Digging up the Roots of Depression

Anyone can experience sadness, grief, and despair (assuming one has the emotional capacity), but not everyone will experience depression. Depression is characterized by loss of interest, lack of pleasure, changes in appetite or sleep, irritability, low energy, decreased mood, among other symptoms that can have a severe impact on daily life. Try to picture being a slug with no hope and no desire to do anything- that’s depression. It’s like trying to run against the current… while underwater… and someone forgot to give you a scuba tank so you could breathe. Depression is as abundant as the common cold, and it is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Although previously believed to stem from chemical imbalance, we now know that root of depression lies among a variety of risk factors, including physiological, environmental, emotional, and situational circumstances.

Physiological factors may include genetics, diet, hormonal imbalances, or chronic illness. Both of my parents were diagnosed with clinical depression at some point in their lives. In my own case, an extensive family history of depression put me more at risk for developing depression myself (I like to call it The Double Whammy). So, while this encouraged me to learn some skills early to manage depression, I didn’t quite understand what it would actually feel like to be- in the words of a client- “cuckoo-nuts,” until it got severe enough that I couldn’t work through it on my own. In some cases, poor diet or hormonal imbalances can relate to decreased energy or mood, influencing depressive symptoms. In my case, this was a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. I’d feel depressed and lose my appetite, have candy or chips or nothing for dinner, and then feel MORE depressed because I was eating like garbage. Often, individuals with chronic illnesses, sleep disorders, or other health concerns experience depressive symptoms, as well, particularly if these conditions cause challenges completing daily tasks and living a fulfilling life.

Depressive symptoms may also be affected by environmental factors. For example, if someone lives in a stressful or chaotic environment, that person may be more likely to experience depression. My own depressive symptoms heightened after moving to the suburbs. Living in a house that I could not afford, working two jobs, and living far from my friends created financial stress, lack of self care, and isolation. I found myself hiding in my room with debilitating anxiety at the thought of coming out of my cave and engaging with my manipulative roommate and her bro-in-denial boyfriend- which often meant navigating my way through stale marijuana smoke and Patron. And don’t get me wrong, I am far from prude, but this wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted or expected when I moved. My inability to cope with feeling stuck in an unhappy and unfulfilling environment was a major factor in my depression spiraling. Additionally, environmental factors may affect those living in a setting with increased violence, domestic disturbance, or crime.

Individuals who experience low self esteem, pessimism, or have a history of physical or emotional trauma may be more susceptible to symptoms of depression. This can be more apparent in people who lack coping skills or positive outlets for emotions. I used to have a saying: “Turn your sadness into anger, and lock it up in a box.” Now, picture me screaming this from the tallest rooftop: THIS WAS NOT HELPFUL. It took a LONG time to realize that feelings are normal and okay, and pretending it does not exist does not mean a feeling goes away. It just means that it’ll eventually come up more bubbly and more aggressive than before, like an exploding pressure cooker, or manifest in symptoms of depression or anxiety. And so, my new saying is: “Listen to yourself.” We experience emotions for a reason, and, whether they are accurate or not, they all deserve to be respected and acknowledged.

Last, but certainly not least, feeling sad is not the same as experiencing depression. Let me say it again: feeling sad is not the same as experiencing depression. However, if you are a human you have probably encountered a situation that has caused you intense grief- and if you haven’t, give me some of those unicorn-and-rainbow sunglasses you’re wearing. Life transitions can be complex. Death of a loved one, issues in work or school, relationship problems, financial issues, moving- these are all situations that can cause one to feel stressed, overwhelmed, distraught. These are some of the situations that I deem the “Big Bad Sad-Makers.” Major life changes can affect daily routine, cause anxiety, and manifest symptoms of depression. If emotions that come from these situations cause disruption in your ability to engage in daily life, it’s something to look at more closely.

