Unlocking Your Heart

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You’ve made it! It’s our final week in our moving through depression series. So far we’ve discussed the importance of:

This last week is an important one. Perhaps one of the most debilitating parts of depression is the incessant “why?”

What’s the point? is one of the most painful questions we can ask ourselves, primarily because it insinuates that there isn’t one. What comes next is what I call the darkness. This is where suicidal thoughts run rampant and we tuck further and further into our despair. Don’t forget, there is help.

First, let’s talk about how to find your passion. It doesn’t have to be a hard process. In fact, it should be a fun, heart opening, exciting process. What is passion? Passion is defined as a “strong and barely controllable emotion.” Whoo. Yes. Passion is like fire, it ignites and takes over your senses. When you find passion you can lose your sense of time, entering into a flow state. Flow is that experience where your mind becomes hyper focused (especially on your senses), time disappears, and you feel an immense sense of calm and happiness.

Talk about a depression fighter!

Here are some ideas for finding your passion:

  • What is something that excites you? (duh – but a good place to start!)
  • What do you spend your time researching and reading about (books, magazines, online, social media, hashtags you follow, etc)? See any themes?
  • What do you find yourself inexplicably and repeatedly drawn to? Art? Music? Dance? Helping others? Outdoors? Competition? Animals? Parenting? Event Planning? Travel? Crafts? DIY?
  • Look at your local library or in your neighborhood for opportunities to take classes, join clubs, or meet up with others to try new activities (and maybe see if one of them sparks!).

There are a lot of people out there who will tell you how to cognitively find your passion by thinking through the steps and blah blah blah. I’m not one of those people.

Passion is not of the mind, but of the heart. There is little your mind can do in this process, and most often it actually stands in the way. “Yeah, I like ______, but there’s no way I could/have time/resources/money to do it.” Mind = not helpful. My hope is you go around, heart open, and see what breathes fresh air into it. Then, do more of that.

If you’re deep in the thick of it, you might have to do things you cognitively know you like, without the deep sense of peace and happiness. For most clients, I’ve seen this last anywhere from 2-8 months. Keep in mind, you have to keep doing these things (and all the steps of moving through depression). Over the course of those months, you’ll slowly begin to pull out of the mud (it isn’t that at six months you wake up and suddenly enjoy everything!).

Once you know your passion, you have to value it. Simply knowing your passion without valuing it is like walking up to the right door and not having the key to unlock it. We value our passions by carving out time for them, nurturing them, and enjoying them without judgement of how often or how well we do them. We engage in our passions for the simple pleasure of doing them, knowing that they are as important as any chore or job that is to be done.

Often in passion we end up finding purpose. Our purpose is in broader terms than our passion. Our purpose may be to bring the world beauty, joy, knowledge, or to reduce suffering. Purpose, like passion, is not something you can find by thinking about it. It can be felt in times when you’re quiet inside, sometimes because the world outside you is quiet, others because it is chaos. If you glimpse your passion or purpose for even a second, appreciate that. Try not to let yourself get frustrated it was only a moment. It’s a moment more than you had, and the more you work to open up to yourself and your heart, the more those moments will come. And the longer they’ll last.

 

The path through depression is a difficult one. It is one that takes time, repetition, and perseverance. I typically tell people to anticipate two years before they’re able to make a new behavior feel natural (that’s about how long it takes to prune one behavior pathway and build a new, solid one in your brain). If you’ve only been struggling with depression a few weeks or months, it most likely won’t take that long. But if you’ve been in the darkness for longer than you can clearly remember, it might. It’s normal, difficult, and absolutely possible.

I believe in you.

And if you need a little help, reach out.

Until next time,

D

 

Create A Mind Of Giving

 

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The importance of giving to others cannot be readily overlooked. We learn the value of contributing from our families when we’re little. Even if your family didn’t place a large importance on it, you can commit yourself to it now.

So why do it?

When we give our time, money, or thought to another we are generating good things in our own minds, hearts, and lives, in addition to benefiting them. Think of it this way, if you look around the world and judge those you see, you end up having a mind of judging. In turn, then, you feel judged by others (because we all assume others think the way we do). If this is true for a mind of anger, judgement, or greed, then couldn’t it be true for giving and caring?

How nice would it be to look around and assume everyone around you wants to contribute, participate, and care for themselves and everyone they come in contact with?

It’s a whole new world.

Volunteering connects us to our community and fights off loneliness. It nourishes the spirit, relaxes the mind, and focuses our energy into productive efforts instead of the ruminating darkness of depression. I often hear from clients who have undertaken a volunteer job statements like:

I don’t know what it is. When I’m volunteering, I just feel so much better. I can focus on their problems and forget about mine for a while. It warms my heart to help a kid or elderly person in need. It’s for them, but it helps me too.

In times when money can feel like such a struggle for so many of us, it is even more important to give your time to something that you appreciate or believe in. The more we value our time, the more valuable it is when we give it to others.

How can you get started? Consider some of the following questions:

  1. How much time do I have to devote each week, month, or year?
  2. How long of a commitment am I willing to do? None? Six months? Two years?
  3. What are some things that I’m passionate about or interested in?

Once you have the answers to the above questions, it’s time to set out. But where to start? You can begin by thinking of what you’re interested in. Local government? Check out your city or town for a board you can sit on. Animals? Reach out to rescues or humane societies. Want to devote the next few years? Maybe it’s time to look into something like Doctors Without Borders or the Peace Corps. Not sure? Try one of the following websites for ideas and connections:

Whether you devote a few hours once or twice per year, or every day for the next several years, giving back to your community and world is a practice that depression can’t beat.

We’ve almost reached the end of our Moving Through Depression Journey. How have you been doing thus far?

See you next week,

D

 

p.s. thanks for the forgiveness on this post being late this week!

Show Up Wholeheartedly

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We’re in the homestretch! Only three more weeks of hard work before… well.. before you continue with all the great work you’ve been putting in. 🙂

This week we’re going to talk about participating.

What does that mean? In our work of taking better care of ourselves, we’ve looked at taking care of our body, emotions, mind, and now… our social self.

