Category Archives for "Depression"

June 2, 2016

How to Deal With Depression and Survive It

Are you one of those students who continue beating themselves up for not passing their midterms? Are you one of those employees who constantly remind themselves how they could have had a better life if only they had accepted that other job offer? Are you someone who tells themselves that they are wasting their life – not knowing what you really want to do?

You’re unable to go about living your normal life because you feel you can’t accomplish even the smallest of tasks. Every time an opportunity to be productive appears, you shrug it off without even trying.

depressed girl

You find it hard to be excited about anything. Going to parties, watching the latest movies, buying your favorite things, and even spending time with your loved ones all seem to just feel wrong.

Maybe you are just a person who thinks too much. Apparently, your too much has become so destructive that you can no longer control it. Unknowingly, it has already begun to control you.

You may be building up some deep-seated sadness. You may be experiencing depression.

What is depression?

Depression is a type of psychological disorder that lowers one’s thoughts, feelings, behavior and overall mood. There are number of things that you can feel when you are depressed – It’s not just about sadness. You can also feel anxious, empty, hopeless, worthless, helpless, irritable, ashamed or angry.

depressed man on bench

In addition, you might start to lose interest in activities that used to make you happy. You may have a hard time concentrating on a certain goal. You might experience a lot of problems making wise decisions for yourself.

In The United States, there is an estimated 350 million cases of depression spanning many different age groups. With depression, it’s not just about “the blues”. It is more than that. Do not be afraid to speak and seek help if you think you are experiencing depression. You are not the only one.

How to know if you have depression?

The following might help you decide whether or not you are already experiencing depression:

  1.  You always feel helpless and hopeless. You tend to spend that day thinking that nothing will ever improve in your life. You feel as though you are stuck in a hole of sadness forever. You always tell yourself that there are no other ways to make things better.
  2. You lose interest in engaging with your daily activities. You no longer want to participate in the activities that you normally would have. For example, you grow up playing volleyball then suddenly, a court, a ball and the adrenaline of the game does not excite you anymore. It seems like it was never your favorite sport. However, you know deep down inside that it has value – based on how much time and energy you invested just to become a good player.

depressed girl against wall

  1. Your sleeping pattern has changed. There are two different cases with regards to a change in your sleep pattern: either you are sleeping too much or you are sleeping less than you should. You may stay in bed most of, or even the entire day.
  2.  You always feel angry or irritable. You lash out on people even though they are not doing anything to harm or annoy you. You always feel agitated about everything.
  3.  You seem to experience a general loss of energy. You always feel fatigued. Sometimes, you feel sluggish or physically drained. Your feel it’s difficult or requires too much out of you just to move your body for the day.
  4.  You have reckless behavior. You take substances that can harm your health. Reckless driving can also be considered a symptom of depression, and you may end up ruining the custom seat covers you bought with your military discount.
  5.  You are unable to concentrate. You simply cannot focus on doing things. You start to have difficulty making decisions.
  6.  You have trouble remember things. You start to forget important things. For example, birthdays of special people in your life, appointments, and the like.
  7.  You experience seemingly unknown physical pains. You always have complaints on how your body feels. You have headaches, back pains, muscle aches, and stomach pains, all of which somehow came out of the blue.

What are the causes of depression?

  1.  Perhaps you experienced abuse. You experienced some form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse that left a lasting impression on you.
  2.  You had been abusing certain drugs. You took potentially dangerous drugs so much that they left a long-last or even permanent effect on your mental health.
  3.  You experienced the loss of someone important to you. The death of someone that you treasured may have sent you over the edge.
  4. Members of your family have depression. Depression is also something that is hereditary. If your family has a history of depression, then there is higher probability that may too.
  5. There have been recent major changes in your life. Major events in your life, even something as seemingly innocuous as a graduation or a wedding, can still lead to depression. There are cases where you begin to whether or not you deserve to be happy during actual moments of happiness. Depression may have also kicked in from your fear that your happiness might be taken away from you, and you may no longer find it again for yourself.

