How to not fall into (or stay in) a dark downward spiral

It was in my mid teenage years that I started to realize that life isn’t care-free and that there is something called anxiety & depression. Well, I got a taste of it when I was 10 which I believe started the physical symptoms, but I’ll perhaps cover that in a future post! I usually did well in elementary school but when I started high school, studying was on a whole other level from what I was used to. I was the kind who studied a few days before a test and not weeks, and I got quite nervous before a test but still managed to score OK – sometimes even great! School wasn’t something I took too seriously and I managed to just survive it.

Picture of teen Johanna in Spain contemplating
Teenage Jo contemplating in Spain.

Having enrolled in the International Baccalaureate high school program was one of the biggest and earliest “oh f*ck” moments I’ve had in my life. I was not used to THIS much studying and the necessity to stay on track with it – it became overwhelming quite quickly. My nerves were not prepared and I started panicking over this, so during my first year I evolved something called gastric catarrh (or gastritis).

Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining and what happens is that the lining normally protects and prevents the stomach acid to “come out”, but when it’s inflamed that job isn’t done well. Therefore, you can get an achy stomach (upper part of it), nausea, dizziness, heartburn & sometimes even vomit. It’s also worst in the morning when you get out of bed. Imagine starting your day that way almost every day before school? Not fun. That’s how I had it during my high school…

This diagnosis has accompanied me through life now and then. I’ve learned to live with it and now I even see it as a warning signal from my body telling me to slow down and rethink my situation and how I’m taking care of myself. Aren’t our bodies wonderful in that sense?? They’re never there to punish us, they try to hold the ship together as long as possible, but when things start to get too unmanageable they give us warning signals! We just have to pay attention and not ignore them before it’s too late.

Anxiety, and sometimes depression too, has come back to remind me of itself a few times in my life (I’ll talk more about this in future posts). The last couple of years I have realized that it is when I am so fricken uncomfortable with a situation – whether it’s something very new to me or it is something I really do not want to do/something I feel doesn’t align with me – that it triggers the inner stress and evolves. If I let it go too far, my dark thoughts take over and start heading down a high-speed mental highway and there’s no u-turn in sight.

Heading down this road is NOT good. In a way it can be healthy because it can give me a different perspective on things I need to take care of, but at the same time it’s not a good place to be in for long. The dark thoughts feed on time spent here and it becomes more and more difficult to find a way out. Today I feel better and I do not need to take daily medicine to keep my stomach from releasing acid where it shouldn’t, but I now also know my warning signals and keep reminding myself to strive for the light and to take one step at a time instead of heading for that evil highway.

I heard someone once say “once you’ve had anxiety, you’ll never be completely rid of it” and it’s true in the sense that I have the experience and can recognize my thoughts when I’m presented with a situation that may trigger it, but I now also know which tools I can apply to do my best to not let it take over.

Here are my tips to stay in the light:

  • Wake up early 🌅 I know it sounds like it sucks, but it’s really a game changer to start your day before the world gets busy! A completely different pace set to your day instead of waking up late & stressed
  • Take time for yourself to sit and breathe before the day starts rolling 🧘 and if you’re comfortable with it, do a meditation (there are LOTS to choose from on YouTube! or even try Headspace, they have a free trial and are great). Mindful breathing does wonderful things to our body and mind! 🌬️ We often don’t breathe properly during a stressful day, believe it or not
  • Have a morning face care routine and STICK to it! Giving yourself this care & love truly empowers you (and your skin will be thankful for it!) 🥰
  • Make a list of things you should and want to do during the day! ✅ Lists help you stay on track and ticking things off when you’re done gives you a sense of accomplishment which will boost your mood. BUT! Don’t cram too much into one day & don’t stress over if you don’t get everything done – simply move it to the next day! There’s always a new day ☀️ & you only need to put one foot in front of the other to keep going 👣
  • When the negative thoughts come at you during the day, acknowledge them but don’t judge them, just let them pass through and then take a deep breath and focus on the first positive thing you can think of ⭐
  • Listen to an empowering podcast 🎧 I recommend Rise & Conquer (you can find it on any podcast platform!) – it has helped me so many times and has definitely helped motivate me to take the steps that I’m taking today!
  • Go for a walk in nature 🌲🌸 I feel like it’s EVERY time that I take a walk in the woods that I ask myself “why do I not do this more often???”. It’s like my entire body takes a huge deep breath and resets. Step it up a notch and even leave your phone at home!
  • MOVE YOUR BODY 🤸 Dance exactly how you want in your own home, do some stretching/yoga, go for a run, go lift some weights at the gym, swim, ski, canoe, bicycle, rock climb, parkour, ANYTHING that makes you move! Endorphins will be released in your body and you WILL feel goooood 🥰
  • Take a hot bath and end with a cold shower! Then write out your feelings! I know it sounds odd, but trust me, it’s a good one. Most of my great ideas are born in the bathroom (?!? 👀😄)
  • Give yourself a break! You might have a bad day, a bad week or even a bad period but that does not mean it’s forever and you are worthless. It is for a moment and like I said, tomorrow is a new day & you will always get a new chance! As long as you strive to do a little bit better, change one negative thought to a positive, one bad habit for a good one, you are on the right path and the light will shine brighter each day 💖

And remember – anxiety itself is not dangerous, however, if you ever feel like you cannot handle it on your own, DO seek professional help! Because that’s exactly what it is – professional, and they are there to help you, guide you & make sure you find Your lighter place.

Much love & strength,