Are you doing these three things to improve your mind?

 

We all know what it sounds like. We wake up, feel a little tickle in our throat and begin to think, “I’m sick. I’m getting sick. Is that…? Yep. I’m sick.” Or we have a rough night of sleep: “Ugh, I’m so tired. Ugh… how am I going to make it through today? There’s no way. Need. Coffee. Do they realize how tired I am? I can barely open my eyes. So tired.”

Each time we circle around with those thoughts a peculiar thing happens: we intensify our physical experience. Rarely do we repeat in our minds how tired we are, and end up feeling more jazzed. Our body becomes heavier, more sore, more weak with each repetition.

If we’re able to think ourselves more tired or sick, what happens when we think things like, “I am an angry person,” “I’m not attractive enough,” or “I’m so anxious.” So why do we do this to ourselves? Well, because we don’t always realize how much power we have over our minds.

That’s right, our minds.  They belong to us, and not the other way around. You are fully capable of turning your mind from unpleasant ruminations to more positive musings. But how? Here are three (not so easy) ways to improve your thinking:

  1. Vent less. When we feel burdened with thought, we often have the urge to vent (i.e. verbally vomit our frustrations). Under the guise that it’ll make us feel better, we seek out a friend or confidant to hear us out. Unfortunately, venting isn’t what helps us feel better. If we are venting just to vent, we’re actually ruminating out loud. We’ll most likely end up more worked up at the end than we did to start with. What helps us feel better is connection. If we seek out a confidant to hear us out, challenge us to take responsibility, and face our feelings without judgement, we can feel more connected and thus less overwhelmed.
  2. Don’t believe your boogers. We walk around all day assuming the thoughts that pulse through our minds are facts. “This sucks, that is awesome.” We believe what we think, and are even sometimes willing to fight to prove it is true. When we believe our thoughts, we end up with more thoughts, which we believe, which lead to more thoughts. I once heard a monk explain that our mind churns out thoughts like our nose churns out boogers. Thoughts are the mind’s job, but we don’t go through life believing our boogers hold the truth. So why do we believe our thoughts do? Don’t believe everything you think. Here are some tips how:
    1. Start by listening to the things you’re telling yourself all day. Awareness comes first.
    2. Work to label them. Whether they’re judgement, wishing, planning, or reminiscing. You can also just label them “thought.” Or better yet, “booger.”
    3. Start questioning whether they’re helpful or unhelpful. Do they make you feel more positive or more negative? If they don’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, look for a thought that counteracts them. Instead of “I can’t do anything right!” Try, “It’s been a rough day – and, I do a lot of things well. For example…” (hint: there are things you do well!)
  3. Step into your life. To get out of your mind, you have to get into your life. There’s even a workbook with a similar title, I recommend it. What does it mean to step into your life? To me, it comes with a few calls to action.
  • First up is accountability. Stop waiting for the motivation fairy to flit in and give you the desire to do things you don’t want to do. Be accountable to yourself, to your actions, and to your impact.
  • Secondly, to pull from Marie Kondo, do more of what sparks joy in your life. Get yourself organized. Love what you have. Do things that connect you to the earth, to yourself, and to your community.
  • Lastly, give it a rest. You don’t have anything to prove or any worth make up. Hold yourself with warm regard and give yourself a rest. Stop trying to berate yourself into improvement. Stop trying to outperform. Just step into the moment and try to enjoy it. It’s all you really have.

This life is hard. And confusing. And overwhelming. And that’s on the outsides of our bodies. Sometimes life is confusing and hard and overwhelming inside our bodies, outside of our control. Our mind, though, doesn’t have to be. That is the one suffering that we can control. Why not release it? Find rest. Enjoy it.

See you soon,

D

Honoring our power

It’s been going on a lot lately. I feel it coursing through my system. I want women (all women) to feel their power.

Let’s start by saying this has little to do with cis-men and their power. Yes, patriarchy. But we’re not here to talk about taking power from anyone. We all have power within us, and it is our job to keep and harness our own power for good.

There are so many ways we give away our power. Some of them are inherent in relationships, other ways are insidious, some even damaging.

Giving up our power often looks like abandoning ourselves. We give more credence to what others expect of us, what we think society expects of us, what we think relationship requires of us than to what our intuition knows is right.

I’ve been seeing it a lot in my work lately, women reclaiming their power. Women being brave enough to listen to their own instincts and then advocate for what they find there.

