Sometimes we need to take a slightly different look at things. Doing this is particularly important when we’re feeling depressed or anxious. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the funk of a low mood that we can be in danger of loosing sight of things. When you’re swamped in a fog of depression, or when there’s a black cloud of anxiety lingering overhead, just keeping an eye on the tomorrow can seem like an impossibility. If you’re feeling like this you shouldn’t beat yourself up. A sense of malaise, heaviness, wading through treacle, and always feeling half-asleep are completely normal experiential side effects of suffering from a mental health condition. However, alongside treatment from your doctor, there are lots of things you can do to try, however temporarily, shake off these feelings. Practical Depression recommends getting a sense of perspective, literally.
Primrose Hill in Camden is a great perspective spot for all you Londonites.
Pick a big hill and walk up it. Sounds simple, but it really is an incredibly liberating and calming experience. Today we tend to view hills as entirely avoidable, a-bit-to-muddy, kind-of-thing-your-parents-would-like nuisances. Practical Depression is of the opinion that this view should be challenged! They offer a great bit of exercise when you’re feeling blue, exposure to natural light, wind, and fresh air (all excellent stimulants), and the ultimate reward of a fantastic view and a sense of perspective (in a literal and figurative sense). There’s is something really wholesome about looking down at stuff from somewhere really high. The Romantic poets spent most of the 18th and 19th centuries trying to figure out what this feeling was. Unfortunately Wordsworth, Keats, and Coleridge later they hadn’t made a huge amount of progress. We’re content with the explanation that a good view never hurt anyone. And, if you’re depressed, the results will be quite to the contrary – a visual sense of perspective is bound to improve the way you are thinking and feeling. The chance to survey a vast scene offers a really unique opportunity to step outside of your negative thoughts and feeling, even if only for a short while.
To be fair to the Romantics they did come up with the idea of the ‘sublime’. They used this term to try and express ‘that feeling’ you get when you’re at the top of the hill looking down, the feeling of being overawed by the power, beauty, and immense scale of nature. That’s not quite what we’re talking about though. We’re talking, more specifically, about creating a short period of calm where you can become disconnected from the demons and black dogs of the everyday. You can achieve this by just looking down. No sublimity necessary. Just look, breath slowly, and try to place as much distance between you and your problems as there is between you and the view. And, as always, there’s no equipment necessary. Don whatever trainers you have and start climbing. A sense of perspective is a hill away.
Light but filling; tasty but healthy. A winner.
The trusty parsnip need not only grace the Sunday Lunch, as proven by this Jamie Oliver creation. Practical Depression has made this dish and can vouch for how good it is! Click here for the recipe.
- Switch off your telephone for a few moments.
- Take a piece of relaxing, single instrument music tat you like.
- Find a comfortable position, such as lying on the floor or the sofa (or sitting if you’re at the desk or on the train!).
- With the first notes being played, take a calm and moderate intake of breath and let it out slowly and naturally.
- Continue to listen to the music, really listening to it, whilst your breath does the rest.
Do this for 5-10 minutes and you will be fully revived.
This exercise is akin to meditation but it is an exercise in mindful just the same. So don’t be put off by the idea of ‘meditating’. It is a very simple exercise, but very helpful in quieting an unruly mind and dispersing unwanted emotions.
No need to be as stately as Lincoln in his chair to practice this mindfulness exercise. Plus, his chair looks really uncomfortable: take that Abe!
- Set aside a time when you know you won’t be interrupted and switch of your phone.
- Sit however is comfortable for you. It doesn’t need to be cross legged on the floor, a chair will do fine. But sit with a straight back (straight not rigid) and preferably without leaning against the back of the chair. The idea is to remain comfortable but attentive.
- Close your eyes and observe your breathing just as it is. There’s no need to change anything. Just watch and observe each breath coming in and going out.
- Thoughts will try to get in and take your attention – don’t let that concern you. Observe them. Let go of them and get back to focusing, once again, on your breathing.
- Practice this exercise for just five minutes to begin with.
Practice at some point every day , increasing it to longer periods whenever possible.
That’s all there is to it!
A frank, semi-autobiograhical account of the struggle with menta health and addiction
Carrie Fisher passes away aged 60. A brave, charismatic, and frank voice for mental health issues (Fisher herself suffered with Bipolar Disorder): https://www.theguardian.com/culture/commentisfree/2016/dec/28/carrie-fisher-bipolar-dies-mental-illness-princess-leia
Hussain Manawer: poet, activist, and…. astronaunt
Hussain Manawer wins a competition to visit outer space aboard a Lynx spacecraft and puts mental health at the heart of his message to onlookers:
Practice Mindfulness to declutter a busy brain
Here’s some quotes from the experts and boffins, they explain it far better than we can:
‘Mindfulness is a very simple form of meditation that was little known in the West until recently. A typical meditation consists of focusing your full attention on your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Focusing on each breath in this way allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise in your mind and, little by little, to let go of struggling with them.’
(Professor Mark Williams)
‘The UK National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) has endorsed Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as an effective treatment for depression and the prevention of depression relapse. Research has shown that people who have been clinically depressed three or more time (sometime for 20 years or more) find that taking the programme and learning these skills helps to reduce considerably their chances that depression will return.’
‘At first, mindfulness can seem like an intangible concept. However, practicing mindfulness is, quite simply, the act of concentrating on your breathing and being aware of what is going on around you in the present moment. The more you do it, the more the simplicity of it becomes clear and the benefits manifold. It lightens the mind and the spirit.’
(Tiddy Rowan, The Little Book of Mindfulness)
The festive period is a good time to take stock of things. It is a moment where issues around one’s mental health come into clearer focus. It’s a time of year that comes with an inherent pressure to socialise and be merry. This in itself can be a source of stress. The need to be on top form for two weeks (to say nothing of the expectation to booze relentlessly) is a challenge when you might not be feeling at your best.
‘Even this shall pass’
However, there is another way to rethink the festive period; to reconceptualise it as a way-point, and not as a destination. Christmas is bound to get you thinking about your mental well-being, your struggles, and your challenges, but you should only allow it to do this in a way that reinforces the progress you are already making or the achievability of steps you plan to take.
When it comes to mental health Christmas is not the end, it is not a time where you should evaluate your success against the (largely imagined) sense of collective merriment. Instead, it is a time where we should harness that inevitable sense of reflectiveness to tell ourselves that we are doing well, and to be proud that fact. Christmas is a period that we pass through, and our mental heath at that point is only as strong as one’s, very personal, circumstances allow. Don’t critise, judge, or admonish yourself: you are where you are, and no amount of tinsel, socks-bought-by-your-mean-auntie, or Turkey should define that point.
Christmas, despite the seeming of permanence that the 25th enforces, is ultimately transient. Don’t let it trick you into think anything other than that. The festive period is a turning, a point on a map, a quaint little village that you have to wander through. The destination is a well, happy, and positive you.