Strong For Too Long

Managing Depression & Anxiety

Mental Gym – Exercise for a depressed mind. Mental Gym – Exercise for a depressed mind.
These workouts are specifically for the mind, and help to relieve some of the feelings of anxiety and depression from your everyday life. At... Mental Gym – Exercise for a depressed mind.

These workouts are specifically for the mind, and help to relieve some of the feelings of anxiety and depression from your everyday life.

At 4am I was looking for something to do.

Its a common downside to my depression for me, insomnia coupled with a racing mind which prevents me from drifting off to the land of nod. I spend hours sat awake in bed wishing for sleep but thinking about everything else. On some days I don’t sleep at all, instead trying to find ways to occupy myself to prevent sitting and stewing in negative thought and emotion.

“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.” – Poppy Brite

Stewing is the best word for this, you litterally simmer in your own negativity – the longer you stay there the more negative your thoughts get. Pretty soon you are reliving every mistake, every bad decision, every missed opportunity and it quickly takes an emotional toll on you. This isn’t unusual, everyone suffers from time to time with bad nights full of bad thoughts – but if you are depressed, or suffer from severe anxiety these nights can become more and more common. So how can you stop it from happening?


I find the most effective way of stopping the negativity is to distract myself for long enough to forget. When trying to get to sleep this can seem counter productive, after all you want to go to bed not give yourself more problems to solve but given the alternative I consider it the lesser of two evils. I would rather be up all night working on some brain exercises than up all night stuck in melancholy.

Here are my top five distractions:

1. Cleaning

Cleaning is a two pronged attack on depressive thoughts, it has the added benefit of keeping you physically active and also helps to tackle the mess at home which can lead to some of my negativity. You don’t need to get the hoover out at 3am to succeed here, just find a corner of your lounge, study or craft room and get organising. Falling asleep after physically exerting yourself is much easier, and waking up in the morning to see the fruit of your late night labour is rewarding.

2. Reading

Less physically demanding than cleaning; reading is a great way to distract your mind. Its very difficult to concentrate on your emotions and feelings when you are reading a good story and there is a possibility you can get lost in a good story too which completely changes the way we feel.

I also have a couple of deliberately boring books which I read when I am really desperate for sleep, these tend to be non-fiction and so I get to learn something and tire myself out at the same time.

3. Design Something

I am a chronic designer – I love making things, even if that means just doing initial designs. Im sure you have something creative you enjoy too whether its doodling, watercolour, poetry, writing or something completely different. Whatever creative outlets you can find give them a try next time the early hour insomnia sets in – if you are busy creating you spend less time worrying.

4. Get Organised

Similar to cleaning, but use this time to organise something that bugs you – perhaps its time to rearrange your sock drawer, or finally tidy that kitchen cupboard. You are awake anyway so using this time to strike something off your to-do list is ideal.

5. Music

I tend to go for something calm and without lyrics here, perhaps a little classical music to soothe my mind. Avoid your most depressing music and move on to something light hearted that you enjoy.


Distracting yourself with the above methods is relatively simple, it just involves you doing something. But what about actually exercising your mind and using this free time to improve yourself. Here’s a few ideas you can try.


Since the late 80’s these puzzles have been popular, and in the last ten years they have had somewhat of a resurgance. The mathmatical challenges are ideal at keeping your brain occupied at the same time as flexing your arithmetic muscles. If you are new to sudoku you can get puzzles which start relatively easy and work your way up to more complex ones as time goes by. Your progress here is easy to monitor as you can time yourself and watch how you improve as the complexity increases.


Whats that saying? “Everyone has a story inside them waiting to be told.”

Writing is a great creative outlet and engages all aspects of your right brain creativity and storytelling skills. Its this side of the brain that allows your worry and anxiety to go wild and explore new torturous possibilities so engaging it in some light hearted creative writing can be a great way to switch off the anxiousness. Think depression stiffles creativity? Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax, Mark Twain, Stephen King, Sylvia Plath and J.K. Rowling may just disagree with you on that.


Je m’apelle Sam. Learning a language is a superb way of exercising your brain and makes foreign travel a little easier too. With a variety of books, audio programs and interactive apps available on the market it shouldn’t be too hard to get your hands on some free learning material too. One particularly good site is which is a kind of social network for learning languages.


Simple memory games can help to improve your mental power and also offer a good distraction. Ever played the “I went to the shop and I bought….” game? This simple playground game helps to boost core mental skills and engages both hemispheres of your brain. Give it a go.



Sam Fields Editor

Writer and designer for Strong For Too Long. Sam has fifteen years experience managing severe Depression & Anxiety and writes about it to help others. Interests include reading, astronomy and engineering.

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