Swirling Minds

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There are so many questions – mine, clients, the world. It seems as though we’re walking around our homes and neighborhoods with swirling minds. Wondering. Pondering questions that we may never get answers to. Fearing the answers to others.

There are questions about why, how it started, and why we didn’t do things differently. Fears and frustrations around governments, lack of access to food and medical care, and the perpetual unknown of who is sick and who is not.

There are questions that hit us to our core, too. Our attempts to understand the why and how behind the moment set aside, we wonder how our world will be when it all comes to an end:

Will people be kinder, will they focus more on what matters? Will I?

How is this changing the next generations? Will they fear for safety? Will they come together faster? Will they learn to mourn losses without pushing them aside or numbing them out? Will the littlest of them remember?

What will it feel like to go to the grocery store, concert, airplane, or birthday party after this? Will I ever not feel afraid?

I think we’re seeing a lot of reality all at once these days. We’re being shown our privilege in high definition, and it can be painful. We are usually able to go to a building and purchase food whenever we want regardless of the season. We normally have endless connections, freedom to move about and travel our world, and yet very little contact with the people we live with.

I’ve been amazed by the countless stories of people finding themselves in better positions, emotionally, throughout this process. Reversals in who does the primary parenting, more time together as a family, and gratitude for having work we might otherwise be unsatisfied with.

I’ve also seen a lot of suffering. Most of the suffering I’ve seen have been of broken expectations and plans, fear and anxiety, and guilt around not enjoying this time like so many people post about online.

Whatever your experience, give yourself permission to feel it. It’s okay if you’re enjoying this time while people in the world suffer. It’s okay if you’re suffering during this time while people on Instagram are enjoying the downtime. Give yourself the grace to move through this however you need.

Try writing down the questions that you find swirling around in your mind to get them out, and then spend some time answering them for yourself. It’s okay not to have all the answers but to just think things through clearly. You could also color, draw, or tell a story for yourself. Once you’ve done this, you can keep it for later or release it by safely burning it outside.

Example: What will it feel like to go to the grocery store after this? I might be hesitant. I might wash my hands more, touch my face less, and need to regulate my breathing. I might be more appreciative of the people who work there. I might find myself hesitant to move close to people or stepping back when someone approaches. And I might have a completely different experience – that’s okay too.

The best work we can do right now is to learn to allow our experiences. Focus on how they feel in our bodies. Anxiety is often felt like a shaky, butterfly-wing, pressure in our chest or knots in our stomach. Anger is hot and tight, where sadness might be heavier and feel like choking. Start with just breathing to acknowledge and allow. Then, breathe peace into the physical sensation of the emotion. Breathe out and imagine breathing out the emotion like a dragon breathes out fire. Focus your mind and try not to follow thoughts (when you do, bring yourself back with the next breath).

We still have a few more weeks to go. And we can do this. Reach out for help if you need it.

Be safe out there,

D

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

Willingness for Vulnerability

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I’m sitting in a chair, barefoot and holding a warm glass of tea meant to bring some calm into my life. It’s my first time in this place, a mindful community, and the three others there have been kind and welcoming. I’ve needed this, a sangha. It’s been hard to find one that fits. The task before me is a check-in, much like a therapy group, but without feedback or conversation. Just brief attuned listening. Real space to exist for a moment.

I thought perhaps I’d share something mid-level. In grad school, we used to call it a 4 or a 5 on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the trauma you’d share with a therapist and 1 something you’d share with a stranger. After all, I don’t know these people. I haven’t even decided whether this is my place or my community. Why let them know me?

Ready to share something mostly meaningless, it struck me. A question I ask myself perhaps to often: “What would I tell a client do to?”

I’d probably say, “what would happen if you actually shared how you felt? What might you gain? What is there to lose?”

My turn came. I made the brave choice.

I’m feeling grateful to be here tonight. I’ve been spending so much time trying to take care of others that I’ve forgotten myself. I used to rely on my meditation practice to help me be my true self, and when my daughter was born that nearly disappeared. I let it. And now I don’t always recognize myself. I get frustrated for such mundane reasons and then spiral into shame for not being the woman I know how to be. It hurts. I’m ready to find what makes me radiate again. My daughter deserves to grow up with that version of me.

It came easily. And it reminded me of something I so frequently encourage in others. Shame only holds power when you keep it secret. Letting the air and light in sends the shadows scampering.

Not every place or person is safe. And, if you are standing firmly in an open, willing vulnerability, nothing anyone says can hurt you. You are open and willing, so you examine it, integrate what helps you heal and grow, and allow the rest to fall away.

Naming what shames us is freeing. It takes back the power that shame steals from us. The power we sometimes hand over willingly. It says, no I won’t disappear inside. I won’t hide or fight it. I’ll open the door laughing and invite it in. Only then do I have any chance to let it go.

Is there some shame you might be able to bring into the light? Where might you be able or willing to be vulnerable?

Reach out if you need help.

D

Can’t You See These Flaws

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There’s a shaky feeling. I should be taller. I should be thinner. Everyone else has the body I wish I had. I’ll never be quite as attractive as that. I mean, it’s fine I guess.

I just know if I were a little more __________ then I’d be more loveable, too. More deserving.

Can we talk about body dysmorphia?

It’s been coming up a lot lately. There is this thin veil of “it’s no big deal,” and beneath it a quivering, painful fear. Hate or disgust. It hurts down to the bone, and we make passing jokes about it. Yet we don’t share just how deep this hurt goes.

