Category Archives: Depression

Pull Yourself Out of the Blues

If you’re feeling down, what can you do? Let’s examine the story from Saying Goodbye to Lousy Moods for some insight.

 Since Theo hates loud bars and doesn’t know his co-workers that well, he’s never gone out for happy hour on Fridays. But he’d like to socialize more so he decides one night to join them.

This is not looking good. The last thing he needs when he’s already feeling awkward is to plop himself down in his own personal nightmare. But he’s ignoring his own good judgment. Bad move.

Making friends naturally through projects makes sense, though. Volunteer work is ideal. Gatherings centered around hobbies and interests – photography, books, softball – would also introduce him to people like himself. If self-help or spirituality interests him, he might explore a community committed to his same world view.

 Everyone leans across the table toward each other while he sits up straight with a tight smile and fiddles with his napkin. No one notices he isn’t talking. Just as well: they’re arguing politics and their god-awful views are appalling. His face gets twitchy.

How awful. He might as well head home and resolve to find a social activity that suits him. And he should tell himself it’s not weird to dislike loud bars.

All Theo really wanted to do tonight was read his mystery novel. He creeps out, goes home and turns on some jazz and tries to read. But sixty percent of him is reading and forty percent is back at the bar, feeling stupid.

Since he can’t concentrate on his book, he might take this time to practice mindfulness. Yoga is good: since he’s preoccupied, focusing on movement and physical sensations will refresh his mind.

Is he piling on self-defeating messages? Telling himself he’s a dud and no one likes him? That he’s too serious? Author Byron Katie suggests identifying these thoughts and asking “Is this true? Is this really true?”

What else might explain this wretched evening?

  • His co-workers don’t dislike him, they just don’t know him.
  • He most certainly is not boring. He loves jazz, good mysteries, meaningful conversation.
  • He’s an introvert. They’re extroverts. Introverts are lovely people, thoughtful and sensitive to the subtle beauties of life.

(The next morning he feels depressed.) Normally he would go do his Saturday volunteer work, but instead he sits down with his mystery again. He mopes.

He’s got to put down that book. The book is his enemy right now. The book is not his friend. Even though he feels he just can’t, he must get dressed, leave the house, follow his normal routine and get around people.

If Theo decides to find some social activities that fit his personality, if he works with his thinking and gets moving, he’ll feel much better by the afternoon. Think about your own version of his story. What puts you at risk for bad moods? What new activities and interests can bring more joy? Do you have habits that drain energy and beliefs that make you feel bad? Perhaps you might take a few minutes to write about turning your own bad moods around and making changes that can even prevent them from taking root.

Readers: What changes might bring more joy to your life?

Busting Out of the Depths of Blah

How can you free yourself from a dark mood?

In “Saying Goodbye to Lousy Moods” we imagined that one Friday night you suffered through a miserable Happy Hour and by Saturday morning you were in a funk. But then you started to see you were caught in an illusion. You remembered you have the power to lift yourself out.

Next step: productive action. Accomplishing something reinforces your sense of worth. It gets you out of your head and into your life. Doing a bit of housework, putting on music and dancing, or walking your dog can all shift your mood.

If at all possible, leave the house after that. Walking alone might send you back to ruminating, so if you want some exercise, you might lift weights at the gym instead.

But what if you’re working or caring for children and you can’t leave? Focus your full concentration on your task, which is a form of meditation. You might use a thesaurus to find precise words for your report. Really listening to your child can keep you out of miserable feelings.

Your mind will keep coming back to what was troubling you. Expect this. It’s not a problem. Just keep gently redirecting your attention to the business at hand.

Is your work boring? Does your mind wander even when you feel good? I faced this when I cleaned houses for a living after graduating from college. During this time I grappled with resentment and frustration about working a job I didn’t like. But tedious activities can make for dynamic meditation. A friend suggested I start focusing attention on my chores. While dusting, I started to notice how the cloth felt against a hard surface and to see the furniture change as I wiped it clean. As I washed acoustical ceiling tiles, I smelled the Lysol. This transformed not only my job but the rest of my life as well.

