May 19, 2018 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Where and how would you start attacking this hot, steaming pile of health and overall life issues?

Hi Metafilter,

My life is mostly fine. I have a stable job with benefits in an industry that I love (and a short commute), I live alone in an apartment, and I’m in a (new-ish) but great relationship that I’m happy about. My family is nearby, and we don’t have any major issues. I see them regularly.

However, there’s a lot of lifestyle and habit stuff that I NEED to change. My anxiety and depression have come roaring back in a huge way, and the older I get, the worse these habits become.

I just met a therapist who gently informed me that I have an “all or nothing mentality,” and I think she’s right. I tend to try to tackle lots of life and habit changes at once, and then, once I inevitably hit a snag, the whole operation falls apart and I’m still left picking up the pieces six month later. Along the way, I’m beating myself up about it, endlessly comparing myself to my more successful, more “together” peers, and, recently, conjuring up quite a few crying spells to deal with my stress and anxiety.

Anyway. I want to change a lot of stuff, but do it in a smart, sustainable way this time. Problem is, I don’t know in what order to tackle this, or what amount of time makes sense to give habits to take shape. I know I need to figure this out on my own (and believe me, I’m working on it) but I’d love to hear, oh trial-tested Mefites, what you’d do in this situation. Where would you start first? How would you prevent yourself from getting disorganized and overwhelmed trying to figure out the issues below?

My question is pretty similar to this one, but I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this with a fun I’ve been deeply anxious and depressed for 10 years lens.

Sleep: My sleeping hygiene is atrocious. I fall asleep with all the lights/TV on, typically with my computer and phone in my hand (and/or in my bed), teeth not brushed, face not washed. My mattress is old and uncomfortable (I can’t afford a super brand new one right now, but I’m open to options to fix/mitigate this) and I often wake up feeling like I slept on rocks. Perhaps not surprisingly, I often wake up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep, perseverating over something or other, and I’ll hit up my phone to pass the time...which makes it harder to get back to sleep.

Note: I recently quit caffeine cold turkey (as in, a week ago) to try to get a handle on this. (I was drinking about 1-2 coffees/teas a day.) Haven’t seen much improvement yet but I know it’s a process...tired as a dog though, now.

Overall Health: I’ll try to spare you ALL the gory details, but I’m dealing with chronic GI and allergy issues (I’ve had awful, thick, annoying post-nasal drip since I was a teen - nothing seems to work for it), among other, more minor, things. Finally, finally went to a GP to sort this all out yesterday and will be getting some tests done in the future to try to rule out anything super serious (including a full blood panel). In full disclosure, I’ve seen doctors for GI stuff before a few years ago but really let myself lapse (on taking medications, on eating correctly, on following up, etc.) so I’m doing a hard reset. Want to know if there’s anything else I should be thinking about here re: pro/pre-biotics? Trying a new diet?

I’m pretty fatigued/low-energy a lot of the time (thus the caffeine dependence) but I’d like to address those issues without feeling like I need a Red Bull (I know, gross) twice a day. Also want to exercise and lose a little weight (I’m about 20-30 lbs heavier than where I want to be) but I can’t kick my ass into gear to get started on this. I don’t really even know where to start.

Needless to diet also sucks. :/ Too many carbs, like, 0 vegetables.

Money: Ugh. I have 0 savings, 0 retirement (my 401K benefits kick in later this year, as a new employee), and ridiculous rent in a high COL city. I make a decent salary, so that’s not the issue—it’s me and my emotional spending (including on shitty take-out food). I have some CC and student loan debt, both of which aren’t too bad, but I’m paying minimums right now and could be working more aggressively on this. Would also like to travel more and, like, not freak out about Christmas and birthday presents because I’m scrambling up funds at the last minute.

Mental Health: Diagnosed with anxiety and depression since a young age (violent, abusive childhood, grew up super poor, managed to fight and claw my way outta there and into a good college, yadda yadda). Took a break from medications because the stress of constantly switching/the side effects were more annoying than I felt the meds were helpful. Honestly, I’m open to getting back on them and finding the right one, but want to explore non-pharmaceutical options to the fullest extent first. Just saw a new therapist today (that I like!) and spoke with the GP about these issues, and they both know my stance on this. I’ve done DBT group therapy in the past and felt like it really helped, but it’s expensive—so I want to make more use of the skills I learned and try to incorporate it into my current therapy practice.

