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Elizabeth HuffakerElizabeth Huffaker Follow Up Scholarship Winner for 2018

Elizabeth was born and raised in Southern California and is the youngest of three. She went to University for a undergraduate at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, where she studied teaching English as a second language.  After graduating, Elizabeth lived in China for two years teaching many different age groups.  She decided to pursue a master’s degree and returned home to the US to study International Affairs at the University of Utah.

A Personal Guide to Managing Depression and Anxiety

This is my personal guide for dealing with anxiety and depression.  When I first start to feel overwhelmed, and go step by step through this process to try to regain control.  This identifies many simple things that can build up into bigger life patterns.

Step 1: Physical Self Care Check

Sometimes my body is overreacting to stimuli because it hasn’t been properly cared for that day.  If I am starting to feel anxiety, I go over this checklist and make sure that I have done each of these things.  If I have missed a step, I have to go and take care of it.  The checklist is as follows:

  1. Have I eaten today? If not, eat a sandwich.  Having enough energy will give my body strength to deal with the struggles I am facing.
  2. Have I had enough water today? If not, get a large glass and drink it.  Hydration is key to good physical health.
  3. Did I sleep enough last night? If not, take a nap, or at least take a few minutes to rest.  Poor sleeping patterns contribute to depression and anxiety.
  4. Have I had too much sugar or caffeine today? If so, take a walk to burn off the extra energy.  If that extra energy is not burned off immediately, it will turn into anxious energy.
  5. Is my ponytail too tight? If it is, take it out.
  6. When was the last time I went outside? Fresh air and sunlight is important for the body.  A few minutes in the sun may bring some surprising relief.
  7. Have I taken my medication today? If a person has been prescribed medication, it is extremely important that it be taken as directed by a medical professional.

More often than not, one of these questions is the source of my anxiety.  My body is having an inappropriate reaction to feeling deprived or over stimulated, and if I can work my way through this I can isolate if it is an easily rectified situation.  If I know that none of these are the answer, I move on to step 2.

Step 2: Identify Environmental Factors

Sometimes the environment is triggering, and if I can identify what it is about the room I am in that is bothering me, I can deal with it.  For me personally, I look for specific factors.  Some of these may differ between people, but self-awareness is key.  Sometimes anxiety seems to come from nowhere, but it is actually coming from an identifiable source if one knows what to look for.

  1. Is there a window in this room? This deals with claustrophobia.  Some classrooms do not have windows, or cover their windows to avoid distracting students.  This can cause anxiety in people who might feel trapped.  If there is no window, sitting close to the door or keeping it open may help, but a person might need to actually step outside occasionally to regroup.
  2. Are there too many people in this room? This is uncontrollable and a person may need to step outside for a moment.
  3. Is there music or other noise that is distracting or distressing? Sometimes too much noise can be over stimulating.  A person can try to find the source of the noise and turn it off, or wear something that will reduce the sound.
  4. Is the room too cluttered? This is about over stimulation.  Organizing the room one is in can relax the brain.

Step 3: Identify Internal Triggers

If there truly seems to be nothing in the environment that is the cause, then it is something internal and I need to proceed to looking at my own thought patterns.  Be aware, this is a step of analysis, not an answer to the problem.  These are my specific questions that I ask myself.  Others may have more, but I have found that these covered most of my concerns.

  1. Am I stressed about something unrelated to the situation at hand that is spilling over into other aspects of my life? Some examples might include homework, relationships, or workplace difficulties.
  2. Am I thinking about a situation that I left unresolved?
  3. Am I thinking about a situation that is resolved, but I have not let go of those feelings?
  4. Am I concerned about something that happened in the past?
  5. Am I concerned about something that might happen in the future?

These questions do not usually have immediate solutions like steps 1 and 2 do.  Some of these, if identified, can be reasoned away.  Most cannot, and this is important to recognize.  Anxiety is an irrational response.  It will not leave simply by telling it that it should not be there.  If the source is recognized, one can at least see that the current situation is unrelated and can proceed to addressing the issue in a healthy way.  Many of these involve long-term mental training, therapy, or medication, all of which are important options.  The goal of this step is to identify the patterns of thought that are triggering.  The brain likes familiar loops.  If people can identify where their loops are beginning, they can proceed to step 4 with more effective knowledge.

Step 4: Seek Outside Help

  1. Seek friends or family for immediate support. It is important to recognize that anxiety and depression cannot be addressed alone.  Having someone present and available is very important.
  2. Seek professional help for long-term support. Friends and family do their best, but they are not always trained for how to deal with anxiety and depression.  Professionals can help people gain the tools needed to cope with their daily difficulties.  Most universities provide free counseling to students.

Anxiety and Depression may not be cured through these steps, but it can be managed.  These steps have been very helpful in my life.

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