In the next post we will look at how problems, actions and thoughts set off bad moods and how to turn things around.

Saying Goodbye to Lousy Moods

liberation photo

Since you hate loud bars and don’t know your co-workers that well, you’ve never gone out for happy hour. But you’d like to socialize more so one Friday night you join them.

You sit down next to someone with their back to you. Everyone except you leans across the table toward each other while you sit up straight with a tight smile and fiddle with your napkin. No one notices you aren’t talking. Just as well: they’re arguing politics and their god-awful views are unbelievable.

Your face gets twitchy.

All you really wanted to do tonight was read your mystery novel, so you creep out, go home and turn on some jazz. You can’t quite be in the moment, though. Sixty percent of you trying to read but forty percent is back at the bar, feeling stupid.

The next morning you feel like your insides have been drained out and replaced with corn syrup. Your coffee tastes bitter. Normally you would go do your Saturday volunteer work, but instead you sit down with your novel again.

You mope. It seems impossible to turn your mood around.

What do you do?

Realizing that you’re caught up in distorted thoughts and feelings is the first step out.

Don’t worry that you’re repressing your emotions or invalidating yourself. Your feelings are real and telling you about real problems. But you can’t solve them if you’re drowning in muck. You must return to even keel to find answers.

Remind yourself that at the center of your being you are deeply good. This remains true no matter what you feel. You may find this meditation by Vietnamese meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh helpful:

Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.

 Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.

 Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.

 Breathing out, I feel fresh.

 Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.

 Breathing out, I feel solid.

 Breathing in, I become calm water.

 Breathing out, I reflect the sky and the mountains.

 Breathing in, I become the vastness of space.

 Breathing out, I feel infinite freedom.

You have now started to pull yourself out. In the next post we will look at how to continue feeling better.

Readers: What works for you to get out of a bad mood?

The Secret to Growth

Yesterday, warmth and bright sunshine.

Today, cold and rain.

“I like this! I don’t like that!”

Everything coming and going.

Take what comes and don’t run after what goes.             

–Haju Sunim

My friend, Suzanne, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder several years ago. She usually does quite well, but it’s been a real challenge for her lately.

About three months ago, she started having insomnia and getting irritable, her warning signs that she’s getting sick. Over the past two months her mood swings have settled into depression. As far as her energy goes, she’s working part time right now and reads the rest of the day.

She’s lucky to have a great psychiatrist who’s working closely with her to get her medication right. But until her brain chemistry straightens out, she could remain depressed for quite some time. She just needs to wait.

So how’s she holding up with all this?

“I was pretty angry, especially since it’s been dragging on for so long. But here in the past couple weeks I’ve had a shift. I realized that this is hard, but it’s just hard. It’s not horrible. It’s just hard.

“I know I’ll be stronger on the other side of this. I’m not happy about it, but I’m ok. A couple weeks ago I was not ok. Now I am.”

What is the secret to personal growth? Acceptance. Take what comes. Don’t run after what goes.

Accepting all experience, even the unpleasant parts — that’s mindfulness. What is there to see, to learn? Are there perhaps some gifts here?

If Suzanne fights her situation, she’ll have two problems — her emotional pain and also the suffering caused by resisting. But she gets it that her illness and this current rough patch are opportunities for her growth. When she sees it that way, depression is not a bad thing.

Learning to grow through difficult times starts well before the troubles hit. Reflect today on how precious your growth is to you. Think about how helpful hard times can be. We don’t need to feel victimized by painful experiences. Emotional growth is far more valuable than being comfortable and avoiding pain. If you want to deepen your wisdom and empathy for others, you’ll know that difficulties are a good thing.

If you’re facing some kind of difficulty in your life right now, know that you’re a strong person, even if you don’t feel it. Let this period of your life show you your inner resources of wisdom, peace and balance. We all have these qualities — we just need to realize they’re there and cultivate them.

Try to see this as an opportunity to become a richer person, a more compassionate person. Let this process show you what you need to learn.

Readers: What have you learned from your difficulties? Please share in the comments.



What To Do About The Blues

Whether dealing with temporary disappointments, a difficult grief process, or clinical depression, there are ways to ease sad feelings. Let’s look at three basics for blues management.

