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Minimize Anxiety & Depression by Living in the Now

Minimize Anxiety & Depression by Living in the Now

How much of your life do you spend in the present moment? How much time do you spend daydreaming, ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future? How much of your life do you miss by getting lost in thought?

In his book, The Power of Now, author Eckhart Tolle explains that learning to exist in the now frees us from pain while connecting us to the infinite calm of our essential being. He attributes human suffering — depression, anxiety, guilt, worry, fear, and more— to our tendency to live in our minds instead of in the present. If you take time to examine your thoughts, like I did, you might notice that they are very often related to the past or future and are rarely focused on the now.

Tolle argues that time, or “psychological time,” is essentially a construction of the human mind. In other words, the future — whether it’s work on Monday or a beach vacation in two weeks — exists only in our heads. Similarly, the past is simply a collection of memories. The only thing that ever truly exists is the now. By always thinking about the past or the future, we are ignoring or resisting the now. In essence, we are denying reality and, in doing so, causing ourselves a great deal of pain.

The Past Produces Pain

Tolle explains that too frequently ruminating on the past causes feelings of depression, guilt, and self-loathing. The following are examples of past-oriented thoughts that are likely to cause pain:

  • “I should have asked her out! I’m such a coward. I am never going to find my soulmate.”
  • ”I shouldn’t have said that in front of my boss. Now, I am never going to advance at my job.”
  • ”I wish I hadn’t eaten that piece of cake. I feel fat and undisciplined.”

Even letting your mind drift back to happy memories can create sadness about that period of time being over, which can result in feelings of emptiness, loss, and general dissatisfaction with the present. For example:

  • ”In college, I felt so free. I had a million friends, zero wrinkles, and boundless energy. I guess I will never feel like that again. My life is basically over.”

The Future Forges Fear

On the flip side, Tolle explains that regularly thinking about the future causes worry and anxiety. For instance:

  • “I have to go to the store, call the doctor, finish up three reports at work, and pay for a bunch of bills I can’t afford. I am so stressed out!”

On a Sunday afternoon, instead of enjoying the walk you are taking outside, you might find yourself thinking…“Oh my gosh. I have work tomorrow. The weekend is basically over. I am dreading tomorrow.”

Even habitually thinking about positive future events, which may initially cause feelings of excitement, can eventually cause dissatisfaction with the now, as you may deem the present inferior to your idea of the future event.

  • ”I cannot wait until my beach vacation — warm sand, margaritas, time without work. Too bad that, until then, I am stuck with work and cold weather.”

Even worse, habitually living in the future prevents you from ever actually experiencing and enjoying these positive events when they do arrive. You will always be looking forward to something bigger and better.

  • While on the beach on that beach vacation, instead of enjoying the sun on your face and the sand between your toes, you might be thinking… “I can’t wait until the shrimp dinner tonight! Only 3 more hours!”

*Disclaimer: Tolle grants that sparingly thinking about the future is acceptable insofar as it allows us to plan for the next step in life but argues that most people spend far too much time doing so. I am definitely guilty of this and have too often ventured from “sparingly” thinking about the future to constantly thinking about the future.

Luckily, there is an escape from the pain caused by the mind’s continual creation of and rumination on psychological time. If we embrace the present moment, we unchain ourselves from this suffering and are free to enjoy the peace of true existence — the joy of the now. Don’t let the fear of the

Easier said than done. How do you live in the now?

Tolle teaches that the easiest way to start living in the now is by noticing the sensations in our bodies and by paying attention the world around us as it unfolds. I like to pay attention to my breath while also noticing my surroundings  — non-judgmentally observing the color and shape of the clouds, feeling the sun on my face, noticing my diaphragm move up and down with each breath. This every mindfulness can be practiced while:

  • Driving — feel your hands on the steering wheel and your foot on the gas pedal while gazing through the windshield at the road ahead.
  • Cleaning – feel the warmth of the towels fresh out the dryer, hear the quiet popping of soap bubbles, and smell the lavender scent of cleaner on the sponge.
  • Walking — notice the quality of your breath, the feel of the ground beneath your feet, observe the sights around you, and listen to the sounds of birds, car horns, and other ambient noise.

Whenever you find your mind drifting to thoughts of the past or future, gently redirect your focus to the present moment. On days that I am too far gone, I find that yoga helps me — and sometimes forces me — to reconnect with the moment. Matching each movement with an inhale or an exhale requires that I stay focused on the present. By the time we lie back in Shavasana (corpse pose), I use my here-and-now momentum from the class to stay centered in the present. Afterwards, I am able to attack the day with a greater foundation of calm and less needless stress.

