Two areas to consider examining if you’re feeling depressed:

Two areas to consider examining if you’re feeling depressed:

By Joel Christie

One: What takes up your time?

Is your schedule too full? Or maybe you don’t really have a schedule? If you’re perfectly happy with how you spend your time, I sincerely congratulate you. But many of us spend too little time doing what replenishes us, or fortifies us, or bolsters confidence and helps us grow. Maybe we turn into workaholics or perhaps we gradually become trained to pursue small, temporary pleasures that ultimately leave us unsatisfied or even drained. We neglect our social lives, or we neglect adventure. Or perhaps we neglect our responsibilities because they’re too hard or just not especially fun, resulting in unpleasant consequences that can sew anxiety and depression, amidst the other consequences they bring. It’s not so different than the body’s need for nutrition: we need iron, and calcium, and vitamin B12, and whatever else, but also not too much sugar or saturated fat, of course, because why should we get to eat delicious stuff all the time? (Thanks, stupid body.)

Our souls need a healthy balance too, of course, just like those self-help books will all remind us. And if we’re looking for something to weaken the smothering hold of depression, this can be an invaluable area of life to examine. Extroverts may need an abundance of meaningful time with people, but they also need time to reflect and be introspective. Creative types certainly need time to create, but they may also need to spend time doing the grittier unpleasant tasks of training and application and bloody annoying paperwork. Why? Because these can be the kind of activities that promote growth and produce confidence as we realize our own competency and self-sufficiency. We need to be challenged. And we need time to rest, relax, and replenish. But then we need to get up and keep going. If we stop to reflect, most of us can identify areas in our lives that could benefit from more time and attention. So how about you? What could you benefit from spending more time doing?

Two: How do you approach problems?

Our problem-solving instincts can dominate our lives if we’re not careful. It looks different from person to person, but at its root, it’s trying to fix what we perceive is wrong with the world around us. Facebook arguments, staying late at the office every night to impress your boss, trying to make your spouse finally see your side of things, that one friend who never does what you want, bills, disappointing family members, and so on. There are a million places where our problem-solving instincts flare to life. We often get a small, short-term boost of empowerment from pointing out or identifying a problem—that “I’m smart” feeling that allows us to believe we’re on our way to fixing things. And indeed, identifying what’s wrong is the beginning of the problem-solving process. But identifying problems this can leave us depressed and depleted if we rarely see positive changes occur, either because of the lack of response our criticism produces or because of our disappointment with ourselves for not doing something more direct to fix the problem.

Yet most frustrating of all, our efforts often will fail to solve our problems. Repeat: our efforts will never eliminate all of the problems we are able to identify. Which is why gaining the ability to accept the slow, clumsy, annoying, and the perpetually ongoing process of problem-solving is so valuable. As we come to accept that problems are a normal part of life (and not things that “shouldn’t be happening to me!”), we can learn to expend less energy wishing they would just go away. We can cultivate durability, which frees us up to be more content before the problem is resolved as we gradually pursue the outcomes we desire. This doesn’t mean we ignore problems, it means we recognize that our problem-solving instinct will dominate us if we don’t shut it down from time to time. It means we’re better off thinking of ourselves as people who are able to keep striving and enduring in this world that is never short on problems than as people who need our problems to end in order for us to experience happiness.

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Built for Hard Times

Built for Hard Times

by Joel Christie

Life can be really hard. Most would acknowledge that, but can our awareness of that actually help us in any way, or simply doom us to further misery? When asked what might help them deal with the fact that life so often feels overwhelming, unfair, mean, brutal, impossible or heartbreaking, I have heard many people say they'll feel better when their circumstances improve, which is certainly understandable. Circumstances impact how we feel, but they are also often largely beyond our control. So we need more reliable things to lean on. Friends and family. Life purpose. Faith. The pursuit of our dreams perhaps. And I think all of these are invaluable. All of the suggestions below pertain to your beliefs and your worldview, which means they are ultimately within your control to accept or reject as you so choose. So: what might help?

