Rocket's Gorgeous in the City

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Reward yourself

There's not enough research into stress and how we can benefit from doing things that feel good.

If there is, I'm quite cranky that it's not published in the science magazines alongside reports on obesity and depression. We're happy to medicate these problems, but seeing them as part of a deeper syndrome of joyless existence is too difficult.

Face it, if you're eating for comfort or pleasure until your heart gives out, then you've got a lack of whichever emotion you're trying to fill.

I've certainly had my share of experience with depression - for me it was part of the postnatal experience, but the seeds were already sewn.

When I was wound up really tight, I couldn't relax into a bubble bath. I had a beautiful big bath, with spa jets and a bathroom full of various floral and fruit scented bubble bath lotions, but I didn't feel right just settling down like that.

I couldn't enjoy my meals. I'd worry about whether I was eating enough, then if I caught myself enjoying it and wanting more, I'd just shovel it in, trying to distract myself with a book or just general despair.

I lost my will to feel simple pleasure. In fact, I began to dread it.

I also feared doing anything that might make my life better. There might have been a streak of perfectionism involved - the idea that I wasn't good enough to deserve to even try to do something I might be good at and succeed in.

There's so much you can do to stop all of this from happening!

The first step is to give yourself permission to enjoy things. And to stop doing things you don't enjoy. If that sounds like the opposite of your problem, consider that people who enjoy sweets really only enjoy the first mouthful or two. The French love their desserts and have one at every meal - but it's just one petit four. I love coffee but I drink espresso. The point is to enjoy a little rather than hating a lot.

So go ahead - enjoy a good meal! Prepare it or go to a restaurant and sit down. Eat it slowly while sitting down. When you stop enjoying it, stop eating it.

Pamper yourself - have a bubble bath or take a few minutes to rub some lotion into your skin. These little indulgences can take from a few minutes to an hour, but in the long run you'll be feeling less stress.

Another way to start feeling better about yourself is to take up a hobby that involves learning something or gaining some benefit.

Why not try exercise? You can jog, swim, cycle, row, fight, climb, or begin a programme of yoga or pilates. Dancing counts as exercise too.

If you're musically inclined, you might go to lessons or just pick up and play with the instrument you haven't touched for 10 years. You can write songs for your sweetheart, listen to opera or go to the ballet.

The arts have plenty to offer. I write, so I can definitely recommend that! Also consider theatre, painting (get a canvas and some student acrylic from your local art shop - wear a beret if you think they'll realize you're not an artist and snigger), scrapbooking (there are classes everywhere or just get a bunch of stuff marked photo-safe and go for it!), knitting (scarves and patchwork blankets will do very well), or even something more ambitious like pottery or woodwork.

So much for long-term benefit. There's also the matter of finding little things that will help you through those moments of intense stress when you're likely to start doubting yourself all over again. Although you can lift your mood by doing good things, you can't expect moments of doubt to ever go away - they happen to everyone and you need to find ways of dealing with them. There are times when you'll have a few minutes and other times when you'll have a few seconds, so you might try different methods and see what works in your lifestyle.

Meditation is often an option. You'll probably need to go to a class or at least read a very good book, but depending on the style of meditation, you can try variations on these sorts of things: focusing on relaxing your body and slowing your breathing, noticing every thought that enters your mind and acknowledging then dismissing them, thinking about something beautiful or a happy memory, repeating a single word or phrase - can be meaningful or random and might change with the situation.

Try a short walk or a stretch. I have a favourite yoga routine - a warmup that only takes half a minute but stretches everything out. I always feel better as my muscles stretch out and relax. Walking or running is a similar principle. The other aspect of an exercise as a stress-lifter is that you'll do a lot of deep breathing - if you don't exercise then just circle your shoulders or neck and take a deep breath.

Remember that somebody loves you. This assumes that somebody loves you, but that's probably fair. Think of your mum, your best friend, your pet puppy, your girlfriend or boyfriend and feel good.

These are just some simple ideas to help bring the joy back into life.

