5 Tools and Tips for Navigating Stress When You’re Depressed

Not surprisingly, stress can have damaging effects on depression. That is, “stress hormones like cortisol can exacerbate the effects of an existing depression. Or if we’re not currently depressed, we can become more vulnerable to a future episode,” said Lee Coleman, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and assistant director and director of training at the California Institute of Technology’s student counseling center.

Depression also comes with its own stressors. We might become self-critical because we aren’t able to function normally, he said. (And because depression sinks our self-esteem and fuels our inner critic.)

We might wonder what’s wrong with us, why we aren’t as excited about life anymore, and when we’ll stop feeling so bad. As Coleman said, naturally, “all of these are potentially stressful thoughts and feelings.”

But this doesn’t mean that your situation is hopeless. It isn’t. In fact, there are many things you can do. Below, Coleman and other therapists who specialize in depression shared five ways to effectively navigate the stress in your life.

1. Assess every piece of your life.

Psychologist Stephanie Smith, PsyD, suggested examining everything and everyone in your life and asking yourself these questions: “How much do I enjoy this activity or person? How much stress does it bring me? How do I feel after I spend time there or with that person? Does [that activity or person] add to my life?”

In other words, take a step back, and reevaluate your relationships, routines, job and other circumstances. Smith also suggested asking these questions: “Is this really what I want? What’s really the best thing for me right now?”

“[I]t doesn’t necessarily mean that after the evaluation period you will change everything about your life. But it does mean that the things in your life will be more intentional.”

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2. Make tiny healthy shifts.

When you’re struggling with depression, it might be tough to make big decisions and take big steps. Instead set small, specific and feasible goals, said Smith, who practices in Erie, Colo.

She shared these examples: Spend 10 minutes outside every day; make an appointment with a psychologist this week; reach out to one friend or relative today; take a walk four days out of seven; and do one thing you enjoy each day.

Taking small steps also provides momentum for making bigger changes in the future, she said. But if you don’t meet your goals, be gentle with yourself. Depending on the severity of your depression, it might be tough to take action (or get out of bed). That’s when working with a psychologist who specializes in treating depression is critical.

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3. Redirect your attention.

“Depression and stress thrive on wandering minds, especially on questions that don’t really have an easy answer, like, ‘Why is this happening?’ ‘When will I feel like myself again?’” said Coleman, author of Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. Getting caught up in these questions releases stress hormones such as cortisol, and leads to feeling sadder, he said.

One way to redirect your attention is to focus on what you’re doing right now. For instance, give your full attention to mundane tasks and activities, such as walking, picking out produce and even breathing, Coleman said.

Another way is to redirect your attention to your physical sensations, he said. For instance, name what you’re experiencing: “Right now, my chest feels tight. I notice my jaw is tense, and my fists are balled up.”

Again, try not to get caught up in thoughts like “Why does this keep happening to me?” or “I can’t handle it!” he said. These thoughts only feed your stressful reactions. (And remember your depression likes to lie.) “Focusing on the physical aspects of stress keeps you grounded in the moment without adding that unhelpful second layer of negative appraisals.”

Don’t try to change the sensations you’re experiencing. Instead, try to keep a curious, accepting attitude. According to Coleman, this might look like: “OK, stress is here again.  Where am I feeling it in my body this time?”

4. Try mindfulness apps.

Mindfulness (and exercise) “can be extremely helpful in relieving symptoms and creating the endorphins your brain needs to feel better,” said Robin Starkey Harpster, MA, MFT, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles.

In addition to Coleman’s mindfulness suggestions, it can help to listen to guided meditations. Harpster recommended trying these three apps: buddhifyHeadspace; and Calm.

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5. Make a radical change.

Sometimes, drastic measures are necessary. Recently, author and Psych Central editor Therese Borchard penned this brilliant piece about what to do when your depression isn’t improving. For instance, it’s hard not to feel depressed when you’re working in a toxic environment. So, in this case, the best stress-reducing strategy might be to switch jobs. According to Borchard:

I don’t mean putting a few less to-do items on your list. I’m talking about radical lifestyle changes — like changing jobs in order to work in a less toxic and stressful environment, moving into a smaller home so that you don’t have to moonlight, deciding against adopting a rescue dog or having a third child. It can be practically impossible to keep your mood resilient if you are under chronic stress because it increases the connection between the hippocampus part of your brain and the amygdala (worry central), impairs your memory retention, affects your cortisol production (making it difficult for you to handle more stress), and weakens your immune system.