Get active. Exercise is one of the most effective ways to lift a mood. Research has demonstrated that exercise is as effective as antidepressant medication in relieving mild or moderate depression

Volunteering. Leaving the house and being around people is very hard during difficult times. However, staying alone at home worsens a depressed mood considerably. Volunteering helps in at least four ways: it gets a person dressed and out of the house, provides for focused conversation, shifts thinking to something positive, and provides a sense of purpose.

Consider helping at The Humane Society. Holding and petting animals and caring for their basic needs feels very good. Animals make few demands on us. Dogs (and many cats) love attention and are generous with affection.

Eating healthy food. Loss of appetite or overeating on junk food both go hand in hand with sadness. When eating very little, food needs to count nutritionally even more than usual. And given that overeating and gaining weight make most people feel worse, fresh produce is a very good choice for those who eat more when they are feeling bad.

Good places to buy fresh, healthy food are farmers markets in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Talking with the sellers provides manageable, focused, friendly conversation. It also feels good and can provide a sense of meaning to support local growers, especially in a challenging economy.

Even though setbacks, grief, and depression are not simple problems, very simple strategies can help tremendously.

Sadness, Grief, or Depression?

There are important differences between sadness, grief, and depression. Each one calls for a different response.

Sadness is a normal, healthy part of life. Many things cause it: disappointments, losing something important, and self-critical thoughts, to name a few. We often want to just get rid of sadness, or to avoid it by distracting ourselves. Unfortunately, this makes it last longer and even makes the problem worse. The best thing we can do when we get sad is to let ourselves feel it and know that it will pass on its own.

Grief is also a normal part of life. When someone important to us dies, we go through a process of grieving that generally lasts up to a year or more. The terrible sadness we feel shows how important that person was to us. If we don’t push grief away, it will also pass, and eventually we will no longer feel so empty. It is important to have caring people to talk with, and support groups can be especially helpful. In the Ann Arbor area, Arbor Hospice provides groups and workshops for adults, adolescents, and younger children who have lost loved ones.

Depression is a medical illness. Even though it feels almost just like sadness or grief, the brain and brain chemistry are involved in a very different way. Unlike sadness or grief, depression does not go away naturally. Someone with depression may feel worse when well-meaning loved ones say to cheer up, because this person is biologically unable to do so. Medication may help, and is often used only temporarily. It is not a “crutch,” but more like taking medication for thyroid conditions, high blood pressure, or other medical problems.

During a period of sadness, it can be hard to tell if one is experiencing sadness, grief, or depression. Very generally speaking, sadness comes and goes, grief is lessened when one is around family or friends, and depression is constant. For some ideas on how to feel better, this article on what to do about a blue mood may be helpful.

If a low mood persists, especially if there is no apparent reason for it, or if you or a loved one is troubled by ongoing, seemingly insurmountable problems, it is a good idea to consult a therapist. I am experienced helping people deal with these types of problems — please call me.

Meditation Relieves Anxiety and Depression

A study published in August 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that meditation is effective in managing anxiety and depression.

Drs. Michael Posner and Yi-Yuan Tang led the study of a type of mindfulness meditation called integrative body-mind training (IBMT). Adapted from traditional Chinese medicine by Dr. Tang, it uses a focus on present-moment experience rather than on a mantra.

After just 11 hours of IBMT, brain scans showed significant favorable changes in white matter around the anterior cingulate, a part of the brain involved in managing emotions and self-control. These changes did not take place in the brains of control group participants who practiced relaxation techniques.

A University of Oregon news release said that Drs. Posner and Tang found in 2007 that students who did IBMT for five days before a test showed low levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They were also better able to pay attention, and had less anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue than those in the relaxation control group.

Speaking on NPR’s Science Friday, Dr. Posner recommended practicing any form of mindfulness meditation. I discuss a number of ways in this blog to use mindfulness practice to help manage anxiety, depression, and other issues that bring people to therapy. An article you may find useful describes a short practice that uses your body’s wisdom to develop a more peaceful relationship with anxiety. If you try this practice, I’d like to hear your comments about your experience with it.