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HOW TO CATCH DEPRESSION BEFORE IT CATCHES YOU

When we think of depression, we may imagine being permanently pyjama-clad, lying in bed or on the sofa in a dark room, unable to move. Clinical depression (or major depressive disorder) can look this way and the Internet and media often paint this picture.

If we research depression symptoms online, it usually brings up Clinical depression information, leaving some of us thinking that, it feels bad but it’s not as bad as all that.

But some depressive symptoms are less recognizable. Most of us are busy. We might feel down but we can’t afford to stop. Even when a situation (like a breakup) triggers deep sadness in us, we have to keep going. So the symptoms are subtler, more gradual, and easier to disregard. They sneak up on us and if unaddressed they can become debilitating.

Recognise any of these?

– A sense of heaviness you can’t shake
– Impatience, irritability, quickly losing your temper over little things
– Growing intolerance of others, our surroundings, or ourselves
– Heightened awareness of negative things
– An emboldened inner critic, bullying ourselves or self-loathing
– Incessant worrying (going over the same thing again and again) or catastrophizing (using words like always and never)
– Wanting to hide from the world and avoiding things that make us feel better (friends, exercise, nature)

Our brain activity is habit forming; the more we think and feel certain ways, the more likely we will think and feel that way in the future. A persistent low mood can spiral into depression and the lower we spiral, the harder it is to pick ourselves back up.

We all have low moods but when feelings of depression seem unshakeable, it is time to start paying attention to them. One of the best ways to deal with depression is to catch it early.

Here is how:

– Become mindful of how you talk to yourself. Would you lose friends if you talked to them the way you talk to yourself? Your inner critic may have pushed you to do better but it can push you down that depression spiral too.
Get blood tests from your doctor. Low mood can be a side-effect of any number of physical ailments: nutritional deficiencies, bacterial imbalances in your gut, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, fibromyalgia, hormonal imbalance, food allergies, infections, and medications.

– Create exercise accountability. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve our mood. We may have the best intentions to exercise regularly, but low mood can sap our motivation. When depressed, we are far more likely to put it off.

So instead of beating yourself up for not exercising, put measures into place that hold you accountable. For example, book a boutique exercise class, schedule workouts with a friend, or join a beginner’s club team (your Fris team depends on you). If you have no problem skipping those type activities, then hire a trainer for 30 minutes twice a week. (Hire a really cute one for added motivation!) Tell her/him to follow up with you if you miss a session.

– Forgive yourself for feeling this way and for setbacks that may have triggered these feelings. Low mood often increases our critical self-talk. We feel down so we beat ourselves up, which makes us feel even lower. Interrupt the self-critical spiral with self-compassion. If this sounds too difficult, read or listen to The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook by Tim Desmond.

– Listen to what thoughts are driving your emotions. There is no such thing as a ‘negative’ emotion. Even depression serves to protect us. Our low mood is a red flag. Sometimes it is telling us to slow down, to reconnect with loved ones, or to disconnect from unhealthy situations. Or to get help.

– The app Thought Record app from Moodnotes helps you uncover the situations and thinking patterns that may trigger your low mood. And to find alternative, more helpful perspectives.

Everyone feels low, drained, or worn-out occasionally. Many of the symptoms of major depressive disorder – irritability, lethargy, and hopelessness – can be normal reactions to stressful life events.

‘Sometimes, depression is a perfectly reasonable response to trouble in your life.’ Karla McLaren

However, if your low mood is cyclical or doesn’t respond to the healing changes you make, talk to your doctor or a professional therapist.

If you think you might be clinically depressed, you can take this test.  Depression Self Assessment

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition.
Tim Desmond. (2017). The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook. A 14-Day Plan to Transform Your Relationship with Yourself
Rick Hanson. (2013). Hardwiring Happiness. The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence.
Karla McLaren. (2010). The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You.
Robert Plutchik. (1980). Theories of Emotion (Volume 1).
Dan Siegel. (2010). Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.
Bessel van der Kolk. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

Warm regards,

Jena

Self-Soothing Through Visualisation

Self-soothing is a wonderful coping skill to possess.  It helps to calm us when we are anxious, afraid, or angry.  It can help lower our blood pressure and helps us focus. People who have experienced trauma may get a special benefit from these visualizations, but you don’t have to have experienced trauma to benefit from them.