Research has shown over and over that social interaction not only helps us be happier, it also has a connection to longevity. Put another way, we live longer, better lives when it includes others.

I talk more about why Women Need a Village in another blog post, so feel free to check that out!

Desire for connection is in the survivalist part of our brain, along with our breath, heartbeat, and sleep. It’s no wonder things like rejection, social isolation, and loneliness are so dangerous for our spirit, then. There’s a reason that Romeo wishes for death over banishment. Banishment is the ultimate punishment because it means a slow, lonely death thinking of all that one has lost.

Humans are social creatures. As individualized as we are in the US, we sometimes lose sight of this. We mistakenly believe we can survive, even thrive, in solitude. We rely on one another in ways beyond what we see each day. If you’re uncertain, just think of what it takes for you to get an apple from the grocery store. Think of all the people that it took to stock those shelves, get the apple to that store, pick, grow, and plant the apple. Think of who invented, built, and maintains the machinery, vehicles, and buildings used to transport that apple. Think of who raised all those people, taught them, fed them, and clothed them. In a strange way, it takes nearly everyone in the world just for you to buy an apple from the store.

I often hear people say they’re simply introverts, and thus don’t like people. I get it, except that isn’t how introverts work. Being an introvert myself, we can appreciate times of solitude to recharge, but ultimately we’re still human and need connection. And in fact, it’s been shown introverts do well in one-on-one or small group (less than 4 people) situations.

I also hear how difficult it can be to make friends these days, with how intent we are on socializing instead through social media. Let’s remember from our unplugged conversation, your brain does not recognize online relationships as social interaction. It needs another warm body in the room to interact with!

Ultimately, what I am asking is for you to participate in your relationships, even when it’s tough. And let’s be honest, depression is tough. Even when all you want is to retreat into the dark softness underneath your covers, even when it feels like nobody cares and that you don’t matter, I’m asking you to reach out. You’re not the only one who struggles, and connection is healing beyond belief. Here are a few ways you can participate in the relationships in your life:

  • Call someone. Maybe you find yourself wondering who you would call, frustrated that you’re always the one that has to reach out, or unsure of what to say. Call someone anyway. If only to ask how they are, what’s going on in their life, and to really care and listen to them.
  • Volunteer with or for others. For instance, make friends with someone in need at a retirement community. Work at a food bank and help families get the supplies they need to stay afloat. Come check in next week when we talk more about volunteering!
  • Say yes more often. When you’re down and sleep is all you can think of, it can be all too easy to come up with reasons for not doing things when you’re invited. The more you say no, the less people ask. So, start saying yes. If you’ve already no’d yourself into a no-ask situation, reach back out and ask when the next lunch date is with your coworkers or peers.
  • Get a pet. Specifically one that is soft and cuddly that you feel able to care for. Tell them about your day. They require you be responsible to them, and it can gently encourage you to get up and get out there.
  • You need a village. You need people outside of you, your parents, your partner, and your dog. You need friends. You don’t have to see them everyday, but you do need to care, reach out to them, and keep them in your thoughts.
    • Not sure where to find your village? Use your internets. The following websites can help: Meetup, Nextdoor, Peanut (for moms), Nearify, We3, and Meet My Dog. Of course, always use your best discretion when using online tools for meeting others.
    • Reach out to the people around you. Go to coffee shops and don’t sit on an electronic device. Join a class, book club, or workout group. Check out events in your area where you might find like-minded people. Step out of your comfort zone and be okay with whether or not your attempts are successful. If you’ve attempted, you’ll be successfully taking care of yourself.
  • In the relationships you’re already in, check in with them. Ask them how the relationship is going, how they’re doing, and invite them for a regular meetup. Show up, wholeheartedly, and others are more likely to show up for you.

It’s time to get out there. If you see someone at a party or get together who’s struggling to chat, go invite them into conversation. You can be friendly to anyone, and the more you reach out the more likely you are to find those special people who can be friends for the long haul.

You can do this, but you don’t have to do it alone.

See you next week!

 

Stepping Up Your Sleep Game

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We’re back for week six! How have you been doing? Let’s recap. So far we’ve reviewed the following steps in moving through depression:

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditate
  3. Own Your Sh*t (yep- I said it!)
  4. Eat Right
  5. Unplug

Take a moment and reflect upon which you’ve been rocking, and the ones that could use a little oomph. There’s no shame when you’re trying something new. If you’ve been struggling, no time like the present to recommit!

Sleep is one of the most important parts of being a human. We need sleep in order to think, grow, learn… basically in order to human. There’s a lot of great information on the National Sleep Foundation‘s website.

We all know sleep is good for us. So why is sleep so difficult for so many people? It’s estimated about 35-40% of Americans struggle with sleep issues. That’s nearly half of us.

Let’s talk about Poor Sleep and how to overcome it in order to further our journey through (and eventually out!) of depression.

Poor sleep is any one (or combination) of the following: difficulty falling asleep, nighttime wakings, non-restorative sleep, or short sleep times. For the sake of our depression conversation, we’ll also include over-sleeping. Surely, physical conditions can make sleep more difficult. And, the worse a mood is and the more stressed you are, the worse your physical conditions. It can be a cycle.

Not getting proper sleep is detrimental to your well being. When you are sleep deprived, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases due to a process of increase inflammation, increase sympathetic nervous system, cortisol, and disrupt your vagus nerve (which controls the connection between your brain and major organs, as well as whether you’re anxious or calm).

It’s important to understand your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm, aka your sleep/wake cycle, is like an app running in the background of your brain. It is responsible for understanding time and functions in 24 hour cycles to help you be alert when you need to and sleep when you need to. Part of it is naturally occurring, but part of it is triggered by the environment. For example, when it is dark your brain is triggered to feel sleepy. The average person feels the sleepiest times between 2-4 am and 1-3 pm (hence, the after lunch lag). If you’re all caught up on sleep, you won’t notice the swings as much.

Since some of your circadian rhythm is environmentally triggered, you have some room to make improvements. Here are some tips to trick your body into getting the sleep it needs. You might notice they are similar to the steps you’ve already taken!