While these are common roots of depression, they are surely not the only ones, and many individuals experience more than one of these risk factors for depression. Take me for example- all four of these things joined up to make me a tiny burrito of sadness! From the time I was in college, factors have been coming in and out of my life to cause disruptions in mood, and the one thing that encouraged me most in dealing with my depression was learning about my depression. Everyone has a different experience with mental health, and if I can offer you one piece of advice in tackling your own mental health concern, it is to learn about it. It’s like Voldemort- Harry had to learn about Voldemort’s history, strengths, and weaknesses before he could defeat him. Yes, I just turned Mental Health into a Harry Potter reference… and I think it’s my proudest moment of the day.

Thanks to @depression-patriciajordan.com for inspiring me to write this. It’s not a simple answer, but it’s an answer none-the-less.

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Wins of the Week

The burst of energy I woke up with this morning and the happy sunshine streaming through my office window can only mean one thing– It’s Friday! This week has been a rough mental health week, and although I am well aware of the triggers it can always feel like a slow crawl back to stability. That being said, if there is ever a week to focus on my Wins, this would be the one!

  • I finished a book. If anyone reading this has been struggled with any sort of mental health issue, you may know that concentration may be a huge challenge. As someone who read the last Harry Potter book in just over a day, part of me is heartbroken to say that it had been well over a year since I had been able to read an entire a book. It took about a month to finish this book by breaking down reading into smaller chunks of time, but I felt a sense of accomplishment.
  • I was able to delegate responsibility at work. At my organization, I manage a caseload of about 55 clients. I typically schedule 38-40 hours of individual therapy sessions per week, attend 5-7 meetings monthly, facilitate a group twice monthly that consists of 15 additional clients, and somehow squeeze in time for paperwork and outreach calls in between. Needless to say, all of my days are incredibly busy. I spoke to my supervisor about feeling overwhelmed and we agreed that it would be best to hand my group off to someone else who has a less established caseload to maintain. With my group facilitating nearing its end, I can already feel a little relief.
  • I didn’t feel like a bad employee for delegating. Typically, admitting that I do not have the energy to perform well at a task would lead me to believe that I’m bad at my job. I learned how to catch these thoughts in therapy, but this time I didn’t even need to catch myself because I didn’t have the thought. That’s progress, folks!
  • I painted for the first time in about 10 years. I used to paint all the time, more of a hobby than a coping skill. I was always a perfectionist when it came to creativity, but when I picked up a paint brush this week, I simply focused on playing with color however I was inspired to. I definitely felt rewarded and mindful and just…. emotionally better!

Honestly, to a certain extent, I’m just thankful for making it through the week without completely spontaneously combusting.

Now turning to you, Warriors! What have been your biggest wins of the week?

