Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
This book is a valuable introduction to the concept of mindfulness. Dr. Zinn brought the concept of mindfulness from Buddhist meditation, and has shown how it can be applied as a basic technique for improved well being and stress relief. The practice of mindfulness has been shown to increase one’s quality of life.
Mindfulness means the ability to live in the present moment, to be absorbed completely, fully aware of each thought, feeling or sensation that arises. This awareness implies a nonjudgmental attitude towards our flow of thoughts, even unpleasant sensations or mental events.
The mere act of watching our mind, allows us to distance ourselves from our emotions. This enables us to gain a better perspective on our challenges. Through mindfulness we realize that our emotions are just that, not the ultimate truth about reality. The common thought distortion “I feel, therefore it is reality” loses its hold on us.
Living in the present means that we do not dwell on the past, or think anxiously about the future . Many people believe that if they immerse themselves in painful emotions, it will provide them an insight and ultimately lead to inner transformation. Delving into the past must be done with care, as it may strengthen and reinforce the neural pathways of pain and depression. This reinforcement may lead to further deepening of the depression and pain, as opposed to the hoped for alleviation. Mindfulness offers an additional method for dealing with one’s challenges.
Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness is a good tool for stress management, depression management, and it leads to better quality of life, enhance creativity, and can improve chronic pain and other medical conditions.
Deficiency in vitamin D is linked to depression, Parkinson disease and to cognitive decline according to a new article in Scientific American. According to the article, about three quarters of the population in the USA suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Here, in Michigan, the percentage may be even higher because of the lack of sunlight.
If you suffer from depression, it would be prudent to ask for a blood test, to determine whether your blood levels are within normal limits. Do not take extra supplements of Vitamin D without consulting your primary care physician, as it can be toxic in large doses.
Depression contributes, and is maintained by common distorted thought patterns. It is a vicious circle, which keep us depressed.
This checklist is taken from the Wikipedia, “Feeling Good” book and other sources, with some changes and additions. As you go through this list try to identify these patterns that you tend to use. It may be an eye opener: You will realize that what sounded like “the reality”, is indeed very subjective. This is the first step to start controlling those thought patterns, and influence your mood. You may want to keep track of these thought patterns in a journal.
- Black and white thinking – No shades of grey. Thinking of things in absolute terms, like “always”, “every”, “never”. If it is not perfect, it is a failure.
- Overgeneralization – Taking isolated cases and using them to make wide generalizations. Generalization from one detail , or aspect of a situation, to the whole situation.
- Mental filter – Focusing almost exclusively on negative or upsetting aspects of an event while ignoring other positive aspects.
- Disqualifying the positive – Continually deemphasizing positive experiences.
- Jumping to conclusions – Drawing negative conclusions from little evidence. Two specific subtypes:
- Mind reading – Assuming you can read the feelings and thoughts of others. You know for sure what other people think of you, and of course is it negative.
- Future reading – Catastrophizing. You expect the worst possible outcome, however unlikely. You ruminate about “What if”.
- Magnification and minimization – Distorting aspects of a memory or situation through magnifying or minimizing them such that they no longer correspond to objective reality. If you are depressed, often the positive characteristics of other people are exaggerated and negative characteristics are understated. The reverse happens when you think about yourself.
- Emotional reasoning – Accept your emotions as a valid evidence. “I feel therfore it is true”. If you feel stupid , than you are stupid.
- Should statements – You know the way things “should” be. You have rigid rules which always apply, no matter what the circumstances are. Using “should” statement leaves you and others feeling preasured, guilty, and on the long run jeopardizes any motivation for change. It does not allow you to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances.
- Labeling – Rather than describing a specific behavior, you assign a negative label to yourself. it is not the action that was a mistake, you are the mistake. Frequntly, you judge others as harshly as you judge yourself.
- Personalization – Attribution of personal responsibility and guilt to yourself for events over which you have no control.
- False expectations: Assuming that other people should be able to read your mind, without any need of your part to express your emotions and needs. Assuming that your happiness depends on somebody else.
This little known book describes the inner experience of depression, in a very sensitive and authentic way. Its charm lies in the fact that in spite of the very real description of depression, It is full of hope.
In the beginning Lea, The main character, is in her deepest moment of despair. The world seemed bleak, senseless and cruel. She feels complete alienation. Her pain was so great, that she tried to jump from a bridge, in a futile attempt to commit suicide. An alien caught her and saved her life.
The first step to her recovery was numbing her emotional pain. The alien temporarily numbed Lea’s pain and locked her in a house, in order to protect her. (Fantasy equivalent to psychotropic medication? Hospitalization?) Lea felt better, though numbed. She knew that the numbness was a temporary relief, a crutch to support her during the process of recovery.
The alien brought her to a secret gathering of a community of aliens, the “people”. The people are human-like aliens endowed with psychic powers, who live in a deeply spiritual community. They were scattered around after crash landing on Earth. Some individuals were separated and had to cope by themselves, hiding their real identity a coping with their “otherness”. Lea participated in many night gatherings, During these night gatherings the participants told their life stories.
Hearing the stories, in the context of a community, was the beginning of her recovery process. Lea initially did not want to believe in the wonder of life. She was reluctant to relinquish her pain and loneliness. Those, at least, were familiar. It took time before she really committed herself to the recovery process, and started to fight depression on her own.