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One of the most powerful tools for shrinking stress is treating yourself with patience and compassion. “You’re dealing with an illness that’s going to take some time to work through. And you can’t rush it by criticizing yourself or setting arbitrary deadlines for meeting certain goals,” Coleman said.

Plus, what you’re able to accomplish really depends on the severity of your depression. Don’t hesitate to seek professional support from a psychologist. And be flexible with yourself and remember that the smallest steps do add up, Coleman said.

 

This article originally appeared on psychcentral.com and was written by By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. 

How to Control Your Emotions During a Difficult Conversation

It’s hard not to get worked up emotionally when you’re in a tense conversation. After all, a disagreement can feel like a threat. You’re afraid you’re going to have to give up something — your point of view, the way you’re used to doing something, the notion that you’re right, or maybe even power – and your body therefore ramps up for a fight by triggering the sympathetic nervous system. This is a natural response, but the problem is that our bodies and minds aren’t particularly good at discerning between the threats presented by not getting your way on the project plan and, say, being chased down by a bear. Your heart rate and breathing rate spike, your muscles tighten, the blood in your body moves away from your organs, and you’re likely to feel uncomfortable.

None of this puts you in the right frame of mind to resolve a conflict. If your body goes into “fight or flight” mode or what Dan Goleman called “amygdala hijack,” you may lose access to the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for rational thinking. And making rational decisions is precisely what you need to do in a difficult conversation. Not only are you losing the ability to think clearly but chances are your counterpart notices the signs of stress — your face turning red, the pace of your speech speeding up — and, because of mirror neurons that cause us to “catch” the emotions of another person, your colleague is likely to start feeling the same way. Before you know it, the conversation has derailed and the conflict intensifies.

Luckily, it’s possible to interrupt this physical response, manage your emotions, and clear the way for a productive discussion. There are several things you can do to keep your cool during a conversation or to calm yourself down if you’ve gotten worked up.

Breathe. Simple mindfulness techniques can be your best friend in tense situations and none is more straightforward and accessible than using your breath. So when you start noticing yourself getting tense, try to focus on breathing. Notice the sensation of air coming in and out of your lungs. Feel it pass through your nostrils or down the back of your throat. This will take your attention off the physical signs of panic and keep you centered. Some mindfulness experts suggest counting your breath — either inhaling and exhaling for a count of 6, for example, or just counting each exhale until you get to 10 and then starting again.

Focus on your body. Sitting still when you’re having a difficult conversation can make the emotions build up rather than dissipate. Experts say that standing up and walking around helps to activate the thinking part of your brain. If you and your counterpart are seated at a table, you may be hesitant to suddenly stand up. Fair enough. Instead, you might say, “I feel like I need to stretch some. Mind if I walk around a bit?” If that still doesn’t feel comfortable, you can do small physical things like crossing two fingers or placing your feet firmly on the ground and noticing what the floor feels like on the bottom of your shoes. Mindfulness experts call this “anchoring.” It can work in all kinds of stressful situations. For example, for a long time I was afraid of flying, but I found that counting while touching each of my fingers with my thumb helped to get me out of my rumination mode.

Try saying a mantra. This is a piece of advice I’ve gotten from Amy Jen Su, managing partner of Paravis Partners and coauthor of Own the Room. She recommends coming up with a phrase that you can repeat to yourself to remind you to stay calm. Some of her clients have found “Go to neutral” to be a helpful prompt. You can also try “This isn’t about me,” “This will pass,” or “This is about the business.”

Acknowledge and label your feelings. Another useful tactic comes from Susan David, author of Emotional Agility. When you’re feeling emotional, “the attention you give your thoughts and feelings crowds your mind; there’s no room to examine them,” she says. To distance yourself from the feeling, label it. “Call a thought a thought and an emotion an emotion,” says David. He is so wrong about that and it’s making me mad becomes I’m having the thought that my coworker is wrong, and I’m feeling anger. Labeling like this allows you to see your thoughts and feelings for what they are: “transient sources of data that may or may not prove helpful.” When you put that space between these emotions and you, it’s easier to let them go — and not bury them or let them explode.

Take a break. In my experience, this is a far-underused approach. The more time you give yourself to process your emotions, the less intense they are likely to be. So when things get heated, you may need to excuse yourself for a moment — get a cup of coffee or a glass of water, go to the bathroom, or take a brief stroll around the office. Be sure to give a neutral reason for why you want to stand up and pause the conversation — the last thing you want is for your counterpart to think that things are going so badly you’re desperate to escape. Try saying something like, “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’d love to get a quick cup of coffee before we continue. Can I get you something while I’m up?”

Keep in mind that you’re probably not the only one who’s upset. Your counterpart is likely to express anger or frustration too. While you may want to give them the above advice, no one wants to be told they need to breathe more deeply or take a break. So you may be in a situation where you just need to let the other person vent. That’s usually easier said than done though. It’s hard not to yell back when you’re being attacked, but that’s not going to help. Jeanne Brett, a professor of dispute resolution and negotiations at Kellogg School of Management, suggests visualizing your coworker’s words going over your shoulder, not hitting you in the chest. But don’t act aloof; it’s important to show that you’re listening. If you don’t feed your counterpart’s negative emotion with your own, it’s likely they will wind down.

Let’s face it. Conflicts with coworkers can be tough. But you’re not going to solve the underlying issues or maintain a positive relationship if you barrel through the conversation when you’re completely worked up. Hopefully, these five tactics will help you move from angry and upset to cool as a cucumber.

this article originally appeared on hbr.org and was written by Amy Gallo 

Emotional Intelligence: 5 Ways to Boost Your Resilience at Work

Currently, a quarter of all employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization describes stress as the “global health epidemic of the 21st century.” Many of us now work in constantly connected, always-on, highly demanding work cultures where stress and the risk of burnout are widespread. Since the pace and intensity of contemporary work culture are not likely to change, it’s more important than ever to build resilience skills to effectively navigate your worklife.

While working as a director of learning and organization development at Google, eBay and J.P. Morgan Chase, and in my current work as co-founder of the learning solutions company Wisdom Labs, I’ve seen over and over again that the most resilient individuals and teams aren’t the ones that don’t fail, but rather the ones that fail, learn and thrive because of it. Being challenged — sometimes severely — is part of what activates resilience as a skill set.

More than five decades of research point to the fact that resilience is built by attitudes, behaviors and social supports that can be adopted and cultivated by anyone. Factors that lead to resilience include optimism; the ability to stay balanced and manage strong or difficult emotions; a sense of safety and a strong social support system. The good news is that because there is a concrete set of behaviors and skills associated with resilience, you can learn to be more resilient.

Building resilience skills in the contemporary work context doesn’t happen in a vacuum, however. It’s important to understand and manage some of the factors that cause us to feel so overwhelmed and stressed at work. Our current work culture is a direct reflection of the increasing complexity and demands faced by businesses globally. In a study conducted by IBM Institute for Business Value in late 2015, a survey of 5,247 business executives from 21 industries in over 70 countries reported that the “scope, scale and speed” of their businesses were increasing at an accelerated rate, especially as the competitive landscape becomes increasingly disrupted by technology and radically different business models. The result is at times a frenetic way of working. Being hyperconnected and responsive to work anytime, anywhere, can be extremely taxing. In a 2014 global survey of Human Capital Trends conducted by Deloitte, 57% of respondents said that their organizations are “weak” when it comes to helping leaders manage difficult schedules and helping employees manage information flow, and that there is an urgent need to address this challenge.

It’s clear that stress and burnout related to the increasing pace and intensity of work are on the rise globally. A survey of over 100,000 employees across Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, and South America found that employee depression, stress and anxiety accounted for 82.6% of all emotional health cases in Employee Assistance Programs in 2014, up from 55.2% in 2012. Also, a recent large-scale, longitudinal survey of over 1.5 million employees in 4,500 companies across 185 countries conducted as part of the Global Corporate Challenge found that approximately 75% of the workforce experienced moderate to high stress levels — and more specifically, that 36% of employees reported feeling highly or extremely stressed at work, with a further 39% reporting moderate levels of workplace stress. The current and rising levels of stress in the workplace should be cause for concern, as there is a direct and adverse relationship between negative stress, wellness and productivity.

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One important distinction to note is that not all stress is created equal and there are even some types of stress that may also have a positive effect on our well-being and productivity. “Good stress,” or what is sometimes known as “eudaemonic stress,” (derived from the Greek word “eudaemonia,” or flourishing) indicates that some types of stress can make us healthier, motivate us to be our best, and help us perform at our peak. A useful way to think about it is that stress is distributed on a bell-shaped curve. Once past the peak or high performance apex where stress motivates us, we experience the unhealthy effects of stress which, if sustained over time, lead not only to burnout but also to chronic disease.