How to transcend from depression to happiness?

happy woman

  1.  You must be vigilante for the symptoms. You have to learn how to assess whether you are already experiencing depression. You can try writing down your thoughts throughout the day. You can also take note if there are changes in your behavior.
  2.  Learn to seek help from doctors. Don’t give into the stigma that you are already a “crazy person” just because you visited a doctor. If you think you need help, then go ask for help.  Always remember that you are not alone.
  3.  Learn to understand your own emotional cycle. Everyone has different emotional cycles. There are days when you are okay. Then there are circumstances that trigger your anger or sadness. You might feel you are perfectly happy for days or weeks, and then depression will hit you. You have to understand that both happiness and sadness are something that passes over time.
  4.  Surround yourself with positive people. The people that you interact with play an important role in how you view the world and yourself. It is important that you surround yourself with people that can help lead you to positive thoughts and away from negativity.
  5.  Try to remember past successes. This can help you to remember that you are not in a some metaphorical hole of darkness for your entire life. There are moments when light has been the center of your life. This can help bring back your old, more invigorating, perspective of life.
  6.  Try to have gratitude for everything. This is the best way to learn how to appreciate everything, even the little things. This can also help you to see that when many positive small things pile up, they can become something great.
  7.  Try to put yourself in a different, more positive environment. Maybe your usual environment has been triggering moments of stress and pain. Finding a new, healthier environment can make you feel like you are starting a new life that is full of possibilities.
  8. Try to think about the bigger picture. This can help you to understand that there are things aside from sadness. This can help you appreciate the blessings of the universe for you instead of focusing on certain bad thing that happened.

5 Common Regrets and How to Avoid Them

“I don’t regret the things I’ve done, I regret the things I didn’t do when I had the chance.” ~Unknown

If you had a second chance at life, what would you resolve to do differently? What would you regret from your past if you had the power to change it in your future?

In 2011, Bronnie Ware wrote a wonderful book called Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying.

As a palliative care nurse, Bronnie spent several years working with patients during their final weeks of life. She documented the dying epiphanies of her patients and began to notice some similarities—five in particular (hence, the title of her book).

It’s a beautiful reminder not to take life for granted and to live a life you would be proud of.

Regret Is a Terrible Thing to Witness

For many years I have witnessed the regret of the living—my fellow patients, in over five different hospitals, both interstate and internationally. I’ve been a patient in many ward types (intensive care, cardiac, vascular, orthopedic, infection control, plastics, emergency, and rehabilitation, just to name some). But palliative care has not been one of them.

I spent over a year in hospital. The first time, and the majority of that time, was in rehabilitation. Over the years I’ve returned for more surgery, and again I would pass through rehabilitation wards for several days or weeks.

In regab at 25, learning to walk again.

Above: In rehab, learning to walk again.

Where the purpose of a palliative care ward is to provide care at the end of life, the purpose of a rehabilitation ward is, as the name suggests, to rehabilitate people and teach them to live again.

There’s always an eclectic mix of people in a rehab ward. Some were stroke patients, like me. Some were learning to stand with a new prosthetic leg following amputation, like me. Others were adjusting to new methods of movement without using their arms after open-heart surgery. Also like me.

Regardless of the reason we were all in the hospital, one thing we all had in common was that, unlike Bronnie’s palliative care patients, eventually we were going to go home to start living again.

The hospital can be a very lonely place, and many patients, despite their wounds and ailments, were simply craving conversation.

I’d frequently chat with my fellow patients. It was a good way to pass the time and distract ourselves from the monotony of repetitive (but important) rehabilitative movements.

My fellow patients, all strangers, would often open up to me in a way that I would not experience had I started talking to that same stranger in the outside world.

Similar to Bronnie’s experiences, I heard a lot about regret. But following the confession of regret would come resolutions to do things differently “this time around.”

I’ve paraphrased these most common responses that I’ve heard over the years in rehab—the top five regrets of the living.

1. I wish I’d experienced more.

Upon reflection, many of my fellow rehab patients regretted not having experienced more, and vowed to do so once they “got out.” The experiences ranged from various things to do, see, or hear, but the most common was the regret at having not traveled more.

The sad irony was that many patients, like me, would be leaving the hospital in a wheelchair or with restricted movement. So experiencing more travel would not be an option.

Resolution: From now on I’m going to experience more.

