My Year By Design

The journey to living by design.

Archive for the tag “Stress”

Moodscope Update

So I used Moodscope for a couple of weeks and I have to say, it’s a useful tool. Overall, I would recommend Moodscope. If you are concerned about your mental health or you’re seeking treatment for a mood disorder, this website might help you track how you’re feeling.

The Positives:

  • The daily email reminders kept me coming back and it is possible to turn them off once you’re in the habit to take the survey once a day.
  • It uses cards that you flip and rotate to rank your current emotions. Using these cards instead of a traditional ranking line means I wasn’t tempted to try to keep my results the same or force an improvement. The cards are randomized so you can’t memorize patterns. The idea is that this allows you to give more honest answers because it’s difficult to remember your past rankings.
  • The survey only takes about 5-10 minutes so it’s easy to fit into a busy schedule.


  • I wish there was a way to annotate my results with factors from my day, (e.g. if I have a migraine one day, my results will be more negative because I’m in pain.)
  • There are a set number (twenty) emotions. They cover most things but sometimes I feel like a strong emotion I’m experiencing isn’t on there.
  • After a while, the reports start sounding a bit repetitive. Although it didn’t stop me from coming back, it did make me feel like I was reading many of the same sentences over and over.

Below I have included some of my reports so you can get a sense of what they’re like. If you’re interested, head over to Moodscope and sign up for free.

Right Jennifer.


Right then Jennifer. Here’s how it looks. Today’s score for you is 41%, which is 28% below your all-time maximum of 69%. You are likely to feel that things have picked up a fair bit for you since the most recent time you took the test and scored 24%.

Whilst you probably wouldn’t claim to be feeling at your absolute best today, you are definitely doing better than you had been. You’re making great progress and if you can make even more, it won’t be long before you are back at full strength once again. See if you can identify the cause of this improvement and try to keep it coming.

Although you’ve scored below your average of 46.0% today, you’ve moved in the right direction since last time. Your score is a good bit higher than you all-time minimum of 24%. You have traveled quite a way since then.

Respectable work Jennifer.


Admirable achievement Jennifer. You have a score today of 71%, which is the best result you’ve ever had on Moodscope. You’ll be feeling that things have picked up a lot for you since the most recent time you took the test and scored 41%.

It is evident that matters are looking notably better, placing you in a much better position. You weren’t significantly down, but it’s clear that you’re feeling a lot more positive today. It is an ideal opportunity to pin down the cause of this improvement so you’ll be able to repeat it should things be not so great in the future.

Not only have you got a better score today than you had last time, you’re also flying higher than your average of 49.1%. Today’s score is above your lowest ever result of 24%. You’ve come a long way since then.

Pretty good Jennifer.


Very acceptable Jennifer. The score for you today is 59%, which is 12% less than your all-time high of 71%. You’re likely to feel that things aren’t as good as they seemed when you took the test last time and got 71%.

Your mood appears to be sound again, in spite of your score having dropped a little. There’s likely nothing to worry about, but remember that you’ve got the power to regulate your state of mind. Take good care of yourself and make sure there’s no further slippage.

Although your result today is not quite as good as the last time, you are doing well compared to your average of 50.2%. Your score is above your all-time minimum of 24%. You’ve come a long way since then.

Respectable work Jennifer.


Respectable work Jennifer. You have a score today of 75%, which is your highest ever result on Moodscope. It appears as though things have picked up for you a fair bit since you took the test last time and got 59%.

Life has got better for you. You had been feeling okay but you’re now in a stronger position. Pat yourself on the back and take a little time to see if you can identify exactly what’s been going right, so you carry on having a great time.

Not only has your score gone up today, you are also doing well compared to your average of 52.7%. You are higher than your lowest ever score of 24%. You’ve travelled a long way since then.



I wake up, eyes wide, heart racing. My hands are curled into painful fists. My teeth are ground together so tightly I can hear my jaw muscles popping. I have to force myself to breathe. In…two…three…out…two…three… I’ve woken up during a panic attack for the third time tonight.

I get up and run my body so hard and fast through my day that by the last bell I’m breathless. After school, I sit in my car with my eyes closed, trying to calm the shaking before I drive home. In…two…three…out…two…three…

At home I marinate my brain in sitcom reruns, (thank you Netflix.)  I eat without really tasting my food and go to bed as soon as I can. My family and friends rarely see me.