Tolle’s Secret Weapon:

In The Power of Now, Tolle provides a trick to help us avoid unnecessarily stressing out over psychological time. He instructs the reader to ask him or herself “Do I have a problem right now?” whenever they start worrying about the past or the future. The answer should almost always be “no” (unless a rabid bear is chasing you right now!). For example, although, tomorrow, in a single workday, I need to figure out how I am going to complete lengthy treatment plans for each one of my clients on a new electronic client-information system while also fulfilling my normal work duties as a Crisis Social Worker, I do not have a problem “right now.” Right now, I am sitting on my back patio enjoying the first warm day in a week, and the only thing I need to be doing is typing out words on this keyboard — not preemptively worrying about a task I cannot start addressing until work tomorrow. Before reading The Power of Now, I might have considered this work task a “problem.” Now, I know that the issue is just a “life situation” as Tolle calls it, and I will address it when this task enters into my now. Because right now, I only have to devote my mental energy to the moment. Right now — and for the next 100 million “nows” —  I am free to live in the peace of the present. You can even take this a step further by developing a fear of missing out of the now.

Interested in more? Pick up a copy of The Power of Now or check out this video of Eckhart Tolle talking about how to break the habit of excessive thinking:

Breaking the habit of excessive thinking can be a tough task to tackle on your own. Attending a meditation group or a yoga class and perhaps doing depression counseling or anxiety counseling can be great ways to catalyze your foray into a present-oriented life. If you feel that you could benefit from counseling, do not hesitate to contact us to make a counseling appointment.

If you liked this post, you might also like our blogs on The Simplest Way to Overcome Anxiety and Depression and our post Develop Fear Of Missing Out Of The Now.

The Science of Depression

The Science of Depression

For quite some time, depression has been shrouded by myths and misconceptions. This is why it is no surprise that a depression diagnosis is susceptible to a plethora of misguided beliefs and stigmas.  Some believe that it is a fabricated illness which serves as a scapegoat for prolonged periods of sadness or low mood, that you can simply “snap out” of depression, or that individuals with depression simply have a negative outlook a life. Fortunately, in the recent years, scientists and researchers have made astounding developments in discovering the anatomical and physiological reasons behind depression due to massive advancements in technologies which allow us to closely monitor and observe the workings of the human brain and body. This groundbreaking science has ultimately allowed us to dispel these myths and shed some light on the science of depression.

So, now you may be asking yourself: “What biological factors cause depression?” Well, to put it simply, it’s complicated. Depression, just like many mental disorders and physical disorders, has a variety of factors that may be involved. What follows below is a shortened version of some of the potential causes behind depression.

  • Biological Differences: Recent studies using highly sophisticated forms brain imaging have found that individuals who are depressed have a smaller hippocampus, higher activity in the amygdala, and problems with the thalamus. Additionally, research has shown that women have higher rates of depression than men, indicating that gender difference plays a role in depression, and that some races and ethnicities have higher rates of depression than others.
  • Brain Chemistry: Neurotransmitters are colloquially referred as the body’s chemical messengers. They are the molecules used by the nervous system to transmit messages between the neurons in the brain. In this case of depression, scientists believe that the primary culprit is low serotonin, also known as one of the “feel good” hormones. Serotonin assists in regulating mood and low amounts have been associated with depression; this is why many individuals who have depression are prescribed SSRIs. Along with serotonin, there have been many other neurotransmitters thought to contribute to depression, such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
  • Hormones: Shifts and changes in the body’s balance of hormones is thought to involved in triggering or causing depression. Drastic hormone changes can come with events such as pregnancy and in the period following delivery, a condition known as postpartum depression, thyroid problems and dysregulation, menopause, and several other conditions which disrupt normal hormone production. In particular, low levels of estrogen, testosterone, and high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can contribute to depression.
  • Inherited Traits:  Depression appears to be more common in individuals who have blood relatives that have this condition. This could be because of genes. Scientists have been working to identify exactly which genes can contribute to depression, but the current thinking is that genes which are responsible for the stress response can contribute to this condition by causing us to become depressed in response to stressful or negative events.  A good example of this is research which has shown that bipolar disorder and depression can run in families, with members experiencing these conditions at higher rates than normal.

