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Beating the Winter Blues

Most of us are familiar with signs of winter: A fresh blanket of snow lays on the ground, a bitter chill hangs in the air, and warm clothing comes out of storage. One might curl up on the couch to watch a movie with a warm cup of hot chocolate and a comfortable blanket. For a few months, the world appears almost frozen in time, and as the holidays roll around, people are sparked with the joys of giving and the warmth of family.

Although winter is a beautiful time of year, it can also be the most difficult. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects an estimated 10 million Americans. Risk factors include living a far distance from the equator, having a diagnosis of depression, and having a family history of SAD. Starting in late fall and lasting until spring, those impacted with SAD may experience low energy, increased sleep, overeating, weight gain, and social withdrawal.

I often say that I turn into a different person in the wintertime. My mood can be compared to that of a grizzly bear, I want to sleep all the time, and my thought patterns become incredibly negative. This year, I wanted to make a change and attempt to view winter more positively. Although I realized that challenging negative thought patterns is helpful, I quickly realized that I would need to do more to cope with my winter SADs (….. get it?).

Here are 3 helpful tips:

Go Towards the Light

Lack of exposure to light is one of the obvious causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder. During cold weather, most of us find ourselves staying indoors to keep warm. However, it may be important to bundle up, brave the cold, and bask in the sunlight as it presents. On days that the sun doesn’t shine, one can take advantage of light therapy, or phototherapy. This involves utilizing a light box, which is a lamp that shines artificial sunlight. You can find a list of great options for light boxes by clicking here.

Stock up on Vitamin D

Less sunlight means that there is an insufficient amount of vitamin D being produced in our bodies. It is important to incorporate foods that are rich in vitamin D into our diets to create more dietary balance. So dive into the snack closet, but make sure your snack closet is full of goodies that will help boost vitamin D. Foods that are rich in vitamin D include, fish, eggs, mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables.

Stay Active

I find this to be the most difficult task during the winter. I love exercising outside, but it is almost impossible for me to dig up enough motivation to throw myself into the cold whips of winter. So in my attempt to remain active throughout the chilly months, I have found myself doing a lot of yoga indoors. I love yoga for its gentleness and mindfulness, which I definitely need more of during the winter, and I also find that it is a fantastic strength workout!

Okay, Wellness Warriors, this is where we all come together and collaborate within our community!! What do you do to cope with winter blues?

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Strengthening Serotonin Naturally

In April 2019, I began a daily dose of Prozac to assist in managing depression. A small, 20mg white pill played a big role in helping me function again. I found that my depressive symptoms eased enough for me to start taking better care of myself, and as I started feeling better, my passion for health and wellness grew tremendously (obviously… I mean, have you read this blog??).

I practiced being aware of what I am put in my body and how it makes me feel, and I soon noticed that if I ate healthier and remained more active, I felt minimal depression. It sparked a curiosity: If eating healthier can improve my mood in general, can certain foods help depression in general? And so, the research began.

Almost as soon as I started taking Prozac, I began wondering when I would be okay to stop taking it. As a disclosure, I do not believe that taking medication is wrong or bad; Hell, Prozac pretty much saved my life. I do, however, have a strong preference for utilizing more natural remedies when I can. While I am aware that some individuals may require long-term medication management, I always want to provide myself with opportunities to explore alternatives.

Food does not contain serotonin, meaning one cannot get serotonin directly from food. However, there is an amino acid that is converted into serotonin in the brain. Tryptophan is typically found in foods that are high in protein, such as turkey or salmon. Foods that are rich in tryptophan are:

  • chicken
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • fish
  • peanuts
  • pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • milk
  • turkey
  • tofu
  • soy
  • chocolate
  • pineapple
  • plums

Foods that are rich in tryptophan may contain other amino acids that are more likely to pass the blood-brain barrier (picture the blood-brain barrier as a really selective security guard – it protects the brain against anything that may cause harm to neurological function). Combining foods rich in tryptophan with carbohydrates can increase the likelihood that tryptophan will pass the blood-brain barrier and be converted to serotonin by the brain.

