How To Cope When You Feel Barely Human: A not-at-all definitive guide for what to do when you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed

A quick disclaimer: I am NOT a counselor, just a perpetually-stressed-out human person with depression and anxiety. These are tactics that I have found helpful to escape the downward spiral into a major episode. 

Managing my mental health has been a dominant theme throughout my life. I was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at 16, and with major depressive disorder when I was in college.  I have had times where my disorders were well-managed, and others where being a functional human seemed like an impossible dream. Even now, with a fairly stable meds balance, a supportive family, and a job I (mostly) love, I struggle. I have days, sometimes weeks, where it feels like doing anything is just Too Much for me. 

So what do you do when it all becomes overwhelming? When the idea of one more meeting makes you want to hide under your desk and cry? When even getting out of bed seems like it’s so much more work than it’s worth? Here are some of the strategies that I’ve found work for me.

Make or find an uplifting playlist

Music headphones photo

Music impacts my mood like nothing else. Some days the only thing that can get me out of bed is a song that makes me want to dance (or at least stand).  I keep playlists to calm me down, to coax me out of depression, to get me moving, and to remind me of a time or place. So put on your favorite artist, find an amazing playlist (Heather’s Boss Bitch playlist is pretty great!) or play something too beautiful to ignore.  

Take a walk

A gorgeous hiking trail in Glendalough State Park in Minnesota.

Take a walk, or a roll, or whatever movement works for your body.  Find a way to move a little and change your physical situation.  Go outside if possible, but even a stroll to the furthest water fountain or bathroom in your office will help you change it up a little.  

Call or text a therapist

Talk therapy photo

And if your anxiety or depression comes with a side of social anxiety (Hi, all the people I know!) making a phone call may feel unmanageable, even to get the help you need.  Try CrisisTextLine, a free support text line that will connect you to a trained volunteer.  Or, if you want a more long-term solution, join a text therapy service like Talkspace or BetterHelp.  If you currently have a therapist, see if they have online scheduling or a text function for emergencies.  

Take a shower.  

Shower photo

I could probably write an ode to the therapeutic benefits of a good shower.  Hot water pouring over your head, a cozy-but-not-claustrophobic space, the ability to sing or cry without being overheard – it’s all good.  And, bonus, when you’re done, you’re clean, which will also make you feel better. 

Make fun of inspirational memes or quotes

It may be the Gen-X cynic in me, but I get a lot more out of mockery than out of quasi-inspirational quotes and memes that have nothing to do with my reality.  No one is actually THAT happy and photo-ready at all times. Adding #blessed to every post makes me #annoyed, and Marilyn Monroe probably didn’t say any of those things.  Sometimes a little healthy skepticism and ridicule help us bring some much needed reality to the picture-perfect world presented on social media, and that’s not a bad thing.

Make some bad art

By which I mean, make something for the sheer relief of making something. There are many, many studies showing that the process of creating something helps us manage our mental health. And if you set out to make Bad Art, there is no way to screw it up, which relieves you of the pressure to do it right. So sing a song even if you sound like a tone-deaf toad, draw a not-at-all anatomically correct figure, make a penis out of play-doh – just make something for you and you alone.

Watch something that makes you feel happy 

The internet has to be good for something, right?  Instead of reading the news or comparing yourself to Instagram influencers or Kardashians, find something to watch or view that causes that little surge of joy in your heart.  If you can’t think of anything, try one of these and see if it works:

  • Baby goats prancing
  • Old people dancing
  • Gorgeous scenery
  • Celebrities with doggos
  • GIFs from your favorite shows
  • Turtles eating strawberries
  • Ridiculous historical memes
  • People falling down
  • Photos of flowers or trees
  • Kittens doing anything
Turtle Eating GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Let yourself be unhappy


One of the worst factors of anxiety or depression is that you always feel like you have to FIX IT.  As a culture, we are hyper-focused on happiness and the search for joy, and we believe that anything that isn’t happiness must be wrong.  When you can’t just magically heal yourself, you become even more anxious or unhappy or numb, which makes you want to fix it even more, and it becomes a vicious spiral down.  Simply allowing yourself to say “I am miserable. That is how I feel right now, and it is a valid way to feel” can seem like a radical act. Being unhappy does not make you a failure. 

Wait it out

The only universal truth I’ve ever found about depression and anxiety is that they lie.  They make you feel like nothing will be better and that you will never feel any differently than you do right now.  

It’s not true.  

Circumstances change, your brain chemistry changes, and you change too.  Sometimes, though, no matter what you try, you’re going to feel awful. That’s OK.  Everyone feels awful sometimes, and those of us with depression and/or anxiety get more than our fair share of awful.  You just have to be kind to yourself and get through it, one day at a time, one second at a time, until those changes happen.  You are more than your illness, and you are worth it.