Too often we do the opposite. Women who have sacrificed their careers to raise their children, who sacrifice themselves to make sure the house and everyone in it is cared for in every way. Women who allow poor behavior from partners and do what they can to sweep away any consequences their partner might experience. It’s just easier that way. Women who forget or lose touch with who they are, because they’re trying to “have it all.” Women who believe they ought to look a certain way in order to have worth.

Where did we learn this?

Who says this is the way it has to be?

How might our lives change if we choose ourselves, in addition to all the other things we love? What if we thought of ourselves as -same as- not more important, not less important. Equal.

Yes, I will care for you when you’re in COVID isolation for a week, and then I’d like some time to myself this weekend.

Yes, I will pause my career because it’s important to raise these babies we’ve chosen, but I will listen to my inner wisdom and trust when it is time to go back.

I will own and share my feelings without fear of being labeled “sensitive.” I am sensitive. That is part of my power. My feelings belong to me, and I can experience them without reacting from them.

There is no morality in cleanliness, so I will not feel bad if my house feels like it is in shambles. I will not clean up after those who can clean up after themselves, outside of an occasional offering of kindness (infrequent enough that it doesn’t turn into an expectation by the other person).

Yes, I will wear clothes that feel good on my body, and give less care to what I’m supposed to look like these days. I will love this body because it is the body I have.

I am a valuable part of this conversation, and I will not feel shame for using my voice and sharing my ideas. I will not fear retribution and will set my boundaries and hold them with firm kindness.

Who is it that you want to be? What are you doing when you feel the most like yourself? Can you do more of what sends you down the path of authenticity, and less of what leads you astray?

You take that real estate test. It’s what you’ve always wanted. You take a step back from work and care for yourself, you’ve been trying too hard for too long. You speak up in that meeting, you have important things to say. Go to that rally, fight for your rights. You acknowledge those parts of you that you’ve kept hidden for too long, they’re beautiful.

We’ve been taught and it has been reinforced for too long that we should be self-sacrificing. That is not a balanced stance. We can be generous, selfless, and caring. But if we go to a place of giving where we lose ourselves, then we lose our ability to really show up in our lives, let alone for others.

This is where depression creeps in. The cognitive dissonance (or, the discomfort we feel when we live outside of our values) is immobilizing. Overwhelmed by the expectations, burdens, and dissonance, we numb out. We check out. We work harder to show up for others, and wonder why we feel empty at the end of the day.

Perhaps it starts with a willingness to get to know ourselves, truly, without shame. Only through understanding can we properly love. Only through true understanding and love, can we fully show up.

Show up for yourself the way you needed someone to show up for you when you were little. Show up for you the way you show up for others. Believe in your value, and live in a place where you honor it.

I see you working your tail off. You are not alone. You are a powerhouse, and I wish you rest and compassion.

You deserve it.

D

In the wake of loss

2021 ended in a difficult way for so many families in the Front Range. The Marshall Fire was the most devastating on record, and the loss is palpable.

The journey through this grief may be long and come in waves, and with the right support, you can feel your way through this. We’re here to help if you need us.

Additionally, we’ve added some resources below.

A few of the therapists over at Integrating Insights put together a wonderful handout for parents on how to talk to and support their kiddo with navigating the loss. You can read it below.

Not sure what to do next? The Red Cross has a page dedicated to you: What To Do After A Home Fire.

The US Fire Administration has this information packet below:

While we are offering a discounted rate to anyone impacted by the fire, Jewish Family Services also offers free services to those impacted.

You can also access more local resources through the Colorado Sun.

If you’re trying to support a friend through their loss, check out this Sonoma Magazine Article.

Here are some groups offered through Integrating Insights, as well:

Let us know what you need. We’ll keep adding resources as we find them.

Seity

I don’t need any help

Unlike many traditional graduate programs, my program required a 14-day backpacking trip into Utah’s
most grueling terrain. My peers and I spent two weeks hiking along the bottom of White Canyon, a deep
canyon marked by labyrinth-like side canyons, thick underbrush, arches, and pictographs. Throughout
these weeks, my peers and I took turns facilitating therapeutic group activities designed to provoke self-
reflection. What I discovered about myself during one activity changed the way I saw myself forever.
As the sun disappeared behind the canyon wall to the West, I shifted my heavy pack off my back and sat
in the sand to listen to the activity instructions my peer was giving. Here is what she said:


“I will be setting up a maze with rope. With one of your hands on the rope, your job is to find the way out
of the maze. You will be blindfolded, so this task will be difficult. You can raise your hand as many times
as you want to ask questions or to ask for help.”


“Okay, pretty straightforward,” I thought as I tied a bandana around my eyes and placed my hand on the
rope.


