9 Depression Busters Just in Time for the Holidays

6a00d83527e90e69e20120a74631f0970b-320piAround this time of year I don’t think there can be enough helpful tips to keep the Happy in the Holidays. That’s why I’m sharing these classic holiday depression busters by Therese Borchard, mental health writer extraordinaire.

These 9 rules help me put the joy back into the festivities–or at least keep me from hurling a mistletoe at Santa and landing myself on the ‘naughty’ list.

1. Expect the worse. What I’m trying to say is that you have to predict bad behavior before it happens so that you can catch it in your holiday mitt and toss it back, instead of having it knock you to the floor.

2. Remember to SEE. SEE stands for Sleeping regularly, Eating well, and Exercising. Without these three basics, you can forget about an enjoyable (or even tolerable) holiday.

3. Beef up your support. If you attend Al-Anon once a week, go twice a week during the holidays. If you attend a yoga class twice a week, try to fit in another. Schedule an extra therapy session as insurance against the potential meltdowns ahead of you.

4. Avoid toxic people. This one’s difficult if the toxic people happen to be hosting Christmas dinner! But in general, just try your best to avoid pernicious humans in December.

Check out How to Avoid the Holidays with Seriously Toxic People

5. Know thyself. Before you make too many plans this holiday season, list your triggers: people, places, and things that tend to trigger your fears and bring out your worst traits.

6. Travel with polyester, not linen. I’m saying that you should lower your standards and make traveling as easy as possible, both literally and figuratively.

7. Make your own traditions. Making your own tradition might mean Christmas Eve is reserved for your family and the extended family is invited over for brunch on Christmas Day. Or vice versa. Basically, it’s laying down some rules so that you have better control over the situation.

Check out For the Holidays: Change can be Empowering!

8. Get out of yourself. According to Gandhi, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.

Check out How to Bring Christmas Cheer to a Loved One in the Hospital

9. Exercise your funny bone. Remember, with a funny bone in place–even if it’s in a cast–everything is tolerable.

Check out A Merry Christmas Gift: The Gift of Laughter

Please share your favorite depression buster if it isn’t here! Click on the “Comments” tab above. We could all use your wisdom!

Read Theresa’s entire article here.

Beauty in a Dark Sky


Even in a dark sky there is light and beauty. Sometimes it’s easy to see. Sometimes we need patience, time and breath to see it.

Photo courtesy of Steve O’ Bryan of SmackSmog



Blues or Depression? 8 Ways To Tell

380747916_5cdc54b030My senior year of college my Dad suggested I go to a therapist. He thought it might help me find some direction. During a hard college career that was interrupted by chronic illness, I changed majors three times, and still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I thought what the heck, I’d give therapy a go.

After a few sessions, Dr. Greenbaum said I was depressed. Well blow me down! I wasn’t sad or crying all the time. How did he figure I was depressed?

He explained that you don’t have to feel sad to be depressed. Sometimes being depressed meant the stark, cold absence of happiness, feeling ‘flat’ or ‘empty’. There is a condition called dysthymia that is a sneaky form of depression. Not as imminently dangerous as major depression, dysthymia lasts longer, two years or more, is as serious and sometimes even more debilitating than major depression.

Eight potential signs (lasting longer than two weeks) of any kind of depression are:

  1. Feeling helpless, hopeless, stuck, “What’s the point?”
  2. Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
  3. Appetite or weight changes
  4. Sleep changes. Insomnia or sleeping all the time
  5. Agitation or feeling slowed down
  6. Loss of energy, fatigue, easily exhausted
  7. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  8. Concentration problems, indecisiveness, lack of focus

Dr. Greenbaum taught me that being diagnosed with a chronic illness hit me harder than I wanted to admit, even to myself. He helped me get my head out of the sand and start living again. You might consider finding a good therapist for yourself.

More on: The symptoms of depression and types of depression

and How to Find a Good Therapist

Photo courtesy of Ozan Ozan

Snow in March?! 10 Ways to Fight Springtime SAD!

In the Deep North where I live, Spring can be a bitch. There’s really no other word for it. A friend of mine said she heard this on a local radio station: “What is December without the Holidays? It’s March!”

Yes, it’s known that Seasonal Affect Disorder strikes in the late fall/early winter but I believe there’s an SAD II. It occurs with the vernal equinox and the return of Daylight Savings Time when you live above the Mason-Dixon line or anywhere where it’s snowing (for crying out loud) after March 21! I have no proof of this, just strong anecdotal evidence and my own experience which is hard to deny.