Please take a moment to share how you enjoy yourself or what you do when it all gets too much. "Rocket is a depressed teenager and for just a minute of your advice, she may begin to feel meaning....improve her blog quality..." you get the idea. Except that I haven't been a teenager for a little while.


  • At 9:50 AM, Blogger shrover said…

    I don't know about the beret...

    I'm a long-term depression sufferer but recently I've decided I'm not so much depressed as that's simply the way I am - I'm not a particularly happy person full stop, so I just need to get over that. I medicate and that helps, but my goal is to be generally vaguely depressed but reasonable company, rather than intensely depressed and fucking miserable company, which is what I was a few years back.

    I agree with a number of your recommendations. The French are right about food. Enjoying a little bit, slowly, really works. And staying busy helps, even if it is just blogging... I've also found walking every day is good - I saw Garry McDonald's interview on 'Enough Rope' and he talked about how his doctor insisted that he walk every day and that it had helped greatly.

    But I've found the trickiest bit about depression is sharing or discussing it. It's tricky to discuss being depressed with your partner because they immediately assume that it's a reflection on them. "You should be happy if you're with me." Even if intellectually they understand that many types of depression are primarily chemical (I almost wrote 'comical' there), emotionally there's a resentment about it. So I tend not to discuss it with my partner or family.

    Which is probably good for them I guess...

    Also, I've found playing Playstation games involving mass slaughter can be quite soothing...

  • At 4:33 PM, Blogger Rocket said…

    At least you didn't assume depression was a reflection on your partner!

    Dude, if you think you're supposed to be depressed then you've got the wrong psychologist. You're not supposed to feel guilty about feeling guilty, but you're supposed to do things you enjoy. And yes, enjoy the enjoyment.

    Aren't you passionate about something?

  • At 10:10 PM, Blogger shrover said…

    Occasionally I get passionate. For a little while. 'Takes me out of myself' (!) If I can't do passionate I try to do laughter.

    But enuff 'bout me!

    Do you meditate? What sort of benefits do you get from it? I'm kinda vaguely interested in pursuing it, ever since I heard David Lynch meditates every day (I'm passionate about David Lynch films).

  • At 11:23 PM, Blogger Rocket said…

    I haven't been to Zen classes, but I try to practice a zen-like method. The idea is to empty your mind. EEG research backs up the claim that it puts monks in a state of alert readiness - it may actually make them smarter!

    The benefit is this: When I know my thoughts are transient and can be dismissed, I can just let them go instead of letting them become overwhelming feelings.

    This is a new movement in modern psychology, and it's what Richard Carlson teaches. Look out for books like "Stop Thinking Start Living" and "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff".

    Watching movies and blogging and all that... it's a wonderful way to slow my mind when I want to relax, but it's addictive too.

    The most useful thing I do is play the piano, but I'm a pianist - your mileage may vary! It gives me emotional control, discipline and attention to detail. For me, it is meditative. It can be calming or stimulating, and if I'm really revved up it can be hard to settle into a practice session.

    Research (again on that EEG) indicates that musicians have an altered brain structure - so learning music as a form of meditation will take you a couple of years of hard work. Once you do, music makes you feel right.

  • At 11:56 PM, Blogger shrover said…

    I might look at meditation some more. I have a real thing about needing to keep my mind busy all the time, o'wise I get completely bored... seems like a possible way to address that is to at least occasionally go to the other extreme and try to clear it out.

  • At 11:09 PM, Blogger Rocket said…

    You need Anthony Robbins! I know, the guy's a big-chinned American joke and Monkey-Boy Ballmer wants to jump around on a stage like him...

    But give him a chance: read "Awaken the Giant Within" slowly with an open mind. He's no grin-and-punch-the-air Doctor Phil. Instead, you'll get good advice about how to sort out your priorities and contrast your personality requirements. It's like a manual for cognitive treatment of depression even if you're just ordinary-ambling-through-life not really depressed but not having a super exciting life either.


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