A Peaceful Meditation Day to All!

The physical and health benefits of meditation have been noted for years and repeatedly validated by science. You don’t have to switch to an entirely new lifestyle in order to practice meditation! There are many ways to begin practicing, a little at a time.

Many people with anxiety do very well with the structured approach taken by Headspace (Andy Puddicombe). With simple graphics that clearly explain physical, cognitive, and emotional aspects of meditation, you will find the process easy to understand and implement. Even if you do not get a subscription and only use the first sessions that are free, it is well worth a look:

Another meditation tool that many clients report being highly satisfied with is Insight Timer:

And if you’re ready to go a little deeper into the emotional aspects of meditation, I highly recommend anything at all by Tara Brach!

 

Yoga Through the Lens of Western Science

Our physical, emotional, and cognitive aspects are interconnected and interdependent. This is the case whether we use a psychodynamic approach or a cognitive-behavioral psychological approach. If we are experiencing (noticing) dysfunction in one area, the whole system is actually affected. The good news about this is that by changing things in one aspect, we can affect other aspects as well.

This does not mean that we can simply “think away illness” or that if we can exercise “perfectly” (whatever that would be!) then our thoughts and feelings will just “snap out of it” into rationality and/or bliss. What it does mean, however, is that when we gradually move our habits towards health and balance in one aspect, the other aspects will also move more towards health and balance.

That means when behaviors become healthier, thoughts and feelings become healthier. When thoughts become healthier, feelings and behaviors become healthier. When feelings become healthier, behaviors and thoughts become healthier. A change in any one of them changes all of them!

When we consider the interconnected areas of behavior, cognition, and emotion, the most easily and directly influenced aspect is behavior. We can change what we do, which can help to change what we think and how we feel.

Remember, with any behavior change, the idea is not instant change, but rather successive approximation: doing things a bit more like the goal behavior, and then when that sticks, we do it a bit more like the goal behavior. Attempting drastic changes is less likely to create long-term change than creating and conditioning gradual habit change.

This really interesting clip discusses some ways in which developing–for example–a yoga practice can influence not only thoughts and feelings but also our bodies down to the cellular and chemical level:

 

Learning Boundaries as a Self-Parenting Skill

 

I recently saw this tweet from writer Jacinda Townsend:

Jacinda, you are definitely not alone!

For those who grew up in a family of origin with appropriate boundaries, learning how to set boundaries probably happened as invisibly as learning to walk, write their name, or sing songs. Interpersonal interactions were healthy and just “happened that way.” Those people often don’t even realize that’s how they are living. (See: fish, water!)

But for those of us from families with more dysfunction, we may have just as invisibly learned unhealthy boundaries, and it will greatly affect our daily lives. Like much of self-parenting, this is harder to learn in adulthood, but necessary and definitely worth the work.

Since I am also a therapist who hands out materials on boundaries to my clients, here are links to two articles I frequently use with clients. Others may also find them useful:

Like any skill, boundary setting takes repeated practice over time. We may see how we’re “supposed to” do it right away, but that doesn’t mean we will be able to implement it right away. Throw away that perfectionistic expectation. But you can start experiencing relief right away from even small changes! Read the articles and see what parts apply to your experience. Start small, keep working on it, and develop the habit of treating your boundaries as being important! ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acceptance: Making People into Trees

Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert) expresses acceptance of self and others with a beautiful metaphor:

 

“…when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

Remember, emotional and cognitive skills take practice just as physical skills do. Many of us have years or decades of practice in thinking destructively and judgmentally! So practice a little self-acceptance today, and then again tomorrow, and the next day…

 

Self-Care: It’s Okay Not to “Optimize” Yourself

Many people have been making New Year’s resolutions, and some are even sticking to them! For most people, however, they won’t last very long.

It’s completely valid to want to make changes to yourself and to your life, but pay attention to what you are telling yourself in the process. You may be telling yourself that you will finally be acceptable if you can meet your goals. The “if” lets us know that if we don’t meet our goals, we are not acceptable. We often believe (consciously or not) that there are only two choices: exceptionally fantastic, or…crap. (To state it plainly.)

Guess what? You are already acceptable! You are wonderful and miraculous! Yes, even on your bad days.

The idea that you aren’t good enough unless you are the best of the best is an expression of perfectionism, and perfectionism is a life-killer, a progress-killer, a killer of the good. We seek progress, not perfection.

Instead of telling yourself that you “must improve,” try the dialectical approach:

“I am already acceptable as I am, AND I would like to try doing this a different way to see if I like that better.” (No “buts” allowed!)

This makes it clear that it is a choice you are undertaking, rather than a “should.” Also, it is a way of making a choice to try change but without browbeating, judging, and criticizing yourself–all things that, ironically, make change much more difficult.

If you accept yourself as already okay, then you are free to try changing things all year around, as the opportunities present themselves. But–this is key–you don’t have to “improve” yourself in order to be acceptable.

While we’re here talking about accepting yourself, here is a great article about expressing your vulnerabilities:

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Checking In With Yourself

When you’re feeling really depressed, upset, or anxious, it can be hard to come up with ways to understand what is happening with yourself, let alone what to do about it. Even the most basic self-care can be hard to remember when your executive functioning is down.

This is a very helpful list to have handy for those times when you are unable to generate the energy to remember how to support yourself:

 

Depression Part 3: Nurture Yourself Back to Life

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3: Physical Aspects–Sleep and Nutrition

It can be very hard to take care of yourself even at the best of times, especially if you have a trauma history. And when you’re depressed, it can be even harder to take care of yourself. You might feel too drained, sad, and even unworthy of care. But this is exactly when it is most important to take care of yourself, even if you can only do a little bit.

Just do the little bit that you can. And keep doing it.