Creative/Life Goals: Ah. Travel, pursuing my creative goals, being more flexible and adventurous with my life. I have a lot of perfectionism and anxiety about this stuff (of course!) and have found it difficult to try to address loftier goals like this when my baseline is so messed up. Probably for another Metafilter question.

I think there’s a part of me that resents the pursuit of “discipline”—it feels like a dirty word for a “creative” person, however insufferable that sounds—but whatever the hell I’m doing now sure ain’t working. So I’m all ears now.

If it's relevant and helps with resources: 30 years old, identify as female, POC, live in LA.

That was a lot (thanks for reading) but would love to hear where you’d start tackling some of this.
posted by themaskedwonder to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Daily exercise might help you to deal better with all the rest of the stuff. I know you'll think this will exhaust you but try getting up a little earlier and exercising before you go to work, If you live in a safe enough neighborhood just go out and walk for 30 minutes and gradually try walking faster and farther and longer. If you can't go walking then find some online exercise videos that appeal and do one every morning. As for spending, cut down on the takeout and cook at home, or buy frozen food if you can't deal with cooking. Pay down your credit card with the money you save. There have been a lot of posts here on sleep, find them and read them. My routine includes turning off all lights and listening to soft music. Find something that works for you. The bed sounds like a real problem. Have you tried some kind of mattress topper?
posted by mareli at 2:04 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

One thing I notice is that you talk about your caffeine dependence, but also say you were having 1-2 coffee/tea drinks per day. Unless your “coffee” is a quad shot mocha, one or two caffeinated drinks/day, especially if you stop before 3pm, is an okay habit. I’m not saying you *should* drink caffeine again, but one or two caffeinated drinks/day is okay for many people.

So I personally would start with sleep, because if you can fall asleep with the TV on, phone in hand, you must be wiped out! How about brushing your teeth and washing your face 15 min after dinner rather than right before bed, so if you do fall asleep unexpectedly, you still did those things? Do you have an alarm clock? It’s probably a good idea to keep your phone out of the bedroom entirely—keep a book by the bed if you need a distraction (if reading relaxes you). Something very low-stimulus that will let you drift back off, but help distract all that anxiety that LOVES 3am!
posted by epj at 2:20 PM on May 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'd tackle diet first, because some of your symptoms sound like those I've experienced.

The caffeine, even the limited amount you consume, is likely feeding your fatigue and is probably contributing to other metabolic issues. My energy level is much more consistent when I stay away from it. Carbs are a beast too for many of us, unless they're limited.

I do best when I avoid (in order of importance):

* caffeine in any form
* sugar (substitute stevia or xylitol)
* dairy of any kind - substitute coconut or almond milk, and there are vegan soft cheeses out there (but watch out for soy)
* baked goods made with wheat flour, with some exceptions (Ezekiel makes some good breads and tortillas)
* corn, especially corn hidden in things (like high fructose corn syrup)
* soy, especially soy milk. You're OK with fermented soy (gluten-free soy sauce, tempeh)

Try eliminating only one thing at a time, otherwise the detox may be hellish.

And when you do start eliminating stuff, especially caffeine, drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day. So if you're 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water. It sounds like a hell of a lot but it can be done.

What to gravitate to instead? Well, veggies and fruit, for starters: you can sneak kale/spinach and berries into a morning smoothie. Make sure you're getting enough lean protein and a decent dose of healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, coconut); it's so easy to reach for those carbs but they can cause blood sugar swings. For carbs, stick to non-wheat/non-soy or sprouted grain breads (oatmeal, spelt, amaranth, sprouted breads like Ezekiel).