I’ve fallen prey to it, myself. It wasn’t long ago I realized a pattern I had. I’d look back at younger pictures of myself and think, “my goodness, I was so _____ back then.” Insert whichever wishful adjective you’d like. Over time, I realized that I felt poorly about my body at the time the picture was taken, just to be wistful at having lost the beauty a few years later. Pictures became mirrors I couldn’t ignore. Maybe, just maybe, I never looked as bad as I felt I did at the time, and only with some years of separation from that body could I see it for what it was: beautiful.

We learn a lot about how we feel about our bodies from our families growing up. We hear our parents, who we initially idolize, judging their own bodies, ours, or strangers on the street. We learn what beauty is supposed to look like, and then we measure ourselves against that standard as we grow into our adult bodies. If we don’t quite measure up, we hate ourselves. If we gain too much weight, we skip meals, restrict calories, or exercise too much. It begs a question: can you hate and/or punish yourself into being attractive?

As a kid, I remember my mom saying how old her hands looked. Now when I look down, the same age she was, I see my mom’s hands in place of my own. I hear the words she spoke and have to be intentional about not buying into that, myself. When I see my hands and notice their age, I try to feel gratitude for having made it this far. For having a daughter who will love these hands like I loved my mom’s.

Culture feeds into it, too, right? With all the airbrushing, photoshopping, and filters, we forget what real humans look like. There’s a reason I’m not often keen on following back those fitness moms who post endless “before and after” pictures of their bodies. Those folks who are always DMing me asking if I’d like to lose weight or get more fit. I’m so glad for them that they are working on themselves. And yet, it doesn’t suit everyone to see so many pictures day in and day out of bodies, with the intention to idealize, improve, or boost sex appeal. It can become obsessive, and it concerns me for the dozens of folx I know who still struggle with loving their bodies. The constant suggestion that there might be an ideal body can be vexatious to the spirit. Confused, the spirit starts to ask, “why can’t I look like that?” The answer is simple: because you’re not them. It can be painful when you feel like culture, family, or your own ideals don’t align with the body you were given.

Body dysmorphia wants you to think you’re flawed. That there is some piece of you that is wrong when in reality, there’s not. But saying that is like saying, “don’t be sad” to someone with depression. In fact, it’s closely tied to anxiety, depression, trauma, and OCD. They share a common struggle: believing that happiness, peace, or worth is something that comes from the outside. Each struggle forgets that worth is inherent and happiness comes from within.

Here’s my thought: Why not love yourself into being healthier?

How about instead of hating, obsessing in the mirror, and shaming ourselves for rolls, wrinkles, or too big/too small of something, why don’t we just love ourselves and show it by being gentle, kind, and tending to ourselves? Eat food that makes your body feel healthy. Get restful sleep. Engage in supportive relationships. Take walks. Enjoy the fresh air. Unplug. Drink water. Wear clothes that match your spirit. Laugh. And under no circumstances, stress yourself out doing any of the above.

Perhaps we’ve had it backward all along. Perhaps it isn’t “once I look this way, I’ll be able to love myself.” Maybe we get further by loving ourselves first, respecting and honoring our bodies, and allowing them to rest in their happy place. Then we think, “I love myself, so I love what my body is.”

There are so many ways to start down this road. Here are a few places to start:

  1. Meditation and Mindfulness.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
  3. Radical Acceptance.

There’s something to be said for an attitude of gratitude. Your body will never be “perfect” by any standard other than your own. And sure, walks and happy thoughts won’t make you taller, have different genitals, or re-grow hair. But that’s not the point.

This is the body you have. You won’t ever have another body in this life. This is it. Hating your body is like cooking angry. Your anger taints the food and robs it of its brilliance. Hating your body taints your life and robs it of its brilliance, too.

Think of it this way. Does your body generally work? Try to remember that it’s a miracle you exist. The fact that you can think, that you can breathe, that your heart beats. Maybe you’re missing some digits, or maybe you have a degenerative disease. That’s okay- you still have so many other blessings that many people don’t have. Do you have the disorder where your brain forgets to breathe while you sleep? Imagine being afraid to go to sleep at night because you could forget to breathe and not wake up. Sometimes we need to be grateful for what we have that we consider basic. What we take for granted. Accepting what we have and being grateful can help us see the bigger picture.

Note: Acceptance is not the same as being okay with or giving up. Acceptance simply acknowledges what is. I have a body. It’s not attachment (“I wish I could have a body like that”) or aversion (“I hate that my ____ is so ____”). Acceptance likes facts. This is my body. This is the only body I have. This body allows me to move, speak, breathe, love, and experience pleasure and pain. This is my body. 

Once you can acknowledge your body as it is, you can work toward loving it as it is.

You can do this. If you need help, reach out.

I see your beauty,

D

 

If you’re looking for some body positive insta’s, try: @thebirdspapaya or @lizzobeeating.

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

 

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

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

dawn-nature-sunset-woman

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

Falling In Love

I’ve been faced with the question of ‘who am I’ with my clients lately. Often the suffering that enters my office is in the form of feeling at odds with self, how self fits into others and community, and questioning the value of self. Sometimes this is in the form of constantly rescuing others, other times in the go-getter American attitude of non-stop distraction. Don’t be fooled, I see this in 7 year olds as much as I do in adults.

Self. It’s not a topic we talk genuinely about often, but simply one we refer to. “I’m hungry.” “I’m bored.” Yet rarely, “I’m feeling vulnerable.” We put so much energy into our outside worlds. We even kid ourselves into thinking that we’re taking care of ourselves by watching TV, shopping, or playing video games. Yet when we do this, is our attention, compassion, and energy focused inward? Or are we temporarily escaping reality by putting our energy into something else? Continue reading