How to Know You’re Depressed and What to Do About It

wpid-20141029_2047422.jpg.jpegThe subtitle for this post should be: “That is, at least if your depression is anything like mine, and maybe it’s not.” I’ve written before about what my depression and anxiety can be like, but this fall has been harder than previous years. Maybe it’s because of all this dreary weather we’ve been having, or maybe it’s the drastic changes in my schedule since taking up roller derby, or maybe I’m just getting older. Whatever the case, this year has really taken it out of me, and I’ve had to re-evaluate a few things. Last night, I came up with a handy-dandy list to help me notice my own symptoms of depression and made a second list to go with it. In the course of writing the list for my own benefit, it occurred to me that a few of you might also find this helpful, so here you go.

Part 1: How to Know You are Depressed

  1. You hate everyone. Like, literally? You think of yourself as a generally kind person, you don’t have ill will toward anyone, yet you pretty much wish everyone in the world would shut the fuck up. You’re kindof overwhelmed with life, and as much as you want to care about the world and be a good person, you’re straight up out of fucks to give. This realization makes you feel even more sad.
  2. You’re mean to the people you love. You can’t figure out what’s really bothering you, so you just act like an asshole to everyone figuring if you could just get everyone to leave you alone you could get maybe pinpoint the one person or thing to be blamed for your inexplicable state of constant irritation.
  3. You don’t know why you’re sad. There’s no immediate rational cause for you to feel this way, a fact which confuses you and seems to make it feel worse. Sometimes you just wish someone would tell you what’s wrong with you so you could fix it.
  4. Nothing is very fun. Everything is annoying. Life tastes like cardboard.
  5. All you want to eat is junk. It is both a cause and a symptom. You get the rush, then you get the crash. The temporary fix sends you deeper in the hole every time you come down. Hello, addiction. Be it food, booze, TV, sex, or even your work out routine. Everyone’s got crutches, but no one wants to be on those sonsabitches forever. Moderate your use of these things to avoid dependence. If you think you’ve become dependent on any substance or habit, seek professional guidance in breaking the habit.
  6. You always want to sigh or cry. You persistently feel a lump in your throat, a weight on your chest, tightness around the eyes and jaw, shallow breath and/or a constant need to rub your eyes. In fact, if this is true for you, stop right this second and drink a big glass of water because just imagining how you feel right now is stressing me out. Then just take a few deep breaths and maybe go for a walk outside.
  7. You feel “tired” even when you’re not sleepy. You are suffering from a general sense of overwhelm, and you’re probably looking for ways to disconnect from the world. You may actually sleep more or find yourself complaining a lot. Sometimes this also feels like a general sense of sickness or malaise, like something is just off-kilter and it’s not clear what.
  8. You are hyper critical of yourself. All you can see are your flaws. You replay conversations in your head and pick apart everything you said. Your decision-making ability has been brought to a halt by the belief that whatever you do will be the wrong thing.

Part 2: How to Get Help for Depression (and how to help yourself)

  1. Tell a friend. Do not isolate yourself. If no one knows something is bugging you, you don’t have anyone on your side. If you feel like the world is your enemy, you need allies. So tell your friends, “Hey, I’m having a rough time.” No one is going to judge you for asking for help.
  2. Tell your doctor. And accept that medicine is an option. This is different from telling a friend. Your doctor’s job is to give you advice about how to take care of yourself, and she probably has some really good resources for you. If prescription medication is an option for you, educate yourself about it, and have frequent conversations with your doctor about how it’s going.
  3. Don’t wait till you’re suicidal. You deserve help now.
  4. Be patient with yourself. Life is not going to become perfect suddenly. There will be days when everything seems great followed by days that feel as long as winter. Recognize your own suffering, and treat it with compassion.
  5. Do not hide from feelings of sadness, but do your best not to wallow. Go ahead and feel your feelings because running away from them just adds to your unhappiness by creating an anxiety response. Acknowledge the fear, sadness, or whatever you’re feeling, but don’t cling to it. It is not your new identity.
  6. Meditate, don’t ruminate. Meditation is literally the practice of stilling the mind. So all those thoughts in your head telling you hateful things about yourself? In meditation, we look those demons in the eye and say, “I see you.” And it’s funny what they do when you see them. They stop for a second. With practice, you get better at staring them down so you can choose a nicer thought.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Seriously, you have to be your own best friend. No one knows you and understands you like you do. Your friends care a ton, but only you know what it’s really like on your battlefield. If you don’t have your own back, you’re gonna have a real hard time no matter how much others try to help.
  8. Practice gratitude. Practice seeing the good in your life because sometimes those things will be your lifeline. They can remind you that the world is a beautiful place and you’re lucky to be in it. They can give you a reason to try. They can make you feel happy just by remembering they exist.

Oh, and don’t forget to take PRACTICAL STEPS. Little things — take your vitamins, get some exercise, eat healthy foods, get on a regular sleep schedule, and consider investing in a happy light (I just ordered one myself). Any little thing you can do for yourself might just make the difference you’re looking for. As a bonus, I often find that my mood is boosted just by knowing that I’m doing something healthy for myself.