First, stabilize your physical aspect as best you can. The four most crucial mental health needs of your body are sleep, nutrition, exercise, and social interaction. You may also be considering medication.

Sleep: regular sleep is probably the single most important thing your body needs to maintain mental health. If you have been skimping on sleep in order to get things done, you may need to let a lot more tasks go in order to recover. The purpose of sleep is to release toxins from your brain cells. If you are not getting enough sleep, then you are intoxicated, and not in a fun way–your brain is poisoned. Start developing a sleep routine that is as regular as you can make it, close to the same time every night.

If you are struggling with insomnia, the insomnia needs to be addressed so you can get the sleep you need. It’s not uncommon for depression or anxiety to remit simply by getting your sleep stabilized. Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid: alcohol is not only a depressant, but it also interferes with sleep cycles, so it can worsen sleep problems.

If depression is causing you to sleep too much, it may be most useful to first address other physical aspects of depression before trying to cut down on sleep. Besides, is it actually “too much”? You may need extra sleep for the time being. If it feels like you are convalescing from an illness, that is because you are.

Nutrition: Your body needs fuel in order to operate physically and mentally. Your mood will be worsened by hunger, even if you are not feeling the hunger. At least get a bit of  protein and some complex carbohydrates. If your appetite has dropped and you are having trouble eating, or caring about eating, then try having something like Ensure, or chocolate milk, or kefir on hand – it can be easier to drink something. If you can eat a little something a few times a day, even if not your usual meals, it will help you not to sink further into depression.

When you’re feeling up to it, treat yourself nicely when you eat. It can be comforting. It may be you’re just eating condensed soup sitting on the couch, but see if you can eat it from your favorite bowl. Or try eating something that reminds you of childhood in a pleasant way.

When you have regained enough energy to attend better to your meals, you can get back to what you would normally eat, but for now it’s okay to just eat something.

If you are suddenly eating a lot more than you normally would, try to be gentle with yourself. There is a reason you are doing this–you feel bad!–and it’s not worth harshly criticizing yourself. Indeed, you will make yourself feel worse and it might compound the issue. Remember the important thing is to fuel yourself and restore your balance overall, and do so gently. The goal is not to sternly restrict. That may backfire.

 

Next: Physical Aspects–Basic Exercise, Social Interaction, Medication

Depression Part 2: When You’re Depressed

Part 1

Part 2:

Recognize Depression: Depression often creeps up gradually and may affect you for a while before you realize what is happening. What effects do you usually experience? Are your symptoms usually physical, emotional, or cognitive, or a combination? Exhaustion, achiness, overwhelm, lack of motivation, negative thoughts, suicidality? (See Part 1.) If you have a better idea of your own symptom profile, you will be able to catch a depressive episode sooner when it occurs.

It is often a great relief simply to realize why you’ve been feeling bad. Also, it can be encouraging to remember that most depressive episodes remit within two weeks even without intervention!

Accept Depression: Depression can be tricky because we often have a belief that if we recognize what’s going on, we should be able to “snap out of it” by some act of will. While it’s good to try some things you think might help you feel better, the process is healing rather than fixing. You are an organism, not a mechanical device. It may take some time to get through the healing process.

Most people feel impatient about this, because depression interrupts whatever else you’re trying to do with your life. That’s the part most people have a hard time accepting. But depression is a real thing that really affects people on many levels, so work on accepting how your feelings and your functioning are affected. Then you can better decide how to address it.

Beating yourself up for “feeling bad for no reason” or “not getting enough done” will only make things worse! It may be that during some depressive episodes you will  feel bad “for no reason” or that you may not get as much done as you want to. That’s what happens during depression. You can do many things to support your healing, but you can’t just decide to not have depression.

Most people experiencing depression–even severe depression–are mostly functional in some life areas, which can lead to denial or minimization. “They must not be very seriously depressed, I just saw them laughing and joking at a party,” or “I can’t have severe depression since I’m able to work 12-hour shifts on a busy floor.”

Functionality varies from situation to situation and from day to day. You can be functional in one or more life area, or appear “okay” to others. That doesn’t mean the depression isn’t real or isn’t serious.

 

Depression Part 3: Nurturing Yourself Back to Life

 

Depression Part 1: Depression and Functioning

Because we often think of depression as “lying on the couch crying,” many people don’t recognize what they’re experiencing as depression, especially if they’re high-functioning or have “smiling” depression.

But the most prominent and common symptom of depression I see is a lack of motivation. It can be anything from “I don’t care about anything and I don’t want to do anything” to “I’m too exhausted to do even the smallest thing” to “I want to do this one thing and somehow I just…don’t.” It’s also very common to function well at work, only to “fall apart” off the clock.

While actual proportions vary from person to person, few if any depressed people look like the “just sad” stereotype. A graphic in an article by Anna Borges depicts the discrepancy:

 

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It makes sense if you think of what “depress” means: to push down. Depression pushes down your physical, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning, in any combination.

If your physical functioning is depressed, you may feel exhausted and achey or move and speak more slowly than usual (often without realizing it). You may experience sleep difficulties.

If your emotional functioning is depressed, you may feel low, sad, hopeless, pessimistic, guilty, or even strangely flat, empty, and detached.

If your cognitive functioning is depressed, you may have difficulty concentrating, planning and implementing anything, or trouble with memory. The “planning and implementing” piece is the brain’s executive function. This is where the motivation problems come in, and why a person experiencing depression can’t simply “snap out of it” and “motivate.”

Also in terms of cognitive functioning, you may generate a lot of irrationally negative thoughts (and you may believe them uncritically), or have thoughts of death or suicide. It’s especially important to recognize that suicidal thoughts, while scary, are a symptom of depression and usually diminish when depression improves, so seeking help with depression is important.

 

Next:

Part 2: When You’re Depressed