According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people world-wide suffer from Depression. Chances are, you or someone you love has experienced a depressive episode at some point. While sadness or grief are normal human emotions, Depression can be another beast entirely. Depression can take the form of extreme sadness, insomnia, lack or increase in appetite, fatigue, suicidal thoughts, isolation, loss of pleasure or excitement, anxiety, apathy, anger, shame, and guilt.
Depression can be a single episode or recurring, even lasting as long as several years, also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder or Dysthymia. It can also occur after giving birth, Post-Partum Depression, or as part of Bipolar Disorder where depression is met with periods of mania or extreme highs in mood. Since depression, while treatable can be very debilitating, it can have an effect on the relationships that a person has. Depression can lead to drug or alcohol abuse, social isolation, job loss, low self-esteem, and “feeling like a burden” to those around them.For many, having depression comes with crushing guilt, fearing that you’re an anchor, pushing people away from the black hole that seems to have swallowed you up. Loving someone with depression comes with crushing helplessness, feeling like no matter what you do, how unconditionally you love someone, you cannot change how they feel. Both sides may feel like they aren’t enough and never will be. In some ways that is true, we cannot rely on others to “fix” us. People who suffer from Depression need to seek help from a mental health professional to determine a course of treatment.So how do deal with the emotions that come up when loving someone experiencingdepression? How do I cope with feeling alone in the relationship because the other person is battling their own demons?Here are a few things to consider:1. Depression is not a choice or a feeling that someone can just “get over”– It is not a passing mood or a bad day. It is also not helpful to suggest that the depressed person is doing something wrong or that they can get out of a bad mood if they just “insert unhelpful phrase here”. It is not a choice, many need professional help in order to get better.2. It’s okay to feel frustrated- Those who love and support someone experiencing depression can feel overwhelmed or like they are walking on eggshells. In order to prevent burnout, recognize when you need to practice healthy boundary setting and self care. Show love and kindness without sacrificing your own needs and happiness.3. It’s not about you– Someone with depression may be more irritable or seem aloof. Remember, these are symptoms of depression and are not always about you. Often with depression, someone might push loved ones away due to the negative guilt spirals of “not being good enough” or the multitude of other untruths that the brain will try to convince them of. Try not to take it personal. Gently allow them to know that you love them and are there for them.4. Spend time with them without expectations– Sometimes it’s just better to have someone around without the pressure to have to entertain them. Loneliness and isolation is something that many people experience during depression. Consider sitting next to them and reading a book, offer to talk or not, or put together a comfortable space for them. Spending quality time without trying to “fix” them could be all they need.5. Don’t demand positivity– It can be an automatic response to want to cheer up adepressed person. Although this behavior might seem rooted in kindness, sometimes it can be smothering to the person with depression or invalidate their feelings, making them feel even more alone. This goes back to #1, depression isn’t a mood to get over, it’s more complicated and adding the pressure to always be positive or look at the bright side can be interpreted at “this isn’t okay and you shouldn’t feel this way”.6. Antidepressants can affect their sex drive– Although sex can be a mood booster, depression can be a libido killer. This can have a serious effect on romantic relationships. A common side effect of antidepressants is a decreased sex drive or difficulty getting an erection. Some might also experience a delayed or blocked orgasm. Most experts will agree that despite the sexual side effects, Depression should be treated first. So encourage them to talk to their doctor about finding one that works for them, but also talk to your partner about sex and what kinds of intimacy they are comfortable with during their depression.7. It’s okay to ask about their feelings– If you think someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, or you are noticing some of the warning signs, it is okay to ask them about it. Talking about suicide won’t encourage them to do it. Suicidal ideation is a common experience with Depression. Consider offering to call the hotline together or help them notify a family member they trust. You can also help them find a therapist or in cases of emergency, call 911.
Sometimes we all need a little space, right? Asking for space from another person allows us to regain our bearings and think things through. Now, while I thoroughly enjoy the planetary kind, the space I’m talking about is the space within us between reaction and response. We all have the ability to get emotionally hijacked. This happens when we zoom into autopilot, often reacting out of emotion and regretting the outcome. What if, instead of reacting, we gave ourselves SPACE?