  1. Avoid naps, if possible, for now. If you have an afternoon slump, drink a big thing of water and take a walk.
  2. Reduce caffeine and keep it before noon so it has time to get out of your system. Careful of too much dark chocolate at night!
  3. Exercise during the day so your body spends the energy it needs to sleep well. Stretching before bed can be helpful for restless limb issues.
  4. Unplug at least an hour before bed. Melatonin production begins when it gets dark, and the light of electronics can disrupt this. As it gets closer to bedtime, allow the lights to dim some.
  5. Create a consistent waking and sleeping routine. 
    • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Shoot for falling asleep within the same 60 minutes each night. Staying up and sleeping in late can disrupt your cycle.
    • Consistent bedtime routines are key. Do the same relaxing things in the same order each night. Color, read, journal, or take a bath or shower. You know you’re consistent when your dogs know it’s bedtime before you say anything, because they know what it means, for example, that you’re filling your water glass.
  6. Body scans are particularly helpful for falling asleep, as are progressive muscle relaxation meditations. You can also listen to sleep stories (bedtime stories for adults) on apps like Calm.
  7. Sleep in a room that is dark, quiet (noise makers are helpful for blocking out environmental sleep disrupters), and cool.
    • Pro Tip: if your room is messy, it might help your sleep to clean it first!
  8. Do not sleep with electronic devices on or where they can flash and wake you. If you need sound to fall asleep, try sleep stories, podcasts, or audiobooks. Something that doesn’t disrupt your brain’s ability to produce melatonin and put you to sleep.

As an adult, you should get between 7-9 hours of sleep. The younger you are (under 18) the more sleep you need, up to 18+ hours a day as a newborn. Everyone is individual, but if you are functioning on 6 or fewer hours of sleep at night, you’re not functioning. That little sleep triggers stress hormones in your body and makes everything else more difficult, including recovering from depression. If you’re sleeping more than 10 hours each night, you may need to look at whether you’re getting enough exercise, nutrition, etc. See if you can wake up an hour earlier and get your body going with a shower, walk, or meditation.

If you sleep little and try to get more, you might find that you feel groggy in the morning. That’s because of sleep debt. The sleep you don’t get accumulates. Think of your sleep like a checking account. In order to spend energy, you need to deposit energy. If you don’t deposit sleep, you get bounced checks and overdraft fees. Keep up the more sleep for a few weeks and then see how you feel before you give it up.

I get a lot of feedback from people that struggle to shut their minds down at bedtime. Yes. You are not alone. Even I struggle with this sometimes. Try the tips above, specifically unplugging an hour before bedtime, getting daily exercise, and trying a meditation to help you fall asleep. If you find yourself stuck between not quiet awake and not quite asleep as you ruminate, get up. Go get a glass of water, hit the restroom, sit on the floor and stretch. Try not to turn on any lights if you can help it.

  • Pro Tip: Visualizations can help calm the thoughts. I envision my mind as a white board. I spray it down, then wipe all the thoughts away. Sometimes I have to spray my white board several times and really clean in the cracks. I’ve had other people envision chalk boards (my mind goes right to nails on a- I can’t even type it!), paintings, turning off a mental TV, turning the page of a book, etc. Come up with some visualization to help you clean up your mind.

Ultimately, your brain needs to be at optimal functioning in order to recover. It needs meditation, nutrition and water, checks and balances, quiet time, and sleep. It also needs social interaction, which we’ll talk about next week.

You can do this. Recovery from depression is possible. You have the beginning basics to care for your body. It’s time to do it. Especially when you don’t want to or can’t find the energy. Even if you turn the TV off for an extra 20 minutes, color for 5, or meditate for 2.

Whatever steps you take are steps. Your commitment and gentle effort can get you to a life that works for you. If you need extra help, reach out.

Take care,

D

Balance Darkness with Light

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Can you believe it? You’re halfway there! We’re starting this week having spent the last month working on our diet, exercise, meditation ritual, and sh*it owning process on our path to moving through depression. What’s next in store for you? You betcha. It’s time to unplug.

I’ll admit, this is a little bizarre timing with the whole Facebook scandal thing. Or perhaps it’ll just be that little bit extra motivation. Let’s talk about, though, why you don’t need a scandal to unplug.

My guess is that you’ve heard that use of electronics can increase your risks of depression and anxiety. It’s even more dangerous for teenagers and young adults.

There’s no shortage of people out there asking us to unplug more often. There’s also plenty of cartoons depicting just what it does to us. Like this from the NY Times about how phone use is impairing intimate relationships:

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You can take a handy quiz they have set up to check how your relationship with your phone is. Believe you me, the irony of you reading about less electronic use on my blog is not lost on me.

I could spend a lot of time explaining to you the ways in which overuse of electronics is harmful to you. And you probably know most of them already. Here’s a personal example.

I recently decided to give the whole Instagram thing a try. I know, I’m behind. Let’s blame it on me being old. But let me share with you what I’ve found.

It’s starts off innocent enough. You just want to connect with people and share fun stories. Then likes come through, follows, comments. So you check out their pages, like some things, maybe search through hashtags. Suddenly you’ve lost a half an hour, maybe more, to doing nothing but scrolling through endless pictures. But posting is fun, especially since it gets your creative juices flowing with both photography and writing. Soon life becomes little moments wanting their pictures taken. Then more likes, comments, follows. More searches. More time lost. So you try not to use the app, but find yourself still picking up your phone more than you need to. Or thinking of the next time you’ll have a few minutes to peek through, promising yourself you won’t spend more than five minutes…

After a week of using Instagram, I noticed several things. For starters, my sleep sucked. I had a difficult time falling asleep every night that I checked it. My attention waned, as my ability to stay present in the moment was snatched away by wondering. My work suffered, as little moments that could have been spent well were wasted away. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I couldn’t keep it up. I remember the struggle when Myspace came out. Then Facebook. It sucks you in.

Oh man, and streaming services? Forget it.