Good luck. I'm open to MeMail. Dietary changes are super hard but they're critical to well-being.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 2:27 PM on May 19, 2018

Since you asked about prioritization, if it was me I would start with the sleep/energy level/diet (relating to sleep and energy level) issues, with the theory that having more energy will make it easier to deal with the other stuff (money and losing weight). Hopefully the tests your GP is doing included stuff like anemia and other possible medical origins of fatigue.
posted by quaking fajita at 2:49 PM on May 19, 2018

There is no need to go off caffeine cold turkey. That's your perfectionism talking. It's much better to taper off. If you feel like the week off coffee hasn't broken your dependence on it, go back to drinking about half what you had consumed before. Once you feel better, after a few days probably, decrease your amount of caffeine by about half again. Once you're stabilized on that, halve your intake again. If this pattern takes you a month or so to get off caffeine, fine. But then you'll really be off it and feeling good.
posted by DrGail at 2:53 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would prioritise sleep first, absolutely. That means exiling your phone and all screens from your bedroom—I know, insane, but possible and necessary—and going to bed and getting up at the same times every day for a period of months. If I were you, I would make creating a whole routine around bedtime the one New Thing You Are Doing Now, for a period of several weeks/months. For example, at a specific time each night, you might put your phone away in a drawer, take a bath/shower, listen to music, journal, read a book—plan anything fun you can do without a screen—and then, on getting to the bedtime that would allow you a 7-9 hour sleep opportunity before your normal leave-the-house time, brush teeth and go to bed.

Personally, I would let everything else—except carrying on with therapy—wait until you have really fixed the sleep hygenie issue, and have been following this routine religiously for eight weeks or even three months. After the two/three-month mark, depending on how you feel, I would add exercise and create a habit of doing a bit every day for another three months, and only then tackle diet. If you can then stick to new habits on sleep, exercise, and diet for a period of six months, you will be in a great position to start thinking about priorities around money and creativity. But my advice is to tackle sleep first, and be radical about that—everything else becomes startlingly easier once your body is getting a genuine 7-9 hour sleep opportunity every night.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:05 PM on May 19, 2018 [17 favorites]

Random thoughts....

1. Get your hands on the book Mind Over Mood, by Dennis Greenberger. I worked through it with my therapist a few years ago, and I still use what it taught me. Work through it. And I do mean work. I have bipolar i, panic disorder, ocd, and half a dozen different anxiety dx's, and the techniques from this book have been a game changer for me.

2. Do absolutely, positively, whatever it takes to fix your sleep. If it's meds, take meds. If it's removing all electronics from your room and committing to laying down and turning off the lights at the same time every day, do that. If it's going for a run after dinner then taking a hot shower, do that. Whatever. It. Takes. Sleep impacts mood, stress, anxiety, and productivity in a hundred different ways.

3. Since you have a variety of different aspirations and goals, I'm going to suggest some organizing and prioritization techniques. First, make a comprehensive list of everything you want to accomplish. Then do an Eisenhower Box. (Link goes to James Clear, who explains background and goes into great detail. He also has a PDF template you can download.) The basic principle is, make a big + on a sheet of paper. To the left of the top row, write Important. To the left of the bottom row, write Unimportant. Above the left column, write Urgent. Above the right column, write Not Urgent.

Now you can sort your goals into the Box. Things that are both important and urgent go in the upper left quadrant. Things that are urgent but unimportant go below in the bottom left quadrant. Stuff that's important but not urgent go in the upper right. Items that are neither important nor urgent go to the bottom right.

From there, I do a paired comparison to help me decide what I want to pursue first. So if I want to shave the dog, write a book, mop the walls, and make a cake, I list them with letters in front. Like this:
A Shave the dog
B Write a book
C Mop the walls
D Make a cake

Then I start comparing. Between shaving the dog and writing a book, which needs to be done first? Well, the dog's fur is full of chewing gum and brambles, so I probably oughta shave him before I write a book. So I write A next to Shave the dog. Same goes with mopping the walls and making a cake; they have less urgency and importance than shaving the dog. So two more As go next to Shave the dog. Do the same thing comparing Write a book to Mop the walls and Make a cake, then finally compare Mop the walls and Make a cake. Than you'll have something that looks like this:
A Shave the dog AAA
B Write a book BD
C Mop the walls D
D Make a cake

Then you count up your letters. You've got 3 A's, the most of any letters, so A goes first. then you've got 2 D's, so that goes second on the list. There's 1 B and 0 C's, so they go third and fourth. So you've got this:
A Shave the dog
D Make a cake
B Write a book
C Mop the walls

There's your order for pursuing tasks. Shave the dog first, then make a cake, followed by writing a book, and ending with mopping the walls.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 3:11 PM on May 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

You’re asking for advice on how to implement changes in your life in a slow and steady fashion but you’ve already: started with a new therapist, quit caffeine, and gone for a big medical assessment.