101 Coping Skills for Depression

  1. Identify potential triggers
  2. Identify your emotions
  3. Take a walk
  4. Call a friend
  5. Practice deep breathing
  6. Meditate for 5-10 minutes
  7. Draw a cartoon
  8. Write 5 things you love about yourself
  9. Stretch for 10 minutes
  10. Go for a run
  11. Play with a pet
  12. Make a playlist of feel good songs
  13. Listen to your feel good songs
  14. Dance
  15. Paint a representation of your emotions
  16. Make a collage using old magazines
  17. Practice handstands
  18. Do 10 push ups
  19. Go for a bike ride
  20. Clean your apartment
  21. Take a shower
  22. Put on your favorite outfit
  23. Style your hair
  24. Read a book
  25. Take a drive
  26. Take photographs
  27. Stay hydrated
  28. Go window shopping
  29. Socialize with someone
  30. Avoid judging your emotions
  31. Create a simple to do list and complete at least 3 things
  32. Cook a healthy meal
  33. Practice yoga poses
  34. Make jewelry
  35. Look at your rock collection
  36. Paint your nails
  37. Put on a face mask
  38. Play with makeup
  39. Video chat a loved one
  40. Free write in a journal
  41. Let yourself cry
  42. Go somewhere very public
  43. Bake
  44. Drink tea or hot chocolate
  45. Look up recipes
  46. Rearrange your apartment
  47. Watch stand up comedy
  48. Practice positive self talk
  49. Use a stress ball
  50. Make slime
  51. Go for a hike
  52. Sit under a tree and read
  53. Spend time in nature
  54. Sit by a river and listen to the water
  55. Read poetry
  56. Look at art
  57. Put a puzzle together
  58. Water your plants
  59. Write a poem
  60. Play ukulele
  61. Make a list of long term goals
  62. Watch America’s Funniest Home Videos
  63. Identify 10 positive thoughts
  64. Write a gratitude list
  65. Read inspirational quotes
  66. Write a song
  67. Get enough sleep
  68. Use essential oils
  69. Take a bubble bath
  70. Plan an activity
  71. Look outside mindfully
  72. Go outside
  73. Crochet a scarf
  74. Listen to a podcast
  75. Play a board game with a friend
  76. Plan outfits for the week
  77. Sing
  78. Practice visualization
  79. Watch a movie
  80. Meal prep
  81. Challenge any negative thinking
  82. Color a picture
  83. Get a massage
  84. Get your nails done
  85. Make worry stones
  86. Go rock picking
  87. Use progressive muscle relaxation
  88. Engage in problem solving
  89. Watch videos of funny children
  90. Write a letter to yourself
  91. Play a sport
  92. Make extra time for yourself
  93. Use lavender room spray
  94. Identify your strengths
  95. Do a body scan
  96. Look at old pictures
  97. Learn a new craft
  98. Spend time with a family member
  99. Volunteer
  100. Light a candle
  101. Explore somewhere you’ve never been

I Quit Social Media and This is What Happened

The power of social media can be an amazing tool. Through the click of a button, we can share ideas, connect with friends and family, and facilitate political change. Although it’s a useful tool, it can also be a dangerous one. Excessive social media use can lead to addictive behaviors, increased mental health concerns, and challenges in time management. It may be important to explore the role that social media plays in our lives to better determine the purpose it serves. After noticing myself grow increasingly frustrated with social media, I decided to take a break. I deactivated all of my social accounts. This is what happened:

1. I stopped comparing myself to others.

  • People only post the best parts of themselves on social media. Realistically, I know this, but that didn’t stop me from noticing the feeling I got seeing other people’s perceived happy lives flash on my screen consistently (getting married, growing families, buying homes). It seemed impossible to not feel behind. After deactivating my accounts, the invisible clock stopped ticking. I could more easily focus on accomplishing my goals without putting unnecessary pressure on myself. 

2. I lived in the moment.

  • The most significant change I noticed was that I spent less time posting about what I was doing and became more engaged in what I was doing. I no longer had to show that I was having fun, but I could simply focus on doing just that: having fun. I engaged more with others, stopped using my phone as a distracting crutch in uncomfortable situations, and felt more connected to my surroundings.

3. I put my phone down.

  • If there is one thing I already knew before starting this project it’s this: social media can be a gigantic waste of time if one allows it. And I allowed it. Oh, boy did I allow it. Being unable to fill my spare time with Facebook scrolling, deep diving profiles, and the like allowed me to fill my time with more productive tasks. I redecorated my apartment, read books, listened to more music, and procrastinated WAY less.

4. I connected with others in a more genuine way.

  • In therapy, I made my own connection between socialization and my mood. I am a person who really benefits from quality time spent with others. It’s my love language, if you will. I realized how distant social media had made me feel from my loved ones—like I was watching their lives scroll by from the outside.  By taking social media out of the equation, I found more effective ways to keep in touch with my loved ones. With my friends and family, I stayed connected through phone, text, or in person, and I felt growth in my relationships that I largely contribute to taking a more active role in maintaining them.