Excessive electronic use, whether through phones, computers, TV, tablet, or what-have-you, is hurting your mental health. Recent research has also shown that social media is especially damaging and increases the risk of suicide in teens who use it more than 5 hours per day. Think about what it does to our kids’ brains to spend all day every day on tablets at school. It’s how we teach them now. Here are some other ways electronic use is disruptive:

  • Incomplete and often unrealistic expectations. Many people post more about the things that make it appear as though they have a great life, family, body, etc.
  • Avoidance of feelings. It can be terrifying to open up and let feelings have space, and infinitely easier to quiet them with a quick distraction.
  • Internet is the perfect marketing scheme. It only shows you what it thinks you want to see. So if you’re depressed, you’re probably going to get more suggestions on the topic or relate to others online who are also in a dark place. Like parents get a lot of parenting links in their ads and “sponsored posts.” Or if you click on political support things for this person, you’re going to see more positive things about them and more negative about their competition.
    • You can’t get out of depression by feeding it more depression. You need to balance your exposure to the darkness with things that bring you light.
  • It eats time. Time that you might feel you don’t have in order to eat right, exercise, meditate, spend time with friends, keep up a clean house, etc. If you have time to check your social media, play games, or scroll through something, binge watch something, then you have time to take care of yourself.
  • Dangers of anonymity. Cyber bullying is real, and it’s not just for teens. Just read any lengthy comment feed.
  • Getting overstimulated. It’s important that the brain has both excited times and relaxed times. Electronics are like little strobe lights. You need downtime too.

I hear a lot of “good” reasons for people to be on electronics.

For example, it’s how I keep in touch with people! It doesn’t have to be. Did you know that your brain does not experience the interactions via snapchat, instagram, facebook, etc as social interaction? Face to face, real social interaction and emotional intimacy is vital to your ability to thrive.

Oh, it helps me relax or blow off steam! Actually, it helps distract you. Which is not the same thing as coping. Distraction can be a useful skill, but it cannot be your only skill.

Remember last week’s assignment of letting go of excuses.

So why don’t we stop? It’s called addiction. Addiction, simplified, is compulsive use despite harmful consequences. The way I describe addiction is simple: it starts with using something to avoid having to feel, be alone with ourselves (or our thoughts), or like reasons. It’s an escape. Of course, in some cases it becomes its own beast.

Does that sound like something you might do? Like perhaps taking a “break” from one electronic device by using another?

I get it. Electronic, and especially phone, overuse is pervasive. I dare say it’s the most common form of addiction, and it’s not just in our country.

What are we to do?

Well, let’s be honest. Computers, including those mobile and miniature ones we keep in our pockets, aren’t going anywhere for now. When it comes to helping our mental health, it’s important that we’re using them responsibly. Here’s a place to start.

Danielle’s 10 Do’s and Don’ts:

  1. Pay attention for how much time you’re on your phone, including using various applications. A tech way of doing this is through apps like Moment.
  2. Don’t spend your time with others on your devices unless absolutely necessary. Hint: it’s hardly ever necessary.
    • Here’s a fun game: Phone Stack. Whoever picks up their phone first pays the bill.
  3. Do look for opportunities to enjoy life around you. If you’re waiting for something, engage people around you in conversation. If you’re outside, take a deep breath.
    • You can also do the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. You can switch the senses up to match where you are.
  4. If you use an app too much, delete the app and access it through your internet browser. Or turn off notifications. Or limit yourself to a certain number of minutes on that app each day. Or make it so you have to enter your password each time you want to use it.
  5. Stop electronic use at least an hour before bedtime. Do something neurologically soothing in order to help transition yourself into sleep.
    • Examples of activities: Stretching, shower/bath, reading, journaling, coloring, meditating, etc.
  6. Carve out time for quiet reflection. This can be praying, meditating, a bath, or a walk outside. Make time to not only be with yourself, but allow space for your feelings. If need be, turn on music instead of TV.
  7. Make commitments and stick to them. Like no phones at dinner or only checking a social media app once per day.
  8. Read real books. Like the ones you check out from the library, where you physically turn each page to read it. They even smell good.
  9. If you must distract, do it with quality, light promoting content. Like The School of Life, Happify, or Calm.
  10. Pay attention to what you’re pumping into your psyche. Is it positive? Violent? Dramatic? Loving? Competitive? Twisted? What do different shows and media do to your psyche? Ever watch tattoo shows and want a new tattoo? Or cooking shows and get on a cooking kick? Hint: Media affects you.

You can do this. Less time in virtual, more time in reality. Your mood, relationships, brain chemistry, social life, and spirit will thank you.

What’s one way you can find balance today?

See you next week for our talk about sleep? You’ll already be a step ahead if you quit with the bedtime electronics.

Take care out there,

D

What Depression Eats

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There are a few topics in our culture that seem to beg an exorbitant amount of attention for the wrong reasons. One of those topics is diet. There are so many ideas about what a *right* diet is. Paleo? Atkins? Vegan? Vegetarian? Pescatarian? Keto? Jenny Craig? Low Fat? Gluten Free? South Beach? Weight Watchers? Blood Type Diet? Histamine Intolerance? Dairy Free? Or perhaps you’ve been looking into a Master Cleanse…

I can’t tell you which of the above diets is good for you. Or which are a little outdated (Does anyone still do Jenny Craig?). I’m not a nutritionist. There are people for that.

What I’m here to tell you is about the connection between what we put in our bodies and how that affects our mental health. When it comes to recommending diet, you’ll most likely hear me recommend something that meets the following criteria:

  1. It doesn’t stress you out, bring up anxiety, or create an obsessive behavior to do (though sometimes changes can be emotionally trying at first).
  2. It consists of real food.
  3. Eating isn’t a way of numbing out difficult feelings (though small amounts of dark chocolate can help regulate hormones) or a means to control or punish oneself.

Our eating habits are learned young, based on how our parents ate, the culture of food in our family, and our own relationship with it. If you want to know more, try the book First Bite. Just because they’re learned young, though, doesn’t mean they’re out of our control.

We can learn to take back our relationship to food.