Accept that hardship is an inescapable, unavoidable part of life. Gosh, thanks for that uplifting gem? Yeah, that may have come off as grim, but I don't mean it to be fatalistic, I promise. The fact that life is often brimming with hardship does not nullify the possibility for it to also contain vaults of goodness, joy, and satisfaction. Along with this, when we accept that hardships are part of the gig, we become a little freer, strange as it sounds. We spend less time wishing that hardships wouldn't happen, pining for a world where we don't always end up getting hurt, only to end up hurt by our own impossible desires. This doesn't mean we simply discard hope. If you lived in the Game of Thrones universe, then yes, perhaps it would be best not to bother with hope. But here, hope is a wonderful compass for us when coupled with realism. It tells us what we want and what we should spend our efforts seeking. We must simply know that hardship will still accompany us along the way. This knowledge--this integral part of our beliefs--can normalize hardships, removing them from the category of "things that should not have happened," to things that have happened and will happen, and must, therefore, be faced.

Start recognizing how resilient you are. There are things in life that will grieve us no matter how strong we might be, such as the death of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, debilitating health issues, and several others. Grief and sadness are precisely the right emotions in such situations. Yet it is critical that even in the midst of tragedy we do not completely lose sight of who and WHAT we are. Our brains are natural problem solvers. It's how we survived as a species in the past, and how we survive now. You could even say we are built to handle hardship. Certainly there are times we may not feel able to handle everything, but I think there can be a danger in allowing ourselves to accept this despair too often. I can't handle my bills. I can't stand one more of my kid's temper tantrums. I can't deal with my evil boss. My messy husband. My condescending wife. My noisy neighbors. Traffic. Politics. Society in general. Stop, and please try giving yourself a little credit. These things may all be substantial problems. But the more you are able to see yourself as a person with a brain that is highly adept at problem-solving, and the more you see yourself as durable, resourceful, and resilient, the less you will likely feel undone by anxiety and despair. And here's the cool part: you'll feel the effects of this diminished anxiety and despair even before these problems are fully resolved. If you realize that you are indeed often capable of facing the onslaught of life's tribulations it will change how you feel about the problems themselves. You will not likely suddenly come to love your problems, but you will likely feel far less dominated by them because you'll know that you are cut out to deal with them. And for those of you who think, "well, that may be nice for the lucky people who happen to have such confidence," I would invite you to dare to believe that you too possess numerous strengths and problem-solving abilities and that you are far more durable and resilient than you currently realize. After all, how many times have your bills or your boss or your toddler actually succeeded in killing you? Seriously. Consider all the stuff you've been through already. That should tell you that you're durable. Take some comfort from that.

Find things to invest yourself in that feel worth the effort. As I mentioned, our brains are wired to be problem solvers, so it comes very naturally to most of us to fixate on what's wrong. But it's critical that we also allow ourselves to strive after things that generate excitement and passion. I'm not talking so much about fun, per se, although fun is fine. But on those rough nights at the end of a brutal week, a little fun peppered in--or even a lot, with a whole big rush of dopamine and all that lovely stuff--will likely prove inadequate to buoy us indefinitely against the reality that there are always more glacier-sized hardships on the horizon. We need things that have a lasting potency to deal with that, things we can pull with us when we're feeling low, or uncertain about our future, or yes, even just bored. People tend to fair better in life both in the high seasons and low when they believe their lives matter and that they have a purpose. So invest some time in that question, because a part of your brain will likely remain hungry for answers. And the more pieces you find along your journey in this regard, the more stable your ship is likely to be as you face the many storms of life.

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Questions about Purpose

Questions about Purpose

by Joel Christie

At one time or another, most of us have had wondered "What's the purpose of my life?" or "Do I matter?" These are not just midlife crisis questions. No, these kinds of questions will likely tug at us over and over throughout our lives. Even in this era of constant entertainment and distraction, the brain and the emotions it generates tend to return to such questions. I might enjoy watching Downton Abbey or The Walking Dead, but eventually I'll need a break. Something else. Something more. Same goes for riding roller coasters, or playing Monopoly, or sitting in that massage chair in the mall. Not that there is anything wrong with pleasure and fun, of course. But activities we place in the "fun" category may fail to satisfy that part of our brain that's asking questions about purpose. Unless, for example, I happen to love movies, and also happen to be a movie critic, wherein I perceive part of my purpose being to inform the good citizens around me of what's worth seeing, and what's putrid garbage, thereby striving to increase the overall artistic threshold of society. Or some blather along those lines. Whatever. It doesn't have to make sense to you. The important thing is that it satisfies that part of my own brain. That tugging insistence that I matter in some way.

