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7 Ways To Be Kind To Yourself

Like any reasonable human, I enjoy when things go my way. Gliding through life with ease brings me a sense of peace in knowing that it is all comfortable and smooth sailing. It also impacts the way I view myself and my experiences. During easygoing times, the sun feels brighter, I feel lighter, and it seems that no rainclouds could possibly wipe away my shine. Realistically, I know that life does not always go as expected, and I know that obstacles are a painful, necessary, part of life. As Khalil Gibran eloquently said, “If I accept the sunshine and warmth, then I must also accept the thunder and lightning.” If we had no troubles, would we even recognize our successes?

Although we know that setbacks are an expected aspect of life, it can be difficult to leave room for error and allow opportunity for growth. A vivid memory from my childhood involves opening up a McDonald’s Happy Meal to find a small, plush Ernie doll. My 10-year-old self lit up with excitement and immediately decided that Tiny Ernie needed a Tiny House. I set my workshop up at my family’s dining room table and went to work- hot glue gun in one hand, popsicle sticks in the other.

I spent what seemed like forever at the table, piecing together popsicle sticks with layers of hot, sticky glue, occasionally hearing my mother’s redirections each time I burned myself. When Ernie’s house was finally in one piece, I very carefully took it in my hands. As I attempted to stand it up, it crumpled to pieces. I took a deep breath and dived back in with the hot glue, adding more this time, and pressing the popsicle sticks even harder together. Again, as soon as Ernie’s house was standing, it fell to pieces. Time and time again, with each fall my body heated up and tears of frustration rolled down my face.

My mother attempted to console me. “Kelly, take a break. Try again later,” she said. “Just relax, there is no need to get upset over this.” Her words were useless- I was not giving up. This was for Ernie. Tiny Ernie NEEDED a Tiny house, and I had to be the person to build it. I took another deep breath, tears still rolling. I channeled my inner builder. I was a contractor. I was a sculptor. I was Ustad Ahmad Lahouri and Ernie’s house was the Taj Mahal. After even more glue and more popsicle sticks, I stood my project up for the final time. When it tumbled down yet again, I gathered up my popsicle sticks and dumped them in the trash.

When we experience setbacks, it can cause negative thoughts to swirl around in our heads. “You can’t do this,” they might say. “You’re not good enough.” We might sit with feelings of failure or worthlessness, or we might become depressed or anxious. Maybe we think, “I’m just not trying hard enough.”

I still cry when I’m frustrated, but I’ve learned that entertaining unhelpful thoughts is… not helpful. Giving attention to the thoughts that beat us down may even impact the way we view ourselves and our abilities. Instead of being hard on ourselves during times of struggle, what if we accepted our circumstances? After all, Buddha said if there is good, there must also be bad, right? Here are some tips that can help us be a little gentler with ourselves.

Give Yourself Space to Process

Anyone who knows me in real life knows how uncomfortable I am showing heavy emotions. However, I recently experienced a pretty grueling event that led to some dark feelings. I tried to push the memories and emotions away, but the more I tried the more upset I became. I realized that I needed to confront these feelings and allow myself time and space for processing. Instead of judging my emotions, I observed them without judgment and allowed them to serve their purpose. By giving myself time and space to process that event, I gave myself an opportunity to learn and grow from it. I learned that my feelings were not negative at all- They were allowing me to grieve a situation that I needed to grieve.

Be Flexible

I am my father’s daughter, which means I am one of the most stubborn people I know. Picture doing a puzzle and trying to jam together mismatched pieces- that’s me sometimes. I try and fail and try again, which is not in itself a bad quality. The problem, though, comes with acting along with Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.” Perseverance takes flexibility and the courage to adapt. When we face an obstacle, we can’t bulldoze through it- we have to find a creative way around it.

Change Your Words

It took me a long time to realize that our words matter, and the way we describe things directly relates to how we view them. Each moment, we have an opportunity to frame something in a positive manner and to strengthen our nonjudgmental minds. Consider the example of personal characteristics. Most of us can identify something that we would like to change about ourselves. Describing those things as “weaknesses” may suggest that they are bad. Instead, using the phrase “opportunities for growth” suggests a nonjudgmental stance that empowers us to move forward toward change. Alternatively, if “failure” became “opportunity for growth,” would we still view it so negatively?

Be Nice to Yourself

For those that may be unaware, I have struggled with depression for several years now. I noticed that sometimes my mood impacts how I treat myself. During my latest bout of increased depression, I found myself making statements such as, “I am such an idiot,” or “I’m such a crazy person.” I justified that by believing that I was making fun of myself, having a laugh, and keeping my humor. Eventually, I noticed that the comments I said in jest also stemmed from negative beliefs I had about myself. When I felt depressed, I truly did believe that I was an idiot, crazy or a bad person. The biggest lesson I have learned throughout my experience with depression is that how we treat ourselves matters, so let’s treat ourselves kindly.