If you are like me, you may be a chronic snacker, which is actually a great thing if you’re looking for some healthy snacks that can boost serotonin levels. Some ideas include:

  • whole-wheat bread with turkey or cheese
  • oatmeal with a handful of nuts
  • salmon with brown rice
  • plums or pineapple with crackers
  • pretzel sticks with peanut butter and a glass of milk

While tryptophan has many health benefits, there are a number of unpleasant side effects. Some common side effects include heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, loss of appetite, headaches, sexual dysfunction, or dry mouth. Some more serious side effects may be drowsiness, lightheadedness, blurriness of vision, or muscle weakness. *Please keep in mind that I am NOT a medical professional and simply intend to share what I learn throughout my own health and wellness journey. My writing contains far too many quips and ramblings to ever be taken as medical advice.

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How To Cope With A Not-So-Happy Holiday

The holiday season is often viewed as a period of joyous celebration with family and friends. The world comes alive with music, smiles with acts of charity, and celebrates togetherness. For some, however, this time of year can trigger feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. In a survey by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of those surveyed confirmed being affected by the “Holiday Blues,” while 24% reported the holidays affect them a lot.

Individuals may experience:

  • fatigue
  • tension
  • frustration
  • loneliness
  • isolation
  • sadness
  • a sense of loss
  • nervousness
  • stress

These symptoms (or increased symptoms, if one is affected by a mental health condition) can be linked to other holiday-related factors as well, such as less sunlight, changes in diet and routine, increased consumption of substances, financial stress related to gift giving, and conflict with family or friends. Although some of these symptoms may be temporary, it is important to identify and practice ways of coping as some of us seemingly trudge through the holidays.

Here are some tips for managing your mental health throughout the holiday season:

Go to Your Therapy Sessions

The holidays are busy, and the idea of brushing off a therapy session in order to cram in an hour’s worth of holiday errands can be incredibly inviting. However, it can also create more stress and frustration. Being able to pause and reflect is important in maintaining mental health, and the holidays may bring up difficult emotions or experiences that are important to process.

Find a Positive Way to Honor Those Lost

The holidays can bring up feelings of grief as we celebrate without loved ones who have passed. Incorporate a tradition that can allow you to remember and celebrate your loved one in a positive manner. Some ideas may be to write a letter, light a candle, share favorite stories, or play the person’s favorite music. Although it may look different, we can still make those passed a part of our celebration.

Stay Active

I know I say this a lot – and I mean A LOT – but I have not found a better stress reliever than exercise. Even if it’s a short walk or 10 minute stretch, take some time to get your blood moving and get those endorphins pumping. This can also be a time for some mindfulness practice, as we can strive to be present with our bodies and minds throughout movement.

Stay organized

During the holidays, it sometimes seems as if the “To Do” lists never end. Make lists, keep a routine, and practice good time management skills. Staying organized can help ease anxieties, develop realistic expectations, and prevent ourselves from biting off more than we can chew.

Do not Go Broke to Show Your Love

Financial concerns can be the bulk of stress throughout the holiday season. Our society puts intense pressure on gift giving as a way to show that we care, which can cause depression, anxiety, and stress for those struggling with finances. If you are struggling with finances, stick to a budget that can assist with money management. If you have very limited funds (we’ve all been there!), the people who love you will understand. Some low cost/no cost gift ideas might include making a CD, writing a poem, printing and framing pictures, doing an activity or an experience, or re-purposing something.

Relax

Spend extra time checking in with yourself to determine what you need to stay stress-free and relaxed. Self care is even more important during times of high stress and feeling overwhelmed.

Play Well With Others

When we spend a lot of time with family it can create tension, specifically when we have differing opinions or turbulent relationships. Make sure to communicate effectively about your experiences and emotions in order to try and make others aware of how you are impacted turbulent relationships or conflict. If you have the time, check out this article titled 5 Ways to Talk About Touchy Topics with Those You Care About to get some ideas on how to make holiday interactions a little smoother.

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The Power of Breath

There are several actions that occur in our body without clear direction and effort from our brain. A heart beat, for example, is a powerful and- barring any serious health issues- automatic rhythm that plays a vital role in keeping our bodies alive. My brain always visualizes Osmosis Jones running around inside my body to ensure that every task is being completed without my having to consciously perform them. It makes things, like breathing, seem effortless.

Although we may be accustomed to the effortlessness of breathing, how often do we truly take a moment to mindfully connect with our breath? In meditation, attention to the breath is a method of becoming fully present. By changing breathing pattern, we can produce different states of mind, such as increasing overall energy and relaxing the body and mind. The endorphins released by the body during deep breathing also serve as a natural mood boost. These effects make deep breathing a widely used coping mechanism in managing symptoms of various mental health diagnoses.