Too often we don’t pay attention when we eat. Perhaps we zone out on our phones, computers over “lunch break,” or sit in front of the TV (we’ll talk about electronics next week). Rarely do we really taste our food.

When was the last time you intentionally and mindfully consumed a food, pausing before eating, during chewing, after swallowing, 20 minutes later, 4 hours later, and two days later to notice the various responses your body had to the food?

Some food might feel amazing during the tasting/chewing part, and the satisfaction might even continue 20 minutes later. But what about later that day, or a couple days later? Does that food contribute to your body feeling healthy, energized, nourished, and strong? Did that food’s benefits disappear once the sugar high subsided? Or worse, did it contribute to worsening depressive symptoms?

*Body Scan Meditations can be helpful in learning how your body responds to food*

It’s true, there is a link between worsening depressive symptoms and high refined sugars. Here’s a quick and dirty list of foods that may deserve a closer look at how they might negatively impact your mood:

  1. Sugar. Some research suggests that it can increase depression, as well as risks for diabetes and dementia. Remember how earlier we talked about how depression wants you to do what makes depression stronger? Ever crave sweets to try and stamp out a bad mood? Sugar is in way more than you think. Even “healthy” cereals can have too much! Try and stay under 5g of sugar, to start.
    • *Note: this includes artificial sweeteners.
  2. Fast and Fried food. The Journal of Public Health Nutrition states that eating these foods can increase your risk for developing depression. It’s also thought that clogging of arteries can reduce blood flow to the brain, which impedes function.
  3. Caffeine. Too much caffeine can impact your sleep and create the jitters, which could trick your brain into thinking it’s anxious. Try to cut down to one cup of coffee or tea each morning if you’re a heavy user.
  4. High Sodium and Highly Processed foods. They take a lot more energy for your body to process and can contribute to fatigue: a symptom of depression. There is also a lot out there about how preservatives, food dyes, and additives could contribute to mental health and behavior disruption. I’ll let you do the research on that one.

What about foods that are good for you and your fight against depression? Here are some foods thought to boost mood:

  1. Dark Leafy Greens – Nutrient Dense and Inflammation Fighting
  2. Berries – Antioxidants have been shown in some studies to reduce depressive symptoms.
  3. Foods containing Folic Acid
    • Broccoli, Beans, Tomatoes, Bananas, etc.
  4. Foods high in Omega 3s – supports brain function
    • Flax, Chia, Edamame, Walnuts, etc.
  5. Avocados – They’re just a powerhouse.
  6. Protein Rich Foods Boost Energy & Alertness
  7. Complex Carbs can help boost mood, too. There is some thought that carb cravings come from low serotonin. But reach for whole grains! (If your bread responds like tempurpedic, it’s probably not whole grains).
  8. Drink A LOT OF WATER. I like to drink as many ounces as I am pounds. Pretending I’m 100lbs (I’m not), I’d strive for 100 oz. That’s just me. The big guys recommend about 100 oz for women and 120 oz for men each day.

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Okay, Danielle. Enough lists. What is the point?

My point is that your body deserves your respect. It’s worth honoring and loving your body by fueling it with what it needs to function at its best. If your body is suffering, how can your mind feel good? They’re connected.

You might notice I didn’t recommend that you increase your consumption of frozen goods like taquitos, hotpockets, or veggies in cheese sauce. Or maybe that’s just what my depression ate. I also didn’t recommend you eat more potato chips, french fries, or soda. Are you surprised?

Of course not. You know what is good for you, and you still don’t always eat it. My husband is a big fan of the “I’d rather die early and be happy eating what I want” mantra. If you want to tell yourself this, that’s fine. But I’m going to just leave this one question here…

are you really happy?

Since we’re talking about what we put in our bodies, let’s just throw one more thing out there. We all know alcohol is a depressant, right? And that when we’re depressed, drinking only increases symptoms. But did you know that you have to be careful with any recreational drugs, including marijuana? Marijuana has been shown to play a role in the onset of schizophrenia in those with predispositions or other mental health issues. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms from marijuana include anxiety, depression, and irritability that can last months.

In the name of not using food to numb out our feelings, being mindful about the good things we put into our bodies, and dedicating ourselves to honoring our bodies… until depression is a thing in the (distant) past for you, probably best to steer clear of alcohol, marijuana, and the like.

 

The goal with all of this is simple: consume more of what feels good because it is actually good for your body. Consume less of what feels good because it helps you numb out difficult emotions. Honor your body by feeding it fresh fruits, veggies, lean means, and whole grains. Make little adjustments that feel sustainable and aren’t painful. Uncomfortable, fine. That indicates growth. Painful? Pull back a little.

It’s important that you don’t go into this like a crash diet. We’re not trying to operate under extremes. We’re wanting to make lasting change. Your taste buds can change to appreciate real food, but that takes time. If you want a little treat here or there, it’s not a problem. It’s only a problem when you can either feel the urge to keep eating it or want it when you’re having a rough day.

If you find yourself several days or weeks into a food relapse, it’s not too late to re-commit yourself to living healthier. You also don’t have to drop a ton of money on organics if that isn’t feasible or important to you. Start with limiting your time in the aisles at the middle of the store.

Just like we don’t want to extreme crash diet, we don’t want to extreme calorie count either. Love your body in moderation. As a woman, if your caloric intake is at the bare minimum of 1,200 per day, your brain is operating in survival mode. It can’t thrive and recover from depression when it’s worried about whether it’ll live the day. Recommended calories for women are in the 1,600-2,400 per day range, whereas men are in the 2,000-3,000 range.

Let’s work on worrying less about calories and more about feeding your body what it needs to be healthy.

As always, if you’re wanting to make big changes or are worried about your health, consult a doctor.

Phew!

Does that feel like a lot?

Take care of yourself out there. We’ll see you next week. And remember, keep up with your exercise, meditation, sh*t owning, and healthy foods.

D

Done Defending Depression

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It’s week three! So far in our journey together, I’ve asked you to start getting more exercise to help you foster a better connection with your body. I’ve also asked you to start using meditation and mindfulness skills to support that connection with yourself. If you’ve been doing both of these, it’s time for step three.