I’d honestly ask advice from each of the two professionals that you’re already consulting with what small steps with big results you should choose to start with. They know you and your situation better than any of us here.

I’d like to recommend a metafilter favorite site, Health Month which gameifies learning good habits. With the help of your MD and therapist choose one or two habits that are sustainable and will really help you and plug them into Health Month.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:12 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Let's take a moment and celebrate that you are overall doing well. You're contributing to society. You're not addicted to alcohol or drugs or doing dangerous things.

This post does seem all or nothing, mostly because you're saying all these things are awful. Some are not great. It's ok, no one is perfect.

So I think therapy is your first priority.

Second is trying to follow up with your reg. Doc to get your medical issues sorted.

Then, get a new mattress. Put it on your credit card. This is probably strongly tied to your health. You can save the 500 it costs you when you're not exhausted by avoiding eating out so much. You can't do much when you're exhausted.

Just do that for now. Sorting your health and sleep are huge. Everything else is much easier when those are ok.
posted by Kalmya at 3:24 PM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would start with the sleep issue. When you're physically sick, exhausted, stressed out, etc your body can't heal without good sleep. I have two suggestions for you:

1. Get a new mattress. I know you said money is tight but there are a lot of popular internet mattress companies out there with very affordable options. Hell, even IKEA has a pretty great memory foam mattress for a few hundred bucks (I used to have one in my guest room and guests would rave about it unprovoked). See if you can find one with a financing plan where you can pay it off over the year.

2. Make bedtime an indulgent ritual. This is something I forced myself to do last year and it's finally become a habit. After you eat dinner IMMEDIATELY take your clothes off, slather body cream all over yourself, and put on comfy pajamas. Wash your face. Gently pat it dry. If you're into skincare and have serums and other stuff, get a little basket to put them in and carry them to a comfy spot like a sofa and leisurely apply one at a time while listening to some music or TV, waiting a few minutes between each product. Get a nice rich moisturizer and spend a solid two minutes gently massaging it into your face. Basically, pretend you are getting a fancy pants facial every goddamn night and make the time to do this. Tell yourself "okay, now it is time to wind down." Choose a bed time and force yourself to turn off the TV and put aside the phone an hour before then. Play some music if you need the noise.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:49 PM on May 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

A nutritionist once told me that real dietary changes, that is, lifestyle changes, can take up to one year to really implement. I've done it before and am doing it again, know what it's like to fall off the "I should eat this, not that" wagon.

For me, I aim to change one meal a day, like breakfast. Once I get into a routine with that, it helps me feel accomplished for the rest of the day.

I try to get off of the computer in the evenings, and watch a mindless TV show. I might use my phone to look up info on the TV show, but nothing else (no news, no social media). The laptop stays closed and in another area of the house. I don't open it before bed, I used to do it, just to check my mail, and that was a mistake. So once I close it in the evening, which is usually just before supper, it stays shut. Once or twice a week, I break this rule, and then I'm not so relaxed before bedtime.

At bedtime, I shut off the TV, plug in my phone (again, in another room that is not my bedroom), and do the teeth brushing, etc. I have a low-wattage lamp next to the bed, and read a paperback book. No devices of any kind in the bedroom, ever. I have blackout curtains, and an oscillating fan on low, in the corner of the bedroom.