Most of us know someone who has struggled with depression and a number of us have encountered depression in our own lives. Below is a short video covering much of what is said here. The folks at AsapSCIENCE break it down pretty simply to help the complex science of depression feel a little bit more digestible. The video focuses on the genetic factors of depression as well as how the brain responds to events that can trigger depression. They make an important point in saying depression isn’t just something that people can “get over.”

A couple interesting tidbits. Did you know that animals can help people cope with depression? In some of our past posts, we have explored how mindfulness (part 1 and part 2) can help people cope with depression and we have discussed medications and depression. If you or a loved one would like guidance on mental health issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us to make a counseling appointment. Additionally, if you would like more information about what the counseling process for depression involves, you can read about depression counseling.

How to cope in our crazy world

How to Cope in Our Crazy World

by Margaret Fiero

Nonstop shelling in Gaza, Ebola outbreak, a passenger plane being shot down in Ukraine, ISIS making  Al Qaeda look like the Lion’s Club, natural disasters occurring with an alarming frequency… at times it feels like the world’s crumbling around our ears.  These tragedies are difficult for those with robust mental health to contemplate. Those who grapple with mental illness often face even greater challenges dealing with world strife.

Individuals affected by depression and anxiety may experience a sort of tunnel vision, in which they have a hard time seeing a broader perspective. An onslaught of negative news can feed into that narrowed view, compounding feelings of despair and doom. It is natural to feel helpless during times of tragedy, as if the problems we encounter in the news are too big to comprehend, let alone solve. Individuals struggling with mental illness may take those feelings a step further through personalization, which may involve feeling as though they should be doing more, or feeling guilty, as if they can’t enjoy life in the midst of so much suffering.

It’s normal to feel some anxiety, fear and sadness in trying times. These feelings are part of what it means to be an empathetic human, so consider it healthy to reflect on the world around you, rather than just pretending everything is hunky-dory. This doesn’t mean you should let yourself fall down a rabbit hole of internet sensationalism, just that there’s a happy medium between complete disengagement and morbid fascination. Here are a few suggestions on how to cope with traumatic world events:

1) Take your news in bites: Media outlets need to push the envelope on their news delivery to get the ratings they want. It’s our job as savvy consumers not to get sucked into the sludge. Some in the mental health community may advocate taking an occasional “news fast.” If media coverage of events is affecting your functioning, by all means, take a break. If you’re upset by the state of the world but want to remain an informed citizen, I would advise checking into the hourly newscasts on NPR, which are short and stick to the most important facts. For something more comprehensive, try The Week,  a magazine that summarizes the biggest news of the prior seven days. Sometimes it can be easier to stomach the news through print or on the radio, as opposed to viewing disturbing images on TV.

2) Show compassion to others AND yourself. You might be tempted to feel guilty for your relatively comfortable existence, or regret that you should be doing more, but these are the times when you the best thing to do is focus on being grateful for the life you have. Maybe I’ve been living in Austin too long, but my advice would be to live in the now, avoid living in the past, live life to the fullest, and show kindness to strangers, loved ones, and yourself. Enjoy your health, your safety, those who are dear to you and your community. You may not be able to save the world, but you can “give back” by volunteering, donating to causes, being an activist, and/or sowing peace through your interactions with others and yourself. To cite the oft-quoted Gandhi line, “Peace begins with me.”

3) Seek professional help from a therapist if needed. Signs that you may be experiencing more anxiety and depression than normal include symptoms of panic attacks, chronic sleep issues, extreme fears, preoccupation with traumatic events, and self-medicating with alcohol and/or drugs. Make your mental health your priority and talk to someone sooner rather than later. If you feel that your or a loved one need help immediately, do not hesitate to make a counseling appointment. We have a skilled team of clinicians with expertise in many areas. You can also get more information from our adult counseling page. For more information on anxiety, you can also read Why You Should Understand Your Anxiety and Can You Talk Your Way into Anxiety?

photo credit: Stephen Poff via photopin cc

Five Misconceptions About Suicide

By:  Mary Hoofnagle, M.A., NCC, LPC-Intern

When I first heard Robin Williams died by suicide, my first instinct was that it offered a natural opportunity to discuss suicide awareness. But I had already been working on a completely different post, and I wondered if writing about suicide was truly the best way I could honor the life of this man, father, husband, friend, and artist. So I decided not to.

