Stay With It But Don’t Build A Camp There
As much as I learned to like the winter I still have these phases; mostly around the darkest time of the year, and I know I am not the only one. January is a hard month to manage and this year it hit me really strongly.
I experienced things I had not experienced for a while: a fast-growing lack of motivation, crying attacks, and just an all-pervading feeling of being really lost and dangerously pessimistic.
This is not easy to write, and it is very scary.
But at the same time, being honest about this is significantly more liberating than trying to hide it. And even more importantly, it gives me the opportunity to write about the tools I am using to deal with it.
Moreover, then this being potentially helpful to you, or the person you will forward this to, it is also very helpful and empowering for me to recall this tools in writing.
To summarize my main “method” in one sentence: Stay with it, but don’t build a camp.
What do I mean by that?
When we experience a negative emotion we tend to do one of two things:
- Suppress it.
- Blow it out of proportion.
These two options are unfortunately not contradictory, and a lot of people react in both ways.
Suppression: An Emotional Snooze Button
With suppressing, what we actually do is to avoid the feeling. We shut it down, as quickly as possible with food/social media/ television/some other distraction.
Suppression can be an effective short-term way to avert feelings we’re not ready to deal with, in the sense that it helps us to stay in control and not freak out, but in the long term, it is a bad choice. Because the negative, unpleasant, uncomfortable, scary feelings will not go away.
Pressing the easy button (the thing that distracts from whatever you are feeling), is just like hitting the snooze button. It will delay the alarm and will give you some more time in ignorant bliss, but the alarm will come back, and the reality of needing to wake up will not change.
Waking up in the morning is one of the biggest challenges people with depression deal with. So I think this metaphor can be quite useful.
This metaphor goes even further if you realize that often negative emotions are your mind’s way of trying to tell you something. By not hitting snooze, you’re no longer putting off waking up to a reality you need to understand about yourself. If we avoid suppressing our negative emotions, we’re forced to let go of some false perceptions we have about ourselves.
And the more we understand ourselves, the freer we can become.
True inner peace is rooted deep self-awareness.
I don’t know what this current negative episode is trying to wake me up for, maybe I’m just not ready to admit it to myself yet, but I am willing to be curious about that.
An additional danger to suppressing your feelings: Numbing your unpleasant feelings can easily lead to a situation where all feelings are numb and can lead to an even deeper depression.
We need to make a conscious choice to feel all feelings as they are. Or we risk losing our ability to feel in a real and authentic way.
So the first step of the method is to understand that If you snooze (your feelings), you lose (your chance for growth and healing).
What to do instead? Stay with it.
Give yourself just a few minutes to actually feel.
Even when the feeling sucks.
It is a very hard thing to do, especially when you are in a room full of people, or on public transport (both happened to me), so don’t force yourself to do it just for its own sake. If possible, find a safe place to fully experience your feelings.
And then let it all out.
It is very likely that this is too scary to do by yourself, especially if this whole thing is new to you. In this case, please find a sympathetic friend/ family member/ certified professional to support you in this process and make your safe place even more secure.
Not staying in Drama Camp
My next step is as important as the first one and I call it: not building a camp.
What do I mean by that?
This step is based on the understanding that blowing things out of proportion is also not a constructive coping technique. On a deeper level, it is based on the understanding that I don’t have to believe everything I think and feel.
Often times, when a strong emotion is hitting us, we tend to believe this story in full, attach it to our identity, and become stuck with it.
It took me years to understand that I don’t have to build a camp next to the small pool of tears I just cried.
We have the tendency to overestimate and dramatize. In everything we do, and in particular with this kind of situation. But if you really let it all “up and out” you can see that it does not last forever, and if you just allow it, things will calm down naturally. Why? Because nothing lasts forever and everything is naturally constantly changing.
What to do instead? Nothing.
Yes, first of all, do nothing. Just let yourself rest a bit. This whole emotional drama is exhausting and the smartest thing to do is to just take a break and let yourself naturally recover and gain more power.
If needed, cancel any non-essential tasks that create stress for you.
Treat it as if you just got a fever. Because it is exactly the same: Something is off balance and you need some time to recover and heal.
Another thing that I used to do quite often, which has proven to be a huge mistake is to make big decisions.
If possible, don’t make any decisions at all until you feel more stable and your mind is clearer. Also on this subject, I really recommend getting some support.
I used to think that what got me to these situations was solely my external circumstances, so I would go on a mission to change them as fast as possible. But this was rarely helpful because the external is never the whole truth.
Making big dramatic changes will get you a lot of attention from people, but it may not be the kind of attention that nourishes you, and the changes may not be beneficial.
Small, gradual changes supported by people who know you and your situation well, are a much smarter way to choose.
At last, I have to say that doing this kind of work is much easier for me now because of my yoga and meditation practice. The main thing we practice in yoga is the ability to fully experience our present moment as it is —just being and observing without too much engagement or judgment. This growing habit is my key to dealing with depression.
Yoga helps us to slow down, to take time and space to experience ourselves fully.
It is a safe place to practice stillness and self-awareness. In yoga, we can experience balance and we can strengthen our body and mind while also making them less rigid.
I know it might be very hard to do anything positive for yourself right now, but I promise you that even the smallest step forward is better than nothing.
In times of very low energy, I usually use guided yoga class and meditations. You can find my offerings here or in many other places online. I recommend checking out Amy Weintraub’s website: yogafordepression.com or J Brown’s live stream (he is just a great teacher guiding some really gentle yoga)
I hope this was helpful to you.
Feel free to just send me an email if you have any questions or just want to share.
If you think this might be helpful to someone you know, please forward this. (It might be smart to be sensitive and ask if s/he is interested before sending)
Wishing you a beautiful winter,