These three self-soothing exercises focus on breathing and visualization (imagining images that are soothing) and are found in the workbook, “101 Trauma Informed Interventions,” by Linda Curran.

Not every visualization is for everyone, so if you try one and it doesn’t work for you, take what you like and leave the rest and try the other visualizations.  Visualizations aren’t the only way to self-soothe, but what we will focus on here. When people with anxiety come to see me I teach them the following exercises to self-soothe.

In the Roots visualization you will visualize having roots that ground you and go deep into the earth.  Some of my clients say that this one helps their mind stop racing and helps them fall asleep at night.

In the Container Visualization you will imagine making a strong container that can hold anything that you don’t want to think about right now.  You can put thoughts or feelings into this container and pull them out when you are ready to work on them.

In the Comfortable Place visualization you will create a beautiful and relaxing scene that you can go to whenever you feel upset and need help calming yourself.

The key to making visualization work is to use it every day so that it gets stronger and easier to use.  Try these first when you’re not upset so that you can master them and they will be more effective when you do need to use them.

Want to learn more? Schedule an appointment and let me teach you.

Much happiness,

Mechele

Monkey Mind?

“My mind won’t shut up.”

“I can’t focus to save my life.”

 

When it feels like your mind is in control of you and you don’t know how to take back control, chances are you have monkey mind. Monkey mind is exactly what it sounds like; imagine your mind is an energetic monkey jumping all over the place inside your head. Monkey mind is closely correlated with anxiety. It is a term that the Buddhists came up with many, many years ago.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to have monkey mind or to get rid of it.

When we have anxiety our amygdala is overactive and as bulky as Dwayne Johnson. The amygdala is the part of our brain where anxiety and fear live. Once upon a time it helped us to survive by enabling us to fight or run away when faced with mortal danger such as a T-Rex getting ready to chomp us. Now our amygdala responds as if we’re in mortal danger when we’re not. Speaking to a stranger won’t kill us, yet our mind may tell us it will. Few people die if they embarrass themselves in front of others, but some people’s minds disagree.

Sara Lazar is a Neuroscientist at Massachusetts General and Harvard. She has studied the benefits of using meditation and mindfulness. Her study which had people who meditated an average of 30 minutes a day for daily to several times a week for eight weeks found the following[1]:

  • Increased brain volume
  • An increase in the area of the brain that is involved in whether or not the mind wanders.
  • An increase in the area that helps us learn, think, with memory, and helps us regulate our emotions.
  • An increase in the part of the brain associated with empathy and compassion.

So What?

So, there are other studies[2] that document the benefits of meditation and mindfulness on monkey mind. Neither mediation nor mindfulness is easy to do, but you weren’t born walking either. It takes time and it takes patience. When my clients agree to try this I ask them to start at 1-5 minutes and work up to longer times as their concentration improves and their monkey mind gets harnessed.

Are you willing to experiment? The only thing you have to lose is a few minutes a day, but you may also lose your monkey mind and gain the ability to control your own brain and cut down on anxiety. You have to really be committed to this for it to work; don’t just try it a few times and then say you can’t do it.

And Away We Go!

  • Remember, you’re going to start with a small period of time, 1-5 minutes.
  • Set your timer for however long you want to meditate.[3]
  • Darken your room.
  • If you’re not alone let people know you’re meditating and ask them to be quiet.
  • Sit up. If you lie down you will fall asleep. [4]
  • Take some breaths. Some people say through your nose, but I like in through the nose and out through the mouth. Very slow and deep breaths.
  • Focus on your breathing in and out and in and out.
  • Clear your mind.
  • Be gentle with yourself when your mind wanders and bring it back to your breath.
  • Breathe and repeat.

This is a beginner’s guide and as you get better with it your skill will advance. If you decide the experiment is worth continuing you may want to look up videos on You Tube of how to advance your meditation practice or find a teacher to guide you.

I wish you luck and self-kindness, skill will follow.

Wishing you happiness, laughter, serenity, and no more monkey mind

Mechele

 

 

[1] https://scholar.harvard.edu

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/ This is a good article, but it is very dry

[3] You can get a free meditation timer in your Ap store. I like Insight Timer.

[4] People who meditate on a regular basis use a cushion, but if you have back problems try a chair. Sit up straight or you will get so relaxed you will fall asleep. The first time I did this my teacher gently smacked me to wake me up and boy was I embarrassed!