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Healing mood disorders can be more challenging than getting treatment for other physical ailments. With most physical ailments, to heal you might only need to follow dietary instructions, take medications on time, and adapt minor tweaks to your lifestyle. All of this is much harder to do when you are undergoing mood disorders such as anxiety and depression simply because just acknowledging the fact that one needs help with these conditions takes time due to the social taboos around mental health. It doesn’t make it any easier that these conditions affect your will to perform an action—you do not feel like socializing, or eating properly, or following any type of healthy routine. So we need to begin right there. What can help you regain your will to work towards healing when you are depressed or anxious? In this article we share ways to help you do that, so you may come out on the other side more resilient and equipped with the knowledge and tools to handle mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
Symptoms and Causes: Depression and Anxiety
Sometimes symptoms for anxiety and depression can overlap. Sadness, feelings of loss or restlessness are natural to some extent. But when these feelings are sustained and impair daily functions, then one needs to observe the symptoms more closely.
When one is undergoing chronic anxiety, one is likely to experience fear, panic or anxiety in situations that commonly one would not be anxious or fearful about. It can come with a sense of nagging uncontrolled worry, panic attacks and palpitations without any significant triggers.
It affects every aspect of one’s life–how one feels, behaves, thinks or goes about their daily tasks. Depression can also be a psychosomatic trigger for other conditions like cardiovascular like neurological disorders. Some of the persistent symptoms of depression include-feeling discouraged/ unmotivated, sense of gloom, hopelessness, anger, resentment, low energy and will for action, insomnia, no appetite, feeling overwhelmed or unwilling to have social interactions, and suicidal tendencies in some cases.
The Path to Healing
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who founded the global humanitarian organization focused on stress relief and wellness, The Art of Living says “A strong mind can take care of a weak body. But a weak mind cannot take care of even a strong body.” This is why building resilience and mental strength is important for those undergoing depression and anxiety. Here’s all that you need to begin on the path of healing from mental health disorders.
1. Understand why you need self-care.
When you are in the throes of a panic attack or grim depressive episode, the last thing you may be willing to accept is that you might need to make sweeping lifestyle changes to get out of this condition. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, on being asked how does one define a good decision, said, “Anything that gives you short-term pain but long-term gain is a good decision and anything that gives you joy in the short term but pain for the long term cannot be a wise decision.” Self-care is that broad decision which may be slightly difficult in the short term, but will go a long way in bringing you out of the darkness. Understanding this tiny piece of wisdom is half the battle won.
2. Be kind to yourself.
It is important to know that self-care begins with being kind to yourself before anything else. What does that entail?
- Take small, easy, doable steps.
- Forgive yourself if you slack off for a day or two and start afresh the next day.
- Take smaller vows of change.
Sri Sri says, “All those habits which bother you, bind them in vows, in samyama. Tie those habits which bring you pain in samyama. Take vows according to time and place. For example, suppose someone has a habit of smoking cigarettes and says, “I will quit smoking,” but cannot do it. They can take a vow for three months or 90 days—importantly it should be a time-bound vow. Don’t take a vow for a lifetime; you will break it immediately. If you happen to break it in between, don’t worry. Just begin again. Slowly increase the duration until it becomes your nature.”
3. You cannot handle the mind from the level of the mind.
This is a golden secret revealed by Sri Sri that has revolutionized the way we look at how the mind operates. This is key for effective healing of mood disorders that explains why medication or psychological counseling alone may fail to completely heal a person from depression or anxiety. “Just forcing positive thoughts on oneself is not enough and more often than not leads to a relapse,” says Sri Sri.
4. Medication is failing to replace self-care.
Self-care is crucial; there is enough evidence to show that medication alone cannot help in full recovery. If anything, strong anti-depressant dependence just makes it deeply complicated to heal. Some of the withdrawal symptoms experienced by long time users of antidepressant medication include nausea, dry mouth, spasms, confusion, hallucination, hand tremors, or depression. This is worrying because according to an article published in New York Times last year, 15.5 million Americans are on antidepressant medication and the numbers have tripled since 2000.
5. The most powerful secret is BREATH.
A basic question that a depression patient may have is how does one uplift oneself from a state of non-action that one gets into while undergoing depression? A powerful and effective, yet underrated, secret that can work tremendously well here is harnessing the breath. A state of non-action or lack of willingness to act is a sign of low prana or chi or life force. When you increase your prana, you have within yourself more energy to act. You may observe that it is impossible to be unhappy or depressed when you have more energy in you, or in other words when you are high prana. Simply by using breath, one can increase one’s prana. You need not even move from your place to practice certain deep breathing techniques that can quickly uplift your state of mind and fill you up with more energy.
This is where spirituality in the manner of tools like deep diaphragmatic breathing, yoga, meditation, and natural healing sciences such as Ayurveda help provide more sustainable ways to deal with mental health without withdrawal symptoms or external dependence.