2. I wish I’d listened more.

Many patients regretted not listening more to the advice of their doctor, family members, or well-meaning friends. I remember one larger woman who recalled her doctor advising her to lose weight. At the time, she believed he was “fat shaming” her and had not listened, until she had a resulting stroke.

One man regretted not having listened to his “nagging” family who had warned him against frequently poor diet choices. Diabetes took his leg and left him with regret.

Resolution: From now on I’m going to listen more.

3. I wish I hadn’t been so afraid to fail.

With their second chance at life, many patients were prepared to step out of their comfort zones in the future. Some patients had been so close to death (arguably the ultimate failure) that they no longer feared so many little failures in their day, such as failing to live up to other people’s expectations.

Resolution: From now on I won’t fear failure.

4. I wish I’d stood up for myself more.

Patients regretted not having voiced their opinions more frequently and stood up for themselves and their values or beliefs. Some had spent years in unhappy relationships or unfulfilling work, and it was only their hospitalization that had been their catalyst for change.

Resolution: From now on I’ll stand up for myself more.

5. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to…

The regret of procrastination was also common, and something that resonated with me. Patients said that they wished they’d done a certain something sooner—pick up the phone, seen the doctor, reunite with a friend… The list went on.

Resolution: From now on I’m going to stop waiting and start doing!

There were many similarities between the regrets of the dying and the regrets of the living.

However, the key difference was that my fellow patients and I all had an opportunity to take action on our regrets of the past and ensure they would not be regrets of the future.

What This Means for You

Going back to my question at the beginning of this post: If you had a second chance at life, what would you do differently?

It’s normal to have regrets. If you’ve ever had menu envy, you’ll regret not ordering X instead of Y.

I have regrets, but I make a point of not dwelling on them. Sure, I have relationships, jobs, or situations that I regret not leaving sooner, but those failures have helped make me who I am today.

So don’t be afraid to experience more. Step outside your comfort zone and live life on your terms, free from regret. Listen more to those who only have your best interests at heart. Stand up for yourself, embrace failure, and stop waiting for someone else to live your life for you.

Take it from my fellow rehab patients who have been there before. Those who have regrets but also have the opportunity to reflect on this regret and resolve to make changes.

Take the blinkers of and stop procrastinating. Take responsibility for your own life and your own happiness. We all have challenges, but we all have choices.

Two Kind Words That Can Change or Save a Life

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~Leo Buscaglia

My fiancé and I escaped to the northern wilderness. We wanted to build our home and our life off grid, off the beaten path, far from civilization.

It didn’t matter that I was a city girl who couldn’t handle a chainsaw, fix a pickup, or read the warnings of wind and sky. My fiancé was a mountain man, skilled in survival. That was all we needed for a life in the middle of nowhere. Alone, but together, and we loved it.

We were independent and resourceful. Nothing fazed us. My fiancé had a solution for everything: broken generators, shortage of water, staying safe on hikes through the hills that we shared with wolves, coyotes, and bears.

Never once did we doubt our ability to survive.

And never once did we think that our biggest challenge would come from anything other than the wilderness itself.

Our days were consumed by nature. We were always one step ahead. One step ahead of hungry bears, deadly windstorms, drought, wildfire, and maintaining the only road that connected us to far-flung humanity. We were always one step ahead.

Until we weren’t.

All of a sudden, my fiancé lost his appetite, his skin turned a pea soup green, and his jeans hung off him, a size too big.

The wilderness was no place to get sick: lack of cell-phone access, few doctors, often-impassable roads, and a five-hour drive to the nearest hospital. Suddenly the idea of “challenge” took on a whole new meaning.

Finally, after many delays, tests, comings and goings, a diagnosis was confirmed: cancer. My fiancé was stoic. But the news hit me with hurricane force.

Our world flipped upside down.

Suddenly we were thrown into the scary unknown, a place far more challenging than the wilderness of the bush.

Surgery was booked. My once strong, ever-so-independent mountain man was forced to let go, to place his trust in the skill of a surgeon and the goodwill of the universe. I was terrified, but in my role of “pillar of support,” I acted brave by swallowing my fear.

In the faraway town where the operation would take place, I would sleep at the Easter Seal House. It was close to the hospital and affordable. But it was also a dorm.