I bottom out after a whole weekend of crying and feeling paralyzed. I can’t remember feeling happy. I dread the approach of Monday so much I make myself sick to my stomach. Afterwards my throat feels raw as I try to slow my breath. In…two…three…out…two…three…

I know what I have to do. I talk to Nick and my family. We make plans. I call my family doctor to book an appointment. I double my therapy appointments. I refill my antidepressant prescription. This is going to be the hardest thing I’ve done in a long time.

IMG_2374 (2)


One of my readers, (bethanycross,) suggested I try Moodscope to track my mood. It’s a free website that allows you to use an online set of cards to track how you’re feeling. The cards let you rank positive attributes, (e.g. active, inspired,) and negative attributes, (e.g. afraid, irritable,) out of a score of four. Each time you do it, you get a report on your emotional well-being. It sounded interesting so I signed up.

So each day I get a reminder email to take the survey. The survey itself is twenty cards so it only takes a few minutes. I’ve included my first four reports below so you can see what this service is like. Obviously in the beginning the reports are a bit vague. They get more specific as you continue to take the survey once or more per day. The idea is that over time you can see patterns in your moods, thereby identifying triggers for positive and negative moods.

It’s easy to use so far so I’m going to keep at it and report back in another week or so. Feel free to try it with me.

Your first Moodscope score Jennifer


Your score today is 69% Jennifer. Once you’ve used Moodscope for three days you’ll start to get much more detailed feedback. First of all though we need to get a feel for how your mood changes from day to day.

As this is the first time you’ve used the system you’ll probably be keen to get an idea of how it might help you. For now though, please be patient. Promise it’ll be worth it. If you record your mood every day, you’ll only have to wait until the day after tomorrow.

It’s the first time you’ve taken the test today, so your score has been recorded and plotted on your graph.

Your score today Jennifer


Jennifer, you’ve scored 39% today. As we explained last time you used Moodscope, you’ll begin to get detailed feedback from the system once you’ve taken the test at least three times. You’ve now racked up two scores, which means you’ll start getting more from us tomorrow.

The short delay allows us to start learning how your mood changes from day to day. In fact, the more you use Moodscope, the better it will get to know you, and the more accurate and helpful its feedback should be. See you tomorrow.

It’s the first time you’ve taken the test today, so your score has been recorded and plotted on your graph.

Right Jennifer.


Right Jennifer. Here’s the way it is. Today you have a score of 48%, which is 21% below your all-time maximum of 69%. You’re probably feeling that things have picked up since you last took the test and scored 39%.

Although you might not consider yourself to be feeling totally great today, you are definitely doing better than you had been. You are doing really well and if you can keep up this progress, you will soon be back at the top of your game again. Do your best to track down the reason for this progress and try to maintain it.

Even though you’re below your average of 52.0%, your results are headed upwards, in the right direction. However you are scoring above your all-time lowest score of 39%. You have progressed since then.

You last took the test yesterday, and that’s very good. Try and come back here every day to obtain the full benefits of Moodscope.

You’ve now registered your score 3 times with Moodscope. It’s the first time you’ve taken the test today, so your score has been recorded and plotted on your graph.

Good score Jennifer.


Good score Jennifer. Today you have a score of 68%, which is only 1% less than your highest result to date of 69%. Things have picked up for you a lot since the last time you took the test with a score of 48%.

It looks as though matters have taken a significant upward swing, putting you in a much better place. You weren’t having an especially bad time, but it would seem that things are looking much more positive at the moment. Now is a great time to pin down the cause of your turnaround so you could make it happen again if things are not as good some time in the future.

Not only is today’s score better than it was last time, you’ve also got a result higher than your average of 56.0%. You’re higher than your lowest ever result of 39%. You’ve journeyed a long way from there.

Your last score was for yesterday, and that is excellent. It’s best to use it every day to get the most from Moodscope.

To date you’ve captured your score 4 times here at Moodscope. It’s the first time you’ve taken the test today, so your score has been recorded and plotted on your graph.

A Moment

I had a moment a few days ago, a flicker. For a short time I felt happy. Nothing in particular was happening. I think I was just puttering around the house, tidying up a few things. I felt happy.

I hope it comes again soon.

Planning for Down Time

Having anxiety and depression makes you really good at schedules. Keeping regular sleeping, eating and exercise times helps me stay healthy and positive. Working a highly structured job keeps me grounded. Each item I finish on my schedule gives me a sense of accomplishment that is critical to my mental health. Basically, structured time stops me from ruminating on negative thoughts.

Being a teacher means I also have regular holidays and time off. This down time, even a three-day weekend, can be disruptive to my ability to deal with stress. For many people unstructured time off is a holiday. For people suffering from mood disorders, this blank space can increase anxiety because we don’t know what to do or it can increase depression because we don’t have anything to do.

