I was wondering if I could make a request that you write something on the blog about lithing through depression. I am clinically depressed and have my up and down days, and there are times I'm just not "feeling it" to lithe, so I cancel or late cancel and feel even worse for missing a workout. I'm not sure if other lithers have this issue, but any tips you could offer about breaking through the mental roadblocks would be great.
Thank you so much for your brave email. Other lithers do deal with this issue. I receive emails like yours all the time, as depression is an issue that most of us have dealt with in varying degrees at one time or another in our lives. I'm not a doctor, so I consulted someone uniquely positioned to give some advice about how to cope on those down days we've all encountered.
Dr. Anna Cannold Weiser is a Clinical Psychologist and long time Lither. Here's her take:
The first and most important piece of advice is that if you are clinically depressed, please seek treatment with a counselor. There are plenty of low-cost options in Philly ranging from local community mental health centers to insurance-based in-network providers. That said, it is great that you want to exercise. Exercise is a top recommendation that I make to clients (outside of coming to therapy) to help them with their depression.
There are multiple psychological benefits to exercise. Data show that it can be as powerful as supplemental medication in helping to alleviate symptoms of clinical depression (particularly more vigorous exercise, and as we all know, Lithe certainly qualifies as vigorous). In addition, social support is another critical building block on the path towards healing depression and preventing subsequent physical illness and Lithe is, at its core, a socially supportive community of women.
The approach that I advocate for those dealing with depression is to try to accept it, love it, and welcome it - like a house guest or a friend knocking on the door. We wouldn't ignore the knocks of a friend; we would go see who was there and let them in. The problem is, we often view depression as so unsafe to let in that we do not go to the door at all, nor let it in. We worry that if we recognize it and allow it inside, it will swallow us whole. This only makes the knocks louder, making depression worse. When someone or something wants our attention, it persists. The same goes for clinical depression – when it is knocking at the door to deliver a message, it is something that begs to be seen, heard, and examined. My work with clients is always about trying to help them listen for the knocks and get to the door. Next, we work to carefully unpack whatever awaits on the other side while keeping oneself as healthy and stable as possible. Unfortunately, clinical depression can be one of the trickiest and most stubborn biologically-based mental processes, often leaving people feeling understandably desperate and frustrated.
Here are two approaches Lithers can use when we want to exercise yet depression makes it hard to get motivated and bring ourselves to the studio.
Approach 1 is gentle and the route of least resistance. Try to be kind and good to ourselves, and know that if we are too depressed to exercise, it is okay. There is always tomorrow (or next month) and when we are ready, we can get back into the studio. Sometimes the body and the mind need to heal, need quiet, and need to rest. It is a gift to peacefully allow ourselves that respite. In this case, the mandatory work is around trying to dialogue with our own nasty, frustrating, auto-pilot inner critic who tells us that without a workout, a certain pair of pants, or a number on the scale, we are no good. This kind of equanimity takes Buddhist monks a lifetime to work on, but we can try. And we can make progress! It can become our goal to fully examine whose voice that is (usually it is not ours but rather may be a highly critical former mentor, family member, or even society - talking to us and being quite mean with stale rotations of the same old critical jabs) and to re-focus that voice with our own true voice (the "it is okay to take this break, I will be gentle with myself, I will not fall apart if I miss this class and I am permitting myself with intention to cancel for today and just read a book" voice). It is important to talk to ourselves nicely like this even if it is a bit of a revolution. Remind yourself that you are taking time for you and that it is okay to be out of the studio or to cancel the class. This approach is about kindness, permission, and nurturing our own inner voice in lieu of the automatic (not always kind) one. I often ask my clients to imagine their own voice with a volume knob like on a stereo. Take hold and try to turn it up.
Approach 2 is about taking a deep breath and trudging through, under the assumption that the depressed self is often a bad fortune-teller and has faulty predictions about how we will feel and what we should do. Like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy treatments, it can take dozens of times of doing something to break old habits and emotional experiences and then create new ones that start to feel tolerable, good, and even better. Sometimes we need to continue to suffer through the unpleasant moments of convincing ourselves to push towards health. This approach is focused on trying to work with the critic within our minds. The depressed mind can be a saboteur telling you: “I'll feel worse (or no better) if I go to class” or “what's the point” or “I'm too tired” or “it has been such a terrible week.” We need to question the depressed self about how good he/she is at steering the ship, test the depressed mind’s hypotheses, and challenge the depressed mind's answers. Set REASONABLE goals for yourself, and commit to seeing them through (even if you have to grin and bear it for a short while). Often it is painful and hard at the beginning but rewarding by the end. Little by little, we can learn to take charge of our mind. We can learn to take ourselves off of emotional autopilot.
A simple exercise that can help with shifting emotions and making decisions that I use with clients is called 10/10/10/10/10. We can use this for both approaches 1 and 2.
Let's say we choose to push ourselves to go to a class despite our depressed mood. Right now you may feel exhausted, achy, sad and wanting to be alone.
How about in:
10 minutes/10 hours/10 days/10 weeks/10 months
How do you imagine you'll feel at each interval?
It is with this type of precise attention (rather than negative and automatic assumptions) that we can begin to heal our erroneous perceptions that often cause us to stay stagnant in our depression and avoid the very things we know will help us to heal. Perhaps we need a gentle break by staying at home or perhaps we need a nudge to get our butts into a class. Letting ourselves think and feel in such an expansive way can often help us to come to a nurturing decision.
You might be surprised where your thoughts and feelings will take you. And it might just be to a Lithe class...
Image of Lauren Boggi Goldenberg for Everlast, 2007 via Dom