My Instant “Therapies”

It sometimes feels like my path of recovery from my Anxiety Disorders is a bit of an unending slog (and in some ways, I suppose that’s what it will be). Most days, I do my best to keep moving forward on that “journey of healing” (as I cornily sometimes call it), which includes things like visiting my psychiatrist, working on the exercises connected to my Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, writing down my insights and struggles, and attending an anxiety/depression support group. Those are the (sometimes-challenging) paths that I’m taking with the hope (and belief) they will lead me towards recovery.

But there are other things that I do from time to time to help me feel better along the way, particularly when I’m feeling low-energy or especially anxious. I wouldn’t necessarily call these “therapy” in the larger sense, but sometimes I just need a little something to help me get through the tough days until I feel well enough to get back to working on my “proper” therapy. 

One thing that I find helpful on those difficult days is watching Netflix, particularly British dramas, particularly grim British dramas. The grimmer the better, really. Shows like Happy Valley, The Fall, and, my favourite, Broadchurch (and Broadchurch Season 3 is currently airing in Canada, much to my fanatical delight!)

It seems kind of counterintuitive, doesn’t it? That watching typically-depressing TV helps me to find relief from anxiety. I’m not really sure why it works, exactly – maybe it has something to do with finding the material sufficiently engrossing that I can be absorbed in the lives and troubles of the characters on the screen, and then my overly-active mind can focus on some fictional tragedy, instead of on the constantly-running hamster wheel in my head that is worry. Or maybe I just feel better seeing characters’ lives who are clearly much, much worse than my own!

I also enjoy watching sports, and I’m a big fan of the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos (with apologies for the politically incorrect team name, they really should change that). There’s nothing quite like going to a live football game, the sense of being with “your people,” ie. all the fans who are as crazy about the team as you are. Plus I tend to yell and jump up and down a lot at games, which is really cathartic, and I don’t think there’s any other place outside of a sports stadium that you can do that sort of thing without a bystander calling 911!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two of the more-established means of coping with mental health challenges (even though I know I should practice them more than I do): the practice of mindfulness, and physical exercise. For me, mindfulness is the same idea as meditation. It can definitely be a challenge for me to try to focus my mind and slow my thoughts, but I’m trying to learn to be OK with being mindful in an imperfect way. And I’m learning that even taking a minute to focus on the concrete present can be quite therapeutic.

Physical exercise is another area where I must accept imperfection. I know that all the experts agree that exercise is beneficial for mental health, but I often find it difficult to get myself up and moving when I’m feeling drained from anxiety. But I’m trying to remember to take advantage of moments in the day where I can fit in just a short walk, knowing that even five minutes is something more than nothing. And it really does help, especially when I can pair it with another one of my mental health boosts, listening to music.

My favourite song to listen to lately is “Quiet” by MILCK, a terrifically empowering song (particularly for women) from an artist who has survived anorexia, abuse, and depression. One of my favourite lines from the song is “Let it out, let it out, let it out now / There’ll be someone who understands.” That message really resonates with me on the occasional days when I feel like I don’t want to (and maybe even shouldn’t) talk to anyone about my mental health struggles (to friends, to family, even on this blog), that I’d be better off keeping my problems locked away inside me (imagining that I’m “sparing others from my misery,” or maybe feeling embarrassed by my “weakness”). But “Quiet” is an invigorating reminder of the power of speaking up and speaking out, and it shakes me out of that anxiety-induced inclination to isolate myself.

I guess sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not always the “perfect patient:” the person who would be working diligently on my treatment on a daily basis. But as the facilitator of my support group said recently, “Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. And some days you need a break from that process.” So on those days when I’m feeling particularly tense, worried, or down, and I don’t feel like I have the strength to do the big things that are part of my ongoing therapy, the best thing for me is often some “insta-therapy” in the form of things that simply make me feel good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to re-watch this week’s episode of Broadchurch!

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