One of the most noticeable traits of depression is lethargy, or as one clinician put it, the “emotional flu.” (Bloch, 2002, p. 172). Like the flu, when you feel depressed, you probably don’t want to move much. Yet, being stagnant only reinforces a depressed mood and can eventually lead to other health problems. If you feel anxious, you probably find it difficult to stop moving in some way.
As hard as it is, coping with depression and anxiety means doing the opposite of of how you feel. With depression, when you don’t feel like doing anything physical, that’s probably when you need to start. With anxiety, you’ll want to focus on movement that calms your central nervous system. However, some of the same types of movement can be helpful for depression and anxiety.
You can begin with stretching, which you can do in bed, on a chair, on the floor, and practically whenever you want. This is especially important if you have a job where you sit a lot. Also, little spurts of movement that get your heart rate up are excellent ways to keep active and release excess energy. For instance, you can do jumping jacks, march or jog in place, twist your torso while standing, and a number of different interval moves like these that require little effort, but have big benefits when done daily. On the point of exercise:
The latest scientific research at the Cooper Research Institute in Dallas, Texas, demonstrates that as little as three hours a week of regular exercise reduces the symptoms of mild to moderate depression as effectively as Prozac and other medications” (Bloch, 2002, p. 174).
You can also add walking and/or running to your weekly routine, even if it’s only a walk down the street or running in place for 10 minutes. Since having social support and connection is also an important part of coping with depression and anxiety, you could exercise and socialize if you sign up for an aerobics class. Dancing encompasses these many benefits, according to a study published on the website of Groove Nation, a dance and music studio based in Vancouver, Washington. Who doesn’t want to feel cool and get a good workout at the same time?
Taking a slightly different approach, you can engage in one of the many body-mind practices, such as yoga, tai chi, and ki gong that bring balance to the body and mind through the breath, specific postures or poses, and movement that help energy flow better through the chakras (energy centers located in the body). These philosophies recognize that the mind and body are intricately connected. Thoughts and emotions are felt as sensations in muscle, tissue, and even bone. They carry energetic properties.
Brain and Body Yoga has a comprehensive program that trains participants in these forms of healing. Research shows that, “Brain Wave Vibration (one of Body & Brain Yoga’s signature exercises)…increased well-being including vitality and stress relief. Brain Wave Vibration was unique and strong in improving depression and sleep latency” (Body & Brain Yoga, p. 5). The important point to remember is that movement is good for the body and the mind. We have to concentrate on something other than anxious or depressive thoughts. The endorphin rush during exercise helps stabilize mood and contributes to better sleep. As our body and mind becomes stronger, so will resilience to depression and anxiety.
Depression or anxiety can make you feel alone and disconnected from others. The thoughts and emotions associated with these mood disorders can feel all-consuming. What gives you power and purpose even in the pain? This is where you’ll find the well-spring of life that can sustain you and help you continue the battle. Any day you survive with anxiety and depression is a miracle in itself. What got you through the day? Did a certain person encourage you when you really needed it? Did you feel refreshed for a moment in nature? Did a passage you read or an audio you heard shift your perspective? Did you pray, or did someone pray for you? Beauty, goodness, and love are all around. We often have to consciously look for these signs of life when we’re dealing with depression and anxiety.
Scientists and spiritual teachers agree we are social beings. We are made for relationship. We might need healing from being hurt in relationship, yet that doesn’t change our nature or need for others. While it’s true we relate to animals and the natural world, we are not the same. We need to commune with others like us, even if to varying degrees.
In the area of spirituality, there is a common belief that we have a special purpose for being here. We were created by a Being who seeks to be in relationship with us. The world’s religions have different narratives for this relationship. It is up to you to decide what you believe and what path to take to grow your spiritual nature. Once you find your spiritual home, it’s time to grow roots and build a practice that can center you in the midst of anxiety and depression.
You may want to start by finding a group or community that supports people struggling with anxiety and depression. Check out local hospitals, churches, mental health centers, community centers, or browse online or the library for places where groups are offered. There is often some comfort in forming relationships with people who understand what you’re going through. On the other hand, you might also find it helpful to engage in communities where the struggle is not central to the meeting.
Here are some ideas for how to cope with depression and anxiety, spiritually:
- Gather written resources that provide inspiration, guidance, wisdom, encouragement, and the like. Read from these resources daily to fill your mind with nurturing thoughts. Write down the thoughts that can best anchor you on 3 x 5 index cards or paper small enough to carry with you. If you prefer, you can use your phone.
- Regularly meet with a spiritual partner or mentor who can provide spiritual companionship or mentoring.
- Listen to music, meditations, and spiritual messages that ground your heart, mind, and soul in spiritual truth.
- Spend time with people who have a similar path and vision.
- Find ways to give, serve, and be there for others. This takes the focus off ourselves and affirms a deeper sense of connection, meaning, and purpose.
- Pray and connect through your being to your Higher Power daily.
As Kay Alton, founder of Ignite Change Consulting, suggests:
Get help in whatever way seems doable to YOU: talk to a friend, your mother, journal, read a self-help book in the comfort of your own home, try a yoga class, go to a local meditation group, download the Calm app for meditating at home, go for short walks in the sunshine, notice your breath and take 3 intentional breaths 3 times a day (rule of 3’s!). (K. Alton, personal communication, February 2, 2018).
You Are Worth It
You are a person worthy of love and care. You have many dimensions to your being. These ideas for how to cope are only the beginning of your journey of self-care. Please reach out to us if you need help. I wish you all the best.