Being sad is a part of being human. We are lucky to be able to feel a range of emotions in our lifetimes. Some say that the good in life is so good, that it outweighs the bad. Some others say the opposite, that life is suffering. And that’s not to say that the latter is a depressive thought; a core value of Buddhism is the belief that life is suffering, yet the religion is widely regarded for its peaceful way of life.
Different internet sources claim different depression statistics, so I want to tread lightly here. A reported 7.1% of all adults have depression at some point in their life. While that is a staggering number, my personal experience would rate that much higher. Maybe that is because depression is hereditary on both sides of my family.
I commonly refer to depression as “the Cloud”. When I’m in the Cloud, I feel nothing, yet I feel everything way too hard. Breathing is hard. Existing is hard. Your body is sluggish. You can only focus on negative thoughts. Your brain tells you that you are not good enough. You believe the voices. You spiral further; maybe at this point the people around you are getting frustrated with your attitude. You fight with your loved ones because you feel misunderstood. You either can’t find an appetite, or overeat to fill a void. My friends, that is a fresh new episode of your body’s newest hit drama, The Cloud, only on CNS, Central Nervous System. You are forced to tune in, even though you hate this show.
When you are in the Cloud, everything feels hopeless. There are a few tips and tricks that I have developed with my therapist that help me get through these rough times. Depression lies within you, and sometimes help lies within you as well. (And sometimes it doesn’t and depression is a chemical imbalance that is present, seemingly no matter what you do. I don’t want to generalize.)
- Redirect Your Thoughts
A common practice in yoga that I have learned recently is meant to redirect your thoughts so that they do not spiral. You may acknowledge the negative thought that comes up, because inevitably they will. Maybe it’s every 5 minutes, maybe its every hour. Its unrealistic to believe that negativity will ever completely go away. Notice the thought that comes into your mind. As if you are a bystander in your own mind, acknowledge the thought, and actively watch it move on from your mind.
If that doesn’t make sense, I like to imagine that I am in the same cloudy place as in Beverly Hills Ninja, where Haru travels to speak with his dad while helping Sally Jones in California. I am sitting cross-legged in the clouds, watching my negative thoughts pass along the sky, like a slow moving cloud. I notice the thought; I am aware of it’s existence. And then, just like a moving cloud, I watch the thought drift away. Instead of focusing on the thought, focus on your breathing. In, then out. In, then out. Deep breaths. Once the thought has passed in my visual, my mind is almost always onto my breath, and then other (more positive) things.
This is a yogi way of redirecting thoughts. I find that this practice also helps at night when sleeping. If you find yourself awake at night due to your own thoughts racing, this technique may be able to help you.
This one sounds like the most obvious thing to ever say to a person. It’s almost like saying, “Make sure your heart is beating!” Like, DUH I’m going to breathe, otherwise I will literally die. That’s how bodies work. I used to scoff at photos online of people with tattoos that say, “Just Breathe.” Yeah Brenda, I’m pretty sure I’ll breathe either way.
Once I had an attitude check, I realized that deep breathing is a healing practice. When an anxious episode hits, it almost feels like gulps of air are not enough. You begin breathing as hard as you would if you were getting physical exercise, and the same goes for your heartbeat.
Taking the time to close your eyes and count to 5 on an inhale, and count to 7 on an exhale, has saved me from hyperventilating many times. This is another way to calm down around bedtime as well. Not going to lie, I have also laid awake all night like a mathematician, counting to 5, then counting to 7 over and over again until morning. Of course this is not a guaranteed plan, but then again nothing is guaranteed in life.
3. Do Yoga or a Physical Activity
This last recommendation is going to be totally unique to the person reading it. I find that yoga is the perfect outlet for me for the following reasons:
- I dislike cardio and working out that is high-impact
- Working on deep-breathing is relaxing while yoga tones your muscles
- Builds strength in the full body
- Builds strength in the mind by teaching mindfulness
I’ve been doing yoga every single day since June 15th, and it is July 31st today. My plan is to continue this pace for 365 days. My original goal in doing yoga was to tend to my anxious thoughts and work on my breathing. Now that I have achieved that goal, for the first time in my life I want to push my body to see what new and exciting things it can do just by committing to this practice.
Yoga is slow-paced and can get intense. It is certainly not for everyone. If yoga is not the workout for you, there are countless other physical practices to get your body moving and your mind off of the negative.
In conclusion, there are a few things that you can do to tend to your anxious and depressive thoughts when in an episode. Nothing is foolproof, and these are merely things that have helped me as of late. If you have been thinking about getting into yoga, there is no time like the present. YouTube has awesome yoga practices for FREE, and if you don’t yet have a yoga mat, simply lay down a thick towel to start your practice. Either way, just remember to breathe, and watch those bad thoughts just float away, as your breath deepens.