Show Gratitude

It is almost human nature to quickly dismiss positive things and hyper-focus on negative things. Even the news focuses heavily on all of the seemingly bad things in the world and quickly gloss over the good news. Focusing intensely on negative things may cause us to view the world itself as negative. For example, I LOVE true crime, and I could listen to true crime podcasts all day every day. However, if I consume enough dark content, I start experiencing anxieties that tell me the world is not safe and that other people are twisted. I start to forget about the things that bring me joy in the world. By creating a gratitude list daily, I have brought more attention to the fact that good things happen in the world and good things happen to me.

Stop Comparing

Comparing ourselves to others is possibly one of the most unhelpful actions we can do. It places unrealistic expectations on ourselves and creates pressure and discomfort. When we compare our situations to others, we discount our unique personalities and experiences, and it minimizes our strengths and accomplishments. Aside from that, we glorify the lives of others while not recognizing the glories of our own. This may create feelings of anxiety, shame, and guilt. Furthermore, comparing ourselves to others can impact our confidence. Instead, we can recognize that people only let us see what they want us to see. No one is perfect, and we can use that knowledge to focus on growing into our true selves.

Take Your Own Advice

In school, I was taught that therapists do not give advice. Sometimes, though, a client will express their desire for concrete advice or feedback. To them, I say, “Imagine your best friend was going through this situation. What advice would you give to them? Would that advice be helpful to your situation as well?” Alternatively, I might request that the client identify a person whose opinion the hold in high regard, and then I would ask, “What advice do you think they would give you?” Often times we know the answers to our problems, but we feel stuck or discouraged in moving forward. By taking our own advice, we learn to support ourselves with the love and compassion that we do for others.

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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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Can Yoga Help Depression?

Yoga students may present with a variety of physical health concerns, such as chronic pain or injury. As a yoga instructor, it is important to become familiar with student histories so that the teacher can ensure the yoga studio remains a safe space for students. Overall, engagement in yoga practice has been consistently increasing in frequency across the United States. To accommodate the growing practice, yoga sequences can be specifically adapted to serve various populations, such as older individuals, children, or those with physical ailments. This makes it critical that a yoga teacher learn about students in order to provide them with the safest and most inclusive practice (Stephens, 309).

The practice of yoga can be utilized to address and treat many ailments, such as physical health concerns. While some individuals use yoga to treat physical conditions, some find that yoga is a positive tool in treatment emotional and mental health conditions (Stephens, 324). The physical and mindful components of yoga are thought to be meaningful practices for those experiencing emotional disturbances. Students of yoga can utilize the mind-body connection to address mental health concerns, such as anxiety and stress. Breathing techniques and mindfulness can assist in decreasing anxiety. Most commonly among mental health conditions, Americans utilize yoga practice to manage symptoms of depression.

Depression is one of the most common psychological disorders and involves symptoms such as changes in mood, low energy and motivation, loss of interest in preferred activities, increased irritability, physical aches and pains, and changes in sleep and appetite. These symptoms can be acute and can severely impact one’s ability to manage areas of daily life, such as nutrition and sleep. Though depression is incredibly is incredibly common, the causes of depression vary among an array of environmental, biological, or psychological factors. Traditional, evidence-based treatments for depression include medication management and/or psychotherapy. However, there are some barriers that individuals may face when seeking to participate in traditional mental health treatments. Many individuals never receive formal treatment for depression due to various limitations, such as limited access to resources, stigma associated with mental health treatment, or experiencing unwanted side effects of medication (Bridges & Sharma). Additionally, lack of follow through with treatment may be due to financial stressors or poor connection with treatment teams (Prathikanti, et. al.).

Depression that is left untreated may result in worsening chronic symptoms, such as suicidality or psychosis. These symptoms can impact career, education, family life, or interpersonal life, which can cause an individual intense distress. On average, a depressive episode can last from 6-12 months, with some individuals experiencing symptoms of chronic depression lasting several years. Although patterns of depression vary between each person, most individuals who experience one depressive episode in their lives will eventually experience a recurrent episode (Prathikanti, et. al.). The high relapse rate among those who experience depressive symptoms may also contribute to the lack of follow through with traditional treatments.

It is well known that yoga promotes a variety of physical health benefits. Regular yoga practice can improve flexibility, lower heart rate, decrease stress and anxiety, and reduce aches and pains (Bridges $ Sharma). It can also assist in digestion and other areas of physical wellness. However, yoga can also be beneficial in promoting emotional wellness. Where traditional mental health therapies focus on teaching mindfulness, deep breathing techniques, and relaxation skills, these are also important foundational aspects of yoga (Prathikanti, et. al.). This similarity in techniques means that yoga involves many of the skills taught among traditional therapies that treat depression. For example, mindfulness-based therapy focuses on deep breathing, relaxation skills, and mindfulness toward the present moment. These are also factors that are of focus in yoga practice.