TRY THIS MINDFUL EXERCISE:
Stop what you are doing. Take a time out, even if it’s only for 60 seconds.
Pay attention to what’s going on inside your body. What do you observe? How has your breath changed? Are you clenching your jaw or turning inward? Don’t judge what is happening, just observe what is happening.
Address the emotion. Can you name what you are feeling? If you can’t quite describe it, what are the closest emotions to what you are feeling right now? Can you pick two words, one to describe how you are feeling physically and one to describe how you are feeling mentally right now?
Calming breaths. Take a moment and breathe with your belly, they don’t have to be deep, just whatever feels comfortable. My favorite is to raise my hands above my head in order to get a deeper breath. Try to inhale patience….and exhale stress. I’ve found that 7x works out best for me, personally. Now belly breathing may not be easy for some, but it helps regulate the stress hormone, as does stretching and loosening up the neck muscles. (I’ll tell you all about the the Vagus nerve in a later blog post! It’s the longest cranial nerve we have and it is directly involved with our fight, freeze, or flight response).
Exercise compassion. Is it okay to feel this? Consider giving yourself permission to let go of any tension you do not need to hold on to right now. Also, consider allowing your feelings to exist for a moment before we distract ourselves. You can read more about building emotional tolerance from my past post: The Fear of Emotional Quicksand.
We are wonderfully human and we have emotions. Emotions drive so many of the decisions that we make. But, sometimes we just need some SPACE in order to make healthy, balanced ones.
With warm regards,
Samantha Grimes, M.A. MFTI
After the float experience I had (you can find the description of what that was like here: “We’ll All Float On”- One Therapist Intern’s 90 Minutes of Sensory Deprivation) I just needed to see what else was out there in terms of quelling anxiety. There are so many options beside just yoga and meditation. For many, it can be discouraging when you can’t zone out with some guided meditation on YouTube. Therefore, I have made it my challenge to explore new ways to bring some peace and calm to my life. Maybe it will help you too.
WHAT IS A SALT CAVE?
I went to Salt in Santa Barbara to check out a salt cave which claims to be the largest underground salt cave in North America. I had heard about it on Groupon and decided to see what all the fuss was about. It was a little hard to find but once I did, we decended a set of stairs into an underground shop and spa area. Apparently, all salt caves are slightly unique with different layouts and sizes of their rooms, but all tend to have similar setups. The cave that I was in was a large, darkened room with the walls and ceiling being comprised of large, stacked pink Himalayan salt rocks, while the ground is made up of loose pink Himalayan salt (think bigger granules of sand). There was dim lighting, spa music, and zero gravity lounge chairs. It was quite inviting and smelled of lavender, which definitely helped set the mood. As I walked in through the large wooden doors to the cave, I could feel the soft crunch of salt beneath my feet as I walked into the glowing room to an empty chair. There were only three other people in my session and we were given blankets to keep warm if we wanted, even though it was a pretty comfortable temperature inside already. I was ready for my 45 minutes of bliss!
PHOTO: Santa Barbara Salt Cave; http://www.saltcavesb.com
YEAH, BUT WHAT DOES IT DO?
Salt therapy, also known as Halotherapy, has been used for thousands of years, some even reporting back to the 12th century. Halotherapy is the use of salt vapor to treat respiratory problems, regulate sleep, promote vascular and respiratory health, and may help improve our health and mood. The cave we were in was infused with micro-particles of salt to be absorbed into our skin and lungs through deep breathing. Throughout the 45 minutes you could often hear the salted air being pushed into the room. I closed my eyes and imagined I was standing on the beach, toes in the sand, breathing the salty air (which is my absolute favorite sensation). We were told that the salt in the room was more than 200 million years old (Whoa!) from crystallized sea salt beds in northern Pakistan. What is interesting is that while I sat there, I could literally feel my skin getting saltier as I pondered the inner workings of the universe, or more accurately just focusing on my breathing and relaxing my mind, trying to prevent it from plotting the rest of the evening.
WHAT WERE THE RESULTS?
