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My name is L.C. and I’m currently 17 years old. Three years before I was born, my parents fled from a then-communist Cuba to create a better life for themselves, my brother, and eventually me. They’ve always supported me and my brother in everything we choose to do, yet it still took me a long time to open up to my mom about the reality of my mental state. There’s so much I want to do and I never want it to interfere with my educational and career goals, which is why I think I struggle so much to make it better. I think it’s important for people to see that it’s okay to admit you have an illness and it’s okay to talk to someone about it.

Addiction And Mental Health

One of the first things people should understand about anxiety is that it never really goes away. No amount of therapy or medications or “talking it out” with one of your parents will truly eliminate it from your life. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not okay —as cliche as it may sound, it truly does get better with time, and many of the previously mentioned methods DO help. But, that doesn’t mean everyone has the courage or means to access them. There’s other ways to deal with the suffocating feeling of nervousness and impending doom that is seemingly out of your control, and the first and most obvious is to distract yourself.

Now, as an artist, I tend to reach for paint or colored pencils, but that isn’t always the best idea. If you’re feeling the impulse to hurt yourself, then occupying your hands is definitely the way to go. Paint, draw, solve a rubik’s cube, anything to keep yourself busy. However, if you struggle with anxiety, distract your mind instead. All of the things that keep your hands full still allow your mind to wander, usually to the thoughts that are causing you so much anxiety in the first place. Instead, watch the most intense movie you can— Will Ferrell comedies definitely don’t count. Reading a good book (Stephen King is a perfect example) would achieve the same effect; you’re so immersed in the story you don’t have time to think about anything else. At the same time, think about what makes you happy — maybe a comedy isn’t the best way to occupy your mind, but if laughing will make you feel better, then go for it. When I’m sad I watch sad movies and listen to sad music, and it may seem like it would have the opposite effect, but it’s something that helps me personally and might do the same for you.

Another important aspect in dealing with your anxiety and depression is counting your victories. Feeling like everything in your life is out of your control can be a major issue, so rewarding yourself when you accomplish the most minimal of tasks can help tremendously. Some people struggle to get up in the morning, so make it your goal simply to make your bed. Or have a real breakfast at least twice a week. Even if it’s something you already do everyday, like brush your teeth when you’re supposed to, it’s just one of the many things you’re doing RIGHT. Something that helps me is cleaning my room. It might seem like there’s no correlation, but being surrounded by so much clutter and chaos just makes my equally cluttered and chaotic thoughts even more prominent. Being surrounded by a clean, fresh space can be a relief and a small yet fulfilling task to occupy yourself with.

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Of course, one of the worst parts about depression and anxiety is how it can affect you physically. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is vital, but that doesn’t mean you suddenly have to work out at the gym 6 times a week. Instead, slowly try to make healthy changes in your life— you’ll find that physical exercise and even just drinking more water will make you feel better mentally as well. Feeling good about yourself matters. You don’t have to aim for a six pack, but just getting out of the house to go for a walk can help clear your head.

Although physical exercise is great, it doesn’t work for anyone. Another coping strategy is journaling. Writing out your worries and everyday feelings can help you reflect and truly find the root of your thoughts. It’s okay to have bad days, and sometimes writing about them can help you vent instead of feeling like you’ll blow up from keeping it all bottled in. If you truly feel like you need to talk to someone, always know that that too is an option. Therapy can be a daunting and intimidating option, but it’s not your only one. Talk to your friends, your mom, your school counselor, whoever you feel more comfortable with. If you don’t know what to say, practice on your dog. Recovery is a process, and it’s okay to take it slow. You don’t need to feel like you’ll be cured over night the first time you see a psychologist if that’s the route you choose to take. Sometimes you’ll lapse back into those dark thoughts and that’s okay, because you’ll come back out of them eventually. Baby steps are important.

The final step is to always put your mental health above everything else. Never feel like overworking yourself or pushing your limits is worth it at the deterioration of your mental state— it’s okay to say no. Of course, it’s difficult when your anxiety or depression or other mental illness gets in the way of your daily life, and you should always try to push past that. But once again, you have to be selfish and worry about yourself. It might be hard, and there may be times in your life where you still feel anxious or depressed despite thinking you’ve overcome it, but you should never give up. There’s so many people that struggle with these illnesses, and we are never alone.

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