So now March Break is upon us and I need to figure out how to stay healthy for nine days off work. Here are my top tips:

  • Try to keep the agenda light for your first day and last day off. The first day I find I need to decompress and take some time just to sort out my thoughts. I have to adjust my thinking away from my ultra-organized, working brain or I’ll never relax. Just as important is some down time at the end of my holiday. The day before a return to work can be fraught with anxiety. Avoid stressful tasks and conversations as this can make going back to work even more unpleasant. This is a good day for low-key plans like yoga or going to the movies.
  • Look at your yearly holidays and strike a balance between travelling and staying home. Not every holiday has to start in an airport or car. Travelling can often be a source of stress so for this March Break, Nick and I are staying close to home and doing smaller day and overnight trips. In the summer we plan to do our more long-term travelling.
  • It’s OK to plan some work for each day but use moderation. If your to do list is as long as it is on a work day, you’re doing it wrong. Holidays are a time to do less, not more.
  • Plan in fun activities too. Make plans with friends and family that you’ll enjoy. Block off some time to do your own thing as well.
  • Be flexible. Change plans as you need or clear out some extra time for yourself. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to drink a cup of tea and read your book. I’m going to be reading Ready Player One on my March Break.
  • Don’t get rid of all your unstructured time. A bit of boredom or uncertainty can be good for the brain. It forces you to problem solve and seek your own happiness.
  • Don’t forget to do those healthy things you do every other day: eat healthy, sleep well, breathe deep and have fun!

So now I’m ready for my March Break. I hope you are too. Plan ahead and be well.


I told my husband the other day that I just wanted to feel normal. The only way to feel normal is to act normal. The hardest things work best. I know this but I still have to force myself to do the things I know will help. I have to constantly push through the depression.

Things I have to do to be less depressed:

Going outside helps me. I having been walking and hiking often and using yard work as another reason to get outside. Something about being in motion outside seems to calm me. I just have to hope the weather doesn’t get too terrible.

I’m avoiding the news, sad songs and suspenseful movies, (some of my go to media choices.) Instead I’ve been listening to comedy podcasts. I’ve mostly been listening to the back catalogue of Kill Tony and checking out the new Dear John and Hank, (the funniest podcast about death, Mars and AFC Wimbledon I’ve ever heard.) I’ve also been watching the reboot of The Muppets and reruns of American Dad.

I’ve been doing yoga, like the deep-inside-your-head, meditative yoga, not the athletic type. I’ve been using YouTube to find video classes for the days I just can’t get to the gym. At least it gives me some focus.

I’ve been avoiding refined sugar and unhealthy fats. This is a challenge because when I get depressed the things my body wants most are chocolate and salt. I considered buying a bag of Ruffles and a chocolate fondue kit at Metro. I didn’t do it but the struggle is real.

I’ve scheduled more frequent sessions with my counselor. Usually I go to therapy once a month. Right now I’m going once every two weeks with a plan to book once a week as needed.

I don’t want to do any of these things but I need to. The short-term discomfort from these actions reduces my overall depression long-term. Little changes build to a larger solution. It’s still a fight everyday. I hope that by sharing my small steps, I’ll remind you to take care of yourself too.


Right now I’m stuck in depression.  It’s been almost six weeks. My lungs feel like they’re full of mud and my brain feels stuffed with cotton. Everything feels heavy and difficult.

I can’t tell what pains in my body are real and which ones are caused by my depression. Every time I workout I come away with more injuries that just aren’t healing. I’m carefully warming up and cooling down but no matter how gentle I am, I end up hurting. I’m just so tense that even basic exercise feels terrible.

I’m also exhausted. Sleeping more doesn’t help. I’m maintaining a regular sleep schedule, (going to bed at the same time each night, no screens, food, or exercise three hours before bed). I can fall sleep just fine but I wake up a number of times each night and can’t get back to sleep easily. I know I’m not rested enough as a result.

I struggle to think of anything that makes me happy, even though I know those things still exist. Having depression doesn’t destroy kitties or chocolate or cooking challenge TV shows, but it horribly makes them less enjoyable than they used to be.

Most people will tell you to stop talking about or thinking about what makes you depressed. That advice is only helpful if you can identify a source for your depression. Like I said before, sometimes depression is purely caused by an imbalance in the brain that goes beyond what you experience day-to-day. Plus, that’s a bit of a flip solution. If you don’t believe me, try to stop blinking. You might do alright for a while, but it’s uncomfortable and when your attention wavers even a little, you’ll blink. Remember that the next time you are tempted to tell someone with depression to ‘just get over it’ or ‘think positively’.