It's hard to predict when this "tugging" will happen. Sometimes it's when we're feeling driven and strong. Sometimes it's when we're feeling low or unsuccessful. (And indeed, it is very hard to conceive of "success" at all without acknowledging we want things to end up a certain way, which quickly leads back to the concept of purpose.) People have mulled over these questions for eons. And as you have likely noticed, we have arrived at many different conclusions. Some are eager to tell you they've solved this dilemma. Some say it's different for everyone, or that it changes over time. Others have concluded that such questions are ultimately unanswerable, or else that the answer is "There is no purpose to life: not to mine, yours, or anyone else's."And yet, we find that throughout humankind, from one society to the next, people report that these kinds of questions circulate through their minds, sometimes subtly (such as vague feelings of depression or anxiety), other times with obnoxious persistence (like a guy who sits down to write an article on the subject).
So why does the brain do this? Why does the brain expend energy thinking about whether or not I, as an individual being that presently exists here in the year 2015, has purpose, and, perhaps more significantly, whether or not I am satisfactorily connecting with this purpose? Let's follow this existential rabbit hole a little further:

Maybe we find comfort in the notion that my life is bigger than just me. Maybe these questions are an attempt to make death less scary. Maybe having purpose is just a great antidote to boredom. Or perhaps it's just something that societies have propagated to keep people busy. But of course that only leads to other questions, like why it should matter to me whether other people in my society are busy or not, so long as they aren't trying to steal my sheep or burn down my grain fields, right? Regardless, the concept of purpose certainly is integrated into our societies, right from childhood. We could translate, "What do you want to be when you grow up" to be a kid friendly version of "What significance do you hope your life will someday take on?" or "Why do you think you matter, O young one?" Then again, maybe the subconscious reason we ask kids purpose-minded questions is so that they'll take care of us when we're old, bringing us all the way back around to basic needs again. Sheesh.

Okay, let's settle on this: there are lots of possible answers to the question, "What is the purpose of my life?" (And there are perhaps just as many possible answers for "Why does my brain care about whether my life has purpose or not?") The part that seems easier to clarify is that these purpose related questions are there. Some part of me wants an assurance that I matter. So what do I do with that?
Start exploring!

If you find yourself happily resolved on this matter, congratulations! But for those of you still pondering questions of purpose and meaning, I encourage you to take measures to explore them in greater depth. Anxiety and depression are likely byproducts when the brain is confronted by something it perceives as a significant problem, and the fear that your life doesn't matter or lacks purpose would qualify as significant for most people. Facing the issue will lead to not only greater understanding but also a reduction in fear (eventually) and an increased sense of empowerment, self worth, and lasting durable happiness that is not so dependent on whether or not you happen to currently be hang gliding or drinking your favorite beer.

"My life matters because..." can be a potential place to start this journey. What can you come up with? And if you're not satisfied, then feel free to seek ways to change this. Maybe help out at an after school reading program. Or patent that invention you've been tinkering with for the last decade. Or talk to your boss about taking on some different projects that match more closely with your passions. Write a novel (or an article on purpose). Go on a spiritual retreat. Whatever you decide to do, connect it back to that question you began with: "My life matters because..."

You're the one who needs to be satisfied by the answers you come up with. But even spending time considering this question should generate some measure of hope and satisfaction, particularly as you pursue the pathways that open up in response to the questions you're allowing yourself to experience. We don't have to "solve" a problem to start to feel more empowered. We just need to know that we are making progress on our journey. And if these purpose questions are indeed ruminating in your thoughts, perhaps it's because some part of you is eager to progress further along your own journey of discovery. If that's true, then you probably won't find the satisfaction you're seeking watching Downton Abbey or riding roller coasters. Not in the long run. Because your mind is hungry to better understand your purpose. So go explore. And when you find pieces of your purpose, grab hold of them with vigor.

