Challenging times, indeed. Lockdowns, reductions in income, increases in costs, loss of friends and family contact, poverty, loneliness. I’ve been struggling, and in the daily work, I find that I’m not the only one. Far from it.
What has worked for me is learning how physiological changes can make an improvement.
For example, exercise, stretching, and power poses. These have great support in scientific studies. Here’s what I’ve learned:
120 seconds of hands lifted high: Yes, I nerd-out and set a timer to make sure I complete two full minutes – that’s important. Hands high overhead is my power pose always included in my morning. I read somewhere that two minutes is the minimum needed to release the right physio stuff. Spiritually it’s cool, too.
Stretches: I use a couple dynamic moves including: “World’s Greatest Stretch” (funny name, but true–just ask any trainer). If I feel great I might do more stretches, with more focus on hamstrings, quadriceps and specific muscle groups, but these are the bare minimum “must do” dynamic stretches that get done even on my worst days. I take about 30 seconds for each pose, no stopwatch needed. Somewhere between 4 and 8 movements for each stretch does the trick for me.
Fifteen to Thirty minute brisk walk: I used to think that jogging and sprinting were so much better than walking, and in some ways they are. But for emotional and mental health, walking has a couple of advantages: It takes less motivation to accomplish, and the minimum needed is just hitting a half hour walk, a mere three times per week. I can do that even on my worst weeks – and when I don’t feel up to 30 minutes, I simply cut it short to 7-15 minutes for that day. It helps to do this first thing before taking calls, checking messages, or the schedule. I start with the pose and stretches above and then walk, no matter what. I can always add sprints or jogging if I want, but this walking is the minimum. If I miss a morning, I’ll pay for it about halfway thru the day when I realize my emotions are out of whack.
Pet a Cat: Now, before this little routine of “hands high,” stretches, and a walk, there is one more thing that demands attention; and that’s my cat along with her kittens. They rush into the door as soon as I go look for my newspaper. They’ve been hanging around outdoors all night waiting for me to emerge from my cave to bless them with kibble. They’re grateful and if they allow me to pet them they cut back on the negativity. Eventually I’ll probably have a dog again, but with my travel and work schedule, right now the cat(s) is/are a good fit for my lifestyle. Plenty of street cats in Israel, digging through the garbage cans. No shortage there. It just so happened that one of them really hit it off well with me. And then she brought her kittens to my door. One is adopted to a new home, and three to go.
Sleep: Enough hours, the optimum hours, the optimum darkness levels:
Enough hours – check to find what’s optimal for your age bracket and activity level.
Optimum hours: Every dark hour slept before midnight counts as if it were two hours after midnight.
Early wake time: To reset the cycle, get that back-of-the-knees area of the skin out and exposed to the morning sunlight. That area of skin has the sensors which reset the body clock. Using the sun’s light more and artificial light less is a good way to stave off depression.
Optimum darkness: Blackout curtains / eye mask; no LED’s or other types of electronic lights in the room; all communications devices out of the room on their chargers in the kitchen.
If I’m doing all the above things, along with Bible study, prayer and worship, and still struggling, I then seek to amp up with these tools:
Poverty: It can take clear thinking, prayer, and action steps to get out of a financial slump. I’ve often found that poverty can be downright miserable. Get the above steps in order and the ideas just start flowing. But it’s often too difficult to find those action steps when there’s sleep deprivation, lack of enough exercise and decent nutrition.
Loneliness: Even casual conversations on the street, in the market, or with neighbors is better than nothing. I speak as more of an extrovert; those weighted toward the introvert side might not even care about loneliness so much.
Mindfulness: I journal every day – minimum three pages which comes out to about 750 words when typed. Works great for me. Stream of consciousness stye. I feel worse when I skip. Sure, my first few paragraphs might be bland “to do” lists, but by the end of it I’ve certainly tapped into the deeper things my mind has been working on, as well as the struggles and challenges.
Caffeine Limits: Important for me to keep stress and heart rate down by keeping away from coffee and replacing it with green tea or phenylalinine vitamins (that’s an amino acid) whenever possible. Further, coffee is not such a great source because it can strip away calcium and magnesium from the body. Both of these minerals are good for bones and teeth, and magnesium in particular is good for mood and muscle recovery. So, we should be looking for foods which deliver more calcium and magnesium, rather than remove those minerals out of our bodies. If a little mental energy helps, better to get it from good nutrition and green tea rather than coffee.
Therapy: For me, IFS has worked better than CBT, but others have done fine with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. To me, too much talk was just talk talk. Internal Family Systems is evidence-based and generally successful, along with EMDR. Here’s a great book on the topic written by a believer.
I’ve not had to use them, but i read that prescribed antidepressants are on the rise, yet researchers do not really understand the long term effects of how they work. Yes we know that they effect brain chemicals such as serotonin, but the evidence also shows that they inhibit the brain’s natural ability to produce serotonin.
To my mind, SSRI’s are not an option for me if I’m not even petting a cat first thing in the morning and getting a 15 minute walk in along with a couple of stretches. Walking a full 30 minutes is not that hard to do 3x per week. With no car, I get 20 minutes walking just to the bakery. What would feel even better is getting in a gym with squats and deadlifts. But the time, money, and motivation are not always there. But as for SSRI’s, the article states that therapists have been prescribing them a bit to easily to too many people, without enough evidence, rather than these activity choice-based solutions which are quite well supported by science.
All this is emphasized in the below article, which references a recent study.
A central paragraph states:
“The authors of the review encouraged further research and advice into treatments focusing on managing stressful or traumatic events in people’s lives, such as psychotherapy, exercise or mindfulness, or addressing underlying contributors such as poverty, stress and loneliness.”
But as for the cat, I’ve already gotten one of her kittens into a new home for adoption.
Photo sources and full article:
Jerusalem Post, 31 July 2022: Trauma and stress, not chemical imbalance, likely cause of depression – study