in the bathroom at work, an empty aisle at the store. If you’re driving, pull over to a safe space. Imagine the rest of the world and everything that’s happening around you is frozen, unmoving. In this very moment, everything is paused except you and your breathing.
Calm Down + Redirect Your Focus
For some, breathing can often be the most difficult thing to get under control in situations like these. In my case, the age-old “take a few deep breaths” advice doesn’t work, because I usually cannot get a deep breath to begin with (if you can do it though, by all means, do! This is key to calming down.)
One method I have found helpful in gradually regaining regular breathing, and my composure, is to focus on one point in the room or space I’m in. Something very specific, like a coffee mug, a door handle, or a lone brick in the yard. Anything will do. Stare that object down and contemplate how it got there. What is its story? How was it made? Who brought it here? How has it changed over its lifetime, and where might it end up in the future? It sounds silly, I know, but it helps. I also always try to use this strategy.
Here are some other calming methods to consider.
Determine the Root of the Problem + Your Emotions
Once you’ve removed yourself from the situation and calmed down, revisit the moment(s) that triggered your emotional reaction. On a larger scale, if its depression you’re dealing with, then consider what situation may have prompted it to manifest.
Sometimes it may be obvious, whereas other times there may be so much going on at once, that it seems like simply “everything is wrong.” On the flipside, for some, there may be seemingly no situation or moment that has led to it at all. If this is the case, then try retracing your steps, starting with your emotional reaction and slowly working your way back. What set you off? Was it something someone said, someone cutting you off when driving, the kids arguing? Then consider what you were doing before that situation – was it a stressful day at work? Did you just get an unexpected bill? Did you receive some unsettling news? And continue stepping back slowly, taking note of what’s come up recently that may be causing you to feel this way.
In some cases, there may be hidden issues at play that don’t even cross your mind, which may require some counseling to uncover. There have been plenty of weeks where I should feel nothing but ecstatic at how wonderful life is and how well things are going, but for whatever reason, I’m a stressed, anxious, and gloomy mess.
A great way to keep regular track of what may be leading to strong emotional reactions is journaling the highlights and low-lights of your days, along with your overall emotional state, before bed, so you can look back and see the trends that are resulting in your emotional patterns and responses. There are also some great apps to keep track of your emotional well-being, even down to the hour, like these.
Once you’ve determined what situation or trigger may be the culprit of your feeling anxious or depressed, sit down and write out possible solutions. Trust me, this has much more of an impact than simply thinking them in your head and carrying on.
First, consider solutions to the actual problem at hand. It may be that you need to confront someone about how they’ve treated you, rework your schedule, cut ties with a toxic friend, meet with a financial advisor, look for a new job, visit with your doctor, and so on. Think you might need some assistance in how to go about these solutions? Then include those steps as solutions, too – like, talking to your HR department or supervisor, or seeking out a therapist.
Secondly, consider how you can change the way in which your body and mind respond to said situation, should it happen again. Perhaps its counting to ten before verbally responding, exiting the situation before reacting, having a calm-down playlist at-the-ready, designating a private space to retreat to, practicing breathing exercises before allowing anger or annoyance to set in, or writing down your feelings on a piece of paper that you tear to bits or (safely) set ablaze. Again, in some cases it might be helpful to have a professional help you determine your best options.
Reach Out to Someone You Trust
In the midst of the storm and my frantically trying to keep the flooding and my emotions under control, my mom called me. I had texted her a quick message about what was going on earlier in the evening, and I almost didn’t pick up when she called, because I thought I couldn’t afford to stop what I was doing. But it was such a necessary conversation.
I went from a tornado of emotions and disordered running about to a more calm and collected state within minutes of simply talking to someone I love and trust. And it helped that I knew she’d been in similar situations before. Granted, no one will ever know exactly how you are feeling in a highly emotional situation, because no one has experienced exactly what you have in the same way, nor can we ever fully, 100% empathize with another person. However, if you have someone in your life that will listen to you in your times of stress and worry, even if they don’t say a single thing, you will feel better. And if they can listen and offer opinions and solutions that you may not have considered because your judgement is clouded, even better.
It is crucial that you don’t find this someone and only reach out to them and rely on them in times of need – unless, of course, it’s a counselor or therapist. This relationship cannot be one-sided. Develop a connection in which you feel comfortable reaching out in good times and in bad, and one that allows them to feel the same.