Deep breathing does more than influence our emotional state; it can impact our physical health, as well. If you are someone who has a regular exercise/cardio routine established, you have probably realized the importance of having a close relationship with the breath. In distance running, I have learned that the more I pay attention to my breath, the more in tune I am with the rest of my body. Promoting slow, deep breaths can assist in keeping a safe pace to prevent our heart rates from climbing to dangerous BPM’s. Additionally, attention to breath can increase control and power behind movements in strength training.

As stated earlier, through deep breathing our body releases endorphins, which act as a natural pain reliever. By increasing our oxygen flow, we are also improving digestion and detoxifying our bodies through both releasing carbon dioxide and speeding up the lymphatic system. So, next time you meditate, you can visualize the release of toxins along with that negative energy that spews out with every exhale. So whether you’re stressed, overwhelmed, in physical or emotional pain, or experience a variety of physical health concerns, controlled breathing can be a step to a greater overall sense of well being.


Here are a few simple breathing exercises to get you started:

Box Breathing

This breathing technique can act as a powerful stress reliever while heightening performance and concentration.

Begin in a comfortable position. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds. Hold your breath for a count of 4 seconds. Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4 seconds. Repeat cycle as many times as needed.

Bellows Breathing

This is a rapid breathing technique aimed toward increasing energy and alertness.

Begin in a comfortable position. Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose while keeping your mouth shut. Breaths should be as short as possible, but equal in duration. The diaphragm should move quickly. Do this for a cycle of 15 seconds, gradually increasing time with each practice. Breath normally after each cycle.

4:7:8 Breathing

This breathing technique promotes peace and tranquility. This exercise can also be used to more easily fall asleep. It may cause one to feel slightly lightheaded.

Begin in a comfortable position, keeping your back straight. With your mouth closed, quietly inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound, to the count of 8. Complete cycle 3-4 times, gradually increasing the amount of cycles with continued practice.


As always, Wellness Warriors, feel free to provide feedback and share your experiences if you choose to practice these skills. My hope is that these breathing techniques empower you to love and care for your breath while harnessing the art of controlled breathing. Until next time!

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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?

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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
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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 back closet 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!!

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How Cancer Patients Can Cope with Depression

When a patient finds out they have cancer, this can be a very upsetting time with a range of emotions. They may develop feelings of depression, anger, anxiety, or hopelessness, (among others) after their diagnosis. This is common in both patients and their loved ones after they learn of a debilitating illness in themselves or their family. It’s when a person still has the same feelings or negative thoughts for extended periods when things can get worrisome.

Depression, Mental Health, and Cancer

Now, more than before, it’s vital for patients to realize the importance of a positive mental state. Mental health is closely linked to physical health, and a body that is fighting cancer needs all the support available. Mental health is a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Someone suffering from depression can be impacted in all 3 of these facets, and it can begin to affect how they feel physically. This is because the mind tells the body what to do. When the brain experiences stress or crisis, it releases chemicals that tell the body how to feel and what to do. This happens with good feelings too. Depression has been linked to a 50 percent increase in cancer mortality rate, while on the opposite side, a 2012 Harvard University analysis has shown a correlation between a positive outlook, cardiovascular health, and reduced rate of disease metastasis.

What Depression Can Look Like

Another reason researchers think mental health can take a large toll on cancer patients, is because terminal ill patients who have depression are much less likely to seek the support they need. By definition, depression fills a person with feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or regret. Being weighed down by these feelings can make a person physically feel incapacitated. Depressed patients can be overcome with sudden and extreme feelings of fatigue or exhaustion that don’t go away. When someone, even without cancer, is overwhelmed with the barrage of negative emotions that can sometimes surround those who are depressed, they may literally feel that it’s impossible to do something once as simple as leaving their bed. Activities they once enjoyed start getting pushed aside or avoided, and they may even experience a wide range of mood swings (aggressiveness, hyperactivity) to further push their family and friends away. Loss of appetite, insomnia, thoughts or feelings of suicide are also symptoms of depression.

Coping Techniques for Depression

When cancer patients seek support for depression, they may find it easier to manage, however, not all coping techniques are effective to everyone.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This technique helps patients control their feelings,
Communicating

When patients communicate their feelings in a healthy way to family members or close friends, this can be very freeing. Sometimes letting out negative feelings or thoughts can lift a person’s mood and spirits. It helps if both parties also listen carefully to each other and offer mutual support.