5. I embraced my authentic self.

  • I have always been the weird drama kid with tie-dye shirts, lime green jeans, and Chucks thrown together into what I used to call “fashion.” I have never been the person who cared for others’ opinions and have always prided myself on marching to the beat of my own drum, but somewhere I got lost. As I grew older, I started focusing more on how I was perceived by others, and it took doing this experiment to notice that social media played a significant role in that. I am already someone who puts a ton of pressure on myself, and by comparing myself to others on the internet, that pressure grew even bigger. After putting my phone down, I stopped caring. It made it SO easy to focus on myself, my hobbies, and my goals. 

It has been about two months since I have logged into my Facebook account, and I don’t see myself scrolling in the near future. Of course, social media can be a great tool and resource for staying connected to others, and I can only speak from my experience in learning that social media impacts my life in a way that is not always so great. If anything, this experiment has taught me to be more mindful of how I am spending my time, and I encourage others to examine what aspects of their daily routine may not be serving the best purpose. Have any Wellness Warriors out there eliminated anything in their lives that turned out to me more hurtful than helpful? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

Creating My Happy Place

This week, I had one goal: plan and create a mini oasis in my tiny, tiny backyard (or backcloset, as I say). This would be a place to read, meditate, drink wine, and relax. The ultimate self care corner!

This is what my little backyard space looked like before the project:

I started the week religiously geeking out over IKEA, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart trying to map out the perfect outdoor space. Trying to find a way to utilize the small space was tough, but well worth the time spent brainstorming.

When the weekend rolled around, I started my Friday night with Goodwill in the suburbs. If I was going to take on designing a small, relaxing space, I was going to do so on a budget. If you’re near Philly, you know that the suburb thrift stores are where the goods are, and it truly did not let me down. I left feeling like I’d hit the jackpot, uplifted by that thrift store adrenaline rush. Here’s what I found (photobombed by a curious, handsome fluff):

Saturday morning, I got started bright and early at my happy place: IKEA. I spent two hours stuck in the euphoria that is Home Goods Heaven, and another two hours back and forth between Home Depot and Walmart.

I slowly hit a point where I was both satisfied with my purchases and anxious to get back home and out of the Saturday store scuffle that many people experience in the city (too many people for a considerable amount of time truly tests my patience!!).

When I got home I went to work building, organizing, making sure things were going perfect. That is, until a freak thunderstorm decided to rain all over my parade and all over my oasis.

When the rain cleared, I resumed my work. I set up my little hammock chair, placed my plants how I wanted them, and hung up lights. Here was the end result;

I am so happy with how it turned out! I got to sit outside last night and drink wine and relax. This is the PERFECT little Self Care Space, where I can drink tea, meditate, listen to the birds. Although my mom thinks my backcloset looks like a burial plot, and my brother-in-law joked about this being smaller than a prison cell, I am so happy with how it turned out! These are some snapshots from last night’s relaxation time during my first night of having my little oasis:

This post serves as my encouragement to design yourself a comfortable space where you can relax and recharge. And if you already have, please share! I’m always looking for interior and exterior design inspiration. Happy Sunday, y’all!!

When The Going Gets Tough

This past week has been a rough one. For the past month or so, I’ve been so wrapped up lately revisiting an ongoing tumultuous relationship that has never been necessarily mentally healthy, and now that it has ended I really need to get myself back on track. At this moment, I feel an overwhelming need to pause, regroup, and focus on myself. I’ve created a list of things that have helped in the past so I can go back to incorporating them into my routine while I get reconnect with myself in a healthier way.

  1. Journal
  2. Self reflect on what I worked on in therapy
  3. Catch myself if I’m thinking too much
  4. Listen to (HAPPY) music
  5. Spend time with friends
  6. Keep my apartment clean, organized, and free of clutter
  7. Stay on top of my exercise routine
  8. Use my time productively
  9. Meditate more consistently
  10. Meal prep to keep the week less stressful
  11. Continue making time on Sundays to plan goals for the week
  12. Focus on facilitating positive interactions with others