Anxiety, Depression and the Embarrassment of Being Human by Heidi Michelle
Upon returning to the United States from my annual sojourn to Costa Rica about a month ago, I found myself quite challenged by life. Several circumstances had arose that left me questioning and re-evaluating, well, just about every corner of my inner and outer world.
A fog descended upon me. Life lost its luster. I felt forlorn and empty.
It took me a while to realize (and admit) that I was downright depressed.
I know you can relate. Whoever you are, wherever you sit, I know you've been there. You have felt that groundless, lost feeling of great sadness, anxiety or depression. You are not alone, even though you may think you are.
While I am no therapist, doctor or counselor, I have the honor of having an insider's view of the workings of many human minds. I've been working with people and human behavior for more than 20 years now. I have listened over and over to countless confessions of great and sometimes debilitating anxiety and depression. No one escapes it.
The funny (and startling) thing is, that there seems to be this collective embarrassment around these feelings. One of my teachers, Pema Chödrön, calls this "the embarrassment of being human," and it's true!
We hide, mask, avoid and sidestep uncomfortable feelings in order to "look good" and "be perfect."
I know. I have done this too and I was a pro.
Where it gets dangerous is when we actually do isolate and believe that we are the only ones who feel anxiety and depression. This can lead to prolonged depression, addiction, self-loathing, abuse, over-eating, prescription drugs, and on and on. Granted, I am an advocate for therapy and anti-depressants in extreme cases. However, there is such a thing as what Dr. Andrew Weil calls "ordinary sadness." A small percentage of us are actually pathological and in need of prescription care. The majority of us are simply not instructed by our parents or teachers that the full range of emotions is natural, normal and can be worked with. I know I didn't receive a handbook when I incarnated into this human form! Did you?
What I want all of us to remember is that we have tools to work with depression and anxiety, that they are not to be feared or run from and that you are not alone.
How, you ask? Well, back to my story...
What surprised me about this last go-round of my personal depression was that I didn't fall apart (Hallelujah!) and my overall ability to stay centered. How do I know when I am "centered?" While I felt anxiety, depression and fear, even while sobbing on the phone with my sister in a pile of snot-soaked kleenex, I remained inwardly calm and objective. This was not always the case.
In years past, at times like this, I would begin to point fingers at someone else, blaming those around me for my hardships and discontent. Or, I would busy myself with social activities, work and chores, covertly ignoring the fierce beast within me, raging to be acknowledged. These avoidance tactics are effective in masking the symptoms of a disrupted mind, but not effective at actually calming the mind, the nervous system and allowing the sensations to ease and pass naturally.
So, what is different now?
I attribute this easier, less dramatic, way of dealing with mental and emotional discomfort to 3 things: daily yoga, meditation and good friends. Even if you don't practice yoga, read on. If you truly want freedom, read on.
Freeing ourselves from the confines of our busy "monkey-mind" is not a simple 3-step program or a little blue pill. Sorry. Liberation requires vigilance, dedication and generous helpings of self-compassion.
So, what does my dedication look like?
• Morning Asana (yoga postures): Depending upon the needs of my body and mind on any given day, I may spend 10 minutes, or I may spend an hour on my mat. Being forgiving and understanding of myself is important. As well, the intensity of postures varies from a gentle, slow and very static practice to a more rigorous and powerful practice. Some days, I just roll around on a tennis ball, breathing deeply and relaxing as much as possible. All it takes is 5-10 minutes! (Posture suggestions below)
• Meditation: Again, this depends upon my time availability, I will sit for 5 to 20 minutes. Some days I will chant mantra, others I simply focus on my breath. Is meditation easy? No! That's why we do it. That's whey we need it. Those moments, however, when I drop into "the zone," feel my connection with everything and arise filled with peace and well-being, make every ego-full, frustrating, anxious moment sitting in attempted meditation worth it. (Meditation technique below)
• Reaching Out: I call on my dear friends when I need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. When I let go of my ego's need to "look good," or "be perfect" and reach out, I feel held and understood. This lets me move through emotions more quickly and with clarity. This is called friendship. This is called love. I find that so many people are embarrassed by unpleasant feelings and emotions. We walk around pretending that we are fine most of the time, and that is necessary in order to lead productive lives...to a point. Pretending that everything is perfect when it's not is exhausting and isolating. When we are willing to release our egos and ask for support, it allows our friends and families to be there for us, and that is a gift to the giver.
Now, it's your turn.
Your Homework: A 21-day commitment to begin.
Choose 3 the following simplified practices to do only 3 times per week for 21 days. Choose the three that speak to you the most and track your progress. Write me a message upon completion for a congratulatory gift from me!
1.) 3 Yoga Postures: Choose 3 of the postures below to commit to doing every other day for 3 weeks, either at the beginning of your day or at the end. Once in the posture, breath 5-7 deep breaths. By this I mean, inhale to a count of 4 or 5, exhale to a count of 4 or 5. Change slowly to the next and finish by thanking yourself genuinely.
2.) Meditation: Set the timer on your phone for 5 or more minutes each day. Give yourself a break and start with just 5! Increase as you feel more comfortable. Find a comfortable, upright sitting position on a cushion or in a chair, close your eyes, relax your jaw and focus on the sensations of your breath. That's all. Put your attention on the sensations of air moving in and out of your body. When your mind wanders (and it will), gently bring it back to the physical sensations of your breath. Finish by sincerely thanking yourself for the time.
3.) Walking: Take a walk around your neighborhood for at least 20 minutes. That's all. Now, here's the clincher...leave your cell phone at home! Look at nature; the trees and spring flowers, the mountains in the distance, or the faces of people walking past you. It's not important when you walk, just do it. Get out into the world and connect with your environment.
4.) Technology Retreat: Speaking of cell phones, get off it! Studies are revealing that staring at blue screens can actually cause anxiety and depression. For one day per week, leave your phone in a drawer and your laptop shut. If this leaves you feeling lost, that's okay. Be with that feeling and let it guide you to your next movement. Whether it's cleaning your house, walking your dog, playing with your children, reading a book, riding your bike to the park or just sitting, allow yourself to be comfortable with what we call boredom. Observe the world around you and be gentle on yourself.
5.) Practice Presence: Make it a conscious effort to listen more than speak when you are with others. Ask questions and discover more about the people you are with, the people you love. Make eye contact. Be still and available. Your relationships will deepen and your loved ones will do the same for you when you need to be listened to.
Now listen, fellow humans, this is only a beginning. Being okay with discomfort of the mind takes time and practice. Only you can discover what leaves you feeling relief. Stick with it! Be okay with being not okay. It will pass, I promise. (Yoga postures below newsletter sign-up)
You've got this and you're not alone.
Sincerely and In Trust,
P.S. In case you're wondering, I feel much better now. It was intense! Yet, I stuck with my practices and received incredible support from friends and family. I was patient and trusting that the emotions would pass and they did. The wonder of change is the only constant.