I read for a while, then shut off the light and go to sleep. If I can't sleep after a while, I might get up and have a snack (bran flakes or Frosted mini wheats, yes they are carbs, but better than a cookie, YMMV with your GI issues, so a yogurt, maybe?). I know if I open the laptop, I'll be up half the night. The phone stays in it's charger until morning. We have a regular alarm clock, but it's not needed because I have a young cat who likes to announce that it's morning, usually about 45 minutes before I'm ready to get up. Just saying, you can use a regular alarm clock instead of a phone if you want to go "no device" at bedtime.

I also make a daily list, a written list on a notepad, and figure that it's at least getting the stuff out of my head. I aim to get at least 3 things done off the list. If I'm feeling low energy, one of those things might be taking out the trash or some other mundane chore, but crossing if off feels good. I accept that I am reasonably healthy for my age, despite some minor issues, and there are no Did You Dust Your Furniture? police waiting outside my door. One thing I do almost every day is clean up the kitchen.

I've found that I can't drink caffeinated beverages after noon, or it will seriously mess with my ability to wind down at night. I have 2-3 cups of coffee, and try to stop before 10:00 a.m. The rest of the day is straight water. If I'm flagging in the afternoon, I have a snack, try to have some protein, even if it's a spoonful of peanut butter, or some crackers and cheese. My ideal lunch is something like a turkey sandwich with thin-sliced Provolone, and some lettuce mix and maybe some tomato slices.

I aim for something between, doing the same thing every day, to "whelp, I'm human" a couple of times a week. Sort of like intermittent fasting for devices, ha-ha.

In the meantime, I try to enjoy the things I do have, and I don't worry about what others have (too much, there's always something someone else has that I'd like, but there's always something I have that someone else wants). Oh, and hopefully you've got your Vitamin D checked, mine was low recently, so I've had to up it significantly, on doctor's advice, and after a week or two, seem to feel better at a steady pace.

So I'd say:

1. Focus on your sleep habits before bedtime, do what you can within your ability, don't beat yourself up if you cheat once or twice a week (pick some days, like weekend nights?);

2. Change one meal a day, like breakfast;

3. Try a protein snack, like almonds or something you know you can tolerate, instead of reaching for a Red Bull. If that doesn't work, try an iced tea, tea is better for you than Red Bull;

4. Give yourself time, 6 months, a year, whatever works for you, to start seeing real changes. As long as you don't have a dire health issue, it will be okay.

Good luck!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:56 PM on May 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

+1 the IKEA memory foam. I recent started sleeping on my guest daybed with an ikea mattress because my own one was inferior and causing me huge discomfort!
posted by greermahoney at 4:08 PM on May 19, 2018

Getting advice is a good thing. And so is learning to listen to yourself.

Which one of these do *you* want to start with? Since you are going to have to do the work of change, it might be best for you to own the choice.

There are a few tricks that come to mind. You could rank the changes you want to make in order of difficulty, from hardest to easiest. Then, start with the easiest and allow yourself to experience success in this one area before picking up the next easiest one.

Another approach I've seen people have success with is to write down healthy choices on little scraps of paper that you crumble up and put in a jar. These could be things like "take a walk", "meditate", "eat a healthy snack", etc. Then, anytime you feel like you're about to make an unhealthy choice (eating junk food, watching TV after your bedtime, etc), pull one of your healthy suggestions out of the jar, and do that instead.
posted by jasper411 at 4:27 PM on May 19, 2018

So aside from the "how do I change my lifestyle question" there's the question of how do you conceptualize your experience. You talk about anxiety and depression, but from what you wrote it sounds like there's maybe a different framework that might be more helpful for you. In no way am I trying to diagnose you from a distance, but you might find it helpful to read up on the concept of complex trauma (link to a PDF resource that is written for children/youth, but that is lucid and very clear and that I recommend widely to adults as well). Having a coherent conceptual scheme to think about your mental and physical health holistically may be useful for you, and the one I'm recommending might not fit for you, but it might be worth talking to your therapist about. Much compassion to/for you.
posted by mister-o at 4:38 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Since you mention creativity + discipline, you could combine the many excellent suggestions above re: sleep hygiene (creating a ritual around a specific bedtime, leaving your phone out of the room) with some sort of craft that's easy to do in bed? Knitting, crocheting or embroidery?