I’m trying to keep moving. I’m going to therapy and seeking out ways to feel better. The goal isn’t even to feel happy right now. Right now I’d settle for feeling normal. I miss feeling like myself.

Where Can You Get Help?

I’m writing this post in response to some questions I’ve received. People are nervous about talking to their doctor or their family members about how they’re feeling. It is not easy to start these conversations. I’m going to share my experiences getting diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and suggest some places you may be able to find help. I’m going to give Canadian resources in this post because that’s where I live, but I’ll try to keep it general enough so that you can research similar resources, whatever the country.

I decided to do something about my anxiety when I realized that I had been feeling really down and unwell for a number of months. I was living healthily but I was getting worse bit by bit too. I was worried especially because I was having such a difficult time feeling happy, even when really great things were happening. You’ll know when it’s time to get some help. You’ll get tired of not feeling like yourself. I know I sure did.

Tell your trusted person – I started by talking to my mom and then my boyfriend (now husband) Nick. Try to choose a good listener who will reserve judgement. Not only will this relieve some of the stress you’re feeling, it’s also a good opportunity to practice what you want to say if you choose to see your doctor.


Talk to your doctor – I admit, this is probably the hardest one to do. The prospect of receiving a diagnosis can be paralyzing. I told Nick I wanted help and thought that going to the doctor would help, but that I was scared. He encouraged me to make the appointment. He even drove me and made me dinner afterwards. His support helped me feel strong enough to talk to my doctor. You can invite someone to go with you if that makes you feel stronger. Nick didn’t go into the appointment with me, but knowing he was in the waiting room helped a lot.

The first thing my doctor did was run me though a questionnaire about my physical health, (e.g. diet, sleep, drugs or alcohol,) and my emotional health, (e.g. ranking symptoms like sadness out of 10.) My doctor told me I had a number of the symptoms of anxiety but that she wanted to do some blood work. This ruled out possible physical causes such as thyroid problems, diabetes, low iron and so forth. It all came back clear so I saw my doctor again, but this time to discuss the new diagnosis of anxiety.

We made a plan for my treatment. We chose counseling and a low-dose antidepressant. She wrote me a prescription and she gave me a chart like this to record my symptoms. However, you don’t have to wait for the doctor to start your own chart. Information like this can be really helpful for diagnosis.

If you receive a diagnosis of anxiety or depression, be vocal about what you want and don’t want in terms of treatment. Your doctor will listen. I recommend that if you do decide to take medication, that you combine it with some sort of counseling, therapy or support group that will help you learn coping skills. Set a clear plan with your doctor and schedule regular check up visits. This is where you’ll need to be flexible with your plan. I tried a number of antidepressants at a variety of doses before we found what works for me. I also had a number of counselors before I found my current practitioner, (more on that in a moment.) Be ready to readjust and don’t give up just because the first thing you tried didn’t work. If you keep trying, you will create a treatment plan that is best for you.

If you don’t have a doctor – Most communities offer some sort of walk-in medical clinics. They are listed in the phone book or you can find them by Googling ‘walk in medical clinic’ and the name of your city or town. This is a good start and sometimes a walk in clinic can offer resources for finding a doctor. There may also be government programs such as Health Care Connect in your area to help you locate a doctor. If you are dealing with a mood disorder like anxiety and depression you need a family doctor to oversee your care, even if you’re not on any medication.

Stay off the internet – Do not Google your symptoms or seek out online advice on your mental health. The Internet is just too unreliable for health care. If you insist on taking an online quiz to see if you have depression, take a reputable one like this one from I like this quiz because it doesn’t tell you if you do or do not have depression. Instead, it examines various symptoms of depression and ranks how much they are affecting your life. You can even save a PDF of your results to show your doctor.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – My school board has a program where they provide me with counseling and my copay is $20 per visit. This is how I afford counseling as it can be really expensive. Explore the counseling services offered at your place of employment. If you are part of a union, talk to your union rep to see if you have an EPA. If you are non-unionized, talk to human resources. If you are self-employed, talk to your health insurance provider or the health care branch of your government about what affordable cost counseling is available.

I also had to try a number of different counselors before I found one whose personality and methodologies made me feel comfortable. When you do get a counselor, make sure they are right for you. If they’re not, it won’t hurt their feelings to ask to be referred to someone else.