The idea of sharing accommodation added to my stress. I was an introvert; I’d been living in the bush. The last thing I wanted was to socialize with strangers when my mind was consumed with worries for my man.

But there was no choice.

The following day, the operation, they said it would last a few hours. It took much longer. Then finally some news. “All is well, ” the surgeon said. And the relief of it almost felled me.

I thanked the surgeon; thanked the universe for throwing a lifeline. There would be a tomorrow, after all. And a tomorrow after that.

Two days later, results showed a spread of the disease.

We were not in the clear after all.

That night, I stayed as late as possible at the hospital with my fiancé. I wanted to curl up in his narrow bed, but he was hooked up to so many tubes and wires, and the eighteen-inch wound running down his belly was tender and sore.

When I reluctantly left to walk back to the “dorm,” the night was late and frigidly cold. My mood was as black and as slippery as the ice underfoot. All I wanted to do was to curl up and cry. The thought of facing a group of strangers sunk me further.

At the front door of the Easter Seal House, a small group of old men huddled under the outdoor light, sucking on cigarettes and stamping their feet to stay warm. They looked as miserable as I felt.

Inside, a new guest had arrived to share my room. She was setting up an oxygen machine that would keep her lungs safe through the night. The room was too cramped to make use of my offer to help, so I retreated to the lounge.

The TV in the lounge blasted a comedy. I slipped into the only spare spot, at the edge of the threadbare couch. A plump woman with bleached blond, coifed hair and rose-polished nails giggled wildly at the antics of the TV characters.

My mood was too dark to laugh; instead, I was flooded with gnarly judgments about the stupidity of TV, of sitcoms, of sharing accommodation with strangers.

I told myself I don’t belong with this group, with this coifed blond giggler and her rose-polished nails. As the judgments in my mind exploded, my mood turned surly.

At the break for an ad, the volume on the TV spiked. The blond reached for the remote, decreased the sound. One small mercy. A few minutes later, volume up again. Part of me wanted to seize the remote and hurl it out the window.

The sitcom resumed. Some inane stunt threw the giggler into hysterics.

Suddenly, she turned in my direction, clearly wanting to share the joke that I so obviously didn’t get.

Quickly she scanned me, and whatever it was that she saw prompted her to switch the TV right off, right in the middle of her show. She turned back to me again, this time swiveling her entire body right around to face me.

“Tell me,” she said.

And then I saw. Past the pristine rose nails and frilly sweater, past the coifed bleached hair and perfect makeup, I now saw a pair of soft, welcoming eyes. “Tell me,” she repeated in a gentle invitation.

And I did. And something inside me broke. All the feelings of tension and sorrow melted as I accepted her invitation.

I told her about my fiancé’s surgery, the cancer, its spread, and the hope for future treatments. I told her about my fears for our isolated life in the wilderness. How would I manage? And she listened. She listened with gentle eyes. She listened with her whole body, nodding, as if to say, “I hear you, I understand.”

And it amazed me, this gentle space that she had created through the depth of her presence. It amazed me how her kindness helped me peel open months of fear and anguish. Her invitation to tell my story was an invitation I didn’t even know I needed, yet desperately did.

One by one, the old smokers lumbered back in from the frigid night. They and others joined us. A semi-circle formed around the woman and myself. Haggard, jaundiced faces, bandaged arms; it struck me how all of us were wounded in one way or another, fellow travellers on a shared and complicated journey.

By the time I finished my story, a soft gratitude had filled my heart and eased my worries. My burden shared was a burden halved.

In the wee hours before dawn, sleep came gently in a way that it hadn’t for a very long time.

I never saw that woman again. But her generosity, in switching off a sitcom that she so clearly enjoyed to welcome instead my story, was a gift.

It allowed me to move past a sense of disconnection from others, to share my vulnerability, to be heard and understood. And it gave me solace and a feeling of connection when I needed it most.

Above all, that woman and her gift of compassion showed me that no matter how small, an act of kindness truly does have the power transform a life.

It transformed mine. By lightening my load, it created space for the challenges that lay ahead.

So many of us walk around carrying heavy burdens, desperate for a sense of relief. It may seem so simple, but two little words can dramatically ease our pain and our suffering. Such simple little words: Tell me.