I slowly worked my way around the maze, making a mental map in my head. I could hear my peers
laughing and huffing in frustration as we quickly discovered the exit wasn’t going to be easy to find.
After a while, a few peers excitedly proclaimed their success and exited the maze. As fewer and fewer
people circled the maze with me, I grew frustrated and determined to find the exit.


“Do you need help, Jess?”
“No, I can do it! I don’t need any help.”
“Okay, let me know if you need help, I’m right here.”


Slowly but surely, I was the last one in the maze, circling around in the sand and swearing at my inability
to figure out the game. Finally, in a fit of frustration and anger, I pulled off my blindfold and begged my
peer to tell me the secret for getting out of the maze.


“All you needed to do was ask for help.”

If you relate to this story, it’s possible that at some point in your life, you learned that other people
couldn’t be trusted or relied on. To compensate for this lack of trust in others, you developed a
rebellious streak of independence to cope. Now, don’t get me wrong, independence can be a wonderful
strength, but at what point does it isolate you and leave you feeling alone and helpless?
As we’ve seen from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult for humans to thrive in isolation. As difficult as
it may be, learning to be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it will improve your relationships
and your mental wellbeing. I’ll save you the hassle of backpacking into the Utah wilderness and blindly
following a rope in circles in order to unlearn hyper-independence. Here are a few skills to try to begin
learning how to trust others:

  • Check your ego: Use a beginner’s mindset to view tasks with “fresh” eyes instead of assuming
    you know all the answers.
  • Delegate tasks: Ask your co-workers or family members to help you with something small or
    inconsequential to build your trust in their ability to help you in the future.
  • Allow for imperfection: If you’ve delegated a task, and it’s not done exactly how you would have
    done it, ask yourself if that’s okay?
  • Trust: Think of someone you trust completely. Make a list of qualities which make it easy for you
    to trust them. Work to extend trust to others who hold those qualities

Next time you find yourself saying “I don’t need any help,” challenge yourself by adding: “Actually, I could use a hand.” Remember, this doesn’t make you weak or needy, this makes you brave.

Reach out if you need me,

Jess

We’re Still Here…

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It can feel a bit like the world is spiraling these days. People are struggling with the loss of work, being cooped up at home, or having their regular self-care activities come to a screeching halt. This could feel like the end of the world. This could also feel like an opportunity.

As a therapist working in the world right now (currently, through telehealth), I have to share: I’ve been amazed. I’ve been amazed by how many people have been seeing this as an opportunity. Amidst the loss and uncertainty, I’m hearing stories of gratitude for being required to slow down, spend more time with family, get more creative with self-care.

I’ve seen a lot of tears in the last two weeks, and I undoubtedly will see more. Heck, I’ve had my own. And that’s okay. Let it out, feel your way through it. Uncertainty can feel heavy on your chest, and tears can release some of the tension.

I’ve seen a lot of hope in the last two weeks, and I hope to see more. Maybe the world will get a wake-up call. Maybe we’ll realize what is really important and care more about our people than we do about how pretty our homes look for Instagram pictures. Maybe we’ll put our phones down and look up to the sky or into the eyes of those we love more often. Maybe we’ll Facetime Grandma more than once a never.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll realize that we don’t have to face a pandemic to appreciate those we love, take good care of ourselves, and slow down.

If you’re struggling, please reach out to a therapist or other trusted person. You don’t have to go it alone.

We’re still here.

All services have been moved to Telehealth through programs like Google, Doxy, Theranest, SimplePractice, and Zoom. But we’re here. Here are a few tips to get the best experience out of your telehealth sessions:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable, private place to engage in therapy (though we never mind meeting your dogs and cats!). If you can’t find a quiet place, plan to stop a few times throughout the session to take a few deep breaths and refocus your energy.
  • Have a few things you’re hoping to touch on in the session. When you feel prepared, sessions feel smoother and you walk away feeling like you got more from them. It also helps you feel like you have power in an otherwise uncertain time.
  • When you’re talking, look at the camera instead of your therapist. While you’re talking, we’ll look at you. Then, when we talk, we’ll look at the camera and you can look at the video of us. This back and forth helps it feel more connected.
  • Be patient. Everyone and their mother is using telehealth services, so sometimes there are blips. Though it can be tough, we’re still here and we can see it as an opportunity to pause and breathe.
  • Relax. The hour is yours. Laugh, cry, be uncertain. Just be you.

Keep an eye out for some at-home self-care things, and check out our Facebook or Instagram for ideas. Get creative!

You can do this. We’re still “here” with you.

D

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