Psychology Today defines mindfulness as the following:
“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
A pattern I’ve noticed with my struggle with Depression is destructive circles of thought. If you’re reading this you probably are familiar with the depressive ‘downward spiral’ of thought. Being a practitioner of meditation and yoga and pranayama (breath work) I’ve trained pretty well to notice I am feeling depressed *before* reacting to that state of depression. That’s the first step of combating depression with mindfulness. When I realize it, though, I frequently look for a contributing factor – a why – that helped the episode occur. Am I overtired? Did I recently receive any bad news? Has their been relationship problems? Depression is both a chemical imbalance in the brain _and_ a situation state for me.
But here’s where the downward spiral comes in. I begin to dwell on finding contributing factors. And the more I think, the more I find wrong with my life. Which effectively amps up the depressive episode, making it worse. So, what’s next with mindfulness?
I’ve found that at this stage of a depressive episode, accentuating the positive, or trying to think of all the great, positive, love-filled aspects of my life, and therefore switching the focus from the negative to the positive, doesn’t work. It just stresses me out and eventually I stop fighting the thoughts altogether and just sink fully into Depression. This cartoon illustrates it quite well:
Instead of adding yet more thoughts, I invoke mindfulness. I narrow my focus to the immediate. If this episode is happening first thing in the morning, as it frequently does (I’m not at my best for the first few hours of the day), here’s what I try:
*Get out of bed;
*Shower. When in shower, be mindful. Doesn’t that hot water feel _ace_? Isn’t the scent of this shampoo excellent? Goat soap for washing my face feels and smells awesome. *And the sound of the water reminds me of standing in a waterfall (Yes, I’ve done that. Small waterfall. Wonderful). And the process of showering is already making me feel more awake and less sleep-blurred. Now, check out the texture of this soft towel. Etc…..
*Yoga / Physiotherapy stretches, including correct breathing (If any readers want some recommendations for these, especially for dealing with sciatica, let me know). Ooh…. that was a nice pop. I can definitely feel this one in my lower back. Ah, this one’s really stretching out my piriformis. I am breathing in, two, three, four, hold, two, three, four; I am breathing out, two three four…. etc.
*Breakfast time! This yoghurt / fruit combo is wonderful! And coffee….. mmmm…… coffee.
*Lumosity – online brain exercises. Just a few each morning to wake ye old brain up.
Etc. etc. etc. until presto! I’m at work and can continue to be mindful, aka “in the moment” all day long…. and indeed, my new job is so busy that mindfulness is necessity!
You get the idea, eh? Notice that in all those scenarios I left no room for focusing on feeling depressed. It doesn’t mean my back pain is non-existent. It doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean that contributing factors, if any, go away. But it does mean another day where I can successfully function. Even with Depression.