A Message on Mindfulness
This is always a difficult time of the year for me. I need sun and a lot of it! When the days get short and the weather turns toward winter, I struggle with depression. It’s this time of year when I know I need to take better care of myself. So, I step up my exercise, remember to take my vitamins, try to eat better, and start thinking about my stress level and how I’m doing physically, mentally and emotionally. I start my internal countdown to spring, which always seems to help and then start planning for the long winter that will be ahead.
You may not know, but in addition to serving as the CEO for Mainstream Living, I am also a licensed Therapist. When I need help I turn to: Marra, T. (2004). Depressed & anxious: The dialectical behavior therapy workbook for overcoming depression and anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
There are a few coping skills that I use for my own self-care, which may be useful for some of you as well. Sometimes it is hard to identify, manage, and respond to emotions in a way that allows them to be useful and productive. I try to be mindful of my thoughts and what I’m feeling inside, and why I may be feeling a certain way. Mindfulness enables you to fully step into this moment – right now. Quite often, worries about the past and future take us so fully away from the present moment that we can begin to feel disconnected from ourselves and our lives. Remember that emotional experiences are temporary. Allow yourself to become a mindful and curious observer of your experience and you will notice that it is possible to have a new relationship with your emotions.
My process goes like this: First, when issues heat up I try to understand my emotions. I actually practice taking a step back and taking a few breaths when things get overwhelming. I choose not to immediately become swept away by my emotions. This might sound like a simple concept, but it is not easy. I struggle sometimes, but I have found that my life is better when I give myself some internal space (and time) to mindfully observe and understand my emotions.
Second, there is no way to deny your feeling! It took me a long time to figure out that I could not just ignore how I am feeling about something. No matter how hard I tried to avoid my feelings, I found I simply cannot “get over” them. I have to carefully and gradually allow myself to sit with uncomfortable feelings and experience them. (I hate it but there is no shortcut.)
Third, I remember the past. My depression during the winter is not a new thing for me. I actively remind myself that I have felt the same feeling before. I have been sad, depressed, angry, lonely, and I have worked through it before. I look for the patterns, and it helps me when I put a name on how I am feeling. Sometimes I even say it out loud, “I’m depressed because of the holidays – my mom passed away and she will not be with us.” Remembering helps me to prepare because I also remember that I have the skills to move forward.
Fourth, try to stay positive. When your attention and conscious focus is consistently shifting toward negative, distressing, or unpleasant thoughts and behaviors, it is easy to see how your emotions might closely follow suit. Just as you are capable of creating an intense internal state of distress, you are equally capable of creating an internal state of peacefulness and calm. Actively direct your thought and deed toward positive and healthy endeavors. Choose to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and try to open your life up to the light in the world, rather than the dark. Find something that makes you happy and helps you stay positive: Talk with a friend or loved one. Take a walk or hike outside. Take a bubble bath. Listen to soothing or uplifting music. Write a thank-you note.
Learning to effectively regulate emotions is like learning any new skill… it takes practice. Remember that the ultimate outcome of feeling that you are the “captain of your own ship” is worth it. Your emotions don’t have to take over your life or interfere with your important relationships when you learn how to understand, manage, and respond to your emotions more effectively. It’s a skill we can all learn to help ourselves.