I'm also a huge perfectionist that has a hard time starting projects, but one day I decided to take up knitting and not worry about the perfection of it. And yeah, I kind of like how my first scarf turned out: super lumpy at the beginning but with clear improvements in the consistency of my stitches over time. An excellent visual metaphor for pushing through!

In any case, it was nice to have a crafting project that could scratch the creative itch and was also convenient to pick up at any time, including bed time. If you wake up in the middle of the night, it's also something you can just do for a while until you get sleepy again.
posted by xiasanlan at 5:26 PM on May 19, 2018

Sleep deprivation causes mood issues, insulin resistance, cognitive issues (affecting memory and decision-making)... addressing sleep should be your # 1, 2, and 3 priority.

Mattress: sacrifice somewhere else to get a decent one. I recommend getting a pocket coil with eurotop (have one, have had guests sleep on it and they freak out over how comfortable it is. (Each pocket coil independently return energy - unlike a traditional box spring, which spreads it throughout so you feel the surface tension more, or regular foam, which just absorbs it and feels kind of dead under your weight... all I can say is I feel no muscle tension with this thing. I don’t sell or have interest in pocket coil mattresses, fwiw.)

Get room darkening curtains, keep your room cool, do the reset if the sleep hygiene stuff. Try magnesium, can help with sleep and anxiety; most people are deficient and there’s no danger of overdose afaik.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:05 PM on May 19, 2018

Hi friend! First, I am a 31 year old woman of colour who also clawed her way out of poverty and had a traumatic childhood. So if you just want someone to talk/relate to, feel free to memail me.

I really recommend you be agressive about figuring out what is going on with your sleep. Push for a sleep study and a referral to an ENT. See what you can do about getting a better mattress and pillows. Try melatonin to get your circadian rythm tight. You know all the sleep hygeine rules so I won't bore you but I really recommend starting there.

Second (and you'll probably be waiting a while on that sleep study), I recommend developing a water drinking habit. It really effects your body in lots of ways. I am forgetful and so I drink a liter of water first thing in the morning and another at night. Then I don't have to think about it during the day. It has helped my general health and sense of wellbeing significantly.

Next I would strongly suggest you reconsider how you think about discipline. I'm also the avoidant creative type by nature but I have found having a few touchstone routines as a form of discipline is actually freeing and soothing, rather than restricting or oppressive.

Creating a sense of stability and control in my otherwise chaotic and unpredictable world frees me from having to think about certain things so I can focus my energy elsewhere. My touchstone routine is washing the dishes. Other people like making the bed or folding the laundry. I really recommend choosing something that gives you control over your physical space as a starting point. The thing about routines is that once they are established, they are flexible- they aren't immutable laws of nature and no-one is going to come after you if you alter them. They are tools. Remember too that the greatest artists became great by exercising great discipline.

Finally, I might recommend this too often but I suggest looking into ACoA (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfuction). If the Laundry List resonates with you, you might find checking out a meeting helpful.
posted by windykites at 6:28 PM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Pick the single most important thing and attend to that first.

Seems to me that the single most important thing in the litany of things you've laid out for us is this one:

Along the way, I’m beating myself up about it, endlessly comparing myself to my more successful, more “together” peers

Changing that habit is critically important. The shit you need to deal with is quite bad enough without making it harder by beating yourself up as well. Because as you've noticed, that particular habit (and that's all beating yourself up is, just a habit) leads directly to the undermining of anything you put in place to address the other stuff that's going on.

You're walking a hard road. Beating yourself up for the fact that walking a hard road is hard is like trying to walk it barefoot. Learning not to do that is like putting on a good pair of boots. I'd start there. Let your "more successful" peers do whatever they do; you do you.
posted by flabdablet at 6:56 PM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was having some trouble getting good sleep for a while and this is what helped me so maybe could help you too. Improving my sleep has been a game changer.

I'd like to Nth trying an IKEA mattress especially if you're close enough that delivery is cheap. They even take your old one away (this fee is nominal, iirc). No, it maybe won't last forever but having a new mattress has made so much difference! It is super comfy.
I also have trouble staying away from screens so now once my phone is on the charger, I limit myself to relaxation videos on my tablet with a color filter enabled (free app yay) so it isn't bright bluish light in my face. I also have a cheapass string of fairy lights that make my room calm & inviting but not *too* bright so I don't use my lamp or overhead much at night at all.