(If you haven’t started the other two, go back and start there!)

Yep- it’s time to own your sh*t. What does this mean? Well, it means a lot. So let’s dive right in.

Depression is a thick, sticky, exhausting mud that can feel overwhelming to sludge through. When we’re low, nothing sounds good. We feel like we can’t seem to get anything done. The mere thought of getting off the couch can feel like three days worth of energy. With this, comes a lot of beliefs. Skewed beliefs can be one of the most debilitating symptoms of depression.

“I can’t…” I can’t seem to get on top of my to-do list… so I just won’t do anything at all.

“It won’t work.” I just know it.

“I’ve tried.” It might have been just that one time, but it didn’t work.

“What’s the point?” What’s the point of cleaning up? It’ll just get dirty again.

“I’ll get to it later.” Later sometimes comes, right?

“I can’t do anything right.” This current situation is just one of many examples I could probably come up with if I tried.

“I’ve always felt this way.” I was born depressed and I will die depressed.

These are just thoughts (as we talked about last week) – they needn’t be believed. Each of these thoughts can feel so justified inside in the darkness of the moment. Yet we might find that when we express them out loud, others don’t seem to understand. Heck, sometimes when we hear them out loud we don’t understand them.

Owning your sh*t is about letting go of defending depression. It’s time to remove “I’d do that, but I’m just so depressed,” from your internal repertoire. Depression is already skilled at coming up with excuses, it doesn’t need your help. What it needs is a parent (you) to come in and help it learn how to take accountability.

One of my favorite ways to look at how we treat ourselves is to imagine how we would respond if it were a child we were interacting with instead of ourselves. If a child came up to you, tearful, and said “I can’t do anything right,” or “I tried to make it better once, but it didn’t work,” what would be your response?

“You’re absolutely right, kiddo. Life is hard, and you should just give up right now. It won’t ever get better, and if you tried just once and it didn’t work, now is probably the time to quit. Especially since you can’t do anything right.”

Uh… no. I like to think that if a kid comes up feeling desolate and lost, we offer a little more than that. We (hopefully) would listen to the kid, empathize with their experience, and ultimately tell them they’re amazing and that though life can be hard, it’s worth fighting for. Then we’d help them come up with a way to both express those feelings and take tangible steps to improve things.

Right? So why don’t we do this with ourselves?

It’s time.

Look around your life. What looks like depression? Does your house, work station, car, refrigerator, social calendar, thought process, relationship, or outward appearance look messy, chaotic, or neglected? Does it look depressed?

At some point you have to decide that living the depressed way isn’t good enough- that you deserve better. It’s time to do something about it in the same way we would encourage a kid to. We acknowledge not wanting to do something, having our bodies feel like lead, and our fears that we won’t be good enough. Then we challenge them.

“I can’t.”  – Yes, I can. I am a survivor. I am capable and strong.

“It won’t work.”  – I’m worried it won’t work, but I don’t know what will happen until I try.

“I’ve tried.”  – It takes perseverance and commitment to change things. Trying once won’t be enough. I’ll need to keep at it and experiment to find what works for me.

“What’s the point?”  – The point is I, as much as everyone else in the world, deserve love and happiness. And that starts within me.

“I’ll get to it later.”  – Or I’ll do it now, because otherwise things will pile up and I’ll feel weighed down.

“I can’t do anything right.”  – Except for the following three examples of times I’ve done something correctly in my life. 

“I’ve always felt this way.”  – Nobody ever always felt anyway. Both the good and the bad come and go, it’s the fluidity of life. It’s what makes life precious and beautiful.

If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford.

In order to let go of defensiveness, we have to do its opposite: take accountability. This can be a wildly painful process because it requires that we lean into our fears in order to prove them wrong. We must stand steadfast and brave against the tides of depression trying to take us down. Depression has a cryptonite – it’s called courage. And it has an achilles heel – it’s called self-love. Feel the waves of depression try to hold you back, then do those healthy and loving things instead.

What is a tell for depression in your life? How can you take steps to change that today?

You deserve a happy life. You can do this.

I’ll be over here holding hope for you until you can feel it for yourself.

Until next week, be kind and gentle with yourself.

D

p.s. This is hard work. If you need help, find a counselor near you. If you need immediate help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline1-800-273-8255.

Thoughts Are Like Boogers

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Welcome back to week two! Have you been keeping on top of your exercise plans? If not, stop right now and do five minutes of stretches.

Ready? Okay, then. It’s important that you keep on top of yourself when it comes to doing what I’m asking you to do, even when you don’t want to. In fact, especially when you don’t want to (that’s when you need it the most). As you get further along, you’ll begin to notice that your body needs different sorts of care on different days. Sometimes you need exercise, others comfort, and others company. How will you start to figure this out? Mindfulness.

I often tell people who start with me that if I have two clients with the same presenting issues, one of whom meditates and the other who does not, the one who meditates sees more significant change sooner. Why? Because the more aware a person is, not only of their experience but what is happening around them, the better able they are to process in therapy in order to release difficult feelings and cope.

If you already meditate, make sure you’re getting at least 5 minutes each day. The morning is often easiest, as it’s when your mind is most quiet. If you already do 5 minutes a day, maybe now is the time to make it 10.

If you don’t already meditate, you can start with simple mindfulness activities to ease into it. We often envision mindfulness to be this peaceful experience sitting cross-legged on a beach, hands on knees, whispering “om.” That’s not meditation. At least, not really.

Meditation is the act of recognizing when we’ve gotten lost in our thoughts and intentionally bringing ourselves back to the present. Jon Kabat Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement.” Meditation is the formal practice, while mindfulness is what we do informally in-between. This being said to explain that mindfulness and meditation are not always awesome. Sometimes they’re grueling, vulnerable, and raw.

This might sound intimidating, but mindfulness and meditation are only grueling, vulnerable, and raw because being human is. Our minds race constantly, wishing for something, remembering something, planning for something. We zombie out on our electronic devices so that we don’t have to face that being human. We fear what our thoughts will become, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to fear your thoughts.