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Illness and the Family Unit

Illness and the Family Unit

By Keisha Delva

      In terms of serious injury or illness happening to a loved one, I tend to use the metaphor of being in a really bad car accident. Like a car accident we don't necessarily see it coming, and the impact is sharp and sudden. It may throw us into a state of shock or we may become very emotionally reactive. The aftermath can be long-lasting, costly and cause us a great deal of physical and emotional pain. Since certain adjustments have to be made, we are reminded of the incident on an almost daily basis, until we have resolved all resulting issues, which in and of itself is re-traumatizing.

      There are obviously many things to consider when a loved one becomes ill. Some of the common questions are: Will they recover? Are we able to get them the best care? How will we cover the expenses of the recovery process? When my mother had a stroke, I found myself asking all these questions and more; most of which I didn't have the answers to. You may not either. Finances are a major concern for many people and if your family member is no longer able to work or care for themselves, there may be a shift in the roles of many of the members of the family. Understandably, the person who is ill suddenly becomes the focus of the entire family. There doesn't seem to be much time or space left to address how that loved one's illness is impacting the rest of the family unit. Depending on the nature of the illness, our family member may change in ways that causes them to become almost unrecognizable. If it is an illness that has affected their brain, such as stroke, a traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer's disease, we may find them behaving in ways that are strange or foreign to us. The family member is still living, yet we may find ourselves still going through the grieving process, as the person that we once knew them to be, is gone.

      Whether the illness we are speaking of is mental illness or a physical medical condition, it is undeniable that it will take its toll on the affected person's loved ones. We will worry, feel stressed, and feel sad. We may begin to neglect to take care of ourselves by developing unhealthy eating and sleeping habits, as a means of trying to cope with our stress. Concurrently, we may find ourselves wrestling with feelings of guilt or shame for any of the conflicting thoughts or feelings that we may have throughout this time. Feelings of resentment may develop for suddenly becoming our family member's caretaker, yet we may feel that we don't deserve to have a break or to take time to process our emotions, much less have the right to complain.

Here are a few of the tips that I found helpful in the early stages of my mother's recovery:

1.    Ask for help: You do not have to handle everything on your own. If the people in your life have some idea of what you and your family is going through, they will be more understanding and will likely want to do anything they can to assist you. This applies both at work and at home.

2.    Talk to a therapist: Talking to someone who is trained in techniques and interventions to cope with stress in healthy ways can be very helpful. They will listen empathetically, without judging you or trying to tell you what you "should" be thinking or feeling during this time. Our family and friends mean well, but you may find that they cannot relate to what you are going through, or are trying to rush you through the healing process.

3.    Nurture yourself: Making rest a priority and eating nutritious foods goes a long way. Make time to do simple things that you enjoy such as taking a warm bath, going for a run, or reading a good book. It may seem silly, but engaging in small, pleasurable activities is a very effective means of relieving stress and naturally boosting our mood.

      It is crucial that we take time to address our own emotional and physical needs during the distressing time of illness in our family. If we ourselves are not well, we certainly will not be of any use to someone that needs our help or is dependent upon us. Preventative care has been proven to be the single most important means of maintaining good physical and emotional health over an extended period of time. While you are caring for your loved one, remember to care for yourself too.

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3 Things You Can Control in the Natural Birth Process

3 Things You Can Control in the Natural Birth Process

by Melyssa Marshall

As it goes in life, we grow and learn from experience. The thoughts and expectations that become part of our world views are picked up and accepted as we go through life and experience it. Experience can be done to us, we happen upon it, we make plans for it, we choose into it. Whatever the case, experience is unavoidable. Kind of like breathing. By being conscious, we are experiencing.

As a Doula (birth assistant), I've learned that each birth experience is different and cannot be - nor should be - completely controlled. There are many factors and variables that make up the atmosphere and circumstance, and only so many of those are up for election or adjustment. This can breed a sense of insecurity from fear of the uncertain or unknown in the experience, especially when it's a mother's first birth. But while these may be out of our control, there are factors within our control that can aid to ease insecurity and eliminate fear.

Expectation.