I also have 1 mug of coffee and a diet soda before 2pm then no more caffeine. The 2pm deadline works wonders fro me.

Last, I'd bet my bottom dollar that your peers have stresses or failures or struggles that you don't see - what's that expression about we see our own bloopers but everyone else's highlight reel? That.

Good luck & I hope you feel better soon.
posted by pointystick at 8:45 PM on May 19, 2018

As long as you’re a week off caffeine, stay off it. It’s fine for some people but often not fine for anxious people. I think you’re getting lots of advice to just go back on it because people for whom it’s like a shot of life think it’s that way for everyone, but for anxious people it really can add lability to your mood, and it’s not necessary, so just leave it for a while and see how it goes.
posted by Smearcase at 11:26 PM on May 19, 2018

Does it matter which thing you start with? They are all important. Addressing any one of them will give you a little more capacity to start on the next thing.

My suggestion: pick the easiest thing for you, in its tiniest, easiest form. Like, maybe eat a cup serving of vegetables every day. Or don't take the phone and laptop into your bedroom. Or put an extra small sum of money on your credit card balance with the aim of paying it down. Whatever works for you and is achievable . Do that thing and lock it in, for a month or six weeks. Then add in a new thing, maybe another step down the same path (a piece of fruit every day, or lights out at 10pm, $10 more on the debt repayment) or on a new one. And so on, small steps, added at long intervals, in a sustainable way. They will add up and snowball.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:44 AM on May 20, 2018

If you had a point when you were doing pretty well, try eating as you were then and tweak from there.

Based on my spouses's experiences with anxiety (from childhood) and food intolerance and sinus issues, I can suggest removing the cow dairy. Later you could try goat or only sheep dairy. Try to schedule this for a non-work day and be prepared for a noticeable withdrawal reaction. (Hopefully that won't happen, but my spouse had 2 very non productive days.)

My spouse tested positive for casein intolerance, and that test has some validity compared to a lot of the "food panels."

I think adding more fermented foods to your diet could possibly help - it seems to have helped him. He also took probiotics used in anti-anxiety research and tried to eat things to promote gut health, ie vegetables and not too much carb.

The anxiety and sleep are much, much better, but he does have occasional flare ups that seem to have to do with histamine. There are some good blogs on histamine intolerance. Executive summary - it is all about gut repair.

I don't think food causes all his problems, it just aggravates them and then less sleep impacts his ability to cope. But when he's eating right, he can handle things very well.

Very best wishes to you as you construct (and maintain!) the plan that works for you.
posted by egk at 5:19 AM on May 20, 2018

1. Address the sleep.

2. Eat a salad or a microwaved bowl of either frozen peas or edamame, or eat raw baby carrots or snow peas or whatever is prewashed at your local grocery store with a bit of butter or soy sauce, every day.

Once those two are in place:

3. Go for a walk every day or look for a close by, lower-cost yoga or other exercise class and go once a week.

Baby steps work.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:30 AM on May 20, 2018

1. Fix the sleep. This is the most important thing to fix.

2. Start eating more nutritious food. If your going to change your life, the first thing that needs to change is your diet. Everything else is secondary (besides basic functions like sleep).

3. Get money anyway you can. This will make everything much much easier and reduce your stress levels.

4. Go for long walks, start yoga, move your body. Keep it moving.

Everything will fall into place once you do these basic 4 things.

Good luck!
posted by Takeyourtime at 11:53 AM on May 21, 2018

You've gotten a lot of great advice upthread about sleep, food, etc. — I'm going to focus on this, though:

I think there’s a part of me that resents the pursuit of “discipline”—it feels like a dirty word for a “creative” person, however insufferable that sounds—but whatever the hell I’m doing now sure ain’t working. So I’m all ears now.

One of the best books on how to deal with this very issue is The War of Art, by Stephen Pressfield.
posted by culfinglin at 12:57 PM on May 23, 2018

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