Are you…

  • Close to tears when your kids, the organization you volunteer for  or the people you work for ask you to do one more little thing for them?
  • Biting your husband’s head off because he innocently asked what’s for dinner?
  • Waking up stiff and in pain because the cold, wet weather invades your bones?
  • Worrying constantly?
  • Hating on all your friends who are on Caribbean cruises right now?
  • Having trouble remembering to smile?
  • Looking around and see only piles of laundry, where the paint’s chipped and the dust bunnies lurk?
  • Feeling a lot like the Snow White dwarves, Grumpy, Sleepy and Dopey?

Then the sun comes out and the temperature rises above freezing to a searing 40 degrees F/4C!!! Suddenly it’s like that scene from The Wizard of Oz when the wildly saturated technicolor is let loose! Oh the relief! The joy! The ridiculous desire to break into song or dance to anything with a Latin beat!

But it’s just a tease because your iPhone weather app shows five incoming days of little clouds with flakes coming out of them. And once more the blanket of dread descends. I, for one, cannot take this anymore! Neither am I in a position to jump in a plane and head to the Virgin Islands. So what’s a SAD person to do?


Getting Back to ‘Normal’ (Whatever That Is)

How are we expected to move on with our lives, with holiday shopping, meal planning, cookie baking and parties after what happened in Newtown? On the day of the shooting I went to two holiday parties where everyone carefully avoided talking about what happened just hours earlier. It was weird and a relief at the same time.

Someone wrote that even those of us far away from the incident, we still may need to go through the five stages of grief as described by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. On Friday many of us were clinging to the denial and bargaining phases. We did not want to believe we were all so vulnerable and made up reasons to avoid going there. Some just went straight to anger even depression. None of us were ready for acceptance.

As with any act of terrorism, if we give in to depression and anger and let it obliterate the happy and good in the world, the terrorists win.

Now for our spirits’ sake we need to give ourselves permission to engage in the brightness and goodness of life. How?


5 Things We Can Do in the Wake of Tragedy: Responding to the Newtown Shooting

In rearing my kids I always told them that ‘hate’ is a strong word. Don’t use it lightly, I’d say. Don’t say, “I hate this tuna casserole!” Instead say, “Gee Mom, I strongly dislike this tuna casserole. Could I have a hot dog?” Save ‘hate’ for when ‘hate’ is the only word that can describe how you feel, when it counts.

I hate so much of what has happened recently.

I hate the senseless loss of the innocents. I hate the loss of good people who cared for the innocents.

From there it gets a little mirky.

I hate that I have to separate myself from this tragedy in order to survive it. This is happening to them, not to me. I am safe, my children are safe.

In graduate school I learned about cognitive dissonance: the struggle of the brain to reconcile what we know to be true with what we want to be true. I want to believe that what happened in Newtown would never happen in my town. That desire belies what I know too well, that it can happen anywhere. That we are all vulnerable. I have to fall on the fact that the chances of violence really happening to my loved ones are microscopic, just as the chances of a plane falling on my house are microscopic. But a plane really did fall on a house not far from where I live. So where does that leave me?


Being Helpful vs Being a Doormat

Today I realized that a lot of what stresses me out is other people’s issues, not mine. Just this morning I was upset that my 19 year old didn’t have a ride to work. Why? He could have discussed his problem the night before with me or his father and all would be well. Later this morning, a vender I work with made a mistake and just looked at me as if it were up to me to come up with a solution.

My knee jerk reaction is to fix things for everyone asap. In my work other people’s issues ARE my business! So where does the line get drawn? Now I can see I need to be clearer about what is mine to fix and what belongs to others.

Thank God the part of me that is sane got through! Even though it made me anxious, I let my son figure out his transportation dilemma. I also put the problem back into the vendor’s hands where it belonged.

Both my son and the vendor acted surprised that I didn’t take responsibility for their actions. My son griped but found a ride easily enough. The vender was silent for a heart beat or two and then just said “Wow.”

I still feel a bit nervous, I admit, but also invigorated and oddly empowered! Wow, indeed!

Photo courtesy hownowdesign via Flickr

Depression: What is it? What does it feel like? How is it treated?

The statistics on depression are depressing. About 5% of the world’s population suffers from depression at some time. In the US depression is the leading disability for people between 15 and 45 years of age. Chances are good that you or someone close to you has experienced depression first hand. There are so many myths and misconceptions around depression it is refreshing to watch this program, Charlie Rose Brain Series: Depression, where intelligent people explain what depression in all it’s forms looks like, can feel like and how it can be treated.

What I appreciate about this program is that these experts, the people who study depression as well as those who have experienced the worst kind of major depression first hand, all state that psychotherapy alone, or with medication, is a powerful treatment for depression. Too many physicians out there are very quick to treat their depressed patients with Zoloft, Wellbutrin or whatever, and do not bother to make a referral to a good therapist. Offering drugs alone may be depriving their patients of the most effective way to not just get them out of depression but to help them stay out. Depression, like anxiety, can relapse. Good psychotherapy provides people with psychological, emotional and behavioral tools that can be used as needed.