But then I started to notice something. Through the veil of social media, many people were sharing outrage and disgust at his death. This broke my heart. And opened my eyes. Though I can’t say I’m exactly surprised by the reaction. After all, we criminalize suicide with the very language we use. Many will still say someone committed suicide. But suicide isn’t a crime. It’s a tragedy. There is so much that popular culture misunderstands about suicide. And so I decided that writing about suicide is a way to honor Robin Williams, his family and friends, and everyone who has lost their own life or a loved one to suicide.

Before I dive into these misconceptions, I’d like to emphasize one very important point:

Suicide is not simple.  

So please, before you try to boil down someone’s life and struggle with depression to any simple explanation or statement. Take a minute and think about these five misconceptions about suicide.

  1. Survivors are the real victims of suicide.  Being the loved one of a person who has died by suicide certainly isn’t easy. But saying they are the ones who really suffered and that the deceased is just selfish or cowardly misses the mark. When someone is suicidal, he or she isn’t trying to punish others or make their lives difficult. In fact, the opposite is often the case.  Individuals who suffer from depression often feel like a burden to their loved ones and that the lives of family and friends  would be easier and better if they weren’t around. To understand this on a more personal level, read one survivor’s story.
  2. Bringing up the topic of suicide can make someone more likely to do it.Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. If you think someone you love may be thinking about suicide, ask. Don’t ask, “Are you OK?” That’s vague and easy to side step. Be direct, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” This offers an opportunity for the person to talk about his or her struggle and feel less isolated. Be sure your response doesn’t isolate someone further. Be accepting of these thoughts. Don’t dismiss them as dramatic or less intense than they are. Let the person know it must be scary to feel that way. Tell the person you are in this together. Find resources together. Stay with the person until he or she can see a professional.  Here is a PSA with suggestions for what to say and what not to say. It is designed for teens, but you should respond to an adult with suicidal thoughts in this accepting and supportive manner as well.
  3. If someone you know to be depressed or suicidal seems happier, everything is OK now. When you notice a sudden change in mood it may be a warning sign. It is common for survivors to say they feel shocked because their loved one’s mood was happy in the days before suicide. This actually isn’t as perplexing as it seems. Depression is crippling. Depression is isolating. Depression is all consuming. Depression is not something that you can control. When you suffer from depression many people will urge you to “snap out of it.”  Someone struggling with depression wishes more than anyone else that he or she could cross arms and blink like I Dream of Jeannie to turn it off. Imagine you live day in and day out with these feelings you can’t control. For years. When you do the things you love, they no longer bring you joy. They no longer make you forget the depressed feelings. One day you think, “If I’m not alive I don’t have to feel this way. My friends don’t have to worry about me anymore.” Suddenly there is relief. Suddenly you might feel like smiling again. This is can be the experience of people who have decided suicide may be the answer they are looking for. So, if you see a sudden shift in mood, it could mean someone has finally made this decision. In fact, get familiar with all the signs, and don’t be afraid to ask and reach out to someone.
  4. Suicide is the easy way out. For individuals living with depression, there is no easy way out. Once someone gets to the point of contemplating suicide, it’s not because it feels like the easy way out, but because it seems to be the only way out. But that still doesn’t make it easy. Depression is messy and complicated and an intense struggle. Made even more complicated by the stigmas our society attaches to depression. I could try and explain this, but I could never do so with more clarity and compassion than Kevin Breel does in this TEDx video.
  5. All the person needed was ______.  Religion… to talk to someone… to practice gratitude…  the right medication… yoga… counseling… Fill in the blank with anything you can think of. I’ve heard all these suggestions for a simple fix. But again. Depression is far from simple. Depression is a disease that takes people from us the same way cancer does. It can be mild, or all consuming. Sometimes treatment is effective and sometimes it isn’t. People can be predisposed to it from genetics, or it can be induced by any number of circumstances, or even come on for no apparent reason at all. The sooner we understand and accept depression as an illness that isn’t in the control of the individual who experiences it, the sooner we will move toward acceptance of individuals with depression and embrace them.

Love others.  Love them unconditionally even if you don’t understand them.  That is the most healing balm of all. And if you don’t know how to support someone, seek out resources for yourself and help others find resources. Below are a few to get you started. Additionally, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment. We also have more information about depression counseling on our page.

Suicide Facts

Texas Suicide Prevention

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

To Write Love on Her Arms

National Hopeline Network

Suicide Awareness and Prevention

Or call: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

             1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

 

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