Why?

Two reasons.

  1. Your thoughts aren’t real. Your mind makes thoughts like your nose makes boogers. You don’t live your life according to your boogers, so you don’t need to live your life according to your thoughts. When we talk about thoughts, we very specifically say “your thoughts,” which means there is a you. YOU are in control. Not your thoughts. You can learn to stop believing everything you think and start feeling in control of your life.
  2. While being human is grueling, vulnerable, and raw, it is also awe inspiring, uplifting, and beautiful. Oftentimes in order to get to the latter we must first gather the gumption to face the former. Life is not all good nor all bad. It is a mix and part of getting control of your thoughts is beginning to create a more realistic view of the world.

If you need a place to start, go with a body scan. I’ll work on recording and sharing some meditations in the next few weeks, but there are a lot of places out there you can find guided meditations (See bottom of blog for apps). Body scans are helpful to begin with because we can use our senses, which helps ground us. The act of feeling our toes, knees, back, or jaw instead of listening to and believing every thought that pops into our heads is an exercise. Think of it as building your mental muscles.

You can also work on just following and observing the breath, without trying to control it. Find the place you feel your breath the strongest in your body (nostrils, chest, stomach, throat) and focus on that one place. No need to count your breaths or change them. You just watch your body as it knows what to do.

Alternatively, you can take a walk and notice, one at a time, your 5 senses. It’s easiest if your walk is slow and deliberate. Similarly, you can scan through your five senses while you brush your teeth (instead of what you probably do, which is review yesterday, plan for today, and worry or wonder).

When you get hooked by a thought, pause, acknowledge it, and come back to your body or your breath. By doing this, you weaken the neural connection that wants you to mindlessly think and you strengthen the neural connection for mindful awareness.

Yes, meditation can change your brain structure.

Any time that you catch yourself in ruminating depressive talk, pause, focus on your breath for three full breaths, and then try to return to your day. You’ll know depressive talk by it’s negative tone. Examples might include, “what’s the point?” “I’m never going to…” “why would anybody…” and any version of you not being good enough. Put a pause on those thoughts.

One last thing. It’s normal to have negative first reactions to meditation. I didn’t like it AT ALL for the first six months. Ten years later, it’s my best friend. Here are 5 common struggles with meditation:

  1. “I can’t seem to do it right.” Don’t worry about this. Any time you recognize that you’re lost in thought, you’re doing it.
  2. “It just makes me fall asleep.” Sometimes this is an avoidance thing your mind does. Other times your body is just trying to tell you it needs more rest.
  3. “I can’t stop thinking!” It’s okay. You’re not really supposed to STOP thinking. Instead of that, make your goal to focus your attention on breath, body, etc. Also, you might find that the moment you sit to meditate your mind lights on thought fire. It’s not that you suddenly start thinking more, it’s that you are now aware just how much you already think.
  4. “I get cramps/tingling/itching when I try.” That’s normal. Again, some of this is a distraction technique your mind will use. Sometimes your nose isn’t itchy, your mind is. Other times you might just be really feeling your body when you normally spend a lot of effort ignoring its cues.
  5. “I get really anxious/agitated when I try.” Normal again. Part of this is the fear that we might not do it well or that we’ll uncover some deep darkness. Again with your intention, work on making your goal focusing your attention on your body or breath instead of trying to calm down.

Now it’s your turn! In addition to more maintainable exercise, it’s time to add meditation to your daily self care routine. Here are some apps to help:

Calm

Headspace

Smiling Mind (Free and has versions for Teens)

Stop, Breathe, and Think (There’s also a kid version)

 

See you next week!

D

Couch Slug No More

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Exercise. It’s the first step in our time together and it is an important one. I also acknowledge that it’s probably the last thing on your “sounds good” list if you’ve been struggling lately. I know, there are some days when your body feels like lead and simply presenting yourself to the world with a half brushed mouth, two day old hair, and sniff-tested clothes is almost more than you can take. I know the fury of frustration and fatigue that can come with a bouncy encouragement to get exercise from someone who clearly doesn’t get it. I also know that even if you don’t want to, even if you have to curse me, the world, or your depression. Even if you have to tie your shoes while you throw a two year old tantrum on the floor, or slither off the couch like a deflated slug- you have to get exercise. Remember? The only way out is through.

So let’s talk about why.

Certainly a piece of the puzzle to our moods are our neurotransmitters, or our “feel good” chemicals. When we’re low with dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, or oxytocin, our mood is lower. That’s the basics of it, right? And we all know that exercise is a way of releasing these natural chemicals, as well as increasing blood flow to the part of the brain responsible for our emotions.

Did you know, though, that positive mood changes occur more readily when you’re engaging in aerobic exercise? Anaerobic, or more intense activities, don’t show the same level of benefit. So what types of exercises are helpful?

  1. Yoga. I first recommend yoga because not only does it increase strength, endurance, burn calories, and is often done in a group setting, but yoga also adds a mindfulness component (which we’ll cover in more detail next week). When doing yoga, you get more connected to your body, feeling the consequences of each action. Yoga also helps release tense areas that hold stored emotion, like your shoulders and hips. If you’re new to yoga, there are classes for you. If you need to de-stress, try a yin or restorative yoga class. You’ll thank me later.
  2. Walking (or jogging). No need to sprint or try and be in a 5k next week if you’re not usually a runner. If you want to work up to that, try something like the Couch to 5k program. Otherwise, walking is perfect. Not only does walking get your heart pumping and your muscles moving, it also gets you outdoors with fresh air. Walking is helpful for the brain in a similar way to EMDR in that it uses bilateral brain stimulation. The movement helps with funneling your attention and reorganizing your brain.
  3. Swimming. Ideal for people who struggle with aches and pains (or are pregnant, this is great for pre/postnatal ladies!), swimming is easy on the joints. Swimming also incorporates water (duh!), which has a natural connection to our emotions and is often found to be relaxing.
  4. Dancing. Nobody has to see it, or you can be up there performing. Dancing is great not only for many of the reasons mentioned above, but it includes music. Be aware of what music you expose yourself to. Pump some happy, life-loving tunes with a beat that gets you moving and dance to your heart’s content. You don’t have to be a great dancer. Dancing is in our genes as humans, just ask any baby.