As the zen-like music disappeared and I opened my eyes, I picked up my salt-covered purse and made my way back to the door. Since I don’t have any respiratory issues, I went into this to see if it had any affect on my anxiety or my sleep. What I came to find was that while it may not have done anything spectacular for my health or immediate feeling afterward, it did leave me feeling quiet, reflective, and refreshed. In the end, I guess I can’t complain because those are pretty wonderful feelings on their own and definitely the opposite of anxious. I slept pretty well that night too!
So bottom line, get creative with the ways in which you explore your self care. Your mind and body are the only ones you’ve got! There are so many interesting things out there that enrich and soothe our minds and bodies, we just have to search for them.
Do something out of the box. Find a new experience. Treat yo’ self! Do whatever it takes to nourish YOU.
Tell me about your favorite ways to combat anxiety or de-stress!
For more information on the salt cave I went to or just salt therapy in general:
Anxiety can build or often come out of nowhere. It is not a fun experience and for some people it is a chronic condition. One thing I have noticed that works for me to help manage some of the feelings that come up while experiencing anxiety is to harness the power of the four elements: Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. The four elements are believed to be essential to life. I believe they are also essential to getting us back to our center.
AIR: Remind yourself to breathe. How is your breath? Is it jagged or smooth? Shallow or deep? If it’s helpful, exhale all the tightness in your body and then place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Try to breathe into your stomach as this gives a signal to your body that you are not facing any real danger and it can turn off it’s fight or flight fire alarm. We all know that our thoughts can affect our body’s posture, heart rate, and energy, but our body can also have an influence into our mind and our thoughts. My theory: regulate our body and convince it is not in a state of panic and hopefully our brains will get the hint.
EARTH: Get grounded. No, I don’t mean do something that can get you in trouble. But derealization (feelings of not being in reality) and depersonalization (feeling away from your body) are often symptoms of a panic attack. When we are not grounded, it’s difficult to feel safe, secure, or relaxed. So, take a moment and feel your feet. Feel your feet on the ground and move them, feel the balls of your feet, the heels, the sides, how does it feel? What feels good? If nothing feels good, what feels the least bad? Imagine your feet have roots like a tree and notice the strength in your legs. You can also use your 5 senses to ground and orient yourself to the space that you are in. What are 5 things you can see right now? 4 things that you can feel? 3 Things you can hear? Two things you can smell? What is 1 thing you can taste right now?
WATER: Reflect on your thoughts, but don’t drown in them. If you feel comfortable, try treating your worried thoughts like you would looking at cars on the freeway. Notice one, but don’t linger on it, let it pass on by. Try to bring yourself back your felt sense. If you find yourself getting sucked into negative thoughts, try to bring yourself back to your body by stating, “how do I know I am alive right now?” (give me the facts, can you feel your heart beat, your lungs expanding, etc).
FIRE: Find your fire center and get energized. Life is often chaotic! When we know where our fire center is, we are better able to flow with the rhythm of life and learn how to not be afraid of change or growth. Go ahead and grab an object. Take all of your worries, fears, pain, problems, and imagine storing them in this object. Now move the object away from you and take a moment and connect with your breath. You are not defined by your problems or anxiety, take a moment to enjoy the separation and momentary peace. When we can engage our bodies in ways that reduce our stress and anxiety we can actually connect with people and use our support system to help us feel better.
There is also a fun breathing exercise called Breath of Fire. To do this, inhale softly and exhale with steady force, pushing your belly in. Focus on breathing in calmness, lightness, happiness, and strength. Exhaling pain, anger, sadness, and lack of energy. Notice how your body feels.
As much as anxiety sucks, I tend to look at it as my spidey sense telling me that something is off and I need to readjust, whether it is more self care, sleeping more, setting healthy boundaries, or engaging with my support system more often. Maybe take a minute and see where you might need a little extra care.
Feel free to give me some feedback on how YOU cope with your anxiety.
Alright, going in to this experience I have to say that I was a little bit nervous. My husband had experienced it once before and was ranting and raving about it for weeks! I still wasn’t 100 percent convinced. Would I feel claustrophobic and freak out? What if I fell asleep, would I drown? Will it help me relax or will it creep me out? As I was going into this, I thought to myself, I wonder if this is what death would feel like and if so, how the heck is it going to make me calm? What the hell am I going to think about for 90 minutes?! Yet, I was open to trying the new experience after I read some things online about floatation therapy.
What is floating?
Floatation has been around for over 60 years and consists of a sensory deprivation tank with about ten inches of water that has about 1200lbs of Epsom salt to help you float effortlessly. The water is kept at 93.5 degrees so that you lose track of where the water and air begins*. The sensory deprivation tank ensures total darkness and is insulated against sound so that you float in a quiet, dark space.
Now, how does this help me?
Without the strain of gravity, your body is allowed to heal from pain and pressure. Without sights and sounds, your mind is now free from distraction and can focus on rest, relaxation, and healing. Floating is also known as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST)*. Many say that there are intense benefits to such a therapy, including a lasting calm, lowering blood pressure and inflammation, heightened creative thought, and your skin feeling soft and glowing afterward*.
Sensory-deprivation tanks, once popular with stoners, oddball geniuses, and the kind of people who own healing crystals, (and once terrified everyone in the movie Altered States) are now reappearing in modern culture as a therapeutic form of treating chronic pain, addiction, stress and anxiety. It is intended to help not only the body but the mind as well. One of the reasons I was so intrigued by floatation tanks was the fact that with all senses taken away, I can’t even think of a time besides my time in the womb that I have ever experienced such a thing. What happens to the brain in these types of circumstances? (Theta brain waves to be exact!)
So I decided to try it. I booked an appointment at a local float clinic and was surprisingly greeted by a very calm and serene waiting room, reminiscent of a massage parlor. I was greeted by a warm gentleman who offered to give me a tour of the place before I begin. I was given the tour of the three rooms that they offered, each a little different than the last, but all contained a large shower, fragrance free shampoo and body wash and the door to the tank. As I stepped inside the room, there was soft, zen-like music playing over the speaker and I closed the door behind me. After I showered and entered the tank, the music stopped, the motion sensor light turned off, and I slid into the salty water. For three or four minutes, I had a vague feeling of panic. I was not afraid of anything in particular, and yet floating in the dark was so disorienting that I felt the need to reassure myself by touch. I felt the floor of the tank, only a few inches below; from time to time I’d reach out sideways and touch the walls to assure my mind that I was still contained in a space. I’d begun to drift around the tank for a few minutes.
I began to use my meditation and mindfulness techniques that I had learned over the years to quiet my anxious mind. I focused on my breathing, the rise and fall of my chest. Every thought that entered my head I would acknowledge and then let it go. I tried to focus on just my present experience. I found my mind beginning to wander from playful to serious pontification of my life. I began to imagine my life laid out in front of me as if on a back-lit table. I asked myself serious questions, playful questions, and tried to figure out what was important and what I could let go of. At one point I even thought, “this is really all we truly have in this world, our bodies, and our breath. Nothing else is promised to stay forever. It’s what I entered into the world with and what I will leave the world with” (I told you I went pretty deep haha). This wasn’t a sad thought, but more of a calming and peaceful one. I didn’t have to worry about all the things on my to-do list. I could literally just float in space by myself for a bit, imagining stars, far off planets, and even colorful galaxies if I wanted.
Suddenly, soft music began to play, signaling the end of the 90 minute session. I blinked a few times, bleary eyed; 90 minutes had apparently passed, and I barely even noticed. I got out, showered the crystalizing salt off my body and hazily wandered out into the reception area, which was bright with daylight and filled with soothing music. I felt like I was waking up to so many new things. I had to work later that day, a few errands to run, but I no longer felt stressed out about them. The float had done what I had hoped it would: I’d found a way to focus, relax, and enjoy my mind.
Overall, I would recommend this to anyone looking for a unique experience in exploring your mind, reducing stress, and relieving pain. I think it is especially helpful if the person has some knowledge of mindfulness or meditative techniques to help focus on breathing and reduce the initial “weirdness”. It was definitely a unique experience that I would try again in the future.