Henderson’s prescription for recovery is twofold. She sees community and faith as the two prescriptions of recovery and life.
Lea’s recovery took place in the context of a community. When Lea looked around and heard so many stories about suffering , she asked herself where their strength comes from. And she answered herself: “ When anyone of them cries out the others hear – and listen. Not just with their ears but with their hearts. No matter who cries out – someone listens-“
Henderson sees depression as lack of faith. The lack of faith makes the world so bleak. Only faith can restore meaning to so much suffering. Only faith can mitigate the sense of loneliness.
There are other traditions within the mental health realm that consider faith and community as central components of recovery, such as all the self help groups that are AA based. Faith and participation in community are considered a prerequisite for recovery.
Henderson’s prescriptions for recovery are challenging. As a therapist myself, Can I prescribe faith or community? I do not know. Is faith, or community, always beneficial? Probably not. However, I find her intuition, that probably stemmed from her own experience, very inspiring.
Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson
Many people use a journal to enhance their well being and cope with variety of mental health challenges. A journal can have a wide variety of uses. The Journal can enhance a persons creativity. The Journal may also be helpful in managing the writer’s emotions. The Journal may be a useful tool in delving into, and coming to terms with one’s past.
One technique is recommended in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity [10th Anniversary Edition].
The instruction provided in the “Artists Way” is to write what ever comes to mind. You should let the written words pour out in a stream of consciousness with no regard or concern for literary value. The method is based on the assumption that no one will ever see your journal so you are free to write whatever comes to mind. In fact you are advised not to look back and reread what you wrote. It is the act of uninhibited writing that is therapeutic. This technique was initially developed to enhance creativity. Clinical experience shows that it support mental health as well.
People that are depressed should be cautious using this method. For some, it can be beneficial. Others may find that this method exacerbates their depression . They may use the free flowing journal to dwell on minor faults and sorrows. These people may benefit more from a more structured way of journaling.
One of the simplest structured forms of writing a journal to help alleviate depression is, at the end of the day, to write down three things that you are grateful for. It is important to persevere and to write down three real things that are unique; not to repeat oneself day after day. As simple as this may sound, studies have shown a beneficial effect of this method. It gradually alters the way we perceive our world.
Psychotherapy does not have to always be a serious endeavor. Sometimes laughter can be more effective than tears. Loretta Laroche is a clinical psychologist, and a stand up comedian; an unusual combination. Her CD’s and DVD’s teach the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy and existential therapy through a humorous examination of her own life. Very uplifting, lots of common sense, gives a great perspective on life. An effective audio antidepressant.
How to Be A Wild, Wise, and Witty Woman 4-CD: Making the Most Out of Life Before You Run Out of It
Life Is Short, Wear Your Party Pants
Managing Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can reduce you quality of life, not let you achieve your full potential, and ultimately lead to depression. What results is a vicious cycle – the more anxious you are, the more barriers you will encounter in your life, the more depressed you become, which ultimately contribute to your anxiety. I recommend this self-help book. It is part of a series published by Oxford University Press. All the books adhere to cognitive-behavioral approach. They come in pairs – one for the client, one for the therapists. All those I have seen so far, were excellent. If you read this book, and work along its guideline, you may not even need to see me. And if you do, it will shorten the treatment and make my work easier.
There are two kinds of light therapy for depression: Light box, and Dawn simulator.
Most people know about the light box; those you can find anywhere on the web. I would like to recommend the less well known device, called Dawn Simulator (or sunrise simulator). Dawn simulator slowly lights a bedside lamp to simulate dawn. This simulates sunrise and tells your brain that it is time to get up and start the day. Absolutely no side effects, and it is amazingly effective. It has been shown in studies to improve seasonal depression. It certainly can help you start your morning in a different tone. You can find very expensive ones on the internet, that contain also a lamp, a radio, and an alarm clock built in. Assuming you already have all of these, you may want to buy the most inexpensive on the internet. It is just as effective as any other.
There is nothing more relaxing that can mitigate depression, connect us to the world and ourselves, and give us better perspective. In the dead of winter, go to Matthaei Botanical Gardens
DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) was initially developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan for people who suffered from personality disorders, particularly borderline personality disorder. DBT is not about insight, or delving into your past. It is a collection of very practical skills to help you better manage your emotions, your interpersonal relationships, and hence your life. The basis of all these skills is the practice of mindfulness, taken from Buddhism. Mindfulness means the state of mind that allow you to be completely immersed in the present situation, rather than in the past or in fantasy. None of these skills are innovative; but sometimes, while contending with life’s difficulties we need to be reminded of skills that may seem obvious or almost trivial.
Many types of therapy claim that our mental health is best served by getting in touch and experiencing our emotions to the fullest. While this approach is often effective and serves many people well, DBT takes an alternative approach. DBT tries to teach us to regulate our emotions in order to better cope with everyday life. I find this approach very helpful for people that struggle with clinical depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or even people who struggle with anger management issues, and struggle to go through the day. Only after the depression and anxiety get somewhat under control, a person would have enough energy and inner resources to delve in and benefit from insight oriented therapy.
In my opinion, these skills are useful for everyone of us. The following link will provide you with handouts. The best way to learn these skills would be in a therapeutic group or in individual therapy.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy .