Category: <span>Depression</span>

What I have experienced from meditating for 3 hours a day for 4 weeks

This is what happens when you meditate for 3 hours a day
What would happen if you tried meditating for long hours every day?

When I started meditating back in 2015, it was not easy to incorporate a regular practice into my daily routine. Perseverance finally paid off after long months of stubborn dedication, when sitting for 20 to 40 minutes every day turned essential for my wellbeing. It has been 7 years since my first sitting, and I have learned much about myself through experimentation with different types of meditation. I have found that long sittings – for over 90 minutes – seem to affect my thinking, emotions and behaviour in ways never experienced by me before. That aroused my curiosity. What would happen if I tried meditating for long hours every day? The following are the changes I have experienced from meditating for 3 hours a day for 4 weeks:

Less reactivity: mediating for long hours has allowed me to experience serenity in a natural way. Negative emotions come and go in short waves. Because their intensity has become much lower, they have become more tolerable.

Fewer negative thoughts: there is a time during a long sitting when my mind becomes completely quiet. Thoughts about the future and reassessment of past events are replaced by a sense of being in my mind and body, often felt as one. At times, I also feel that sense of unity with the environment. After a practice is over and in between practices, negative thoughts seem to continue to lose their power. They occur less frequently and seem irrelevant when noticed.

Better concentration: due to decreased emotional reactivity and greater emotional detachment, my brain feels less rigid and more plastic. As if meditation nurtured a cognitive state of flow. I seem to be able to retrieve, analyse, process and organise knowledge faster and with more ease.

More patience: living a slow-paced life makes perfect sense when practicing meditation for long hours. I am able to connect with my environment as if autopilot had been turned off. I drive more slowly and enjoy noticing my surroundings without feeling restless. I also take more time to listen to others without a burning need to say something.

Better sleep: for someone who has battled insomnia for most of her life, I welcome healthy habits that favour sleep. A 3-hour a day meditation practice has not cured my insomnia, but it has considerably improved my relationship with it. I no longer have strong negative reactions if I wake up in the middle of the night, so I go back to sleep a lot quicker.

More confidence: experiencing fewer negative thoughts and greater detachment from negative emotions has allowed me to see things more clearly. A calmer and more balanced approach to life has made me feel unashamedly intelligent, awake, tranquil, tolerant and mature.

Detachment from material goods: I feel no need to buy what I do not need.

Worry about “wasting time”: despite all the above, my inner critic still gives me grief about my 3-hour meditation practice. The more I stick to it, however, and enjoy its benefits, the less I care about the critic’s silly comments.

I do not know how long I will manage to keep this practice up, or if it will ever become a habit, but its effects have been undoubtedly positive.

Nutrition psychology: what you eat affects your mental health

Our dietary choices have a direct effect on cognition, as well as on how we feel and behave. Growing research on the exciting new field of Nutrition Psychology has exposed the intrinsic relationship between nutrition and mental illness. Nutrition has been found to be not only a contributing factor to the development of mental illnesses, but also an important aid for its prevention and even management.

Nutrition psychology
Our dietary choices have a direct effect on cognition

In her book “This is your brain on food”, Dr Naidoo, a Nutritional Psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, lists baked goods, candy, soda, or anything sweetened with sugar or high fructose syrup, white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta and anything made from refined flour, aspartame, French fries, fried chicken, fried seafood or anything else deep-fried in oil, as well as margarine, bacon, salami, sausage and other cured meats, as foods that make us unhappy and anxious. Those who are fighting depression and anxiety should eat high-fibre and aged, fermented, and cultured foods for their positive and calming effects on mood.

What you eat also interferes with the quality of your sleep. While caffeine and alcohol make it worse, foods that contain melatonin, such as eggs, fish, milk, rice, fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables such as asparagus, tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumber are said to help promote better sleep.

To fight fatigue, Dr Naidoo (2020) recommends eating foods rich in omega 3s, magnesium, zinc, vitamins B (1, 6, 9 and 12,), C, D and E, as well as colourful vegetables and spices, such as turmeric and black cumin.

Both Dr Naidoo and the clinical psychologist and researcher Julia Rucklidge (2017) agree that the Western Diet has a damaging effect on mental health. As a diet rich in bad fats, high-GI carbs and gluten, it is strongly connected to the expression of a variety of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and even schizophrenia, as well as weakened memory and decreased libido.

The mind gut connection can no longer be ignored by anyone concerned with their physical and mental/emotional wellbeing. For those who would like to improve their mental health but struggle to change their eating habits, having both psychological and nutritional counselling could help them address their goals from a more holistic and effective approach.

References:

Jacka, F.N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R. et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med 15, 23 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y

Naidoo, U. (2020). This is your brain on food. Hachette Book Group: NY, New York.

For healthy healing: what types of loss can cause grief?

For healthy healing what types of loss can cause grief
Realisation of traumatic events and their effects may cause grief

Our ability to deal and overcome the losses we experience relies greatly on our willingness to tolerate and accept grief. As most of us were raised in a culture of emotional neglect, grief tends to be ignored, repressed or even strongly dismissed depending on the context from which arises. As grieving is a biological healing process with might result from any type of loss, the deeper our understanding of what is meant by “loss”, the better our awareness of our need to grieve. To help you expand your knowledge on the meaning of loss and connect with your grief in a healthier way, here are 17 types loss that can cause grief beyond the stereotype:

  • Moving to a new house/flat, city or country
  • Losing body parts, be it due to accident or surgery for health reasons
  • End of loving relationships of any kind
  • End of friendships
  • Death of family members, loved ones, pets, colleagues, neighbours and/or acquaintances
  • Loss of material goods which have impact on quality of life
  • Loss of power to make decisions or sense of empowerment and autonomy
  • Change in professional situation, such as promotion, demotion or retirement
  • Being fired or made redundant
  • Realisation of lack or even inexistent sources of emotional, financial and/or social support
  • Loss of self-esteem, be it through traumatic events (abuse, neglect) or significant change in life circumstances (academic, professional and/or social/relational)
  • Loss of identity, be it through psychological, emotional and/or physical changes
  • Loss of money or change in financial situation
  • Realisation of traumatic events and their effects
  • Cutting contact with family members or significant others
  • Radical change in life routine, such as the ones experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Change in health, as through chronic illness diagnoses, for instance

Because true healing from losses such as the ones mentioned above tend not to materialise without conscious and healthy grieving, changing the way you view and experience grief is a key element to processing it fully and wholeheartedly. Even when those around you are not able to understand your need to grieve, grant yourself the right to grieve. Trust your body as your wisest guide to connect with painful feelings such as anger, shame, guilt and sadness and embrace them autonomously and without judgement.

Loneliness and emotional vulnerability

Loneliness and emotional vulnerability
Persistent loneliness is often followed by feelings of rejection, abandonment and low-self-esteem

At times of social isolation, it remains pertinent not to neglect the extreme negative effects it has on our mental/emotional health. Despite the current focus being on physical health as the only threat to wellbeing, it remains crucial to raise awareness of how isolation may have an even stronger impact on our psyches and quality of life in the longer term. In order to understand the link between loneliness and emotional vulnerability, here are 3 signs/feelings/mood states that indicate how you may be negatively affected by a lack of social contact:

Sadness and melancholy: as we have been wired for connection and intimacy, being with others and enjoying their company makes us feel more human and alive. Even if you are an introvert, a certain level of social interaction is required to promote a sense of identity and belonging. As the human presence, voice and touch are also soothing, a friend, colleague, relative or spouse, for instance, can be a source of emotional support. When we lack that and feel lonely, however, moments of sadness tend to last longer. As the days go by and loneliness lingers, we may become hopeless, melancholic and even depressed.                 

Shame and frustration: persistent loneliness is often followed by feelings of rejection, abandonment and low-self-esteem. Despite being, at times, a consequence of our own lifestyle choices and rigid beliefs about relationships, loneliness can make us feel “not good enough”, “inferior” or “less than”. Not feeling worthy of the company and love of others brings about resentment, anger and even hatred, which are felt on a deep level and are often not fully registered by the conscious mind.

Fear and desperation: feeling alone, not seen and without access to emotional connection and support may trigger the fight or flight response. That is because we also need others to feel safe.  As human beings are only able to survive and thrive in groups and with the help of other humans, complete isolation – even when seemingly coherent at times of a health crisis – may cause stress, hypervigilance and anxiety. When we are submitted to a climate of fear that seems endless, desperation sets in, which may, in turn, lead us to resort to dysfunctional, extreme and risky behaviours to regain a sense of safety and wellbeing.

As our emotional health continues to be neglected by governments, the medical community and other authorities of the health sector, it remains of the utmost importance to be creative and dedicate time and effort to personal care. If you feel lonely and emotionally vulnerable as a result of isolation, do what you can to feel connected, firstly with your inner self and then with others. There is still much you can do that respects the social distancing guidelines that will ameliorate your mood, you just need to search for what suits and complements the authentic you.

6 common effects of social isolation

6 common effects of social isolation
Not being allowed social contact could also work as a trigger for feelings of existential loneliness

The imposed social isolation and focus on the negative news surrounding the COVID-19 virus spread may work as triggers for the fight or flight response. If you have a history of unresolved childhood trauma, you may feel even more vulnerable and experience the following effects of social isolation:

Fear: a nagging sense of collective fear may put your body in a state of hypervigilance, which, in turn, makes you more susceptible to feeling stuck in an excessive worrying and anxiety loop.

Abandonment feelings: not being allowed social contact could also work as a trigger for feelings of existential loneliness, rejection and abandonment. Even if these feelings do not make sense rationally, they do emotionally for those who have suffered abuse and/or neglect and, therefore, deal with the effects of their childhood trauma.

Anger: anger tends to follow abandonment feelings because it serves as to regulate them or give us back a sense of “self-esteem” and personal power. Being forced to isolate and cope with the negative emotions that arise from it without much emotional support can make you feel disappointed, resentful or even very angry for no apparent reason.

Lack of motivation: when the air is filled with negativity and there is little movement and fun in our lives, it becomes harder to find the energy to complete the simplest of tasks.

Lack of concentration: having your body on high alert for most of the time makes you limbic system or “emotional brain” hyperactive. As a result, our brain areas interconnected with the role of attention – as the pre-frontal cortex – do not get a chance to operate properly.

If you identify with the above to some degree, increasing self-awareness and keeping a very strict personal care routine could safeguard your emotional health during this challenging period. Practices that enable you to achieve that include nurturing the inner child via meditation and visualisations, daily exercise or physical activity, contacting friends and/or family and eating a healthy/low carb diet based on plants and whole foods. Reducing considerably or even avoiding the news while keeping an objective and positive outlook for the near future, as well as avoiding contact with pessimistic and fear driven people who refuse to see beyond an extremely biased and negative outlook may go a long way to making you feel more centred and calm. In addition, watching comedies, reading inspiring literature or watching uplifting talks and videos tend to put a smile on our faces and do wonders to improve our mood.