Set Small Daily + Weekly Goals
In moments of severe depression and anxiety, it’s sometimes hard to even consider the next few hours of your life, let alone the coming days, weeks, and months. But setting small, short-term goals – whether related to your anxiety or depression-inducing situations or not – are so important in moving forward.
Again, I’m a fan of actually writing these down and holding myself accountable. These goals can be as simple as, “make a healthy meal tomorrow,” “do a load of laundry this afternoon,” “text my friend tonight,” “take the dog for a walk three days this week.” Be sure to include doing things you love, too. These may sound standard and simple, but it’s easy to fall into a slump when we are anxiety-ridden or feeling really down and out; sometimes even the most ordinary tasks seem overwhelming, so checking just one or two off a day and adding more as the week goes on can feel so rewarding, and gradually help get you back into the swing of everyday life.
If these goals are directly related to the situation that has you upset (let’s use the storm situation as an example) they may be very specific, like “clean up the basement tomorrow night,” “get an estimate on the roof on Tuesday,” “patch the ceiling next weekend,” “apply for a loan next Friday,” and so on.
Make Future Plans
This one can seem a bit overwhelming, but is also necessary to moving forward. The thing about depression is that, for many people, the more long-term future may seem nonexistent. Making plans may be the single hardest task for someone in this state to do, and that’s okay. You can start small here, too.
Perhaps, at first, it’s scheduling a lunch out with your sibling next weekend, or planning a room renovation to happen next month. Maybe it’s mapping out a vacation for this winter, or planning a day-trip with a friend to take a few weeks from now.
Taking the time to make future plans not only gives your mind a break in your darkest periods, but they give you something to look forward to. And remember, it’s okay if plans need to evolve based on your schedule, financial situation, or the state of your health. One thing you can count on is the future – that it truly is there, and it’s waiting for you, patiently and without judgement.
Taking care of your health in times of stress and sadness might be the last thing on your mind. However, this step alone truly has the power to make or break you in your time of delicateness.
As we all know, adequate sleep, healthy eating, regular exercise, attention to hygiene, and consistently taking steps to improve your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being are of the highest priority always, but especially when you’re in the throws of feeling anxious or depressed. As hard as it may be to muster the energy to go for a walk or make a healthy meal, even aiming for just one or two small ways to care for yourself each day will pay off.
Frequently in my worst weeks, I have to step back and look at why I’m not only feeling horrible emotionally, but physically. And most of the time, it’s because I’ve begun overeating, moving less, sleeping far too much or far too little, and beating myself up over my appearance, social interactions, and lack of motivation, which, in turn, keeps the cycle going.
Add a few self-care goals to your “Small Daily + Weekly Goals” list – stocking up on healthy groceries, taking a bath, clocking in twenty minutes at the gym – and to your “Future Plans” list, too – walk a 5K in the summer, schedule a facial or a spa day for next month, and so on. Our physical health and well-being is tied so very closely to our mental and emotional states.
Ask for Help
While all of this has the ability to make a difference, and there are probably a hundred more methods and solutions out there to consider as well, sometimes they are simply not enough on their own. And sometimes, no matter how hard you try, these steps simply seem too daunting to take.
Asking for help should never, ever be seen as failure. I used to have this mindset, for whatever reason, that if I couldn’t manage my depression and anxiety on my own, I was weak, and not worthy of anyone’s help or time. If I’ve learned anything over the years it is this: we are all worthy. We are all worthy of a life filled with hope, happiness, good health, and peace of mind, no matter what chaos my come our way.
Please note that I am not a doctor and I have zero experience or certification in the area of mental health. These are simply some methods I have implemented over the years, to help cope and work through my own bouts of anxiety and depression, that have worked for me. I feel fortunate, how quickly I am typically able to bounce back from such darkness, as I recognize that others struggle with crippling depression and/or anxiety every moment of their lives.
If you suffer from anxiety or depression, it is always wise to consult with a professional and there is absolutely no shame in doing so. If you are ever feeling as if you want to inflict self-harm, or are contemplating taking your own life as a result of these emotions, please utilize the many resources available to you.
No storm lasts forever. You can endure any hardship and any emotion life throws your way and, though it may not seem like it the midst of the thunder and lightning and wind and rain, a calm will always, always come – and a brighter morning will, too.