Dierendonck, D., Nijenhuis, J. (2007). Floatation restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) as a stress-management tool: A meta-analysis. Psychology & Health, Volume 20, Issue 3 pp 405-412. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08870440412331337093
You can find more information at: http://www.floatclinic.com
I work with a lot of teenagers and preteens in my practice. I few years ago, I worked with an 11th grade girl who pushed my buttons on a weekly basis. She was rude, offensive, and completely apathetic. I did not know if I would be able to help her. Somewhere along the course of seeing her I attended a training class on working with teenagers and the professor said something that really struck a chord with me, “Anger is Sad’s bodyguard”. I thought about what he said all weekend. The following week, I decided to test it out. I began making observations about how I thought she might be feeling regarding certain tough events in her life and something miraculous happened. She broke down in tears.
What is tricky is that most of the time depressed teens look like other depressed people: sad, crying, withdrawn, sleeping too much or too little, not enjoying activities they used to enjoy, thoughts of suicide, etc. Other times, it can look like what I was seeing in the girl that I mentioned.
If I were a parent of a teenager, I would be confused, irritated, and even a little shocked. “You mean my obnoxious teen, who’d rather spend the night in his bedroom than hang out with the family could actually be depressed? But isn’t this normal? Don’t other teens act like this?”
And you are totally right! Teenagers are as easy as nailing jello to a tree. A lot of this behavior is normal. What is not normal is if the oppositional behavior comes with more intense and frequently concerning choices. Now her grades are slipping, but that’s alright she can do extra work and pull them up. Then they fall even more than before. She’s no longer hanging out with her normal group of friends. That not a huge deal, interests change and she can meet new people. Well now you catch your daughter drinking and smoking pot with these new friends. You ask her to do some yard work and she protests as usual, but now you notice she has scratches on her wrists. But aren’t these cuts a little deeper than one would get from twigs and leaves? She seems to be losing weight and you rarely see her eating anymore and now she has screaming matches with you over dinner. I get that teens spend a lot of time in their room but hasn’t this gotten a little excessive? You monitor her social media posts and notice that they seem to be getting darker and you notice that she googled painless ways to kill yourself.
If you throw all of this together, you have more than just your normal teen oppositional behaviors, you now have grades slipping, loss of interest in activities that she used to enjoy, a change in friends, drug use, possible eating disorder and cutting, isolation, angry outbursts, and suicidal ideation. You have more than just your teenager saying “you don’t understand!” and “I hate you!”.
Believe me, I know it can be hard to look at the whole picture, especially since these things tend to come in stages. If you notice that your teen is struggling more than just being a bratty kid you fantasize about sending to live with your distant relatives, it doesn’t hurt to take them to get checked out. Have a counselor or a therapist give you a second opinion. Be your child’s biggest advocate and get them the help they may need.
I believe we all need to be seen in one way or another. What I mean by that, is that we all want someone to bear witness to our lives, our feelings, our successes, our trials and tribulations.
It is like that old saying “If a tree falls down in a forest, does it make a sound?”. Many of us want our tree to be heard! This got me thinking, maybe this is why social media has really become the diary of our generation. I don’t actually think that people really care about the picture of what they had to eat today, but we do want to be seen, we want our presence in the world noted. People want to feel like their existence matters, that it affects others, that they aren’t just overlooked.
I think that therapy does this in a beautiful way. We are the secret keepers, the witness to stranger’s lives, we are the objective figures in your life that give you feedback, we practice difficult conversations with you, provide a listening ear for you to mull over grievances with when you think no one wants to hear you. Therapists hold a special relationship that allows you to work through your own problems, model healthy relationships with, and provide support when there may be none.
When we think about how much social media has been rooted in our daily lives, people often portray the image of who they think they should be rather than who they really are, as if their true self was not quite good enough to be seen. The feelings they truly feel need to remain hidden because they are not safe for them to express. I even find myself censoring my own thoughts and views on my personal social media because I was unsure of the reaction I would get from others.
One of the reasons for why someone comes to feel this way lie in the person’s childhood relationships and experiences (particularly with parents). These experiences of relationships go into “jars” that we collect that influence our inner voice and our relationships with others throughout our lives. The healing of this can come t hrough awareness and working through corrective experiences, even though the process may feel uncomfortable at times. Good therapy, the kind that allows the client to feel truly witnessed on many levels, can lead to healing on a soul level. It can challenge and change our world views, how we behave in relationships, and even how we view ourselves. It will bring about a fearless authenticity.
Now, can I get a witness?! 🙂