Follow Your Heart, Not Your Fear: How to Make Choices That Are Right for You

Follow your heart

“Unnecessary fear of a bad decision is a major stumbling block to good decisions.” ~Jim Camp

Twenty years ago, my wife and I decided to move from Montréal, where we had lived for the first 35 years of our lives, to Nova Scotia, 800 miles away, where we had no connections whatsoever. Neither a small decision, nor undertaking, since this involved our four kids and the entire contents of our house (not to mention a dog and two cats!)

Why were we moving? We were not moving because of a job opportunity; we enjoyed the life we had in Montréal. And there was nothing—as far as we knew—waiting for us in Nova Scotia. Nothing, except our future, the next stage of our lives.

But we both had a strong, clear feeling—a felt sense—that it was time to leave. And we both had a strong, clear feeling that Nova Scotia was the right place to move to. Simple as that.

There were lots of reasons to think that we shouldn’t make this move and take all the risks involved. In the year before we moved, every attempt I made at getting work there fell through. Every attempt I made at finding a house to rent fell through. It was literally only three weeks before we moved that we finally had a place to move to!

There was plenty of worry, stress, and anxiety, plenty of thoughts saying that this was a bad decision.

By this point in my life, though, I had learned to listen to my intuition, and to the signals of my heart, to guide me in my life choices.

I had learned not let my thoughts (that is to say, my worries, doubts, fears, anxieties, and apprehensions) paralyze me in my decision-making. I had learned to have more confidence in what my body felt than in what my mind said.

There was a time when I would have wasted a lot of time and energy debating back and forth, and then made a choice I was neither sure was the right one, nor fully happy with. For the first three decades or more of my life, I was a person who struggled intensely with making choices and decisions.

I was usually afraid of making the wrong choice, and unsure of how to know whether I was making the right choice. Aside from any question about “right versus wrong” choices, I worried about what others would think, or how others would feel, if I made this or that choice.

This indecision, this self-doubt, resulted in significant stress and anxiety—sometimes, to the point of feeling too paralyzed to act at all—as well as resulting in wasted time, lost opportunities, and regrets.

Over the years, I worked in therapy on overcoming anxiety and other issues, and learned and practiced meditation and mindfulness, and yoga. Over time, and with consistent practice, I gradually learned how to find a calm center in the midst of those conflicted thoughts.

I also learned how to tune into my heart, with heart-focused meditations.

I discovered that my heart would always tell me what I really needed. There was always one clear answer from the heart, about what was right for me in any given situation. And when I experimented with acting on those choices, the outcomes were always good, and I never felt doubt or regret. There was a consistent sense of acting in alignment with my true self, my true purpose…my truth.

The fundamental basis for this approach to making decisions is mindfulness. Being mindful means being able to “sink down” below the turbulent surface of thoughts, projections, fears, and perceptions that all clamour for my attention when I have a decision to make. It means having a still center from which I can then be aware of the quieter, and subtler, signals in my body, my heart.

When you mindfully tune into your heart, when you separate from your thoughts and emotional reactions, you discover that the heart has a very clear, although sometimes, a very subtle, way of saying “yes” and “no.”

A sensation or feeling of opening, relaxing, warmth, moving toward, is a “Yes.” A feeling or sensation of closing, hardening, pulling back, tensing is a “No.”

I have learned to trust that this response from the heart tells me what is best for my overall, integral being, for my physical health, my mental health, my social relationships, my family relationships, and the unfolding of my life purpose.

Mindfulness is the basis from which this approach to decision-making stems, but making decisions this way as a practice also enhances my ability to be mindful in everyday life.

It is an exercise in letting go of attachment—attachment to desires and fears; attachment to expectations of myself, of others, or of the future; attachment to thoughts about what I “should” do; attachment to what other people might think and feel.

Most of our stress, anxiety, indecision, and doubt around making decisions is rooted in fear. We fear unknown outcomes, or we fear negative outcomes that we project might happen.

Fear reactions always serve to dissociate us from our true and integral Self in the moment.

In his book The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton talks about how a cell is either in defence mode or in growth mode; it cannot be in both at once. The same is true psychologically.