Breathing

It can be easy to underestimate the power of this technique. Firstly, when patient’s practice simple breathing exercises, they are breaking the negative train of thought they were initially on. Next, breathing changes heart rate which impacts blood flow and reduce negative feelings. One simple breathing technique the patient can try takes 4 steps:

  • Take deep breaths from your diaphragm
  • Hold it in for as many seconds as you can
  • Repeat a couple more times
  • Relax and let yourself feel it
Meditation

When patients master breathing techniques, meditation is easier. This coping technique can help patients train their brain to focus for longer, and then apply that focus when negative feelings arise. Scientists have discovered that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is hyperactive in people with depression. This method can be effective when patients learn to:

  1. Find a comfortable, quiet, and calm place to sit
  2. Set a time limit. Beginners can start at 10 minutes and work their way up
  3. Sit loosely cross-legged or kneel. Once stable, close your eyes and notice how your body is feeling
  4. Follow sensation of breath as you breathe in and out
  5. If your mind begins to wonder off, don’t feel bad, this happens. Try to bring it back by noticing it and returning back to breathing
  6. Try not to judge yourself or obsess over thoughts that may surface
  7. When you feel comfortable, look up and notice the sounds and activity happening around you. How does your body feel? Notice feelings, thoughts, and emotions.

While this may sound easy, true meditation takes practice. Try not to feel down on yourself if you can’t focus or want to quit at first.

Seeking Professional Support
Depression management can encompass seeking professional help like counseling or therapy. There are also support groups of varying kinds available to those who need it, in person, and online.
Treatment

Psychiatrists and doctors may offer medications for patients to help with symptoms of depression. They may also recommend a combination of physical and mental therapies with medication.

Caregivers and Patient Depression

Caregivers should be able to recognize symptoms of depression in the cancer patients they take care of. This way they can call a medical professional or needed support when the time arises. Some things to look out for include:

  • Continuous sad or empty mood day after day
  • Avoidance of activities or people
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Fatigue or constant feelings of tiredness
  • Restless or unfocused
  • Attempts or thoughts of suicide
  • Mood swings

Patients will need support during this time. Some things caregivers can do to help are:

  • Gently invite patient to discuss anything that’s bothering them. Don’t put pressure on them to talk, wait until they feel comfortable
  • Don’t tell the patient to “cheer up” “get over it” or “be positive”.
  • Mutually work out an arrangement for support
  • Try to engage the patient in enjoyable activities
  • Practice self-care and try to avoid burnout by spending time alone or doing fun things
  • Seek support if burnout occurs

The caregiver should try to be gentle and understanding with the patient. They shouldn’t be forced to do anything they aren’t ready to do.

When to Call Someone

Contact your doctor or mental health professional if the following occur:

  • Constant thoughts of suicide or death that don’t go away
  • Unsafe behavior
  • Loss of sleep and motivation for multiple days in a row
  • Problems breathing, excessive sweating, and restlessness

The medical professional can provide medication, referrals, resources, and support. Reach out to them if depression becomes unmanageable.

About The Author:

Jennifer Verta writes health, medical, and legal pages for mesothelioma hub, a resource center for cancer patients and people who want to learn more about mesothelioma and other cancers. She has been writing content for clients for over 6 years and counting.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2020). Depression. Retrieved April 2020 from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/emotional-mood-changes/depression.html

Bradley University. (ND). How Mental Health Affects Physical Health. Retrieved on April 2021, from https://onlinedegrees.bradley.edu/blog/how-mental-health-affects-physical-health/

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How Live Your True North Began

My History With Depression

In October 2018, my therapist diagnosed me with depression after spending months struggling with chronic unhappiness. Although I seemed content from the outside, I constantly struggled with irritability, sadness, and loneliness. I paid horrible attention to my daily needs, and I spent a great deal of time wrapping myself up like a blanket burrito to hide from the world. For me, depression felt like running underwater against the current. I forgot how to be myself and often ruminated on memories of laughing easily, completing tasks with ease, and surrounding myself with good people. 

I let depression hold me captive as I fantasized about my life instead of actually living it. When I did go out, I fought through intense anxiety and discomfort. Negative thoughts swirled in my brain and told me that I was not good enough. At work, I struggled with motivation to complete tasks, crying spells, and anxiety. To make matters worse, my unhelpful thoughts screamed, “You’re a mental health therapist! You’re not allowed to get depressed!” 

My Breaking Point 

I naively expected to pick myself up from my bootstraps and get better on my own. Realistically I knew that I could not help others if I did not help myself. I struggled to navigate the cognitive dissonance associated with being a therapist who needed therapy. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t manage my depression independently, and I felt like a fraud counseling others. Instead of acknowledging that I needed help, I pretended that I knew exactly what was wrong and exactly how to fix it.