Crisis helplines – I’ve never called a crisis helpline but I have recommended them for students in need outside school hours. In Ontario, kids and teens can call Kids Help Phone and adults can call the Mental Health Helpline. Diagnosis and treatment can take a long time and be very frustrating. If at any point you are in crisis, please access these services.

So that’s my experience. I’m not an expert in mental health but I hope that my stories and suggestions help you take care of yourself too. Be well.




Depression is Different

So as I’ve discussed before, I have generalized anxiety disorder. With the help of my doctors and my support system, I am now medication free and doing well. However, my treatment isn’t over. People with anxiety often suffer from depression at some point, (and vice versa.)

I am experiencing my first battle with a major depressive disorder. I’ve felt depressed before (who hasn’t?) but this is something I’ve been dealing with for over a month. According to my doctor, the diagnosis of depression is usually at least two sustained weeks of depression or more. Health Canada lists the possible symptoms of depression as:

  • Feelings of despair and hopelessness (check.)
  • Detachment from life and the people around you (check.)
  • Always feeling tired or having no energy (check.)
  • Crying for no apparent reason (check, one day I cried brushing my teeth; that doesn’t even make sense. I love good oral hygiene!)
  • Not being able to concentrate or make decisions (check.)
  • A loss of appetite or a change in sleep patterns (check.)
  • Headaches or stomach upsets that occur frequently (occasionally.)
  • Thoughts of suicide (no to this one, thanks to visits to my doctors and talking with my support system. If you or someone you love is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, get help. Tell a doctor, a family member or a trusted friend, failing that call a crisis center. Know that you are not alone and there are people who want to help you.)

So what caused my depression? Like most mood disorders, the answer to that is complicated. My family has a history of depression so I am at higher risk. I’ve also had a lot of stress at work and a substantial amount at home. These stresses build up and make everything else difficult to manage. For example, my RMT, (registered massage therapist,) is no longer practicing. That may seem like a small change but he was my RMT for almost five years and his care helped me through some of my worst bouts of anxiety. Finding a new RMT is daunting and no one I’ve tried so far has really been able to provide the care I need. I suppose I’d have to label the cause as ‘stress’, despite how complicated the situation really is.

Regardless of all this, it is important to remember that depression doesn’t care how good or bad your life is. Depression can happen to anyone, anywhere and sometimes there is no reason we can attach to it. That’s because depression is an imbalance in the chemicals in the brain. Although it can be triggered by tragedy, (e.g. the death of a loved one,) or stress, it can also occur for no other reason than the brain is imbalanced.

I have been working so hard to overcome my anxiety but depression feels so different and a lot of my coping mechanisms aren’t really transferable. If anxiety is fight or flight, depression is lay in a hole and try not to exist. I am scared by the fact that sometimes I feel like I can’t access any of my positive feelings. I feel like I’m forgetting what it’s like to be happy. I’m going to keep working on it. I’m reluctant to go back on antidepressants because I worked so hard to be healthy enough to not need them. However, if at any point I feel like I can’t control my mental health or that it’s having a negative effect on my personal and work life, I’ll make an appointment with my doctor to discuss medication. It’s important for me to be able to admit when I need help. I’ll keep you updated on how I’m doing as I go.

Psst…cancel some plans

So in an earlier post I talked about how giving into my more introverted side helps me control my anxiety. Most of the time I am a go, go, go kind of person. I do yoga every morning. I have an incredibly busy job teaching students with special needs. I attend a lot of meeting on my lunch hour or after school. I hit the gym, make plans with my husband or go out to see friends most nights. However, I cannot (and should not) maintain this pace when I am feeling anxious. I’ve done this in the past and I have made myself sick. So now, I watch my moods more closely and sometimes I preemptively cancel some plans.

There’s nothing more satisfying than doing nothing when you were supposed to be doing something. Once I’m through the awkwardness of actually cancelling plans, I feel a real rush that’s equal parts relief and  self-indulgent joy. Luckily for me, my friends and family all know I have generalized anxiety disorder, so if I need to cancel plans because of anxiety, I can just be honest and they understand.

The dos and donts of gracefully canceling plans

So I want to set a challenge for all the over-worked, burnt out extroverts and introverts. Take a look at your calendar for this month and consciously decide to cancel something. Don’t pick a major event, (please don’t skip your sister’s wedding or refuse to pick up grandma at the airport.) Pick something you don’t really need to attend and call or email to cancel. Want some help gracefully cancelling some plans? Check out this article from The Frisky. Most importantly, once you’ve cancelled that plan, DO NOT schedule something else. Leave that time free for yourself. Do something by yourself. Do nothing by yourself and enjoy.


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