If we are—even just in our thoughts—engaged in fear, and trying to defend ourselves from negative outcomes, then the choices we make will be based in trying to protect ourselves from whatever it is we fear; they will not be grounded in hope, confidence, and faith; they will not be conducive to growth and thriving.

It isn’t necessarily easy to resist the fear, and to listen to your heart. Our brains are wired to prioritize safety; this means that the brain will pay attention to fear and let it guide our thinking. It takes practice and perseverance to find a calm center beneath and within the fear; it is the work of mindfulness, applied to actions.

Mindfulness is fundamental as it trains you to detach from the narrative of the fear-based thoughts. But making decisions to act in ways that challenge those fears takes the challenge up a notch.

Part of the solution is reminding yourself of what has always happened in the past when you acted according to these fears. You will find that there is always some kind of dissatisfaction or disappointment, if not outright frustration, that resulted.

Part of the solution is working on reducing those fears (try Energy Psychology techniques or, my favorite, Logosynthesis); and part of the solution is in “feeling the fear and doing it anyways”—pushing through the fear, and experiencing the positive outcomes.

I have come to make all my decisions in this heart-centered way, and I have never been disappointed. On the one hand, I can say that I have never been disappointed because the outcome has always been good.

On the other hand, there is a feeling that comes simply from making a decision this way, based on a felt response in the body, where I physically experience my body saying yes or no, that allows me to detach from expectations about the outcome altogether, and to feel good and confident about my decision, regardless of the outcome.

I feel good and strong simply because I am making the decision that I know is right for me.

The outcomes we wish for are not always the outcomes we need, or that will be best for us. The outcomes we wish for are often based in a sense of lack, longing, or insufficiency. In my emotional heart I may fear, I may want to avoid something, or I may long for something, desire it.

In my energetic heart, the response will not be based on any sense of fear, avoidance, lack, or insufficiency. It is based in a consistent, integral sense of Self, in relationship to others, to the world, and to life itself.

I used to be afraid of confrontation, or even of risking a confrontation by displeasing people. So when it became clear that the dynamics of my (birth) family’s gatherings were too stressful for my wife, and detrimental to her well-being, I was forced to look at it more closely and acknowledge that I felt uncomfortable in those situations, as well.

I had the usual reaction: “But it’s my family! I can’t just decide not to go for Christmas!” But in my heart I felt clearly that the right choice was to stop attending. Having to take this action and tell them caused me a lot of anxiety.

I was afraid of the anger and rejection I felt certain would come of it. I delayed and avoided.

When I did tell them, I was met with confusion, anger, and blame. The response I feared did happen. What didn’t happen is what I really feared—that I would not be okay if they were unhappy with me.

I was okay…We were okay. It made my relationship stronger because my wife knew I would take her needs seriously, and act on them, even though it was uncomfortable for me. It made me stronger, because it helped me to realize that even if I made other people unhappy, I could still be okay.

Knowing I was making the right choice for myself, there was a clear distinction between what other people might think was “right” or “wrong,” and what I knew in my heart.

Letting go of fear opened me up to growth.

The more you practice decision-making in this way, the more you develop an incredible sense of freedom, an ability to move in this world in a way that is true to yourself and to your life purpose. It helps to cultivate the “courageous self-acceptance” and the “fearless heart” described in Buddhist teachings.

And when making your decisions becomes clearer, less stressful, and less conflicted, it makes your relationships with others a lot easier. You let go of people pleasing, of guilt, of feeling like you have to explain yourself or even to compromise yourself and make decisions that aren’t right for you.

You may be afraid that if you act according to your heart, you will make people angry. And that may be exactly what happens. But your great fears of the consequences of people being angry with you never happen. You realize that even if you have to deal with loss, you have regained something of yourself.

Relationships become simpler as you feel a sense of wholeness, of integrity. You know you are acting with integrity, and so you feel comfortable affirming your choices. You feel less defensive when people disagree with you. This is a freedom we should all wish for each other, and grant each other.

And, in case you were wondering, nineteen years later, we still love living in Nova Scotia. It is home now, and we would never think of leaving. Within a couple of months of moving here I was working full-time. It has been a great place to live, to work and to raise our children and we would never think of leaving.

Our hearts drew us to a place that became home in a way that the place we grew up and began our adult lives in could never quite be. Our hearts drew us to our destinies.

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