Finally, remember that depression is a condition you deal with, not the definition of who you are.

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Sit Still and Be Here Now

Creative Commons License: Attribution. Some rights reserved by Markus Grossalber

Lately, a lot of folks have asked me for help starting their meditation practices. Meditation may seem strange or confusing if you’ve never tried it before, but it’s really the simplest thing in the world. In fact, it may be that simplicity that makes it so hard for us to grasp. “Wait … you mean, I’m supposed to just … sit there?” Yeah. And the moment you do, your mind starts chattering away, at which point most people get distracted and quit.

Below is a simple guided meditation I’ve recorded that you can stream here or download. Pro tip: I suggest downloading so you don’t have to be online to use it. That way you can hide in the bathroom at work to meditate on particularly stressful days … not that I know anything about that.

This practice is only about six and a half minutes long, which is just enough to get a taste of that nice quiet sensation meditation creates. Many people say they don’t meditate because they don’t have enough time, but I call shenanigans on that! You don’t have to sit for 30 minutes every time, especially if you’re new to it. Just try a few minutes every day at first. As you begin to feel the benefits of meditating, you may find that it’s easier or at least more of a priority to find time for it during your day.

If you enjoy this practice and want to learn more, check out Meditate Like a Boss, my guide to developing your personal meditation practice.

Peace!

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Ten Tips for End of Year Self-Care

Toe Art...Love & Care So, the year is winding down. You’re making your plans for 2014. Maybe you’ve made a list of 100 cool things to do or set yourself some terrifying yet enticing goals. But it’s also possible that you’re feeling a little anxious about the holidays or down thanks to cold days and long nights. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety most of my life now, and it’s always been harder in the winter, so I’ve come up with a few ways to help brighten my mood and keep the smile on my face even when navigating the toy section of Target among throngs shoppers. I hope these suggestions will help you get through the holidays with your spirit in tact!

  1. Talk to someone. It’s often tempting to hide your feelings because you don’t want to burden anyone or seem crazy, but sometimes keeping your problems to yourself only makes you feel worse. Meanwhile, the people who love you are wishing they knew how to help, so please let them!
  2. Get a normal amount of sleep. It’s tempting to stay in bed and take a lot of naps when it’s cold out, but don’t. Sleeping too much makes you feel more lethargic. If you’re already feeling depressed, this won’t help. 
  3. Indulge moderately. If you don’t allow yourself to enjoy the treats of the season, then it’s not the most wonderful time of the year. Go ahead and have desert, and furthermore, have the slice of pie for a midnight snack. Don’t beat yourself up for enjoying it.
  4. Stay hydrated. Being dehydrated has a bigger impact on your state of mind than you may realize, especially if you tend to drink coffee all day and booze at night as part of your strategy to fight off the cold. Be sure you’re drinking plenty of water, and consider curbing the other stuff.
  5. Schedule time with friends. You need to talk to someone who isn’t going to ask you when you’re having kids or whether you’ll ever move closer to home. Your friends are probably just as stressed out as you are and would love to see your face. Make a coffee date.
  6. Get your vitamins! Vitamin D in particular, but make sure you’re eating well-rounded meals and not just takeout and processed foods, which is for some reason really tempting to do when it’s cold out.
  7. Spoil yourself a little. Take hot baths, bundle up in your coziest clothes, sip on hot tea all day, moisturize your skin lavishly every damn day. Creature comforts help ease the physical discomforts of winter, which also helps boost your mood.
  8. Look for things to be grateful for. Even very little things can change your perspective and make the world seem brighter.
  9. Adjust your exercise routine. If you’re feeling anxious, consider a gentle vinyasa yoga practice which will be both warming and soothing. If you’re feeling depressed and lethargic, a more vigorous vinyasa or maybe Kundalini Yoga class may help lift the clouds.
  10. Look forward to something. Set yourself some little goals or make a list of fun things you hope to do in the new year. Plan your reading list or book a weekend getaway for spring — anything that reminds you sunnier days are on their way.

Take care of yourself, dear.

All the love~

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Monday Night Nonfiction: Who Showed Up

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Last week, I had a yoga class with only one student. This happens a lot. It’s just part of being a yoga teacher in a small studio, especially when you’re subbing. If only one person shows up, I still hold a class. If no one shows up, I try to stay and do my own practice. This time, I wasn’t feeling so great. I was recovering from the flu, I was groggy from NyQuil, and I’ll admit I would’ve been happy to go back to bed.

The person who showed up was woman in her early 50s who we’ll call Liz. Liz has been a pretty consistent yoga student for some time now, and we’ve practiced together a lot over the summer.

Liz let me know that she’d suffered a dizzy spell in another teacher’s class last week. The episode was a total surprise to her, and she was pretty alarmed by it. The other teacher suggested that it could be caused by dehydration and/or a drop in blood pressure, so Liz was making sure to stay hydrated and had gotten her blood pressure checked. She even had plans to see the eye doctor next to rule out any vision-related causes. I know she has a strong yoga practice and can hang with a pretty intense vinyasa, but this new information made me glad I’d planned a gentle class.