The goal of yoga in minimizing symptoms of depression is to assist students in reaching santosa, or contentment. Traditional yoga views depression as a result of an individual experiencing either a rajastic state or a tamasic state. A rajastic state is one in which an individual experiences anxiety and restlessness. An individual experiencing a rajastic state may benefit from yoga practice that includes a slower flow with long holds. Meditation and calming breaths utilized in these types of sequences can assist in alleivating troublesome feelings of anxiety and restlessness. A tamasic state is one in which an individual experiences low energy and hopelessness, which are symptoms most commonly reported among individuals experiencing a depressive episode. An individual experiencing a tamasic state may benefit from a yoga practice that involves more active and stimulating poses, along with encouragement to keep the eyes open and awake (Stephens, 324). This appears to counteract the low energy experienced by individuals struggling with symptoms of depression.

With the growing rate of public interest in yoga, research related to the efficacy of yoga in promoting health and wellness has dramatically increased. According to Pathikanti, et. al., yoga may be a valuable alternative treatment in addressing depression. During a study of the efficacy of treating clinical depression using yoga, 38 individuals were screened to participate in an 8-week Hatha yoga program. These individuals were those who met the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder and were not currently receiving any treatment for the condition. Individuals were randomly divided into two groups: a yoga practice group and a yoga education group.

Those who participated in the Hatha yoga practive group participated in a 90-minute yoga practice two times per week for eight weeks. This practice group included breathing techniques and poses that promoted relaxation and mindfulness, with the same yoga sequence being used for each session. The yoga sequence used featured chest-opening poses, which are traditionally incorporated into yoga practice to decrease feelings of depression. The group who participated in the education group completed modules related to yoga history and practice for 90 minutes two times per week. Depression was assessed every two weeks throughout the research study using evidence-based depression scales (Prathikanti, et. al.).

Results indicated that depression decreased among the group that participated in yoga practice when compared to those who participated in the education group. However, researchers noted that the differences in rates did not change until the eighth week of practice, suggesting that consistent and prolonged yoga practice is most effective in promoting positive mood changes. The delay in results also suggests that one requires time to adequately learn and practice yoga poses and skills in order for their practice to be effective in alleviating depressive symptoms (Prathikanti, et. al.).

In another study of the efficacy of yoga in treating depression, a literature review was completed to compare outcomes among several research studies that explored the use of yoga in depression treatment. Eighteen published studies, all of which took place in various yoga studios, were assessed. The most common of these schools were ones that primarily taught from the school of Hatha yoga. In this literature review, interventions that were over the course of 6 weeks or more on average were studied, and measuring tools were used to monitor depression over the course of practice.

These schools utilized different structures of practice over the course of the research. Most schools encouraged participants to practice yoga at least once per week for a duration of time ranging from 12 minutes to 90 minutes (Bridges & Sharma). Although numerous differing yoga methods were used in these studies, results showed that all methods, even those in shorter duration, included participants who reported reductions in depression levels. Although, there was no evidence that showed that one method might be more effective than the others in reducing depression symptoms the study could suggest that regular practice of yoga and meditative skills may relate to decreased depressive symptoms. These results indicate a growing need for more research into the efficacy of mind-body interventions in treating clinical depression (Bridges & Sharma).

More specifically, the literature review found that a study by Marafet, et. al., researched an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group participated in three 60-minute yoga sessions, which included breathing exercises, meditation, relaxation, and physical exercise, while the control group participated in assessments only. The results of the study showed that those who participated in the yoga group experienced markedly decreased depressive symptoms. The outcome determined that yoga interventions were effective in decreasing depressive symptoms. Therefore, while traditional therapies and interventions are recommended, mind-body interventions appear to be an effective complementary interventions (Bridges & Sharma).

Depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition. Although many individuals struggle with symptoms of depression, many do not receive traditional evidence-based treatments to assist with alleviating symptoms. However, studies show that regular practice of yoga and meditation may assist in minimizing symptoms of depression. This may broaden access to mental health treatment among those who experience barriers in accessing traditional therapies. Several research studies show that regular yoga practice has been effective in alleviating depressive symptoms.

References:

Bridges, Ledetra and Manoj Sharma. “The Efficacy of Yoga as a Form of Treatment for Depression. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 30 June 2017.

Prathikanti, Sudha, et. al. “Treating Major Depression With Yoga: A Prospective Randomized, Controlled Pilot Trial.” PLoS One, 16 Mar 2017.

Stephens, Mark. Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques. North Atlantic, 2010.