Stress that causes us to experience difficulty or unhealthy strain — “distress” — is a major cause for concern as it directly and adversely affects personal and business success. The Global Corporate Challenge study of over 1.5 million employees globally over a 12-year period found, for example, that while 63% of extremely stressed employees reported above-average productivity, this number rises significantly to 87% amongst those who say they are not at all stressed. In the same study, 77% of extremely stressed employees also reported above-average levels of fatigue, and early warning signs of longer-term burnout. In fact, burnout is a lagging indicator of chronic stress.

So how can we develop resilience and stay motivated in the face of chronic negative stress and constantly increasing demands, complexity and change? Here are some tips, based on some of the latest neuroscience, behavioral and organizational research:

Exercise mindfulness. People in the business world are increasingly turning their attention to mental training practices associated with mindfulness — and for good reason. Social psychologists Laura Kiken and Natalie Shook, for example, have found that mindfulness predicts judgment accuracy and insight-related problem solving, and cognitive neuroscientists Peter Malinowski and Adam Moore found that mindfulness enhances cognitive flexibility. In dynamic work environments, organizational psychologists Erik Dane and Bradley Brummel found that mindfulness facilitates job performance, even after accounting for all three dimensions of work engagement – vigor, dedication and absorption. Preventive medicine researchers Kimberly Aitken and her colleagues have found that online mindfulness programs have been shown to be practical and effective in decreasing employee stress, while improving resiliency and work engagement, thereby enhancing overall employee well-being and organizational performance.

How can you or your team start bringing mindfulness into the rhythms and routines of your daily work? At Wisdom Labs, we’ve found that implementing multimodal learning and skill development solutions — including a combination of mobile learning, onsite training, webinars, and peer-to-peer learning networks promotes the greatest chance for mindfulness to become a core competency within an organization. Participants report statistically significant improvements in resilience, and say that mindfulness tools and content delivered in these ways are highly useful for managing stress, improving collaboration and enhancing well-being. Integrating mindfulness into core talent processes such as onboarding, manager training, performance conversations and leadership development is also critical, though most organizations are not yet at this stage of adoption. Finally, a number of books and apps also offer structured approaches to mindfulness, including the books Fully Present: The Art, Science and Practice of Mindfulness and Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Useful apps include (but are not limited to): Headspace, Spire, Mental Workout, Calm, Whil and Simple Habit. Consider combining live, in-person or virtual training with apps for optimal behavior formation.

Compartmentalize your cognitive load. We receive 11 million bits of information every second, but the executive, thinking centers of our brain can effectively process only 40 bits of information, according to Shawn Achor, co-founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and author of The Happiness Advantage. One practical way to think about this is that though we can’t decrease the amount of information we receive (in our inboxes, for example), we can compartmentalize our cognitive tasks to optimize the way we process that information. Be deliberate about compartmentalizing different types of work activities such as emailing, strategy or brainstorming sessions, and business-as-usual meetings. Compartmentalizing work is useful when you consider that switching from one type of task to another makes it difficult to tune out distractions and reduces productivity by as much as 40%, according to recent research published by the American Psychological Association. Translation: to the extent that it is possible, avoid context switching. Create dedicated times in the day to do specific work-related activities and not others — a concept I described in a previous HBR post as “serial monotasking” — much the way you might create a dedicated time for physical exercise in the course of your day. This approach may be overly regimented for some, but it creates the optimal set of conditions for us to effectively process information and make quality decisions while decreasing cognitive load and strain.

Take detachment breaks. Throughout the workday, it’s important to pay attention to the peaks and valleys of energy and productivity that we all experience, what health psychologists call our ultradian (hourly) as opposed to our circadian (daily) rhythms. Mental focus, clarity and energy cycles are typically 90-120 minutes long, so it is useful to step away from our work for even a few minutes to reset energy and attention. Evidence for this approach can be seen in the work of Anders Ericsson, who found that virtuoso violin players had clearly demarked practice times lasting no more than 90 minutes, followed by breaks in betweenResearch suggests that balancing work activity with even a brief time for detaching from those activities can promote greater energy, mental clarity, creativity and focus, ultimately growing our capacity for resilience throughout the course of the workday. The long-term payoff is that we preserve energy and prevent burnout over the course of days, weeks and months.