We had a really great practice together. It was slow, meditative, and focused. Rather than moving quickly through a lot of poses, we slowed down and connected with the breath more deeply in each pose. By the end of class, Liz definitely had a greater sense of calm around her. Still, in our closing meditation, her eyebrows were furrowed and her face was tense. Her chest seemed tight, as though her breath wasn’t moving freely. When I closed my eyes to meditate with her, I felt the strangest sense of holding, like a jaw clinched so tight it starts to create dizziness. I know that sounds nutty, but that’s really the sense I got.

When class ended, I said, “Liz, I should’ve asked you this earlier when you told me about your dizzy spell, but … how has life in general been for you lately? Has it been kindof chaotic? Or are things going along normally?”

She immediately began to cry. She told me about a death that took place in her family several months ago and how she simply hadn’t felt the same since. She felt powerless to help her loved ones in addition to some intense grief that she couldn’t really talk to anyone about. It seemed like she mostly needed someone to talk to, but those intense emotions were also creating some major anxiety for her. I told her about a meditation technique I use when dealing with intense emotions in hopes that it would help her.

When Liz left, she seemed a little bit comforted. Maybe being listened to was all she needed. Maybe she’ll try that meditation technique, and it’ll help deal with the emotions. I’m glad she’s checking out possible medical causes for sure! Maybe it’s a little vain of me to think I might have helped someone. All I did was listen and give some potentially useless advice. But I dunno. I felt like I had an opportunity to help someone, which was cool. She left smiling. She gave me a hug. It was a good day.

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Yoga Sutra 1.2: Quieting the Mind

Yoga Sutra 1.2

YOGAŚ CITTA VRTTI NIRODHAH.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

I’m studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali again these days because sometimes I need to remind myself of why I practice yoga and why I teach it. Although I’ve been steeped in yogic practice and philosophy for nearly half my life, sometimes life gets chaotic, and I lose focus. On this latest return to the sutras, I’ve been moved to write some reflections on them. I’m no sanskrit scholar or philosopher, but the great thing about the sutras is that you don’t have to be those things to learn from them. They have something to offer us at every stage of our practice. I’ve written before about sutra 1.1, so today I want to share my reflection on sutra 1.2.

Yogas citta vritti nirodhah.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

The mind is a busy thing. It is always moving. Even when we sleep, the mind is fluctuating, making up little stories, tossing flashes of color and light around, reenacting or inventing conversations and scenes that feel like reality while we’re experiencing them. Only when we wake up do we realize our dreams were “just dreams,” no matter how real they felt. We’ve all heard of lucid dreaming, right? Some people learn to recognize that they are dreaming while it’s happening, and that changes the dream. Similarly, we become lucid in our waking life when we learn to tell the difference between what is real and what is just mental noise.

If I experience anxiety, I might have all kinds of crazy scary thoughts. I might think the world is a terrible place, no one loves me, and I’m doomed to be a failure. But the practice of yoga is about cultivating the awareness to ask, “What’s really going on here? I feel panicked but I don’t know why. The thoughts I’m having are unreasonable. They’re not an accurate reflection of reality. Perhaps I could choose to think something else.”

The same practice can be applied to many areas of life. If you’re driving and someone cuts you off, you get mad, right? You think, “Wow, that guy drives like a jerk! Why didn’t he look where he was going? And then he had the nerve to honk when I passed him! I hate people.” But you know the way someone else drives doesn’t have anything to do with you. And in reality, you probably don’t hate everyone. The truth is, we may feel and think a lot of different things depending on our circumstances, and while we can’t always control our circumstances, we have a choice about how we respond to them. We can choose to indulge negative, fatalistic, and panicked thoughts, or we can let them go.

Our perception of reality is strongly colored by our choice of thoughts. This is one of the simplest truths in the world and one of the hardest things to remember when the going gets tough. That’s why we have our yoga practice to use as a tool. Asana (poses) helps us create the link between mind and body. This helps us to stay present in the moment and to gain control over the fluctuations of the mind. As we create a state of ease and health in the body, we also create a sense of peace and quiet in the mind. Only when the mind is quiet can we begin to experience true yoga or union.

So … How can I apply this to my life right now? Having recently been struck with a sneak attack of the flu, I need to slow down and be quiet for a while. Rather than pushing harder, teaching more classes, perfecting harder poses and so forth, I need to reconnect with that deep well presence. I’ve been pursuing the career side of things, the outwardly visible trappings of so-called success rather than focusing on my own basic wellbeing. That’s essentially the opposite of what my yoga practice is all about, so even though it may look like I’m doing tons of yoga, keeping up this pace for too long can become counter productive. Luckily, this little virus came just in time to put me back in line without doing too much damage. Now, it’s time for more self-care, rest, and quiet reflection.

Peace!

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