It took one clinical psychologist 40 years and two key questions to change the way people are harnessing hope amidst depression.
After working as a psychologist, Jan Marsh saw a significant information gap when it came to treatment of anxiety and depression.
“I found I was often going over the fundamentals with each client and wanting to give them something to take away and refer to as a reminder,” Jan reflects. Beyond that, she aimed to treat depression and anxiety in a holistic matter.
“Most people try to ignore their feelings and press on until they become overwhelmed,” Jan explained.
“Then it is common to seek a chemical solution via alcohol - or worse, something illicit - or prescribed medication. For some, a prescription from a doctor is the best treatment to relieve symptoms and regain emotional wellbeing."
However, Jan has a preferred method of healing.
"Many would do well simply by taking responsibility for their own mental health and using a number of strategies for bringing balance back into life," she said. "With or without medication, there are options for self-help.”
All our best decisions are guided by a wise combination of heart and head Jan says. Therefore, we can’t ignore what our feelings are trying to tell us.
“If we're not listening, the feelings will have to shout louder, even to the point of breakdown or burnout. Everyone has their limit and this can be a harsh way to find it,” she cautions. "It is more empowering to look at how to take good care of ourselves or address what needs to change and the skills learned in this process are skills for life.”
Here are Jan’s tips to heal the mind, body and spirit.
- Focus. Attention is like a flashlight, Jan explains, so choose where you would like your beam to shine, bringing your focus back to the present to the task in hand.
- Remember, thoughts are not facts. “Observe them as if they are clouds passing across the sky or cars along the road.”
- Manage your feelings by understanding them and finding words for them.
- Breathe: Good breathing is empowering and can really reduce feelings of anxiety, Jan says. “Have an open, tall posture and let your diaphragm do the work, breathing in gently through your nose,” Jan says.
- Relax. Your body and mind need to rest, so choose a way that suits you, whether it be following a guided relaxation, listening to music or doing a familiar activity like cooking, walking the dog, reading a book or swimming. “Aim to spend 15 minutes every day doing some form of relaxation.”
- Exercise. “We need to move to feel good in ourselves, so find an activity you love or can grow to love so that you will want to exercise,” Jan enthuses. “Understand what motivates you: is it company, competition or peace and quiet? Then work your routine around that.
- Be True To You: Become familiar with the values that underpin your life. “Check that the parts of life you value most are getting the most of your time and attention,” urges Jan.
- Show Gratitude: Make a practice of showing gratitude because being grateful encourages hope, explains Jan. “Keep a gratitude journal, noting a few things each day that you are grateful for. Be sure to let people know when they have been helpful to you, giving credit where it's due.”
- Show Compassion. "We're all in this world together. Allow your heart to be moved by the suffering of others and yourself. Suspend judgment and rejoice in others' successes as well as learning to celebrate your own."
- Make changes. Start with something small rather than turning your eating habits upside down and be prepared for it to take time, Jan says. “Reducing sugar and increasing vegetables can be a good start as there is sound research which shows that a healthy diet rich in micronutrients - vitamins and minerals - does improve mental health."
- Eliminate and Moderate. "Alcohol is not a friend where anxiety and depression are concerned. It interferes with sleep and blocks the rational thinking needed to solve problems that underlie poor mental health," cautions Jan. “Caffeine also disrupts sleep and increases symptoms of anxiety.”
- Sleep. “Studies have shown that modern life interferes with good sleep patterns,” Jan points out. “When we're sleep-deprived our resilience is low in every respect: we are more prone to illness and infection and we are less able to face stress and solve problems.”
- Connection with others is a proven antidote to depression, and friends have more influence on our happiness than money. “Depression and anxiety can make us very self-involved and can damage relationships,” explains Jan. Make a point of thinking of others and connecting, even if it's simply smiling at someone in the street.
- Volunteer if your routine does not have enough contact with people. If volunteering is not your thing, going to a public place such as a library or a cafe, to be among people even if you don't interact, is better than being alone too much.
- Have Hope: When fog hides the blue sky, we know that the sky is still there, the fog will pass, Jan points out. "Depression is like the fog and hope tells us there will be blue sky days again."
You can read more of Jan's research in her small book ‘Harnessing Hope'.