On a Saturday in September, I finally reached my breaking point. That day at work, I ran late for a therapy session with a young client, which triggered the child’s parent to feel frustrated. Naturally, I expressed my apologies and explained the nature of the delay and resumed the therapy session. However, I could not stop ruminating on what happened. Her reaction caught me off guard and triggered intense anxiety about being bad at my job. I cried, trembled, and struggled with thoughts of not wanting to be here. After processing the event and my reaction with a friend, I finally accepted that I needed help.

Finding a Therapist

I first dabbled in therapy in college after experiencing difficulty transitioning to the new environment. My therapist at the time, a lovely woman with short, black hair and a soothing demeanor. However, I didn’t feel a close connection, and I struggled to fully engage with my therapist. I eventually worked through the transition on my own. Now, though, I felt emotions I didn’t understand and didn’t know how to overcome. 

Finding a therapist was relatively easy using both Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” tool and the phone number on the back of my insurance card. After finding a clinician who accepted my insurance, I sat with the phone number until I gained the courage to call schedule an appointment. My therapist, Ron, was a former baseball player who changed careers after suffering permanent spinal cord damage. He had a tall and lanky frame, and his wispy gray hair framed his strong facial features. His minimalistic office featured just a few artful pictures, a cluttered desk, and a long futon where I sat week after week.

Doing the Work

It took time, but Ron helped me understand that the only thing preventing me from overcoming depression was myself. Ron described a phenomenon called “Paralysis by Analysis,” where my negative overthinking prevented forward motion and decision making. We explored the onset of symptoms and events in my life that potentially contributed to unhelpful thinking styles. With Ron’s help I realized that simply attending therapy was not enough. If I wanted my life to change, I had to take what I learned in sessions and apply it outside of the office. 

First, I left a toxic roommate situation and moved into my own apartment. Then, I spent more time with family and friends, and I engaged in more overall self care. Even though the healthy habits I created helped, I still fought against the darkness. When I hung out with others, it told me I’d rather be home by myself, doing nothing, feeling hollow. I processed this feeling with Ron, who suggested following up with my primary care doctor.  “If depression is still keeping you from coping, then maybe you should explore medication,” he said.

Finding Relief

My heart initially sank at the thought of being prescribed medication. I worried about side effects, and I worried that medication with either not work or make things worse. I didn’t want to feel more emotionally stunted that I already felt. Nevertheless, I took Ron’s guidance and made an appointment with my doctor, who took the time and care to educate me and ease my concerns. In April 2019, I began taking Prozac once a day. 

After a few weeks, I noticed a lift in mood. The heavy water that I ran through began to evaporate. Prozac helped my brain maintain serotonin, which helped my mood, energy level, and quality of sleep. I actually trained my body to eat normal sized meals again, now that it felt hungry. Better yet, I happily found that my only side effect was mild dry mouth that disappeared after increasing my water intake.  

Maintaining the Progress

I needed to find a way to keep moving forward in my depression recovery. I started by noticing how I felt when I completed certain activities. If I did something that helped me feel better, I wrote it down in a list. By paying attention to the impact of my behaviors, I learned that eating healthy, being active, and engaging in artistic forms of self expression helped me to feel my best. These habits helped me become my happiest self. 

It takes anywhere from 18-240 days to form a habit and another 60 days for that habit to become an automatic behavior. I understood that I needed to focus on making these a bigger part of my lifestyle. I ate on a Paleo diet for several months in an attempt to reset my eating habits, I adhered to an exercise plan, and I made time for activities such as painting, drawing, and journaling. Furthermore, I frequently reminded myself that progress truly is an ongoing process that never ends, and positive self talk allowed me to more easily work through challenges. 

Sharing My Journey

When I created a blog, I intended it to serve as a space to document and record my personal growth. Sharing my story helped me to hold myself accountable and allowed me to change my lifestyle more consistently, and I quickly found that there is an entire community of wellness warriors out there trying to do the same thing. I hope to empower others to ask for help in finding balance and happiness. I recognize that I will never be done growing, and I want this space to grow with me. 

Above all, I learned that no one is immune to struggles with mental health, and we all get by with a little help from our friends. Live Your True North is a safe space for healing and self exploration.

I hope you choose to join me in living well, being myself, and living my True North.

Much Love, 

Kel