One of my favourite yoga teachers, and founder of One Yoga, Ryan Leier shared some words earlier this week that really struck me, inspired me, and it couldn’t have been better timed:
I appreciate him taking the risk to be vulnerable and talk about his experiences in such a public forum because mental health needs to become part of everyday conversation. We shouldn’t shy away from asking people ‘how are you’ and honest answers rather than just the social acceptable ‘it’s all good’ response.
The other day, I dove head first into all kinds of spirals – self hate, shame, anxiety, depression, and anger. I feel fortunate that I recognized what was happening for me and put myself to bed very early before any serious damage was done – mainly motivated by concern for the well being of my closest relationships. Sometimes sleep is the only way to shut down and turn it off. Which doesn’t make it go away but does give me the opportunity to recharge and reset before addressing it again. I have to admit this awareness hasn’t always been the pattern in the past and has taken a lot of practice. I am glad I saw it coming and acknowledged it this time around.
Yesterday’s dip came after a prolonged period of ‘up’ which I always find more difficult and the depressive episode a little deeper in contrast to how good it was for so long. When the episodes are closer together it is almost like I get used to them, I am almost expecting each one like a wave, like I know they will only last a finite amount of time, and it doesn’t feel as sharp of a contrast…not sure if that makes any sense? As far as I know, and believe, there is no magical cure for anxiety and/or depression and that it is something that various people suffer from for various reasons at different points in their life, whether it is environmental or situational or hereditary or a side effect of something else or unexplained. What I do know is there are things I can actively do to manage my own.
After reading his story and his experiences with depression and anxiety I also realized that there is this notion, or expectation, in society that you can get through it and subsequently ‘get better’. Ryan’s article addressed the things he does to get through which I think is awesome and a good reminder to me that being happy and healthy can be supported by choices I make.
Self compassion is a major player for me in terms of coming through an episode relatively unscathed on the other side. Remembering that I am not a bad person and to have love and compassion for myself. Also recognizing that there are things I can actively do (and not do) to maintain a healthy frame of mind including regular exercise, healthy foods, yoga, and communication (especially with my partner) can really help keep myself up or pull myself out of a down.
I used to have this belief that if everything was just so and exactly controlled that I would be ok and everything around me would be ok. If I practiced yoga every day and ran regularly and looked and behaved a certain way that I would fit in, be the same as everyone else, and be ok. That I could squash this feeling of not-enoughness, of self-doubt, and critical comparison to those in my life that I desperately looked up to (envied?). I could not separate, differentiate, feelings of admiration, jealously, envy, inspiration, and so on. Where was the line between being inspired by someone and wanting their life? So much of this belief system also fed my anxiety and depression, thoughts of never being good enough, so changing how I think about myself has also been extremely helpful. Obviously that can be a lot easier said than done and takes practice. Having loving and compassionate mantras for myself to repeat during difficult times can be helpful too.
It has taken me years to get to where I am today where I am, for the most part, okay with who I am. In my adult life, it has taken different extremes to find the balance where I am happy and healthy. My sister and I talked about how when something isn’t going well or anxiety/depression crops up it is really easy to try and manage it (or self punish) through physical activity rather than deal with the real issues head on. Over the last couple of years those extremes it looked like diving full force into yoga 7 days a week, to backing away from any kind of practice at all to throwing myself into running 24/7 until I was so injured I couldn’t even walk, to obsessively only eating ‘healthy’ food, to where I am today working on finding that sweet spot. To examine my choices and my priorities and identify that what I am doing is because I want to versus what I think I should do versus what will make others happy around me.
So what are some of the things I can do to help myself when I find I’m in a depression or feeling a lot of anxiety?
- Reach out and talk to someone – even if it is just to say ‘hey this is how I am feeling right now but I don’t want/need/expect you to do anything I just wanted to share’. I find if I speak it out loud, give it a name, and acknowledge its presence that I can take some of the power away from that dark space.
- Journal/Read/Reflection – writing about what I am experiencing can be helpful – even to just get it out of my head. I also find reading about other people’s experiences can be reassuring that I am not alone in this, that it is nothing to be ashamed about, and that there is light. Separating myself as a person from what I am feeling can be helpful too. For example identifying that ‘I am feeling anxious’ rather than ‘I am anxious’ or ‘I am in a depression’ rather than ‘I am depressed’.
- Listen to my body – often times exercise can be really helpful, and it is usually my go-to, but the other day it was not what I wanted. Going for a run would have been more an act of self punishment than compassion so I put myself to bed instead and slept a solid 12 hours. It made a massive difference in how I felt the next day – I wasn’t back to normal but I at least I wasn’t exhausted.
- Getting in tune with my needs – this is huge for me and part of a long learning curve that I am only now really prioritizing in my life. Recognizing that there are things I can do in my everyday life that work to manage both my anxiety and depression. Discovering that feeding myself healthy whole foods so I feel good physically, getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, maintaining regular exercise including yoga, and communicating with loved ones supports me feeling good. It is also important that I practice self-compassion and self-love if I make choices that don’t align with those things – life is sometimes unpredictable and opportunities arise that I want to take part in which may affect the food I eat or the amount of sleep I get. I choose to participate in that knowing it may affect me negatively in the days that follow but those interactions or experiences are also super important to me.
- Gratitude practice – this is something I regularly come back to. I find it a super useful tool when I am feeling out of touch with myself or having a tough time with anxiety and/or depression spells. It is a way that I can focus on the little things and I can challenge myself to see the good in each days even if it feels like everything is falling apart.
Part of the commitment I made to myself to live authentically is to not shy away from difficult conversations. To not choose to talk about something out of embarrassment or the fear that it will be some kind of over share that I will be judged by. I have this belief that if it becomes part of ‘normal’ conversation we will begin to remove nasty stigmas around mental health and, as a society, come together as a community to support those around us as they need.
Do you or someone you know struggle with anxiety/depression?
What do you do to practice self-compassion?
Do you agree that the more it is talked about the better?