As natural as expectations come, you would think we'd have a better gauge of where to set them. The reality of natural child birth is that a woman can count on her body to get from point A to point B. But by no means should there be an expectation that the line between points is straight. No, the design that happens within those points would rival any abstract artist on their best day. So a more realistic thing to do with expectations would be to hold them as hopes. While the two can be said to be related, hope differs from expectation in that it does not call for judgment or invite some kind of level of evaluation. An expectation will be met or not met. But a hope by definition recognizes the possibilities. In childbirth, it is best to hope for your experience.

Intention.

There's something to be said about the connection between mind and matter. The strength in mind or willpower is no small force, rather one to be reckoned with. Focusing your intention is of most importance in labor and birth in order to minimize what pulls at and distracts strength in mind. And to be sure, there will be plenty of things and thoughts pulling at your strength. It's often best to vocalize intention so that those supporting your experience can know how best to encourage your strength and to be your strength wherever possible.

Acceptance.

Come what may, the birth experience is final. There's no going back in order to do something differently nor can you pay an extra fee for a do-over. From minor disappointing details to major negative outcomes, the amount of processing that happens postpartum is up to you. You can think through every moment and talk through every detail, but nothing will change the experience. The onus on you will be one of response, taking an accepting posture towards the experience. Acceptance in some cases doesn't mean approval of an outcome or a detail or even someone. Acceptance can be merely acknowledgement and will be a helpful first step in moving forward.

I've come to find that these aren't just helpful for the circumstance of labor and birth. They translate to all sorts of area and happenings in life. Choosing to hope, focusing intentions and accepting the experience are all things in our control every day. So whether you're about to give birth, planning to give birth, or not even close to thinking about birth, consider them for your life today.

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I "Like" Doing Things

I "Like" Doing Things

By Daniel M. Fisher Ed.S.

I like to tell my clients how, in order to overcome depression, they have to take action steps to accomplish this goal. Depression is an illness of the minimums. By this I mean it's an illness that takes away motivation, excitement, and interest in our lives for reasons we have a hard time putting a finger on and puts us in the mindset of "how can I get through my day by expending the least amount of effort or energy as possible." Some might disagree with this notion, but I find a lack of motivation and interest in once loved activities really shows up quite a bit and the rationale is "well I just don't feel like it." This is a very passive way of hoping to get out of depression and my question is always "Why would we aid in this process by succumbing to sometimes irrational ideas of avoiding the things we love or avoiding the social connections we crave?"

In pondering these ideas, I recently I found myself scrolling through my Facebook news feed, as I so often do, and "liking" things left and right. A friend of mine made a pithy comment about a celebrity, so, of course, I "liked" it. I saw a picture of a puppy licking an ice cream cone, so I "liked" it. Another friend posted about bicycles, so I "liked" it. Facebook, in its algorithmic wisdom, saw I had "liked" a post about puppies and then about bicycles, so naturally, they suggested that I "Like" the "I Love Puppies" page and "Bicycles" page in order to signify my undying support for these two aspects of my life. And you know what? I did it! I am not ashamed to admit, I love puppies and I love riding bicycles! What a wonderful turn of events! Now, all of the 312 people on Facebook who I've proclaimed to be my "friends" will now know even more about me and for some, our mutual interests will become even more intertwined. It's amazing. I have never felt so close to people in my life.

Only, no one is around. I haven't talked to many of these "friends," save for the occasional supportive "like," in years. I became a little sad in participating in my daily Facebook excavation and I got to thinking about this notion of "liking" things.

It occurred to me how Facebook and other "social" networks help create an illusion of activity and inclusion but accomplish, in many cases, the opposite. For me, sitting and "liking" something is similar to avoiding the actual real life social participation so many suffering from depression describe. It's not on purpose and social networks are a wonderful way to stay connected but, like anything else, it can't be our only form of social activity if we expect to maintain interpersonal relationships and activity levels necessary for overcoming or preventing our depression.

What does it all mean if I don't actually do any of the things I "like" to do? So what am I doing here sitting in front of my computer "liking" things and getting depressed about it when I could be out DOING things? I can only answer that with: "See you later, I'm going for a bike ride."

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