6. Knowing how to use breath—Sudarshan Kriya.
Breathing techniques like Sudarshan Kriya stabilize our life force and consequently the mind. —Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Depression can cripple your will to even move from your place, let alone do anything else. Such patients may also find it very difficult to still their minds or clear their thought process to begin with.
Even when doing nothing, we are still breathing. Breath sustains life. Yet, we have not been taught how to harness our breath for a healthier mind-body complex. Our breath has the incredible power to transform our state of mind in just a few minutes. One such breathing technique that has been revolutionizing the art of living a happier and healthier life is Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY).
SKY is a simple rhythmic breathing technique that launches you in a deeply calming meditative, thoughtless state with zero mental effort. It can be done where you are—all it takes is 20 minutes of your day, and gives you a powerful energy or prana boost along with a calm clear mind.
- Regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga works just the same way as an activated vagus nerve, the key to any significant depression treatment.
- It activates the “Rest and Digest” (Parasympathetic) Nervous system, and improves the release of Prolactin (well-being hormone) secretion by 50%.
- Increases time spent in deep sleep by 218% and has alleviated many around the world of depression, anxiety and stress.
- SKY training has been useful in non-steroidal intervention to reduce cardiovascular risk in patients with anxiety/depression disorders.
Sri Sri says, “Meditation is the art of doing nothing. It is not concentration. It is in fact de-concentration. The inner dimension unveiled by the practice of meditation deeply enriches us and its impact slowly spills over to all aspects of life. As prana rises in the body, one starts to feel a transformation as direct experience and not as a forced mental exercise. One starts becoming happier, creative and more in command of their mind and emotions.”
But how does one meditate?
One of the simplest ways to meditate is going by guided meditations, which requires minimum effort. For example, many of the guided meditations in the calming voice of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar can be found online, that are soothing, and easy to follow.
Ayurveda, the 5000-year-old science of healing, lays immense importance on mental health. Some natural relaxants with no side effects can be administered after consulting a qualified Ayurvedic physician. It recommends medhya rasayan (herbs to strengthen the mind) like Brahmi, Shankpushpi, and Lahsun. It is recommended to consult a qualified ayurvedic doctor to receive the right herbal treatment suited to each individual’s constitution or Prakruti.
Ayurvedic herbs that are recommended for improving mental health are usually rich in vitamins like Vitamin d,A,E,K, B12, antioxidants and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids that are needed for vitality, brain health and neural relaxation. They include
Exercise to boost your mood immediately. It is important to get the serotonin flowing to better deal with depression. If you are struggling to get on the mat, remember the uplifted mood, diminished fatigue, and a pleasant state of mind that simple yogic and mindful stretches can put you in. It is well worth it!
Asanas or postures increase the blood circulation in the body. The focus on breath helps in increasing oxygen supply to every organ including the brain. Higher energy level is an effective panacea to symptoms of depression.
We make it easier for you. Here we share a sequence of postures or asanas that you can practice. Practicing these postures with total awareness and joy can bring incredibly calming results for the mind and body. A calm mind is better equipped to deal with same ‘dark’ episodes that a wavering restless mind may struggle to deal with.
- Shishuasana(Child Pose)
- Halasana (Plow Pose)
- Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
Pranayama or Deep Breathing Practices
Controlled and mindfully slowed down breathing or pranayama induces feelings of calmness, clear mind and overall well-being and joy with a few minutes of practice. You can practice them from the comfort of your bed too, though getting on the yoga mat works better! But why should you do it?
- They are extremely simple to practice.
- They increase one’s lung capacity.
- Trigger release of happy hormones.
- Improves sleep.
- Produce a sense of relaxation and calms down the mind.
Some of the breathing techniques that can help fight symptoms of depression and anxiety include Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing) and Bhramari Pranayama (Bee Breath).
Well, Eat and Eat Well
There is a grain of truth to ‘you become what you eat.’ It can be as simple as avoiding foods that trigger anxiety or depressive symptoms and eating foods that increase the prana in the body like fresh veggies and fruits.
- You will do well to avoid caffeine, alcohol, trans fats and foods with preservatives because they can all be potential triggers for mood disorders.
- Do not skip meals. Going without meals for too long can also trigger episodes of anger and mood swings followed by panic attacks.
- Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates. Research suggests sugary foods may make you feel better temporarily but then they crash your energy levels and induce fatigue.
- Have foods rich in B vitamins like citrus fruits, beans, leafy vegetables. Lack of vitamin B in food can worsen depression symptoms.
Seva: The Perks of Volunteering
On days when a feeling of low doesn’t seem to leave you, it may be incredibly rewarding to serve. It can be simple acts of kindness that you practice. They don’t have to overwhelm you. It can instantly change your state of mind by releasing the wellness hormones. It can boost confidence, nurture empathy, bring a sense of security or connectedness. Knowing that you are not alone in this world and that you can be useful to someone else, can go a long way in dealing with depression.
Leading Stanford Researcher Emma Seppala writes, “People low in social connection are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, and even suicidal behaviors which tend to further increase their isolation.”–