3 developmental trauma beliefs and the problems they cause

3 developmental trauma beliefs and the problems they cause
Dysfunctional beliefs lead to dysfunctional coping strategies

Traumatic events change our perception of ourselves, the world and others. Because our sense of safety and trust are shaken and sometimes even shattered by trauma, we “learn” from the pain we feel by changing our views and adapting, cognitively and emotionally, to our circumstances. In developmental trauma – a series of adverse experiences in childhood which affect one’s development –  that change is quite dramatic and it tends to transcend time. Imagine an adult who, as a child, was repeatedly criticised and attacked verbally by an abusive mother and/or father. His rigid and negative beliefs, formed as a result of trauma, would probably prevent him from holding a coherent view of himself as a competent and lovable adult. These beliefs would also serve as to warn him of the dangers of love and intimacy that, supposedly and for him, would apply to all close relationships. Living in a world in where safety cannot be felt even in the family home, this trauma victim would feel empty and lost, as if his existential wound could never be healed.

As dysfunctional beliefs lead to dysfunctional coping strategies, and those, in turn, to mental health and relationship problems, it is worth being conscious of how your thinking could be affecting your happiness. If you suspect to have suffered developmental trauma and would like to become more conscious of its effects, here are 3 developmental trauma beliefs and the problems they cause:

1- “I cannot trust others”

Developmental trauma victims struggle to believe in and rely on other people. That is because they had their trust broken very early in life and at a time of intense vulnerability. Since they were betrayed by those who were close to them – namely their primary caregiver(s), such as their mother and/or father – the damage caused by such loss is far greater. Their fear of rejection and abandonment, even when completely unjustified and unrelated to their current circumstances, often results in obsessive self-reliance. Their lack of faith in people’s good intentions and ability to become a positive influence on their lives make it impossible for them to ask and even accept help, when needed. That tendency gives rise to codependent behaviours and loneliness, as well as it increases their probability of becoming depressed, due to their need to isolate or neglect their own feelings when things get tough. A healthy, intimate relationship with oneself and others is seldom achieved without conscious effort and dedication.

2- “I am unlovable”

When a child does not have her feelings validated or is constantly attacked or ignored, he is not able to separate his parents’ anger and neglectful attitude from his own sense of self-worth. Because children do not have the intellectual sophistication of an adult, they immediately associate their parents’ attitude with something to do with themselves, as if they were intrinsically related (“If my mum is not interested in me/is angry at me, it is because I am boring/not good enough”). Naturally, that feeling of unworthiness is also frequently present in children who are physically and/or psychologically/emotionally abused. In order to deal with the torturing feeling of inadequateness that comes from believing that “There is something wrong with me”, these trauma victims work hard to be noticed and feel worthy of love and acceptance. Self-esteem is low and “built” from the outside in through conditional love. They become perfectionists, codependents, approval junkies and people pleasers, who find it hard to say no. All of which are driven by a powerful fear of rejection.

3- “The world is a dangerous place”

Living in fear creates a state of alertness that shapes the way the brain develops and processes information about the environment. A child that is raised by emotionally unstable, anxious, extremely inconsistent or unpredictable parents, sees the world as a dangerous place filled with threats to his well-being. Guided by the thinking that “something bad is about to happen” and “I am weak/helpless”, as well as the anxiety that follows, his behaviour becomes dictated by fear. The trauma victim’s biased negative thinking and low self-confidence turns everything into a challenge. Making changes, creating new habits, taking risks, standing up for oneself and meeting new people, as other similar behaviours that require self-confidence, are a source of unease, and, in some cases, even panic. Because high anxiety crushes motivation, it gets in the way of personal, academic and professional achievement. It also affects sleep and physical health. Relationships suffer as a result. Anxiety, as a powerful mood killer, makes a person seem inaccessible, indifferent, distant and even difficult, which are traits not usually seen as attractive for those who feel whole and are emotionally intelligent.

As depressing as all of the above may seem, those trauma beliefs that may be causing you so much pain can be restructured. If you identify with the above, start actively challenging negative thinking that is stopping you from trusting yourself and others. Be objective when you catch yourself catastrophizing and stop taking everything personally. Bear in mind that our subjective reality is built from background knowledge, which is organised and categorised through core beliefs. That knowledge – highly subjective and loaded with emotional significance – does not equate, necessarily, to fact.