Develop mental agility. It is possible — without too much effort — to literally switch the neural networks with which we process the experience of stress in order to respond to rather than react to any difficult situation or person. This quality of mental agility hinges on the ability to mentally “decenter” stressors in order to effectively manage them. “Decentering” stress is not denying or suppressing the fact that we feel stressed — rather, it is the process of being able to pause, to observe the experience from a neutral standpoint, and then to try to solve the problem. When we are able to cognitively take a step back from our experience and label our thoughts and emotions, we are effectively pivoting attention from the narrative network in our brains to the more observational parts of our brains. Being mentally agile, and decentering stress when it occurs, enables the core resilience skill of “response flexibility,” which reknowned psychologist Linda Graham describes as “the ability to pause, step back, reflect, shift perspectives, create options and choose wisely.” We often tell our children who are upset to “use your words,” for example, and it turns out that stopping and labeling emotions has the effect of activating the thinking center of our brains, rather than the emotional center — a valuable skill in demanding, high-performance workplaces everywhere.

Cultivate compassion. One of the most overlooked aspects of the resilience skill set is the ability to cultivate compassion — both self-compassion and compassion for others. According to research cited by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, compassion increases positive emotions, creates positive work relationships, and increases cooperation and collaboration. Compassion training programs such as the one offered by Stanford University’s Center for Compassion, Altruism and Research in Education (CCARE) have demonstrated that compassion cultivation practices increase happiness and well-being and decrease stress. Compassion and business effectiveness are not mutually exclusive. Rather, individual, team and organizational success rely on a compassionate work culture.

Finally, it is now possible to conclude that a broad set of skills and behaviors that enable resilience in the workplace are a good return on investment. In a study published by PwC in 2014, initiatives and programs that fostered a resilient and mentally healthy workplace returned $2.30 for every dollar spent — with the return coming in the form of lower health care costs, higher productivity, lower absenteeism and decreased turnover.

The ability to build resilience is a skill that will serve you well in an increasingly stressful work world. And companies stand to benefit from a more resilient workforce. Building an organizational culture that encourages and supports resilience training just makes good business sense.

 

This article originally appeared on hbr.org and was written by Rich Fernandez

Beyond the Physical: Yoga as Therapy at Reset Wellness

YOGA AS THERAPY

Yoga Therapy is an exploration of "embodied mindfulness" to help you get connected to your body, and improve your stress coping mechanisms.

YOGA FOR ANXIETY, STRESS & TRAUMA RECOVERY

This practice was developed to offer a process of self-discovery.  Yoga Therapy addresses both psychological and physical issues, such as stress, anxiety, trauma and pain in your body and mind.

The process itself is defined by you and the kind of support you need, whether it is emotional, physical or spiritual. It teaches strategies for managing stress reactions, building on coping skills, learning about your body and how you are in it.

Yoga for Anxiety, Stress and Trauma compliments traditional psychotherapies and physical therapies by supporting the mind-body connection.

Our yoga therapist Shari Arial PTSD & Trauma Informed yoga therapist.  Shari facilitates a safe space for noticing yourself and how you are in your body, so it is a natural process for you to make your own connections about thought and body stress.

WORKSHOPS

Every month you can unfold and connect to your body and mind in our specialized Yoga for Anxiety, stress and Trauma, and Mind-Body Meditation workshops. Visit our Classes page for updated workshop dates, more info and online registration.

Workshops consist of small group sizes (max 5), and a chance to notice your thoughts and body during a gentle yoga practice. Insights shared are open-ended and non-directive.

PRIVATE SESSIONS

Yoga for Anxiety, Stress & Trauma private sessions are a 60 minute
empowering practice providing a private space to acknowledge psychological and physical energies that may be stored in the body.

Psychological methodologies are used in combination with gentle movement, breath-work and mindfulness techniques. The therapeutic goal is to promote a sense of safety within the body and support the nervous system coming back into balance.

BENEFITS

  • Reduce stress and tension within the body
  • Regulate the nervous system
  • Learn how anxiety, stress and trauma may be affecting your body
  • Learn take home coping skills
  • Compliments traditional psychotherapies and physical therapies by supporting the mind-connection

WHAT A SESSION LOOKS LIKE

You are facilitated through an experience of yourself in the present moment. And whatever happens in the present moment - physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually finds richness in relationship to the bigger picture of how you are being in the world in daily life - work, play, family and relationships. Using age old yogic and modern therapeutic approaches to deepen awareness, acceptance and presence.

PRICES

  • $40 / Workshop
  • $110 / 60 minute private session

Private sessions are available to a single person or two people.

Prices exclude GST

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING:

”Where has this been my whole life. Thank you.”

”I can’t believe how quickly things changed when using these tools.”

”Shari is amazing at holding space and I feel totally at ease with her.”

”I love that I have this time to just “be” with myself and work through things.”

”I didn’t know yoga could be like this.

MEET OUR YOGA THERAPIST

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PTSD & Trauma Informed Yoga Therapist