This morning (Thanksgiving day) I was woken up by a text from a client reaching out to me because she was feeling depressed. It was 7am my time–10am hers.
“Linda, I’m feeling depressed. On this Thanksgiving day. I wish I felt happy and up beat. When I feel like this I don’t tend to do things.” “Maybe I need a hobby. I feel better when I read chicken soup for the soul. Maybe I need to do better self care–maybe I need a ritual of self care. Maybe some yoga too…”
This was the beginning of a long text exchange. What I shared with her were a few of my top, most effective, ways to escape the gravitational pull of DEPRESSION.
She’s in that fragile place of wanting to change her body, weight, and health, but her old thought and feeling habits have not had time to change yet. Thoughts and feelings are habits, just like anything else. Her desire for different body is strong, but she has not yet developed the ‘muscle’ of being able to take hold of her “state”. Yet. Just like anything else, it takes practice.
The objective here is to change your “STATE”–changing both your focus and physicality at the same time. To go from a depressive state to a happy, upbeat, empowered one.
- The fastest way to change your state is to change your PHYSICALITY. This means:
2. Change your POSTURE. If you were in an acting class and wanted to act depressed, or sad, how would you stand (or sit)? Do it now. Come on, even sadder! Overact the part! Now act happy and upbeat. Come on, even happier!! Be convincing! Over act this part too! How does that change your posture? Your facial expression? Now smile and stand up tall (in your happy posture) and see how hard it is to think sad thoughts. Mood and posture is a two way street. Mood may effect posture, but posture can also effect mood. So sit tall, open your chest, and balance your head over your shoulders.
3. Guess what else changes when you adopt a happy posture? BREATHING! When you slump your lungs cannot take in a full breath–your breathing is shallow and breaths are small. When you stand/sit tall, your chest expands giving your lungs more room to expand and take in a full deep breath. In addition to getting more oxygen in your body, it also stimulates your Vagus nerve. Not sure what that means? That’s why the link is there.
4. Part of why you feel depressed in the first place has to do with FOCUS. Thinking about things that make you sad, disappointments, unfulfilled expectations, insults, shortcomings…is depressing. The antidote is to get hyper focused on things that make you happy. It’s easier to focus on sad things than happy ones. Maybe there’s some evolutionary advantage to it–like learning and finding solutions to problems rather than easily being able to forget…? Still, sometimes it is more productive to just move on than dwell in a disempowered state.
5. It’s the STORIES you tell yourself that make you either happy or sad. It’s not whether something is true or not true that makes you happy or sad, but rather what you believe that matters. So you may as well tell yourself a story that makes you feel the way you want to feel. Doing v. Not Doing. Which wolf will you feed?
6. Changing your SURROUNDINGS helps change focus. Getting away from the triggers and trappings of your daily life and the things that reinforce your thinking patterns makes a huge difference. Ultimately you will be able to surmount your environment, but while learning how to escape the pull of depression, make it easy for yourself and get out of your fishbowl. Getting out in nature can be the best medicine.
7. Your thoughts (and your physicality) effect BRAIN CHEMISTRY. Conversely your brain chemistry effects your thoughts and your (default) physicality. Guess what else affects brain chemistry…? FOOD! And water. Your diet has a HUGE impact on your brain. Between blood sugar, neurotransmitters, hormonal balance, your gut biome, and your nutritional health, your brain isn’t necessarily running the show. Not to mention FOOD INTOLERANCE. One of the under appreciated symptoms of food intolerance is depression. More on this in another blog.
Exactly what to eat for the best mood varies a bit from person to person, but a good rule of thumb is to eat super nutritious, light, easy to digest, fiber rich foods, like soups, with plenty of leafy green vegetables (which have an uplifting effect on mood), and stay away from sugar and processed foods as much as possible.
8. Once you address the physical and biological reasons you might be stuck in a depressive rut, it’s time to explore the mind. One reason you might be feeling low is because of unmet EXPECTATIONS. Without conscious planning we expect certain things. When we do something nice for someone we might expect a “thank you,” or some reciprocation. One of the reasons why the holidays are so emotionally challenging for some people is that there is a sort of unwritten, cultural expectation that holidays are a time for coming together, for love, happiness…and then their expectations go unmet and there are feelings of disappointment. One way avoid this is to re examine and adjust expectations.
9. As a human being one of our most essential needs is for that of CONNECTION. It has a dramatic effect on long-term health because it plays such an important roll in emotional well being. Those who are part of a community live longer and are happier than those who aren’t. The culture here in the USA tends to be very insular with a high premium put on independence and little thought given to interdependence (which is not the same thing as codependency). Finding ways to fulfill your need for real and meaningful connection is a huge boost to happiness and a good antidote for depression.
10. And not to be underestimated in the big picture is ALIGNMENT WITH PURPOSE. We all have something we feel like we were put here on this earth to do, consciously, or subconsciously. When you feel like you are fulfilling your purpose; when your actions align with your values and your mission, and you are actively contributing to the world around you–being an artist, a teacher, a parent, a leader, a healer, or whatever, everything will fall into place. There is no antidote for depression quite as powerful as doing something for someone else–really contributing to their happiness and well being for no other reason than to see them thrive. Because humans are interdependent beings and when one thrives, we all thrive.