Medication is good. Psychotherapy is good. In combination, for some of the worse, most stubborn depression, they can be the needed one two punch.

Click here to view the program’s video. It is an hour long show well worth your time.

Depressed? Pick one thing and then do it!

Coming out of depression is not a smooth road. People will ask “how are you?”, and I mean people who really care, well-informed, loving people. You reply honestly and say it’s been rough. “But I thought you were doing better!” they say in dismay. They don’t mean to be critical but you are left feeling as if you let them down.

At least that’s how it can feel to a depressed person.

The road out of depression is rocky, pitched high and steep, then deep and low. And that’s when you are doing everything right! I draw a picture for my patients. Literally. I have a white board by my chair in my office for the purpose of drawing pictures. This drawing looks like the New York Stock Exchange, a jagged line trending up but full of spikes and valleys.

A few weeks ago I felt like I was doing pretty well, managing work, home, family, including the animals, when I was hit with a very nasty viral infection in my left eye. It hurt like hell. We’ve established that I am no martyr, yes? When the pain was at it’s peak, I had a dream that I was talking to a dear friend from the barn where I keep my mare. My friend is beautiful with two lovely blue eyes, only in my dream she had a third eye with a pencil sticking out of it! Already self-conscience over my puffy face, now I looked like the clone of Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame!

This was too much. Once on that slippery slope it was an easy fall into one of those valleys.

How did I get out of it? Very, very slowly.

This therapist (Hi there!) tries to practice what she counsels. One of the best things to do when energy is low and spirits lower is choose one thing, just one thing that is do-able, that if you do it you will look back at the end of the day and say with satisfaction, “I did that!”

I’m still feeling a bit wobbly but here I am writing again which is at once a joy and relief so deep it chokes me up with tears of gratitude. I am going to hold that close to my heart all day long. Yesterday I went to see my mare, Annie, and even though I don’t feel well enough to ride these days, I gave her such a rub down she was purring like Fritz the barn cat. The fresh memory of spending that hour with her gave me something real to grab on to all day long.

It’s like what the Richard Dreyfuss character, a messed up therapist who needed to learn how to relax, said in “What About Bob?”:

Baby steps. Baby steps.

And now for something completely different:

7 Tips to Improve Your Sleep!

Here are a few quick tips to improve the quality of your sleep:

  1. Only use your bed for sleep, sex and reading that trashy novel your book club doesn’t know about. No TV!
  2. Create a soothing bedroom that engages all five senses. Lavender scents, soft cotton sheets, low amber light, quiet, soothing music, even vanilla flavored toothpaste!
  3. After the sun sets keep lights low. Think of it as mimicking a camp fire, which signals the brain to release sleep hormones.
  4. Have a before-bedtime ritual, such as washing your face, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, stretching, prayers, light reading then lights out.
  5. Go to bed and get up at the same time (within half an hour) every day! This is very importnat even on the weekends.
  6. Exercise but not within four hours of bedtime.
  7. Remember to breathe! Once you are in bed, breathe a few deep yoga breaths and relax. Do not be concerned about sleep. Your only desire is to relax.

Sleep is essential to our health generally and our sanity in particular.  Interrogators know, if you want to break someone down – deprive them of sleep.

I didn’t appreciate how important sleep was until I became sleep deprived myself. About six years ago, anxiety fed my insomnia, which in turn fed my anxiety. It finally drove me to my doctor’s office.  Surely something was very wrong with my thyroid or maybe I had a brain tumor!

A complete workup that took two days and many little tubes of blood… then I met with my medical specialist.  With unforgettable kindness he asked what was going on in my life.  As I ticked off about five pretty high stress events, I could see where he was going with this, and I didn’t like it.  He said, “Well, that would do it for me!”  So the good news was my brain and thyroid were fine, the not so good news…it was all in my head.

No, it couldn’t be!  I was a psychologist for God’s sake!  Wouldn’t I know if stress was making me sick?  Turns out, if you are overwhelmed, even if you are a qualified mental health professional, you are often the last to know.  A humbling lesson. The frog in the pot syndrome a over again.

ANYWAY… For a couple of weeks I took a sleep medication to get my sleep back on track.  Then I got a crash course on sleep hygiene, learned how to breathe to calm down my anxiety and took a serious look at what I could change in my life to allow a better balance.   These are lessons I learn over and over again and now pass on to my clients.  For really serious sleep troubles I use cognitive behavioral therapy, the best non-medication treatment for insomnia.

Recommended Reading… A Good Night’s Sleep, by a couple of smart guys at Harvard Medical School.

Photo courtesy Thowra_uk via Flickr

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