There are other reasons exercise is important as well, such as improved body image, endurance, and improved energy (the more you move, the more you want to move… to a point). Getting good exercise during the day helps you sleep more soundly at night, which we’ll talk about in weeks to come. If you’re feeling more energized, spending more time in the sunlight/fresh air, and sleeping better at night… doesn’t that already sound like not-depression? The more fatigued you are, the more depressed you feel simply because fatigue feels like depression, even when it isn’t. It’s like the opposite idea of smiling to trick your brain into feeling happier. Couch-slug feeling tricks your brain into feeling depressed.

Now is a good time to talk about the intention to our exercises. We often see exercise as a means to an end (i.e. look better/thinner/more ripped/etc). In my program, though, exercise is not about looking a certain way or fitting a certain size. Nor is it about what other people think. Stop that, right now. If you’re holding onto “skinny clothes” for once you look a certain way, get rid of them. We want to learn how to love exactly what we have as it is. Once we love what we have, we have more flexibility to improve it. What does that mean? It’s about feeling strong, energized, and connected to your body. If you’re connected with your body you treat it better, and in turn it treats you better. Trying to punish yourself for looking or weighing a certain way is a breeding ground for depression. It’s like wanting to get rid of the stray animals on your front porch, but secretly leaving them scraps from dinner each night.

Doesn’t work.

The same is true with too much exercise. If you are pushing yourself into oblivion with exercise, you’re exhausting your body and causing the problems noted above. We’re not talking about becoming triathlon athletes here or trying to squeeze some control out of our bodies in an uncontrollable world. We’re talking about improving your mental landscape by creating a healthy connection with your body. Remember, it’s the only body you get. And your body, just like every other body, is absolutely beautiful, just as it is.

Are you wondering how in the world you’re going to find time to exercise in your busy life? What about the kids, my social media presence, work, school, etc? It doesn’t have to be crazy (in fact, it shouldn’t be!). Think small to start. Take a walk around the building on your lunch break. Park in a space in the back of the parking lot to go grocery shopping. Go play outside with your kids or animals. Work your way up so that you’re exercising for 15 minutes 5 times a week. Or 30-45 minutes 3 or 4 times per week. Stretch for 10 minutes before you get into bed at night. Make it a goal to join one fitness class per week (plus, then, several walks around the neighborhood throughout the week). You DO have time to get more exercise. In fact, I’m going to go do 15 minutes of Yoga before my daughter wakes from her nap.

See you next week! Feel free to comment your plans for exercise below. It can be helpful to write them down, here or elsewhere!

D

The Only Way Out is Through

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I describe it as a monster. Something that you can try to visualize outside of yourself, removing the belief that it is actually something about you that’s flawed. I’ve seen it depicted as a dark cloud following someone around, heard it described as wading through thick mud, and felt what I call the darkness.

Let’s talk about how to get out of depression.

I often use the book We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. Over and over in this beautiful children’s book, they come across barriers to their adventures. In the midst of each, they repeat “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!” That, ladies, gentlemen, and the like, is my prescription for getting out of depression. But what exactly does that mean? Let me walk you through Danielle’s Directions through Depression.

Depression typically wants for you to sit on your bum, binge watch streaming tv, and eat loads of carbs or sweets. It wants you to pull away from your friends, responsibilities, and goals. We used to believe that depression was simply a chemical imbalance, but some have more recently suggested that depression is a spiritual and mental tactic of turning toward yourself to learn and grow. That perhaps depression has a purpose.

Yet, in our current day that purpose seems to get a little lost. Nowadays when we turn toward ourselves, we tend to bring a tiny computer with us so as not to have to face ourselves. But see, that’s our problem. How are we to learn from our depression if we’re unwilling to face what needs to be seen?

The things I’m going to recommend are not going to be terribly novel to you. I’m going to tell you the things that you’ll need to do, and you may hear in your mind, “no thanks,” or “I’ve tried that,” or “that sounds like a lot of work.” My answer to these are the same – I know. I know you’ve probably tried, maybe even for several weeks or months. Maybe you did a little of this, or a little of that. For many people, depression becomes a lifestyle. Changing habits of any kind, let alone an entire way of being, takes effort. It takes countless repetitions, time, and perseverance.

And you know what? You can do it.

Here are the 9 things you need to do to move your way through depression:

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditate
  3. Own Your Sh*t (yep- I said it!)
  4. Eat Right
  5. Unplug
  6. Sleep Well
  7. Participate
  8. Volunteer
  9. Find the Passion

Over the next nine weeks, I’ll walk you through step by step. As we build this plan together, the goal is to continually add to your repertoire. Week one, for instance, I’m going to tell you to get some exercise. But that doesn’t mean during week two, you stop exercising and start meditating. Each week you’ll need to focus your energy into that week, while also continuing each previous lesson. It builds upon itself until you’ve created a new lifestyle, got it?

One last thing. Each week I’m going to be telling you to do things you don’t, in fact, want to do. That’s the point. You’ll have to do them anyway. You’re welcome to curse my name as you do, that’s fine. So long as you’re still doing it.

If you’re stuck in depression, what’s in your comfort zone is no longer good for you. That might be isolation, binge watching tv, binge eating (or restricting), staying up all hours of the night, feeling victim to your own mind, and avoiding silence at all costs. I’m going to ask you to step outside your comfort zone. Yes, if you’re comfortable, you’re not changing. Let’s get to the magic zone, that place where we do good things for ourselves that are wildly uncomfortable and force us to grow.

It may be helpful to have an expert support you along your path. In order to create lasting change, you have to commit to changing every day for the next two years (and not just the commitment, but the action). If you find that your efforts have been short bursts up to now, reach out for help.

I’ll say it again. You can do this. Time to let the light in.

See you next week.

D